January fruit bowl in oils

January 31, 2014

where I stopped

January fruit  2014

This is where I stopped, I could have done more, but liked the slightly raw quality. The photo is more contrasty than the painting, it was hard to capture-  it is actually dark and muted, not quite so harsh as it is here, especially the reds and ochres. The format is largish-
around 50 x 50cm.

It was difficult for me to not continue working and put in the pattern on the fabric. It was a good decision and is part of letting go and making one’s own choices about what to put in and what to leave out. It was good to go for the larger lines and not fuss over every detail.

Here is a peek at the fabric:


Further musings on Cézanne

January 29, 2014

Cezanne still life with a ginger jar

Cezanne still life with a ginger jar

Generations of artists have been moved by the work of Paul Cézanne. What is it about these seemingly unassuming paintings which, in the words of Rilke, ‘struck like a flaming arrow’?  He goes on to say that Cézanne, ‘remained in the innermost center of his work for 40 years’.

What is it to ‘remain in the innermost center’ of one’s work; is it perhaps this quality which speaks to many modern painters in our distracted and fragmented times? I know this idea hits me a certain way, as an admonishment and an inspiration both.

I don’t think it is just the freshness and purity of his still-lifes and landscapes that has made him such a (distant) mentor for so many. Knowing something about his life- the early struggle to acknowledge art as his path and  commit to it, and the truly cruel repudiation he received at the hands of critics-  you feel the dogged courage it must have taken to keep painting anyway. And as importantly, to stay true to himself in his work.

In the mid through late 1870s, he was associated with the Impressionists, and was represented in most of their early exhibitions. But he gradually withdrew, finding their emphasis on surface light and the fleeting moments of nature too superficial compared to the direction he felt pulled in. He wanted depth. His approach to nature was to look for the enduring and solid. Even his still lifes reflect a timeless presence.
Additionally, conflicts with some of those associated with Impressionism in Paris could have contributed to his distancing himself from the movement.

Looking at one of Cézanne’s still-lifes, you see numerous imperfections which add up to a lively, beautifully balanced whole. There are some potentially disturbing deviations, where ovals on bowls and pitchers are askew. Some analysts claim these were deliberately done in order to achieve balance in the composition, others disagree. I’m undecided, Cézanne could draw beautifully and I’m sure he had mastered the laws of perspective. Perhaps it is that he was less concerned about getting everything Right. And that the constant interplay of various visual distortions create the underlying tension in the paintings which makes them, as well as harmonious, also exciting and alive.

When artists copy Cézanne, it isn’t the personal quirks, but, I feel, rather an attempt to emulate the truth this work radiates. It is ‘clean’ in the sense of having very little ego overlaid onto it.

Certainly Cézanne was aware of himself as a painter, perhaps even as a key figure in heralding a new modern age in painting. He wasn’t without ambition, but when he was engaged in the work it was an all-encompassing communion between him and his subject.
I sense that reverence and concentration and it moves me.

There is a direct observation of form, yet also something entirely his own. In ‘Conversations with Cézanne’ by Emil Bernard, the young painter observed Cézanne at work, and reveals that over the years Cézanne had developed a complicated technique of working from dark to light, through layers of rhythmic brush strokes, and that through this ‘modulation’ forms were built up directly out of colour.  As spontaneous as some of his work looks, it was the product of a well thought out technique; and he worked with a clear intended direction.

In an earlier post, I said that I thought his still lifes were probably accomplished in a few sittings. They looks so fresh and directly painted. Well, the old man has something to say about this:

I’ve stayed faithful to that object- I copied that there, do you see? There are months of work in that. Laughing, crying, teeth gnashing. We were talking about portraits. People think that a sugar bowl doesn’t have a face, a soul. But it changes daily. You have to know how to look at them. Those fellows over there, the glass and plates- they’re having a conversation. They are constantly confiding in each other.’ (as told to Joachim Gasquet, quoted from ‘Cézanne’, Hajo Düchting)

Following the colour wheel

January 20, 2014

Had a good morning working in luscious honeyed yellows, oranges, and vermilions.  The fruit is handled in the way I hope to eventually be able to paint everything, I ‘know’ it from within, and only have to enjoy following the colours and contours. My old teacher and mentor Abe Weiner told me that when painting apples, for instance, you can follow the contours with colours as they are arranged on the colour wheel. So your reds will be next to oranges, which will merge into yellows, and these will lead to the greens. It is a good guide for dealing with the myriad shades in apples and pears. Although, sometimes the greens will be right next to the reds, which makes for some visual excitement.

