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Painting Stories- All-Seeing Eyes

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

One of the things I enjoy most during an exhibit reception is answering questions about a painting's backstory. Since it's a line of questioning I often get, I thought it would be fun to occasionally post the story of a painting.

I drive past this building a lot. The glowing neon glasses in the window of the optician's office first caught my attention because of their lovely highly-saturated color. They're located near an intersection and whenever I was waiting at the red light, I'd find myself staring at these "eyes". Soon I began to notice and contemplate all the things these eyes must see, day in and day out. This building is located where the touristy more expensive part of downtown ends and what might be considered by some, to be a grittier part of town (but in reality is just more residential) begins. One side of the block has high-end restaurants and shops, the other a package store that people walk to and purchase cigarettes, alcohol, or food. It's also literally where the light meets the the dark, there's is a noticeable drop in ambient light from stores and restaurants at this intersection, making the glow of these eyes even more noticeable.

Before long I knew I had to paint this scene, so I went out a few nights in a row and worked en plein air. While outside at my easel, I got a small taste of what these eyes gaze upon each night. Meetings and conversations from the nearby restaurant's outdoor seating area. Goodbyes and a few inebriated arguments between diners after their meals. Trips back and forth to the package store, some quietly on their own, others in loud groups. A yelling match between rivals, a few excited conversations between friends, some traffic disputes settled with honking horns, roaring engines, and impolite gestures. There were people walking their dogs (or perhaps dogs walking their people) and quieter scenes after the restaurants closed, of tired kitchen and wait staff having a smoke or cleaning up.

Since first reading The Great Gatsby as a young teen, it has remained a favorite book mine and I couldn't help but to compare these glasses to the bespectacled eyes on the T.J. Eckleburg billboard in the novel. The title of the painting is a nod to Gatsby, since these eyes, with their burning neon gaze, also see two worlds. Perhaps judging, or maybe just looking on indifferently and unblinkingly.

If you'd like to read another painting story check out this post about "Snow Squall".

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