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What about Vermeer?!
Homage to Johannes Vermeer.
(Dutch Baroque Painter, 1632 - 1675)


Is it the ideology “less is more” that he seemed to live by? He painted about three pictures a year while his Dutch Golden Age colleagues were 10 to 15 times more productive. By dying young, he ensured a scarce inventory of works: only 35 paintings have been attributed to his name. Rarely so: enough to secure himself a first class spot in Art History. Also did he not leave any traces of him self. Biographers have to look at his wife's tax records to get a hint of how Vermeer lived. … My mysterious Master, that inspired oh-so many.

Is it something about Vermeer's light being so natural? Flooding through windows, peeking out behind doors in homes of classic bourgeois taste. The result of a masterful painting technique, and a visual harmonic that brings inner peace.

Or might it just be that I can recognize my Flemish little self in his paintings through the simple every day gestures of his subjects that we still make today? I pour milk into a bowl almost every morning, in the same fashion the milkmaid did 3 and a half centuries ago, although… I never quite experience such a whole and peaceful moment. A moment in and of itself so natural, so worthy of being modeled for, painted, framed and hung in one of the world’s most notorious museums.

“De Melkmeid” (The milkmaid), also known as The Kitchen Maid, is housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was painted in 1658, using oil on canvas. It has always been one of Vermeer's most popular ones to this day. It sold for 175 guilders (equivalent to US$ 57.00) in the Amsterdam auction of 1696. The image of the milkmaid has been widely used and reproduced since then, even as marketing branding for commercial products and packaging in Europe.

The milkmaid is a servant. She is painted with grace and dignity, which was not the custom in depicting servants at the time. She is humbly going about her everyday duties. Her concentration is directed completely at the milk flow, and the stream of white paint is uncannily realistic. The Delft tile at the bottom of the wall shows traveling artisans who carry their tools with them and there is a foot warmer in the bottom right of the painting.

X-rays studies reveal that Vermeer had initially painted a map on the back wall. A map he painted over -- simplifying the composition, allowing the recreation of what appeared to be an utterly peaceful moment. The only noise we’d imagine to be taking place is the refreshing soft sound of the milk pouring.

My work entitled “got milk?” is my humble homage to Vermeer and his Kitchen Maid. My own envious attempt to be the milkmaid and live such an eternity of peace: A tougher task one might think even though Vermeer’s milkmaid and I make the same gesture of pouring the milk and use the same level of concentration in doing so…

Have you paused lately and taken a look around you, even at your own kitchen table in the morning?  There is no more peace and quite, no natural feeling. Every one of your everyday consumptions is wrapped in louder then loud packaging that is meant to jump at you from their store shelves. “Pick me! Pick me!” designs that look bold and have nothing peaceful to offer.  Even breakfast has become a POP culture moment, weather you are into POP or NOT. Mind you… As an art director and graphic designer who started off in the packaging field, I find an ecstatic esthetic in it! Maybe at the loss of an endangered state of mind? Peace of mind.

Our minds are constantly perked, distracted by something. Simulated colors, gaudy brands, flamboyant marketing messages, piercing slogans… Even our food is processed and too, artificially stimulated and colored.

I have read online that between 1955 and 1998, the United States' production of food dyes quadrupled. Food dyes, or artificial food colors, are used in a wide variety of food products, including breakfast cereals, gelatin desserts, drink powders, candy, ice cream, pudding, and prepared bakery products. Some artificial food colors have been implicated in increasing hyperactivity and contributing to allergies, sleep problems, and irritability in children, so researchers from Columbia University in New York City and Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, examined a possible link between artificial food colors and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Talk about loosing inner peace, literally! Allura red has also been connected with cancer in mice.

Deep breath.

Over 100 years of speculation and controversy surround claims that “the great seventeenth-century Dutch artist” used the camera obscura to create some of the most famous images in Western art. [Ref: 'Vermeer's Camera', a book by Philip Steadman, published by Oxford University Press.] These findings do not challenge Vermeer's genius but show how, like many artists, he experimented with new technology to develop his style and choice of subject matter.

Photography is the result of combining several technical discoveries such as the camera obscura, long before the first photographs were made. But photography as a usable process goes back to the 1820s with the development of chemical photography.

Staged digital photography was the initial process used to compose the scene of my milkmaid. Alan Leerkamp, behind the camera, directed the photo shoot as I took on the role of being my own model: one step closer to becoming the sole expression of my painting. The next approach to my interpretation of Johannes’s milkmaid was to paint her with oil on a primed canvas, the more traditional medium. Finally, I used cut out pieces of the initial photography’s print outs and paper/plastic packaging parts as my “collage” materials, an echo of our disposable society. This makes for a rich mix of established, old-style and contemporary mediums perfectly bridging the morning Vermeer’s maid was pouring milk and this morning, when I fixed myself a bowl of cereal.

Not quite a parody, my milkmaid winks at today’s immoderations, she debates our current excesses and observes the world’s transformation and globalization.

Got milk?

San Francisco, CA

Deborah Jacobs
deborah@brusfo.com

dbo