A little bit of the white edge of the bowl is sketched in, have to work into that more later.
I’ve been following Cezanne on this part only so far as he often uses very dark or black outlines to sharply define certain edges. I have been applying this to see how it feels to me. So far I like it but am not sure if this will be part of my own working method. Basically I’m only taking a few hints from the examples I have of his set up in the studio, I like, for example his lack of blending on certain areas. and I like the slightly raw quality that gives. But mostly I’m following my own instincts on this part because I’m more sure of myself, having recently had about 8 months straight of painting fruit! Not to mention numerous still lifes from my previous painting history.

Last week friends came over for dinner and just before leaving late that night, came up to the studio to see my recent oil paintings. They have been loyal followers and collectors of my art from several periods, and they hadn’t seen this recent development. Turned out, they couldn’t leave without ‘Pears in Sunlight’.

Pears in sunlight    Oil on canvas board

Pears in sunlight Oil on canvas board  SOLD

So that is my first oil painting sale from this recent period of work. It feels wonderful and vindicates my feeling that one can sell according to one’s own convictions, and circumvent the galleries and internet selling sites. The price made sense to both parties (without the 40-50% gallery mark-up). It was sold in the atmosphere of personal connection between friends, and a painting of mine will now continue its life as part of theirs.

Working on the light and dark folds of cloth

Working on the light and dark folds of cloth

Working on this particular still life, I’m at a stage in the work where the luminosity of the first under-painting is partly lost. This is often a difficult period because, before now, I haven’t had a clue about how to recover it. But now, I sense where I am going and know approximately how I can get there. I’ve got the main masses blocked in, and later I can be a bit freer with my brushstrokes, taking my example from the two Cezanne still life’s I have on my drawing table.

When standing in front of the originals of some of my favourite painters, I’m struck by the directness of the brushwork; it never looks either hesitant or laboured. I don’t know for sure, but I feel that Cezanne rarely worked for long on one of his landscapes, they look to be done in a sitting or two. I’m less sure about the still lifes, but they also look fresh and immediate.

When I, as an intermediate painter, try to imitate that direct approach, I quickly lose my way. Spontaneous brush work comes form knowing your subject and mastery of technique.

Still, none of my role models were born with that confidence, and it is heartening to see how many ‘wrong’ turns established painters have taken before they hit their stride.

At the beginning of his career, one of my favourite artists, Jeroen Krabbé, painted some OK seascapes, still lifes, and portraits. They were indistinguishable from other beginning artists. Looking at an overview of his work to date, it took some 10 years of painting for his unique vision to emerge. During that time you  can clearly see the influences of other artists in his early work, until at some point these all get integrated into his particular way of working.

I avoid using the word ‘style’ here because it implies something superficial, whereas, mature artists work at a profound level of interconnected disciplines. This includes having developed a solid visual and technical vocabulary. While ‘style’, on the other hand is simply something a lot of painters stick on to their work as a way to distinguish themselves in the market arena.

The painters who every generation of artists take as examples, evolve and grow, as does their, (ok this once), ‘style’. But the change in appearance and approach is part of an organic development and transformation taking place within the individual artist. It can’t help but be influenced by the times, but most painters whose work has become timeless have gone beyond the style of the day to find their own truth. And it is this truth which some of us aspiring painters respond to so deeply.

Monsieur Cezanne

January 17, 2014

It is good to be painting again and at the same time studying Cezanne’s life and work. The book I’m reading is coffee table format from Taschen publishers, it was originally German and I’ve got the Dutch translation from the library.

First stage, roughing in the colours

First stage, roughing in the colours

So much to say, where to start.

This stage of a painting is my favourite, everything is still open.  The composition is solid enough to hold it, and the subject familiar enough not to pose too many technical problems. I love it as it is, it hardly needs anything more in some ways. The eternal dilemma, how to work on anyway, and keep the original freshness.

All the while, I’m thinking about Cezanne on 2 levels- personally, how it was for him as an artist, and technically, how did he solve this, what brush strokes did he use and when, how did he apply paint, how did he use colour?

It was really tough for Cezanne as an artist. His father wanted him to work in the family banking business, his home life in general pulled him emotionally this way and that. He made some truly awful paintings in the beginning! We rarely see those! It wasn’t that they were just immature, (they according to his biographers are packed with symbols representing his inner conflicts), they are dark, and not particularly well painted.

Early work of Cezanne

Early work of Cezanne    Source   

What is so inspiring about his life is the gradual inner transformation he underwent which enabled him to gain the discipline to really work at getting his emotions under control, and to finally devote himself to his art despite huge lack of self confidence.  All this was reflected in the growing stability and harmony of his  images.

His relation to the Impressionists is a whole other story, and just as riveting from the point of personal transformation, individuation and art. Mostly he was a loner, following his heart, weathering rejection and ridicule, carving out his own path with very little respect or support from all but a few of his peers. His brush strokes are born out of this, forming the beautiful, strong and rhythmic surfaces of his mature paintings. Everything works, the compositions, unity of colour, application of paint- and he had to fight for all of it, most often working alone in uncertainty.

