A room full of Cézannes

March 1, 2014

I spent 5 days in London during the worst weather one could imagine.  There was massive flooding in Southwest England, there were rain and gale force winds in the city.  I traded the parks for the galleries and tried to make the best of it.

The undisturbed time spent with the Impressionists, but most of all the Cézannes, must have shifted some things for me, because I came home with new inspiration. What I learned most from spending time in their presence, sometimes almost  putting my nose practically on the surfaces of his canvases, and sometimes looking from further away, was that there are no tricks or formulas or secrets to good painting. Rilke, in his ‘Letters on Cézanne’, speaks about the straightforward purity of Cézanne’s search, and of the absence of any interfering concepts, ego, or ideology laid on top of the work. It simply is.

Today I went to see his pictures again: it’s remarkable what an environment they create. Without looking at a particular one, standing in the middle between the two rooms one feels their presence drawing together in a colossal reality. As if these colours could heal one of indecision once and for all. The good conscience of these reds, these blues,, their simple truthfulness, it educates you;and if you stand beneath them as acceptingly as possible,, it’s as if they were doing something for you….

It is as if the integrity of his struggle with his work releases one to be oneself. I looked at some of the strokes in his still lifes, and they are simply done- to cover the area, to get a tone in, nothing is polished up, made pretty, smoothed over in any way. He attends more meticulously to some of the fabrics and surfaces, but what one gets from the original work is that it is above all, painted. And the mark- making, rhythms, and choices are completely idiosyncratic to this one individual. Which once again gives a clue to how to paint- paint like yourself, warts and all. Don’t think too much.

The still life I’m working on now is informed by all these insights and experiences. It is from the same series as the previous one below, but has entered a new realm.


Instead of doing the acrylic underpainting in one solid colour, I followed my former mentor’s advice and loosely painted all the areas in their complementary hues. While I was doing that I let that brief go as well, and started to just use colours  I liked. Then I made a radical departure from my other realistic work, and decided to keep true to my own, rather than the ‘correct’ colours. I am still working with balances of light and dark and cool and warm, but there is suddenly much more room for me.

6 Responses to “A room full of Cézannes”

  1. ĽAdelaide Says:

    A great post. Very informative with fascinating perspectives on one of my favorite painters. I think you were lucky it was raining cats and dogs!

    • Thanks, I think I agree with you! The National Gallery was toasty and not so crowded since everyone else was lined up to see two van Gogh sunflower paintings ‘together for the first time’. Queues galore.

  2. I so enjoy watching the progress of your paintings through the pictures you take.

    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Thanks Annie. Sharing the process here is important to me since I don’t exhibit. So it is really the only channel to the outside I have for my work at this point in time. And I appreciate you and a few others who take a moment to say, ‘hey, I see what you’re doing, keep going’.

  3. decorartuk Says:

    Lovely to see different colours and to hear that sometimes rainy weather can lead to something very precious – time spent exploring, learning and getting inspired. I can see that your trip has inspired you to take a new and fresh approach.

    This time I especially like the background. It’s quite colourful, yet not disturbing. Your fruit and the scarf underneath the bowl still stand out. I also noticed that you’re putting bold black lines around the main objects, I guess this is a good way to start working on the shadows, forming clear borders between the fruit in a bowl. K.

  4. HI K, as always, your comments on my work are appreciated.
    The third picture is still only an early stage of the painting, so it is hard for me to say much about it except as a passing phase in the work because it will change again, perhaps drastically.

    The black lines are drawn in in charcoal. This was an unusual beginning for me, usually I paint a solid colour in in acrylic and then draw the composition in with charcoal over that.

    This time I started on a white canvas! Drew the composition in with charcoal, and then painted the objects in their complementary colours more or les. Since I lost a lot of the loosely drawn in contours during that process, when the acrylic was dry I redefined all my lines.

    They are disappearing, as you see, in the third photo, when I start applying the oil paint.
    But you are right, the black lines do help define the objects adn shadows.
    love S

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