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Canvassing Rain: Painting - Photography - Cinema

Barbara Baert


One does not look at rain, one is in rain. The tangibly detectable effect of rain is more difficult: the wet landscape or the drenched child is not a direct index for ‘rain’. To this we must add that rain is far more difficult to depict in technical-visual terms: rain cannot be rendered accurately, as it occurs in nature. One is forced to rely on lines for the effect of a deluge, or on atmospheric watercolours for damp mist. This dichotomy – graphic versus pictorial – makes rain a medium-subject par excellence. In this article, I treat three pivotal moments in the visual history of rain as a medium, namely the medium of moisture in the work of William Turner (1775-1851), Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Agnes Martin (1912-2004) and Woody Allen (°1935). “Across natural-cultural times and tales, rain, never still, relates this uncomfortable message clearly distilled: that exposure is our greatest risk and greatest potential at once. To listen to the rain is to hear the stories that rain tells, literary re-marks that reflect the physical marks the rains made on flesh and page, raindrops sprinkled on skin (L. Ducker, For All Waters)”.