November 6, 2016
This is part 2 , scroll down for part one, ‘New eyes’.
In some ways I envy artists living in the time of Matisse (late 19th early 20th century). They had a clear artistic tradition to rebel against. In other words, their explorations made sense and had a context. They were responding to what had gone before, whether they were building upon that tradition or setting off against it. The Impressionists left the hard boundaries of classic realism and idealised philosophy of Romanticism to explore the transient effects of colour and light.The Fauvists were looking for individual emotional expression through simplified form and colour. Each of these movements of the time appeared new and even radical to the eyes of their contemporaries. There were discoveries being made about just what a painting could be.
In our times, everything in painting seems to have been done, so there is very little to react against except perhaps art as commerce. Anyone trying to find their truest work is basically on their own.
Matisse came to painting relatively late in life (his early 20s). His father worked in a textile shop and his mother was a haberdasher. Matisse grew up in the heart of the textile district. He had a classical education, but also attended an art school for decorative techniques applied to fabric.
Only after an illness where he was confined to bed and began to draw did the spark catch fire, and in 1890 he began an avid search to further his art education.He attended various popular art institutions of the time including the École des Beaux arts where he was a student of Gustave Moreau. He started out like almost all of us, learning the rules of perspective, colour, and how to paint. Here is an early work.
He’d been drawing and painting by this time for about 12 years. I call this ‘early’ because in his oeuvre of nearly 600 works, this is an early stage.
Matisse went through a difficult period in the beginning of his career, but unlike many starving artists of the time soon had success, which by 1912 was international. He had the means to travel- to London where he was influenced by the paintings of Turner, and to Corsica which revealed the wonders of Mediterranean light. Later, exposure to the art, textiles and masks in Africa made a deep impression on him, as did the Byzantine art and icons of Russia.
This painting is from 1904, and was an experiment in the theories of Seurat. Placing small dots of colour next to one another to be combined visually in the eye of the viewer.
The painting below seems to be influenced by Cezanne, and the one underneath that was an early experiment in using short thick strokes of colour like van Gogh.And finally, a flirtation with cubism, which didn’t last for more than a few paintings from 1916-1918.
November 1, 2016
Have you ever noticed that something you’ve looked at for years can suddenly come alive and take you to a completely new place, enabling you see through new eyes?
That’s what happened to me with Matisse. I’d always liked his exuberant work but no more than dozens of other artists I admired.
Recently, several friends coincidentally sent me cards of his realistic paintings, then I ran across a larger reproduction of the woman above in a magazine, and voilà I was gob-smacked.
Reading of his life and taking some time to study his whole oeuvre, I began to understand why this artist and why now.
The obvious answer is that his whimsical and direct way of painting answered some call in me to be more direct in my own work. But going deeper revealed other insights.
What distinguished Matisse from many of his contemporaries was his refusal to be pigeon-holed in any one of the numerous movements in art that were coming and going at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th centuries. He flirted with Impressionism, worked in a neo-impressionist style, and was considered the French leader of the Fauvists.
But he only used each mode of working as long as it served his search for his true work. When he had integrated the techniques and philosophies of these approaches, he left them to continue his personal path of discovery.
One thing I love about his story is seeing how he was influenced by each of his encounters with contemporaries. And what contemporaries they were! He was good friends with Picasso,bought sketches by Cezanne early on, rubbed shoulders with Seurat and tried his hand at pointillism, and was blown away by Gaugin’s Tahiti paintings. Imagine being alive in those times with all of that going on! What a challenge to navigate these different streams and still come out with something original and authentic to your self. This is what touches me most about Matisse’s life long quest through painting.
Next time I’ll take you through some of his early paintings, and I’ll show the influences on his work and how he continually outgrew them.
October 23, 2016
HI folks, this is a continuation of the series I’m working on which seems to be about dancing between realism and abstraction. I needed to keep the freshness of this underpainting and sketch, so I let go of certain givens, like making the yellow ball (which was a pomegranate) bright rose red. When faced with a decision, I chose for ‘feels good’ for the whole painting, rather than ‘right’. Looking at this now, I can also see how landscape is coming in, through the patches of green, like crops seen from the sky. (The red and yellow stripe are the Dutch bulb fields 🙂 ).
