Monday, November 10, 2014

Visual Art & Perfume- A Personal Connection

For my recent draw I asked you to tell me about a favorite work of art and the perfume/scent you connect to it. This is a hard one, I know, as not everyone tends to link images or sounds with scents. I don't have synesthesia, but I tend to think of sensations in visual terms: colors, textures, amount of light. I also connect scenes, music, and smells and tell myself stories about them (no matter how far-fetched they might be). Which brings us to my own favorite paintings and perfumes that I associate with them.

I'm not going to reveal anything earth-shattering or even original by telling you that my favorite painter is Edward Hopper (1882-1967). His city interiors, rural snapshots, and lonesome figures hit a chord for me the very first time I was old enough to pay attention and understand years ago. I always feel like I'm right there, seeing, hearing, and yes--- smelling. Take for example the painting above, New York Interior (1921). The women in that small room is sewing or mending fervently. The space is tight and feels stuffy, the open window suggest warm weather, the women's hair is down and almost seems to be mid-hair -doing, like she'll soon be styling it and putting the hair back up. She probably feels a bit hot, maybe sweating lightly. And what is it that she's sewing? Is she putting the last stitches on the new dress she'll be wearing tonight? Or is she mending a hemline that got frayed the last time she was out on a date? In any case, while the current scene seems somewhat uncomfortable, there's a sense of anticipation. Something exciting will happen when she puts on the dress and finishes getting ready. Soon someone will be at her door and she will leave the small room for a night out on the town. Maybe she'll wear Mitsouko.

From the crowded New York apartments we're moving out of town, to the rented summer home of Second Story Sunlight (1960). The two women (mother/daughter? great aunt/niece?) are together yet separated by more than a generational gap. The older woman, fully dressed, prim and proper, is trying to read but her attention drifts off to some point outside the canvas, unknown to the viewer. What does she see? Is it the coastline? the mailman's arrival with news from the city? a bird? And does she disapproves of the younger woman's two-piece bathing suit? And what about the young woman's gaze? She's sunbathing, her posture and choice of seat revealing a certain pride in her beautiful figure. She's flaunting her bosom, her smooth skin (I want to hand her a bottle of SPF 60), and her blond hair, hoping to be noticed... by whom?  Is she taking it the lovely scene? Does she notice the pine trees? Can she smell the ocean?

I think she's wearing something transforming and tropical, perhaps evocative of the vacation of her dreams. A true-to-the-era perfume would be Jungle Gardenia bu Tuvache, but I actually smell Moonstone by Sage Machado when I look at her. And her aunt? I see her in Lucien Lelong. Probably the 1940 Tailspin from her youth.

We're back in the city. A Room In New York (1932) is probably my favorite Hopper painting because it tugs at my heartstrings so much. Such a beautiful couple in what looks like a beautiful NYC apartment. The room is finely decorated, the man and woman are well-dressed. But it's just appearances. The tension and isolation are palpable.  She's bored. Playing a few notes on the piano but with no intention to find solace in music. He's ignoring her, concentrating on stock market news in the paper. They're sitting so close to each other, within an arm's reach, really. Yet separated and alienated, and no one is reaching his arm. Maybe in a second she'll close the piano with a bang that will grab his attention. She'll say: "Damn it, John!" and he'll pull her towards him to the plush armchair and hold her close, as though apologizing. He'll inhale her Joy deeply as she presses her cheek to his hair, smelling the brilliantine as well as the room's odor of furniture polish and slightly dusty velvet. She'll re-apply her Joy and they'll finally go out for dinner and dancing in a swanky club.


  1. What a beautiful piece Gaia, a joy to read.

  2. I, too, love Hopper, and I don't think I've ever seen that first painting. My first thought was a dancer mending her costume, and that it was by one of the French painters of Degas' era. There is a connection in the colors that I had not seen before. Your scent stories add a new dimension. Thank you, Gaia! nozknoz

  3. A very, very interesting post! I, too, had never seen the first painting before and it's the most intriguing Hopper I've ever seen - thank you for sharing it. (And Nozkoz is right, very Degas-inspired colours.) I have never thought of scenting them but will have to muse on my favourite paintings: those by Toulouse-Lautrec (my big fave), one or two Nice-era Matisses, Max Beckmann and a handful of paintings by other Expressionists of that period, and the Canadian painter Alex Colville. Like just about everybody else, I like O'Keeffe, but won't think of scenting any of her paintings, since she was so grouchy about things being "imposed on" her work, and I love a few of the Richter cloud/seascapes and the turned-away female portraits, but they're tough to scent, somehow.

  4. You are writer extradornaire! Thank you

  5. Fantastic choice of paintings by Hopper and really enjoyed reading your stories for them - brilliant. Don't know why I so often seem to think in terms of books (am not a writer, but have a life long profound love of reading), but this post made me immediately think how much I would love to read a whole book of brief passages or stories related to paintings, especially with perfume references. I hope you do more of these posts and/or put them in a book.


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