Part 2 of a long look back at the heritage of landscape and plein air art that we artists enjoy today nd from which we can draw encouragement and inspiration, as well as instruction.Read More
J'adore lire des remarques faites à propos de l'art de dessiner. Je suppose que ma prédilection personnelle du dessin y joue une partie. N'empêche, j'ai beaucoup aimé cette prière à Rembrandt, que j'ai trouvée dans le livre de Yankel, Pis que Peindre, publié chez Chimère en 1991. La prière: “Le régal des dessins est d’une autre nature: c’est l’émotion sur le vif, au bout des doigts. La main est là, on la devine derrière le moindre trait évanescent ou asséné. Il y a un miracle de la ligne chez Rembrandt : qu’il soit rageur, incisif, écrasé ou, au contraire, fugace, fulmineux arachnéen ; son parcours est si vrai, si juste, qu’on reste éberlue, ravi, consterné. Qu’il s’arrête pile à un millième de millimètre ou qu’il dépasse l’objectif, c’est juste comme ça que cela devait être. Instinctivement, sa ligne a trouvé ce qu’il faliait d’intensité pour réinventer une vie nouvelle sur une simple feuille légèrement teintée. Le côté fragile, dérisoire, du support, ajoute encore à l’approche extasiée que j’ai de cette rencontre avec le génie. »
Regardez les dessins qu'a fait Rembrandt de sa femme, Saskia van Uylenburch, du moment qu'ils se sont mariés le 6 juin 1633. Le premier, fait en pointe de metal, (qui ne s'efface point), est de ce même jour. Ensuite, ses études de 1636 d'une Saskia endormie ou avec des enfants, parmi d'autres, sont, pour moi, des examples de la ligne de Rembrandt au plus tendre, plus juste, plus merveilleuse.
Je crois que c’est la justesse de la ligne chez Rembrandt qui le rend si extraordinaire aux yeux de ses admirateurs, génération après génération. Chaque fois que l’on se retrouve à une exposition de ses dessins, dans une lumière tamisée, le silence et l’attention intense règnent dans les salles. Tout le monde scrute les petits dessins dont les lignes semblent faites avec désinvolture, mais avec quelle émotion, quelle vérité. Que ce soit un dessin à l’encre ou, rarement, au stylet d’argent, la ligne reste, en effet, miraculeuse.
Tout artiste admire, aspire à en faire pareil, mais – combien de fois dans la vie ? Rembrandt est unique. Tout artiste reconnait ce génie comme un cadeau aux générations suivantes. La prière de Yankel se comprend !
There was a wonderful quote at the bottom of an art site that I saw recently: "The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude." The wise man who said this was Friedrich Nietzsche, author and originator of countless bons mots.
It is true. Think of how you feel as you come out of a wonderful art gallery or museum, where you have feasted your eyes on wonders and stretched your mind in new directions.
When you encounter a portrait or a self portrait of someone who inspires and humbles, it makes one grateful. Take Rembrandt, for example, with his unflinching self-portraits, that tell one of life's experiences, the highs and the lows. They give one perspective for one's own life.
I am always delighted when one feels a connection to past artists, a sense that there is a marvellous heritage to inspire one's own artistic endeavours. As a silverpoint artist, I love it that Rogier van der Weyden recorded Saint Luke drawing the Virgin in silverpoint.
Think of the way Paul Cézanne can take one to expansive, simplified yet oh so powerful places, thanks to his obsessive staring as he painted his beloved landscapes around Aix-en-Provence. His watercolours of Mont Sainte-Victoire take one to magical worlds.
Nietzsche was right about the gratitude. He also remarked, "Art is the proper task of life".
Definitely a coherent man in his thoughts about art and artists.
After a long hiatus in posting because of family health concerns, it is good to start thinking a little about art and the art world. For me, art spells energies, health, healing and fascinations, together with beauty, stimulation and amazements.
There are always sparks of interest that one discovers when one can slip back through the doors into the art world. I love these tiny sparkles - they somehow help explain the bigger picture, often in an indefinable way.
My first discovery for the New Year - and a belated Happy New Year to all who read this - came during a visit to Savannah's Telfair Museums' current exhibition, Offerings of the Angels: Treasures from the Uffizi Gallery.It is a show which comes across as a rather thin selection of storeroom religious paintings, but, as always, there are interesting aspects. The most fascinating was a small painting on copper by Alessandro Tiarini (1577-1668, Bologna).
