Bonnard, Pierre - La Salle a Manger a la Campagne - Nabis - Oil on canvas - Still Life - Minneapolis Institute of Arts - Minneapolis, MN, USA

Pierre Bonnard   La salle a manger a la campagne  Source

In 1998, the London Tate had a comprehensive show of Pierre Bonnard’s paintings. Looking at the catalogue I see that the exhibition filled no less than 10 rooms. I remember moving through these rooms being immersed in the wonderful colours of these paintings.

I bought the accompanying book of the exhibition , ‘Bonnard colour and light’ by Nicholas Watkins and have recently come back to it. There is a curious item in the section on Bonnard’s language of colour describing how the artist felt about his palettes:

For Bonnard a palette did more than establish a colour scheme and an overall tonality of a painting; it was in a sense an embryo painting. Pictorial ideas would develop out of his responses to the actual colours put down on the palette. …On a studio visit in 1943, André Giverny noted that he kept a separate plate, an improvised palette, for each painting. ‘Why destroy a series of ideas which could be useful?’, Bonnard observed.

The idea of establishing a palette as a tool for determining the tone of a painting was new to me. I’d been wanting to adapt some of Bonnard’s glowing warm/cool contrasts to one of my next fruit bowl paintings, hopefully breaking me out of my fixation (in my oil painting work at any rate) with reproducing colours realistically.

This is the acrylic underpainting. (This painting was completed, by the way, before I started the 37 minute series, and already has some of their freshness.)

Jantine's  underpainting

The next stage was completed fairly quickly and left a bit rough without reworking it.

Interim stage

Interim stage

Completed painting below- looks like it loses a little a little strength perhaps, partially due to different lighting when shooting the photos.

I wanted to capture the blue glass bowl and reflections.

Jantine's  oil on canvas board

Jantine’s oil on canvas board

palette for this painting

palette for this painting

Love was found, swimming by full moon

Love was found, swimming by full moon

Heavy sky, empty land, threatening sea, the dike holds.

Heavy sky, empty land, threatening sea, the dike holds.

Low sun on the (Dutch) High land, grain, cattle, folk,  everything turns gold.

Low sun on the (Dutch) High land,
grain, cattle, folk,
everything turns gold.

A note on the above text- in the Gronings dialect, goud also means ‘good’. So in the Dutch, the sun is setting, touching all on the land with a golden light and all is good/gold

Put on the sky, today it looks good on you.

Put on the sky, today it looks good on you.

Friends of mine celebrated the 15th anniversary of their stone cutting business. Bertus is a skilled letter carver and we’ve had some great collaborations over the years. To celebrate, there was a poetry contest organised, the poems were not allowed to be longer than 45 letters. The poem winning the first prize would be carved in stone and presented to the village where Bertus lives and works.  And the other top 9 chosen would be typeset or calligraphed. I received the commission to letter 4 pieces.

The text, loosely translated from the Dutch is under each piece. I used collage, watercolour, and oil pastel/gouache.

It was a bit difficult getting into doing calligraphic work again. But once into it, it was fun. They were well received and one, possibly two have sold.

The poets are, from top to bottom: Maarten Bronts, Frits Visser, Sijmen Tol, and Mischa van Huijstee

Back in the 80s, I was already feeling uneasy about my purpose as an artist; and authors like Suzi Gablik were beginning to articulate just where Modernism had gone wrong. At that time, there were few alternatives to the traditional art channels like galleries, museums, concert halls, theatres.

There were edgy art happenings popping up in the fringes; some centring on the damage we were doing to the environment, some focusing more on social causes. Then Gablik came out with ‘The Re Enchantment of Art’, once again, way before her time in sensing what was to come. This book documented artists working with ecological and social themes, and seriously questioning their purpose as artists.

‘Conversations at the End of time’ followed, in the 90s I believe. This was a very disturbing book about art having lost its purpose. There were a few light points, but generally the interviews with artists, critics, gallery and museum curators, documented where art was at the end of the 20th century- in a serious meaning crisis.

In these past 30 years, many artists including myself have been questioning how being in the studio making things is relevant in our times. In a past article, (I still can’t find the source, but the gist stayed with me), Gablik declares that artists can no longer make art in complete disregard for the planet.