Above is the ‘finished’ piece. It simply means where I chose to stop working on it. Some things aren’t ‘completed’. But it is the imperfections I love so much in others’ work so I left them in mine.
The next piece was quite different. I wanted to work with more neutral colours. It is painted over a few portrait studies I did, you can see a face peeking out behind the small dropper bottle at the upper right.
Without really thinking about it consciously, I started painting this with glazes rather than solid colour. I think that I was quite intimidated at first by the strong and dominating shadows, and this was a way to approach them cautiously.I really loved the black broken lines of the charcoal sketch, so with dry-brush I imitated them in places.
For some reason one of my favourite areas in this painting is the little rectangle with the orange and greenish blue plum on the lower right just next to the plate with radishes. I also like the shallots.
It would be tempting to ‘fill in’ everything (see bottle and dropper bottle upper right), but my instinct was to leave it. These paintings are done in a spirit of following where the painting leads. There are lots of open areas, spatially as well as in content. I like the surprises I got while painting it. Things happened which could never be planned. When you’re in that kind of flow, each painting opens out naturally into another one. I don’t have a subject yet, but this exploration will definitely continue.
Next post will be about Matisse. ah lovely.
October 10, 2016
One of my present challenges with painting is to distil some basic elements out of a crowded composition.
I don’t like to set up still lifes these days, they strike me as too formal. So when certain aspects of our messy kitchen counter caught my eye, I took a picture and decided to work with it purely as a starting point. This first piece above wasn’t entirely to my satisfaction composition wise, but I liked that I was able to break out of slavishly following the actual photo.
Later, I revisited this set up from another angle. This time I used a specific underpainting which was a previous failed work. Last post I talked about using some of my oil pastel drawings as models to kick start my painting. Take a look at the lower left panel of this piece below.
I decided to enlarge that as a separate painting. It didn’t have enough design elements to hold interest, but it made a great underpainting for the next still life I did.
I let the composition and colours of the underpainting lead my decisions in this still life. Finally, my two ways of working seem to be coming together- the realistic, and the freer, fantasy approach. I need the everyday objects to anchor and engage my attention. But I also need the room to be able to play with colour and light. I also enjoy the freedom of not having to explain everything. Areas are left out of focus and a little mysterious.
That’s why I feel that the approach to painting which speaks most to me is as poetry. Distilling the essence of something without explaining the magic away.
A lot of realistic painting bores me because of the intellectual approach. Just imitating the likeness of something even if technically well done isn’t necessarily art. As either viewer or maker, it doesn’t bring me anywhere new, it doesn’t open any doors in my heart or soul.
Here is a merged photo of the still life over the under painting.
More in this series coming soon.
October 1, 2016
It has been a challenging summer dealing with various health issues. But now I have energy again to share some of my life with anyone interested.
Making artwork has never really stopped. Some weeks after the op, I was already painting a copy of a Matisse stillife. Spring inspired me to paint trees, then I got sick in June and things ground to a halt for awhile. Around that time I started sewing a quilt by hand, having bought 2 packs of beautiful Tilda cotton squares on sale. I liked the slow pace and the kind of mindless precise work.
Fall brought new inspiration. My last post had been in June and, with the onion paintings, I had broken through to a new way of working, .
It was kind of intimidating to try and pick that up again, I’d tried and failed a few times. So I decided to ease into painting again by doing something familiar. I feel most comfortable working in defined areas, like patchwork really. My oil pastel drawings tend to begin as grids, so I chose a few of my favourites and began copying them in acrylics.
It is so true that just working, regardless of being inspired or not, most always opens up the next step.
Even though I stopped again after completing these 2 below, doing them launched me into a new phase in my painting. More about that in the next post. Meanwhile…
When stuck in one medium it is often helpful to go to another. I decided to make collages out of some old oil pastel drawings. I did one a day for a week, here they are:
take care, til next time.
