I See a Rock – Slow Looking Works!

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk

Half an hour before my talk with semi-abstract painter Eliane Saheurs, I was staring at a jpg of her painting Enchanted Spaces VI, baffled by the square canvas covered with rushed patches of whites, blues and grays, oranges and browns. Based on the title, I expected to see tree-like shapes and lots of green; for me, you see, forests are the most enchanted places in the world. But all I could see, was a cheer-spreading abstract quilt.

Not knowing anything about the painter or her work, I decided to set my expectations aside and spend the next 30 minutes getting familiar with the painting through slow looking, a technique I first heard about at an Ottawa Art Gallery writing workshop and later read about in Peter Clothier’s book Slow Looking: The Art of Looking at Art.

Following Clothier’s instructions, I first closed my eyes to clear my mind, then I started looking at the image small piece at a time, starting with the bottom left corner and moving up slowly along the left edge of the painting. (It doesn’t have to be that precise direction, but that’s what felt natural to me).


Image courtesy of Eliane Saheurs

The painting Enchanted Spaces VI is part of the Eliane Saheurs: Inside Out II exhibition at the Trinity Art Gallery, Salon B, and available for slow looking until November 25.

Although true slow looking requires an hour of slow and deliberate interaction with the actual work of art, I was thrilled with the result of half of that time in front of my laptop. Just five minutes into the experience, I had my Eureka moment. “Could this be a rock?” I asked myself, surprised and intrigued by what I was suddenly seeing in a patch of grey.

As I shifted my eyes to the right to see what’s next to the rock, the pieces of the puzzle started to fit together. Out of nowhere I now could see white water at the foot of the rock and blue rocks sticking out of the pool. Once my mind figured out this part of the composition, I could no longer not see a landscape. Although not an enchanted forest, it was no longer a quilt, either.

I was so thrilled with my discovery, I thought I’d died and gone to kindergarten. I was playing make-belief and I loved it. Too unfocused now to continue with the inch-by-inch examination, I just wanted to ask Saheurs if what I saw was really there. Shortly after I got my confirmation.

As you can imagine, I am now a huge fan of the slow looking technique and I will use it again at Saheurs’ exhibition Inside Out II at the Trinity Art Gallery, Salon B, on view until November 25.

If you haven’t heard of slow looking before, you may want to read Slow Looking: The Art of Looking at Art. It’s a short but eye-opening read in which Clothier − an author, art critic, and blogger − describes his One Hour/One Painting exercise in seeing.


Related post: “Eliane Saheurs Creates a Sense of Enchanted Space”

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