And finally, this quietly posed question- once seeming irrelevant to so many in the art fields- is supremely relevant to everyone. With so much breaking down in the society, from the environment to the healthcare, educational, and financial systems, we are asking ourselves how we can use our art to contribute to solutions. Anyone who has worked honestly with their gift knows art’s healing and transformative power. And now, finally,  significant numbers of us are bringing these to bear on the broken world we find ourselves in.

All the small, previously invisible projects and initiatives, are starting to connect. Finally, finally! there is critical mass and something completely new is happening in the arts. All of us who have felt out of place in the commercially co-opted art world and have sensed that there is so much more we can be and do, are getting vindication. Not only that, there is a new sense of purpose in creating.

And the dreadful isolation is over, because in these new times, creating is connecting.

I’ve fallen, by grace,  into a community of like-minded people and will introduce you to them, their ideas and lives through this medium. But I have formed another blog to map these new meanderings and musings. For the moment artcalling is more focused on art process and certain questions about the role of the arts and artists now. And tendingtime is a more personal diary of the journey, meant to start and continue conversations with others in an in between place in their lives and art.

A friend recently commented on my paintings and recognised the 37 minute one (see previous post) as a turning point. It feels that way to me as well. I’ve done 2 more and intend to continue at least for awhile.

What painting fast does:

  • It launches me out of attention to detail and forces me to concentrate on large forms
  • Painting quickly encourages me to mix on the canvas instead of the palette, resulting in fresher colours
  • Not having time to constantly correct or blend strokes leaves the rendering rougher but fresher
  • The painting tends to capture the essence of the subject rather than getting lost in surface details
  • Painting fast is scary to the perfectionist in me but it forces me to let go enough to really risk
  • Accepting the ‘mistakes’ is liberating  and prevents focus on ‘getting it right’
  • It silences the inner critic because it feels like it is just a study, not a ‘finished’ painting

Painting fast is scary, but it shoves me so far out of my comfort zone that change is allowed to happen! I’ve been striving to loosen up ever since I picked up my painting again 2 years ago. But it is hard to not go on repeating familiar habits, and you rarely reach new ground without some kind of aha! or shock. Once I had something jolting enough to shift my perception – with permission, a workshop leader slashed a great stroke of thick paint on a landscape I had been stuck on. My perception changed, but on ce I got back to my studio, I didn’t know how to get to that freedom on my own. It is a process and you need to have patience.

Having to get a lot of things down on the canvas in a limited time, you have to choose what the priorities in the painting are. And then you set the timer and paint like crazy, picking up gobs of colour on the brush and just getting them down in approximately the right places, then moving on to the next area. It is very intense to work this way,

I’m outside my comfort zone most of the time. But that seems to be the magic zone where the painting can come alive in its own right without me imposing all kinds of preconceived notions onto it.

(See Cat Lupton’s recent post on Losing perspective, for a personal musing on the kinds of decisions that are made in a specific painting, both artistically and historically) .

The last point in the list, accepting mistakes,  is probably the key to how I need to approach painting from now on.  Up until now I have been caught up in making beautiful paintings or simply getting things to look right. All of this is necessary but doesn’t create living work. I am not discounting my more precise, realistic work, but a lot of it didn’t have the potential to soar, and I sense in this new step, that the work is taking on the capacity to surprise, and delight me. And to somehow bypass the overly concerned,decision making, limited, directing, left brain part of me.

And obviously this has implications for my life outside of painting. How could it not? These are important developments which can’t help having impact on how I think and live. If, in the world of the canvas,  I can let go, accept mistakes, accept things as they are, delight in imperfection, follow my intuition, let the world speak to me without imposing my view of things, wouldn’t that mean a gentler, less worrying, more relaxed me? With or without paintbrush in hand. 🙂

37 minute painting

September 5, 2013

Tanny's fruit bowl  Oil on canvas board

Tanny’s fruit bowl Oil on canvas board

This piece was done today in 37 minutes, inspired by Robert Genn’s ’37 club’.  It is 30 x 40 cm (about 12″ x 16″).

