"What Is Background?"

"Teacup with Oriental Rug XV"Oil on panel, 5x5 inches / 12x12 cm, 2021 (sold)
“Teacup with Oriental Rug XV”
Oil on panel, 5×5 inches / 12×12 cm, 2021 (sold)

This painting asks a question – When does the background fade into nothing, and when is it an active part of a picture? What does background even mean in a painting?

It is number 15 in a long running series showing teacups and oriental rugs – both favorite subjects of mine that speak to elegance, beauty, and a mystique that transcends the objects themselves.


This particular rug is actually a fragment, only about 16 x 16 inches, but I’ve used it in as many as 30 paintings, possibly more.

It comes from the region of northern Iran / Iraq, or possibly the area around southern Armenia, and was made around the turn of the 20th century, maybe a little earlier.


I purchased the rug in its entirety, and it was reasonably large – about 5×10 feet. As is often the case with old rugs, decades of wear had done their worst, and there was an enormous hole in the center, about 1 foot wide and 2 feet long.

Nevertheless, the outer parts of the rug (and a good deal of the interior) were in perfect shape, and what was there was magnificent – bold cheerful designs, meltingly soft wool, and deep rich colors that whispered of nature and the earth.

The damage was too extensive to make restoration an option, but I knew I had to have it, and the price was right given the condition. I saved what I could of the remnants, making several pillows, a few framed wall hangings, and this fragment that now lives in my studio.


Although it ceased to fulfil the function for which it was made a long time ago, I am delighted that it has found an active and useful second life. It continues to inspire me and find a place in my paintings – and I hope it does so for a long time to come.