A Woman Holding a Balance Johannes Vermeer
16.7 by 15 inches. Lives at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
It's my favorite painting. How can something this small seem so big to a tough old hide? It's my favorite painting. My favorite work of art. I figure it's impossible to have a favorite song, a favorite film, novel, river. Well, maybe, river.
I've spent hours with it at the National Gallery. I've driven and flown there because I needed to see it again. I've only ever done that to get beside a certain woman, a particular river. I once mooned around it for consecutive days when I had work on the Corcoran's wall. I think I may have had the guards worried. At the National.
It's a religious painting. There's little doubt about that. That's troubling to me. How dare a religious painting be my favorite. How dare a religious painting give me a blue-steel hard-on...so to speak.
I suspect, looking back from age's promontory , that this image is the very one that persuaded me - against my better judgment - to consider painting, at least this one, was essential and absolute. Whatever the fuck absolute might mean.....in ways that flee reason. And, I'm a guy (believe me) who - against all reason - believes in his heart of hearts that given sufficient time and will, everything, I mean everything, can be explained. In fact cries out for explanation.
This painting explains everything. Explains why I weep as I type this sentence about it. Just as I've wept over women, for my Father. For things I've loved beyond reason.
Imagine I'm in a car, a car I don't want to be in. I'm in the back seat, being driven north. It's fall. And because it's fall the leaves are gone. Which means I can spy, from the freeway, Amtrack rails and, now and again, a station. Every third or fourth station I make a weak suggestion to the driver, to the the front seat passenger. "Take that off-ramp". I say. "I can get the train back to New York from there." "There'll be one along anytime." I'm scrupulously ignored. They've driven this way, run this drill, many times.
Sooner than I'd like we are there. I'm told there's a room for me up the stairs. A room at the end of a hall. At hall's end, a windowed door. A fire exit. Beyond that, I see more stairs, and freedom.
I have to pee. It's going to be a long hike to a phone. I Walk into what's meant to be my room and make out A Woman Holding a Balance. A reproduction. Dropping the bag, I sit down on the bed. Decide to stay.
It's my favorite painting.