Author’s Note, Erin Lee Gafill

V

Kaffe taught me to seek beauty and to find it in color.

I grew up in a house filled with my brother and various younger cousins. We had very little supervision. Kaffe took us for long walks and told us stories and we lay on the tall grass by the side of the road and listened, enthralled.

When we were older, he sent us postcards from his travels — men on horseback wearing shoes that curled up at the toes, rows of colorful spices in exotic marketplaces, embroidered tapestries like something out of The Arabian Nights. His images in word and picture captivated me.

Before I was ever a painter, Kaffe took me by the hand and introduced me to the neutral wonderland of Giorgio Morandi. He showed me the joy of looking at the same objects for over fifty years and making art from them.

It was Kaffe who introduced me to Bonnard, Matisse, Odilon Redon, and Sean Scully, and taught me that some of my greatest teachers might be found in books.

When we begin to paint together, it was always color that inspired his arrangements. I sat nearby and painted my version, sometimes literally at his elbow.

In painting with Kaffe, I’ve learned to see color in greater depth, to see its range of luminosity, and to appreciate the importance of capturing the subtle differences between hues.

It is almost as though he can hear the colors singing and, in painting what he sees, he is keying the pitch.

For years now, we have stolen a week out of our lives for this. Each May, Kaffe spends a week in Big Sur. We spend hours looking and sitting and painting and standing back, looking again and again at the same objects in new arrangements.

Trying again, seeing again.

Because it is in the pursuit of beauty, the beauty of one color singing against another, that we both find meaning.

Recently someone asked us, “Don’t you get bored painting the same things again and again?”

“Never,” was Kaffe’s reply.

And I was thinking, “After ten years l’m just getting to know them.” They have become old friends — my mother’s collection of vases in sherbet hues, the happy patterned bowls, the tangerine-and-white -triped vase.

One year we made backdrops from textiles, jazzing up the pattern game.

Last year, we stripped it all back to the simplicity of the plastic card table and the off-white wall. The restraint made all the colors hum at an even greater pitch.

It is a wonderful game — seeking, seeing, and that moment when you get it right.