I see hands twitch jobless on the train, others clutching a coffee, a bubble tea, or a steamed bun. On the 7 train, some Korean girls have recently been rocking different colors on each nail. Green for the thumb, blue for the index, orange in the middle. They fiddle with their iPods. The touch screen has given the hand a new lexicon of moves, new patterns for its work. A flick of the fore finger and thumb offers up a new world on a new screen.

A dignified Indian man, always in a proper suit, always sitting, wraps his hands around an English language newspaper. His eyes track each word into sentences. He probably reads it in the same way everyday. The paper is part of his uniform. It turns out that many are clutching a paper, some handed to them for free at the base of the subway station on Roosevelt Ave in Flushing by a Chinese man whose posture is diminishing. His eyes look up in spite of the forces pulling the rest of his body down, through glasses, past the bill of his incongruent red baseball cap, and with his parched but eager hand, pushes a paper towards an onslaught of commuters: “Morning! AM New York.”

As a young couple drifts asleep on this rumbling, packed train, their fingers find eachother and lock together on her lap. She’s Chinese. Her fingers are long and bony like her, and today the nails are freshly painted fire-engine red. He’s Hispanic with an over abundant frame and naturally chunky hands. Across the way, a middle-aged white man in a raincoat looks straight ahead with his hands grasping his knees. His hands default to his knees when they’re at rest; they are its holsters. Sitting still like that for the whole train ride, he begins to look unnatural. His hands’ stillness holding on to violence.

Hands are the most difficult part of the human body to paint because of their delicate proportions – if the first knuckle of the thumb (the one closest to the wrist) isn’t just the right distance from the first knuckle of the other fingers, the whole hand can look grossly deformed. Its colors are a complex blend of flesh tones, reds, greens and purples. Hands are always gesturing. Painting them, therefore, is painting movement with psychological or emotional effect. Compare the hands in a John Singer Sargent painting to the cloud studies of John Constable and you will see that painting hands are like painting clouds.


One Comment on “Hands”

  1. This note reminds me the works of Daragh Reeves, about hands ( but those are drawings ).
    Also, I remember a beautiful painting that my nephew did when he had 9 years old. I asked him ” what is that? ( I knew… )- he said ” is a hand holding a cup” .
    Still I keep it and I think about it…
    Great note Herb!

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