On the Vertical Panels

[In 1975] I made the first of these tall paintings, fulfilling a desire I had guarded for twenty years; I even used the long thin boards I had gathered for this purpose in the mid-1950s. At that time I didn’t question the significance of my idea, but I can’t help examining it now. It seems curious, even to me, that paintings could be limited to such an unusual format and still be viable. Because of their narrowness and lack of variation (in most cases) from left to right, the eye is forced to move up and down on them unless it takes them in at a glance.

It now occurs to me, as it does to some friends, that they are sculptural—that is, like sculpture; indeed, as some may not realize, like the tall thin sculpture I did in the mid-1950s. (There seemed never to be a question of the viability of such sculpture.) I am not the only sculptor who has painted when he wasn’t able to make sculpture. But it is especially comforting to feel that I’m doing something like sculpture while engaged in painting.

Although the panels may appear thoroughly relational, some are abstract portraits and some reflect my mood quite unexpectedly. For example, this winter, lifting my eyes from reading Bash_ to look at a row of them, I had to think that the last [...] seemed — Japanese. I then did another — Kawasu — in the same vein, consciously this time and based on a famous haiku by Bash, which I quote in a literal translation by H. G. Henderson:

   Old pond:
     frog jump-in

This translator glosses "frog-jump-in" as a single, adjectival concept; which is intriguing. My frog is red.