The ongoing search for one’s own work
January 19, 2014
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.