May 4, 2016
It feels like grace when a group of paintings becomes a series. I don’t have to start from scratch with each canvas – the theme is decided, there is fresh inspiration, and one painting leads to the next.
Spirit of Trees is a new series, started last winter during illness, continuing now into spring with new energy and wellness. It has a particular significance to me, giving me a way to express my connection with nature- my feeling of being held/protected by it and at its mercy as well. A healthy kind of humility, I would think.
With the dog, I walk the same paths a lot here locally. Sometimes I get bored with the familiar scenery, but lately I’ve been trying to look at things with fresh eyes. Looking at trees with new affection has increased my awareness of their beautiful forms, alone and in relationship. There was a recent book here (in NL) by a forest ranger who feels keenly the emotions of trees. His lifelong association with trees has convinced him that they do form relationships, communicate with, and protect each other. I also sense different personalities in trees and enjoy communing with them.
The next painting in the series is a small study, completed in one sitting.
It was done on top of an old painting- once again the background determines the feel of the new image. I’ve left parts of the original painting showing through.
I like this one, but wanted to take the subject further. I had a clear idea that I wanted to do it in the style of David Hockney, feeling the need for sharp colour delineation and a more decorative approach.
Now David Hockney is a whole other topic. I still get blissed out when I remember stumbling by accident into his ‘The Big Picture’ exhibition in Cologne while I was there for another show. I wrote about it here. Excerpt below:
The show was a total immersion experience in the art and life of this artist of stature. I’ve always liked Hockney’s work, but these huge composite canvasses of as many as 18 paintings making up one whole wall of landscape were just awe inspiring. It was a privilege just to see this work… It was all good, all well drawn, all honest, all meaningful, relevant. And yet also decorative, unique and humorous.
I came away from that show wanting to paint in the same spirit as Hockney,( not necessarily with the same technique). At any rate, I’ve noticed that when I get gob-smacked by some inspirational visual art and am longing to have some of the same kind of qualities in my work,it rarely works to try to appropriate part of another artist’s ‘language’. For me that dead-ends after awhile because you are lifting elements out of context, and are missing the whole energy base/story/context which led to them in the first place. They grew out of someone else’s life and a living creative process intimately bound with that person’s story. So copying someone else’s line, gesture, colours-unless they connect with something vital in your own work, will lead only to empty gestures and superficial effects.
I’ve found that if I trust and let go of wanting my work to look a certain way, years later, some influence will emerge naturally in my painting that recalls another artist, but finally has been translated into my own marks and meanings.
This painting was started very much with Hockney’s series of landscape/ tree paintings in mind, but is not a slavish copy. Temporarily borrowing another artist’s way of seeing or handling subject matter opens new doors of perception for me. There were a series of ahas about how to handle layers of foreground and background, and how to make essentially brown and green trees light up! Google ‘The big picture’ and look at some of the work.
David Hockney, landscape around Yorkshire
What a vitality, and how directly and with what a sure hand they are painted! Can’t wait to get back to work, cheers!
May 18, 2013
Walking through familiar neighborhoods, going downtown among the glittering skyscraper canyons, riding the incline to the view of my city- perched like a story on her 3 shining rivers, it is mine- my own place.
Every vista, every stone holds a piece of my history, and memory of loved ones and events. As any expat will know, your adopted town can never be trly yours. Each inch of belonging, every word of a new language, each nuance of a new culture needs to be fought for and claimed.
Whereas, going back to one’s roots without expectations yields all these things as gifts. The landscape speaks a familiar language that resonates deep inside one’s footsteps-steps taken on one’s own home terrain, where one simply is. Not the enemy, not the outsider, but a natural part of it all.
The people actually all speak your mother tongue (praised be!!!), you can respond to a joke or a flirt or a tease in a millisecond, you know the language in all its complex layers and twists.
In Holland I’ve rooted in certain ways, of course– after 30 years there! My garden is an ongoing marriage between my vision and energy and the place where it grows. Several horses that I know well provide me with a connection to the animal population, and the cranes, geese, and other birds sing in a language understood by every heart. My home with my husband provides a haven.
But it isn’t my hometown like Pittsburgh is and always will be.