“When I paint landscapes, I feel like I’ve always done them, that I know them by heart. They are my trade, easy as breathing, and create no difficulties.
“For me, however, the greatest pleasure is to overcome some difficulty, to find or invent something while I work. I begin by posing myself a problem. But I don’t wish merely to solve this problem. While I solve it, I want to find something else, I want to stumble across something that prods me into unknown territory. Out of boredom or the need to entertain myself, I end up discovering something that gives me pleasure.
“This kind of work seems to develop me, to educate me, while painting landscapes is another matter entirely. There, I enter into a much more sensual state of the soul, in which I have the satisfaction of finding exactly what I already know. Many painters surrender themselves to this sensual pleasure—it allows them to duplicate the things they already know, and they think it’s a marvel that all these creations are ultimately recognizable as their own work. It’s a little bit like fairy tales, which end exactly the same way they did the last time we heard them. And if the words are identical, so much the better.
“There is something noble and reassuring about repetition. What I see is that by putting a little pink on the horizon, and adding a little yellow that fades into blue, I get a sunset (or sometimes a dawn). It makes me feel like I’ve mastered the laws of gravity, of drying water, of absorbent paper, and so many other things: I’m a plumber, a colorist, a marvel. Let’s not even talk about when I use oil paint, because the color itself has its own beauty, its own magical, phosphorescent quality.”
—Saul Steinberg, from “Portraits and Landscapes”