I’ve been receiving Robert Genn’s wonderful artist’s newsletter, ‘Painter’s keys’ for several years now. Even when I was convinced I wouldn’t ever get back to painting seriously, I always read each letter. Robert always addresses central issues to creating art, everything from why inspiration hits some times and not others, and what to do about it to getting a good gallery, to self evaluating your work.

I am sure the support it gives and the community around it have helped pave the way to finding my way back to oil painting.

The 37 club stems from a painting workshop exercise that Robert and his daughter Sara give to their participants. You have to finish a piece in 37  minutes (which just happens to be the time span of their hourglass).  This technique breaks you out of getting fixated on details, and the results certainly surprised me. I didn’t have any idea how I would get all that fruit, the bowl and the cloth even sketched, in that amount of time. But I worked fast and directly with thicker paint than I usually use. The result is another step in the direction I’m moving, which is more painterly, less precise. Like one of those mysterious canvasses which look abstract up close,

Detail from Canadian painter exhibition

Detail from Canadian painter exhibition

and then resolve into a beautiful realistic scene when you move back.

Canadian painter, 20th century

Canadian painter, 20th century

These were taken awhile back at the Groninger Museum, sorry I can’t remember the name of the specific painter, the show was called The Canadian 7, I believe, and showed wonderful outdoor art done by a group of men in working en plein air in the Canadian wilderness.

As to the 37  minutes, before I put the timer on, I did make a pencil sketch to analyse the oval and the negative shapes. I put down an acrylic under-painting in raw sienna and cadmium medium which is why it looks sunny where that shines through the hastily applied paint. And I painted in the contours of the bowl, fruit and cloth roughly in acrylic. I squeezed out my paints, put on the timer and painted like mad, even finishing 5 minutes before time.  I was tempted to do a little touching up, but the whole point of the exercise is to just leave it, for goodness sake!!  So I am.

(From a photo by the way).


Still image from Doug Aitken’s project, Migration

I had some days to spend in Liverpool last November! It was cold and grey and wet, but that all changed when I walked into The Source, an installation at the Liverpool Tate. I entered a dark, round, thickly insulated space with about 10 huge video screens going around the outside wall.  Each one contained a different interview with an artist (architect, musician, painter, conceptual artist etc.). The installation was by Doug Aitken, and like all his work I’ve seen since, it widened my perspectives on just what art is about right now and what it can do.


The Source, installation by Doug Aitken at the Liverpool Tate, 2012

His latest work is called Station to Station and is exciting. Starting in a few days, Americans, if they are lucky enough to live along the train tracks, can enjoy performances and exhibitions live, in cities strung across the country like so many beads along the train’s route.

Not the actual train, but an just to give the idea     Source

From the site:

Organized by artist Doug Aitken, Station to Station will connect leading figures and underground creators from the worlds of art, music, food, literature, and film for a series of cultural interventions and site-specific happenings. The train, designed as a moving, kinetic light sculpture, will broadcast unique content and experiences to a global audience.

I love artists who blast apart my preconceptions about anything. This is such an ambitious and multifaceted project which is so much about what art is and can be about today. Doug Aitken is someone who is deeply passionate about creating and the creative process. His work is beautifully conceived, crafted, and carried out; he is generous about turning the spotlight on other artists; and he has an alive sense of wonder that is communicated through all he does.

Here is a little sample from one of the videos on the Station to Station site, the speaker (couldn’t find her name) tells us what art means to her city (the twin cities of Minneapolis/St Paul ), and I think captures the essence of the new directions the arts are taking everywhere:

It is a strong moment here…people believe things are possible, and that is a fertile place for art to flourish. But also there is a great love of doing things collectively. There’s this strong sense of communal pride and of wanting to gather together and make things happen, and obviously music and art are central to what makes people come together and appreciate culture, but also culture and nature, those two things come together I think.

She concludes by saying that the rich cultural base that now exists in Minneapolis/St Paul is a result of decades of culture being a central community value there.

Do go to the Station to Station site and have fun, like I did, clicking on all the different videos; they, like the one above are cameos of people and places individually inspiring- but awesome when seen together.

And check out Aitken’s  site.