Paint Not the Thing

But the effect it provides.

You can see them in Goya: the cannibal Time eating his children, the hooded sisters pointing to the door, bodies swallowed by the earth. In the end, he was exploring the color black, not as an abstract idea, but in earnest, to know its texture. In its light, he found the spirit to move his brush. 

Rothko called them performers, the dark shapes standing by, alternately actors and choral elements in a tragedy. Out of the quarrel, we seek some calling into flight. Lorca would wait for the ghost and when it came, let it harness him by his own words.

Oh death. How she insinuates, with her senseless black strokes, some corkscrew in the guts of our continuance. She’ll have your eyes first. Here is the danger in being willing to follow. You become a walking sepulcher across sacred grounds as the somber eagles look on, poised to carve wild chasms through what moves.

What to say on these occasions? It may be this or that, but preferably both. Let only the delirious and lucid speak here. The written page is no mirror, but a way through the hall of mirrors, to these shapes that linger just beyond.


The title alludes to something Stephen Mallarmé once wrote, attempting to explain his “new conception” of poetry. I came across this in reference to the work of Robert Motherwell.

The Third of May

The logic of brutality.

Careful now. The sleep of reason breeds monsters. Look, they have arrived.

Early morning, a firing squad. Captives at gunpoint.

The sleep of reason breeds monsters armed with a multitude of manufactured reasons. The cool efficiency of mechanistic executions. The gunmen are symmetrical. Stand, aim, hold, repeat. Stand, aim, hold, repeat––a relentless column. 

Their target: crumbling, irregular men. One falls, one bleeds, one holds his head. Several hold one another. One prays. One, in the yellowed white shirt of a laborer, holds hands up, his palms already pierced by the nails of the erased cross.

In the center, a lantern. You can see what is coming next, how the soldiers will use its light to perfect their aim. The end will be quick. The march will continue.

See the bodies, finished. One bleeds into the next. The marching column, still bloodless, will move on. Where the order of the machine is the order of the moment, they will be celebrated.

In the background, a crowd with torches, looking on. Someone whispers, monsters.

Careful, don’t look. Here, take this. It will help you sleep.


Inspired by Francisco Goya’s iconic painting, The Third of May, which was groundbreaking in its depiction of brutality without catharsis. Goya’s handling of paint as well as his subversion of traditional symbols inspired a new generation of artists, including Manet and Picasso. On the disasters of war, Goya observed, “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos (The sleep of reason produces monsters).” 

Third of May, 1808 by Francisco de Goya