An older man in Muscatine, Iowa decides to paint his kitchen windowsill. At the local hardware store he peruses paint chips and finds one that matches his house. It is named ‘Palo Alto’. He asks the young lady at the counter to mix a quart for him. As she mixes the paint, the young lady tells the man a story that her boyfriend had recently told her . She tells the man that the color ŒPalo Alto‚ was developed by an artist in California who had taken the average color of thousands of photographs of an entire city named Palo Alto.‚ The artist had photographed every house and every business by following one mail carrier per day for six months. Then, a paint company agreed to manufacture and distribute the color. The young lady explains that the artist wanted to make a painting‚ with the color. A large public art project created on a personal scale, made in people‚s homes, in disparate places, by different people. As a result, no matter what was painted, or how it was painted, or what it looked like, any application of the color Palo Alto‚ onto any surface would create a painting.‚ And, by extension, the painted object would become a work of art, authored by anyone who painted it. This would include a park bench, a birdhouse, or, a kitchen windowsill.
If we could look down from the moon, she says, and see all the places where the paint was used ˜ all the nooks and crannies, all the walls and cupboards ˜ we would see is; thousands of tiny dots scattered across the country, like a giant, pointillist painting, on a continent-wide canvas. Moments later in the parking lot, the man does not notice that he is setting the can in the center of his passenger seat, carefully, like semi-precious cargo. A rare potion for making art, or spinning straw into gold.
At home, he pries open the can and stops to stare at the green pool of pigment, framed by a rim of steel and gray. His kitchen lights are reflected in its shiny surface. He cannot help but think that it is not paint. It is The Color of Palo Alto.‚ The entire city has been squeezed into a can. Its all there. Right there on his kitchen counter. He just can’t see it. But he can imagine it. Every house and every building. There must be a lot of trees in Palo Alto.
He dips his brush into the can, breaking the surface. He does not know exactly why, but its exhilarating. He is a painter. Making a painting. And what is more, the painting is his own little secret. His own private work of art that no one needs to know about. And so, naturally, the man proceeds to tell his wife. And his best friend. And his next-door neighbor. He would like to paint one wall of his study that color. So he can daydream.
Two days later, the man fills a glass of water at the kitchen sink and notices his windowsill. He stands for a moment, thinking about his mail carrier. And his neighborhood. And his hometown. And his painting. Then he takes a drink of water, and heads back to the study.