sensual objects and the still life

The sensual object and its qualities make up the material world in which objects interact with one another. I interact with an Oak tree, touching its rough bark, its green leaves, noting the particular differences it has from other varieties of trees. I step back and notice the way the sun hits the trees leaves turning them a light translucent green. These shifting qualities are all a part of the sensual tree. Qualities change and move as you see the tree in different ways but they are all a part of the sensual tree.

            The oak is also able to interact with other objects, such as the sun that hits its leaves. The tree accesses the sun in vastly different ways than we can, The trees leaves hold chloroplast organelles that take in the sunlight and through the chemical process of photosynthesis turn the light energy, along with carbon dioxide and water into glucose which then nourishes the oak. The oak does not access other parts of the sun in the same way, for example the pull of the suns gravity works to turn the earth giving us our seasons but it only indirectly interacts with this oak tree.

At the same time both oak, sun, and me withdraw from one another, unable to access or interact with everything that makes each object distinct and real. This is the “real object.” While the sensual object changes constantly as it is interacted with the real is the static core of the object it remains withdrawn and unknowable but it is also the very thing that defines the object.

Though the objects surrounding us are nothing but seductive simulacra, the wager we make on whatever seduces is itself a new real object made up of me and the simulation:one that is not just something to further amuse and seduce those who observe me but that forms the very reality of my life. Jean Baudrillard seduced by a woman is a different entity from Jean Baudrillard seduces by sociology or yachting. Rather than providing direct knowledge of a real object hiding beneath its simulation, my bond with a simulation forms a new object different from both the simulation and me.
— Graham Harman, Object-Oriented Seduction,

 

There is no better example of this concept than the still life painting. an artist sits down to paint a still life, she interacts with the objects placed in front of her, accessing the sensual objects and their qualities. She takes paint and brush to canvas translating what she sees onto a surface. Within the combination of the artists eye and the sensual objects a new object is created, real in every sense of the word.  

 In Still Life with Compotier, Cézanne worked from a setup he had created in his studio, the painting describes the objects and their relations to each other through his eye. Cézanne chooses a moment and a particular composition to focus on; he has limitations such as canvas size and orientation to think about choosing to place his objects in the middle of the composition with the flowers on the cloth behind framing the central objects. He does not focus on the original textures of the objects choosing instead to translate them through paint, he uses a thick diagonal brush stroke similar in all the objects. He also adds a wavering black outline which sometimes disappears but at other times wraps each object giving them a sort of equality with one another. In this willingness to translate and change the things he directly sees he creates a new object that is both part of him and the way he sees and part of the sensual objects that were before him. 

 Still Life with Compotier, Paul Cézanne

Still Life with Compotier, Paul Cézanne

Cézanne painted this piece in 1879-80, it was later acquired by the artist Paul Gauguin through the art dealer Voullard. The painting was the Jewel of his collection up until the destitute painter had to sell it to pay for medical bills rising from a bout of syphillis. before selling it Gauguin would paint Portrait of a Woman in Front of a Still Life by Cézanne. In this work Gauguin interacts with the sensual object Still Life with Compotier again translating what he sees into a new real object. Gauguin paints Cézanne's canvas behind a woman whom he imposes on top of the still life. He keeps the general texture that his idol used  as well as riffing off the black outline even playing this up a bit but he changes the color to suit the mood of his own painting. Gauguin also chooses to only hint at the other painting rather than show it in entirety.  currently the Cézanneis in the MOMA collection while Gauguin’s painting is in the Art Institute of Chicago. 

 Portrait of a Woman in Front of a Still Life by Cézanne, Paul Gauguin

Portrait of a Woman in Front of a Still Life by Cézanne, Paul Gauguin