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Vermeer Repeat (Two Extra Buttons)
| Image Notes
Original and alternate title: Two Extra Buttons. The painting was retitled by the artist. The 1979 photolithographic print has the title Two Extra Buttons.
Vermeer, The Art of Painting, c. 1666-67. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
| Artist's Notes
A copy of Vermeer's Artist in His Studio
with alterations and two extra buttons sewed on to the canvas at the lower left.
Two extra buttons are usually sewed on the inner lining of a man's suit, very near the inside coat pocket on the right. I have seen men wear these buttons attached all during the life of the suit. This painting is inside and behind the draped fabric seen at the left. It is all going on inside. Before talking about this painting it must be looked at for a long time. It is a copy, it is an interior, yet it spills out of itself onto a general unexplained space that borders the painting. This surrounding area holds two real buttons sewed on to the canvas. These two buttons begin the illusion of certainty and uncertainty. This painting is a copy but goes beyond the original.
Any man who wears a suit is aware of different activities because he has a breast pocket. He can use it for whatever he likes, but using that pocket is different from everyday. This painting was painted only when I wore a suit coat. The extra buttons were taken off the jacket and sewed onto the painting after I was well into the composing of this picture. The jacket I wore was light cream-colored summer linen and had white buttons. It was single breasted. It no longer exists.
Inside the composition, the woman holding a trumpet is colored in contrast to the original. Instead of a blue robe over her shoulders it is yellow. Instead of holding a yellow book, it is blue. Instead of green leaves on her head they are red. Her yellow-toned skirt has turned into a purple tone. She is modeling for the artist and wearing what she has. The artist changes color to suit what they want.
This painting was all conceived with burnt sienna and white. It looked at one time like a fading photograph until the local color was applied. I was always wearing a cream-colored linen jacket, but removed the extra buttons and sewed them on to the canvas because I didn't want to misplace them. That is when the color came. Yellow with earth red or burnt sienna is inside. The enamel-like colors of the table and the articles on it are outside, as are the buttons and the absorbing border.
Another part of "Two Extra Buttons" is the realizing that Vermeer's composition is repeated in this painting. A repeat is an extra.
The map and lower right corner remain burnt sienna because these areas are (inactivated) made to be inactive. Any forced illusion works more brightly if the unforced parts are given less attention. The painting starts by catching the eye at the left then bringing focus on in to the center, to the woman's face (any human focus goes first to faces), but the sharp white wall area between the draped fabric and the map pulls the most attention. Enough momentum now has been generated so that the eye can travel down over the table and objects. The eye has a sense of fullness, so that any empty area now can come into focus. Now the map and the unfinished, color-less floor and the chair behind the easel.
The easel! Suddenly we are into another focus upon seeing the painting on the easel. It is not expected. It is another extra. The two of "two extra buttons." (Unpublished notebook entry, 1976)
Two Extra Buttons.
In this painting I take as subject Vermeer's painting An Artist in his Studio. This painting by the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Vermeer is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. It shows an artist seated on a stool before an easel with his back to us. A model stands before the artist. She wears a blue dress which she has pulled up to show an underskirt with a border. In her left arm, the model cradles a yellow book. In her right hand she holds a trumpet. On her head she wears a wreath. Only the leaves in this wreath have been put down on canvas by the artist in Vermeer's picture, an indication that the artist in Vermeer's picture is just beginning his painting.
In Two Extra Buttons I reproduce Vermeer's picture An Artist in his Studio in the painting on the easel. This picture is complete, and the artist has got up from the stool and left the scene. The model remains standing in position. I now apply complementary colors: a yellow dress to Vermeer's blue; a blue book to Vermeer's yellow. For the wreath, I use purple instead of green. For the table I use cadmium red, a color which intensifies the colors of objects on the table. My colors resonate against those in the painting on the easel, and the eye moves back and forth making comparisons.
For the tapestry in Two Extra Buttons I repeated Vermeer's colors with the intention of duplicating the movement in his painting back into pictorial space so as to create the illusion of space behind the plane of the painted surface. But the color resonance between my image and his (on the easel) acts to undercut the convincing illusion of spatial recession which Vermeer creates. These resonating colors, together with the rapid visual comparison of the two images, and the abrupt change in scale between them, make for a spatial ambiguity -- an ambiguity to which the "raw" border around Two Extra Buttons and the "incompleted" lower right section contribute. In the lower right, my burnt sienna underpainting bleeds out of the image-area into the border, an insistence upon the picture as a painted canvas.
So Two Extra Buttons both refers to Vermeer, to its subject, and at the same time refers to itself as a constructed object.
In sewing, the term "self covered buttons" is one used for buttons covered with the same fabric the buttons are sewed to. The two buttons I sewed to the canvas (lower left) are not self covered buttons; they do not melt into the background fabric. Nor are they painted (trompe l'oeil) buttons. They are two plain buttons, left plain as another statement of ambiguity in this painting which refers to a major painting in the history of Western art at the same time it undermines such reference with its insistent reference to itself as a painted surface, a constructed object in the world of things. Not self covered buttons, but Two Extra Buttons. (George Deem, 1983)
Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Harm Bouckaert Gallery, New York