It was a painting of a house in the woods. Its windows reflected in the water. There was a lake there, and in the distance, this white glow—light coming in through the trees. Except for that one spot of white, the painting was all blues and greens and yellows and oranges. Even though it was done in watercolor, it didn’t seem like it. It wasn’t watery at all. I was in this gallery off some side street just, you know, staring into this painting like I could go there. Really go there. I’m telling you, it’s the kind of place you want to go. I mean, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to go there. So peaceful—all that reflection in the lake makes you wonder—makes you want to go deep, makes you think there is some actual depth to reach. Not like real life where the sights are grainy and gray, where most stuff is right there on the surface: subways and public bathrooms and graffiti on mailboxes—makes you want to find a place to wash your hands. Not so in that painting. I mean it. I’m not sure you’d ever need to wash your hands there. Well, maybe if you planted something in the dirt. But that’s clean dirt. You stand there looking at a painting long enough, you start to believe in it. Not only that, you start to lose your hold on what’s the difference. Like what’s the difference between that image—watercolor on paper—and the half moon hanging above the city? You can see it if you go outside and look up. C’mon, maybe the moon is watercolor on paper, too. Probably not, but you could make up a story about it.
The man sits on the subway. His elbow rests on the small ridge of window. His chin rests on his hand. Outside his window, tunnel gray and underground blurs rush by. He is Watercolor on Newsprint, 1962. I stand in a gallery watching him through a wooden frame; he is my window. I feel as if I know him—his tan coat, his brown boots, his deep eyes resting and open.
I leave the gallery. I step out onto wet pavement. I walk through the puzzle of parked cars. My ears fill with horns and the steady swish of tires on slick roads. I walk down stairs and under the city. I wait for the E Train, and when it comes, the doors slap open. I feel the breeze and bump of other riders—the dance of step off, step on. I find a seat. My elbow finds its place. My face leans into my hand. Outside is tunnel gray—underground blurs rush by. I am watercolor. I am fading.