Chateau de Medan, Cezanne

Chateau de Medan, Cezanne   Source

So back to me, one of Cezanne’s countless students from afar, more than a century separating us, but still feeling his presence close. How do you apply paint, how do you handle a patterned cloth, indicate the pattern but not lose the light and dark movements of the folds? How do you define an edge, how do you apply the paint and keep the stroke fresh and separate yet have it harmonise with the strokes next to it and the painting as a whole? Monsieur?

And this is a difficult stage of a painting, the part where by making a few decisions you instantly eradicate the infinite futures of your painting and limit it to one outcome. My heart always sinks a bit when  I start to apply thicker paint, my own limitations are more evident, and the lofty hopes I had at the beginning start to come down to earth more. Oh well, the way to get to your work, the bright, soaring, uniquely own work you were born to do, is simply to do the next painting.

Stage 2, starting to apply thicker paint

Stage 2, starting to apply thicker paint

The spell of Cezanne

January 14, 2014

I’m painting again. It feels like coming alive, or stepping into sunlight after months in a cave. I think November last year was my last painting and it stranded from lack of inspiration.

In between times.

Incubation periods.

Heavens, they are so hard to navigate. Every.  Single. Time.

I’ve been creatively active with various crafts, volunteer work, writing, etc. So I’ve been ok, but underneath is that constant worry that the will to paint won’t come back, and also the longing to be immersed again, in the search, the problem solving, the bliss, the colour the vapours of oils and paints.

Eisenstein speaks of receiving a vision of one’s next step as a gift, but he also says that the ‘volition’ to follow that vision is also a gift. Yes, it is so true.

I’m under the spell of Cezanne at the moment- have visited two of his canvasses which are part of the show, Natural Beauty’, here in the Groningen Museum, and last year in Germany and England.  What is it about his still lifes especially which keep inspiring artists down the years? Funny, when I am standing in front of one, it doesn’t give me the buzz I get from other favourite painters, rather it reassures me. They are so matter of fact and unassuming. This is an apple, these are a bunch of apples on a table on a cloth or in a dish. They don’t look easy, it isn’t that- they just ‘Are’, so much so they reach directly into the heart of life and into the heart of the viewer.
I’m reading about him- his work developed in a chaotic time in the 1880s when painting was being reinvented. He got drawn to the Impressionists, then he pulled back to find his own truth, and ultimately moved closer to the Symbolists- so says the book I’m reading. I don’t know enough factual art history from that period to comment further on this point.

Cezanne still life with a ginger jar

Cezanne still life with a ginger jar

Cezanne still life

Cezanne still life

I feel that 2014 must be as chaotic as 1880 was, as far as what art is, what it wants to be. The writer says that the chaos in art reflected what was happening in the society.That is true of these times as well. What does one paint and why, and, artists of our day have been asking themselves for decades, ‘does it really matter?’

I lost inspiration after a good long run with my Friend’s Fruit Bowls series. I had a gallery here to look at the work recently and they found some of it ‘conventional’. People often encourage me to follow my more whimsical style because it stands out more and is more unique (ie will sell better). But I’ve stood in front of a Cezanne and felt an answer to something I didn’t know I’d asked.
It is not very fashionable to keep working away on still lifes, fruit, cloths, bottles- we’ve seen all that. After I more or less finished with the fruit bowls, I was wondering what would be next, I thought I was done with that. But when I listened properly, it was, ‘More Fruit!!!!’

So I set up a still life (innocent husband reaches for a pear and is strangled) and am all fired up again. Mr Cezanne is close by, open to a spread of still lifes on the work table, I will shamelessly follow his lead, and so learn where I’m meant to go. But God, does it ever feel good to be back in the saddle again!

Under painting, thinned oils on a ground of raw sienna and white acrylic

Under-painting, thinned oils on a ground of raw sienna and white acrylic

Serious bead habit

January 11, 2014

Kristina from decorartuk once again inspired me by her recent post on beading. She’s made some lovely woven bracelets.

classic bead loom

classic bead loom

It must be in the air, or telepathy, but I was thinking of taking out my bead loom again and weaving some new seed bead bracelets.  Beading has long been a hobby of mine, and when it comes to buying new colours I’m a serious addict. A past post shows the harvest from the last bead fair I visited, plus some projects I was working on at the time. I’ll post a few of those pictures again here.

fun at the bead fair

fun at the bead fair

Mostly tending towards blues, purples and aubergines

Mostly tending towards blues, purples and aubergines

Happy beading K, here are some of my past creations, I’ll post my new ones when I start on them.

woven beaded bracelets, worn regularly 2-3 at a time

woven beaded bracelets, worn regularly 2-3 at a time