The muted colors in Amy Sillman’s painting Grey Cloud x 2 (2015) accumulate in thick rectangles that overlap and merge with each other, one shade quietly succumbing to the next: lavender, periwinkle, chalky violet. At over six feet high and five feet wide, the work’s magnitude evokes a time when grandiose paintings of Christ or European rulers were created in large formats meant to be seen from a distance—the pew of a church, the back of a throne room—and yet Sillman’s subjects are simple: clouds, the blending of colors, shapes slowly moving into each other. The canvas becomes a window through which we can observe an ordinary phenomenon often missed or only glanced at, and, like religious portraiture, it invites contemplation. The variations of color, the shifts from dark to light within the forms, are not immediately observable. Sillman makes us slow down, and the act of looking becomes something that unfolds gradually. The image can only make itself fully known after the eye adjusts to what it is seeing.
In the center of the painting, two red lines descend from the top edge forming a stripe that severs the composition, dividing the cloud forms. Bold and confident, the red defines the foreground of the work, pushing the more muted elements into the background. This indication of visual planes acts as a vital key to experiencing the painting: past the red lines, shadows mingle in an atmosphere of discreet purples, and beyond them, along a seam in the fog, a patch of yellow-pink emerges. The patch, when examined closely, is nothing more than a thick application of pink paint, but working within the image, it becomes a light source, the colored brightness of a rising or setting sun finding its way through a fissure in the violet mist.