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Koch, Lewis, 1949- / Lewis Koch ; notes from the stone-paved path : meditations on north India

Dharwadker, Vinay
How the eye forgets: on looking at Lewis Koch's pictures,   pp. 42 and 43-44 and 45

Page 44 and 45

eye forgets that it may well be a musical-- and not an optical-- instrument,
capable of
being tuned with almost infinite precision.  The harmony of shapes and sizes,
textures and
lines, of weights and edges and highlights, of shadows and middle tones,
reflected lights and
shadow accents, has no name that it can borrow from outside the universe
of music.
And, though so utterly different, my eye cannot move over these images without
a trace of the
memory of Robert Mapplethorpe's surfaces scorched onto its retina.  How can
we not see that
the true texture of human skin, the real enigman of the human face. the human
quality of the
light glistening in a subject's eye and upon his or her cheekbone, forehead,
and chin can only
be represented faithfully in black and white?  Color must be the great illusion
that reality thrusts
upon our buzzing brain-cells.  Hue and tint: the most transient, the most
intrusive, the most
dispensible?  Even the classically trained portraitist in oil-on-canvas,
an invention only of the
early Renaissance in a Europe already colonizing the world, has to first
envision his or her
subject in black and white: the underpainting develops into a fully articulated
picture in ivory
black and lead white, upon which the eye and the brush then lay multiple
glazes and half-
pastes, translucent sheets of color that strive to displace the monochromatic
essence of form
and texture toward the rectangulated illusion of a slice of reality.  Hence
Mapplethorpe's insis-
tence, in so many of his photographs, on a celebration of the black and white
skin of all
things human and natural.  Color can only be a distraction, an addictive
additive to that archi-
tecture of represented forms.
And also the simple, persistent idea in the work of the American painter
R. B. Kitaj, raised in
Ohio but long exiled in London, who got it exactly right: that there are
many books inside a
picture.  A concept toward which Lewis Koch's coupling of image and text
gravitates aptly and
recurrently, linking different minds and moments in history, because the
eye often forgets to
read the lines scripted invisibly into the visible surfaces of otherwise
inarticulate reality.  As I
looked at his images of the Qut'b Minar complex for the first time.  I couldn't
help but
remember fragments of my own poems about Delhi and its local histories, written
in expatri-
ation as a young man in central Pennsylvania in the early 1980s.  One in
particular, a passage
from "A Draft of Excavations," which appeared in Sunday at the
Lodi Gardens (1994):

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