I rounded a corner in the exhibition, and to my fascination, found another work that was painted on an entirely different surface, slate.
Often, the artists who followed Piombo's example used the natural darks of the stone for their darks, thus eliminating the need for preparatory layers. In the Uffizi exhibit, there was another example of this: Alessandro Turchi (known as L'Obetto, 1578-1649) used dramatic chiaroscuro effects in his "Christ in Limbo", ca. 1620, which was painted on gleaming hard black jasper. Sometimes he also used black marble in the same fashion.
The alternative surface Piombo experimented with, copper, was already in use for etchings and engravings. Copper plates come in small sizes, and have the great advantages of ensuring there are no cracks, or craquelure, in the oil paint, as well as the ability to paint in minute detail. It has proven a very stable and long-lasting support for painting. By the end of the 16th century, Dutch landscape painters in Rome had adopted this support enthusiastically, and the use spread via Italians to other cities, such as Bologna. Already this form of painting had been shared with their Northern compatriots in the Netherlands and Flanders. Jan Breughel I painted a lot on copper, as did Peter Gysels, Osias Beert I, Frans Snyder, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Joachim Wtewael and Jan van Kessel amongst others.
The Dutch were marvellous exponents of oil on copper paintings, especially in their heyday. Even Rembrandt tried his hand at painting on copper when he was in his early twenties; this is a recently re-discovered painting by him.
Later, another wonderful still life painter, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, tried his hand at painting on copper.
Many other artists have painted works on copper, from El Greco (the "Adoration of the Shepherds", 1572-74) to Juan Sanchez Cotán, the famed 17th century Spanish painter of still life, who tried this small religious painting (acquired by the San Diego Museum of Art in 1990).
My New Year discovery has given me delight and led me back to art that I have loved over the years when I stumbled upon such works in divers museum exhibitions. Jan van Kessel is one of the artists whose work on copper has most enchanted me. See what you think.
I have been looking to the past for works of art on copper. Perhaps it is also part of the New Year discoveries to explore the beautiful art that is being created on copper today. Even the trade group, the Copper Development Association, has interesting pages on such art-making. Happy exploring!
The mysterious process of creating art never ceases to interest and amaze me. An artist's adaptability to circumstances is a vital ingredient in this mix, and one that tests the seriousness of resolve to create. Somehow this self-portrait by Rembrandt expresses some of what I am trying to say.
Depending on the circumstances, an artist can find totally different sources of ideas and inspirations for art. A simple example is when one is working plein air, versus working in one's studio and relying on very different sources than the outside world.
I did both of these pieces of art when I was working on Sapelo Island, one of the magical Georgia barrier islands fronting the Atlantic Ocean. They were done almost in reaction to that small voice inside my head, saying 'this is a scene which could be the source of a painting or drawing'. Of course, once that decision is made, then comes the endless actions, reactions and alterations that are part of my art-making. Working in the wind and sun, with changing conditions, an artist adapts according to the moment, trying to push through on the original idea and inspiration, and yet trying, at the same time, to end up with a respectable piece of art. Incidentally, both watercolour and metalpoint are rather unforgiving media for changes and alterations, especially when drawing in different metals (silver, gold, copper, etc.). It makes for interesting, if not challenging moments during the process of art-making!
By contrast to the concepts and reactions to working outdoors, en situ, there is the work in the studio, when an artist can draw inspiration from a myriad sources, in the head, from ideas derived from the wide world outside, from music, from reading, from films or television, from one's family and its history, from politics... an endless reserve of triggers that suddenly spark an idea for a piece of art. In some ways, the work created in the studio is far more controllable, even if it is complex to execute. Normally, you don't have to battle the weather, light constraints, travel, insects, etc. that you encounter often outside.
Perhaps the only "constraint" in the studio is cultivating what Paul Cézanne talked of: "genius is the ability to renew one's emotions in daily experience". You have to keep fresh, alive, thinking and reacting, to find that springboard to a new venture in art creation. How that trigger comes is often, to me, totally mysterious, but again, I find that that mysterious small voice at the back of the head speaks when one least expects it. Ironing, day-dreaming, a walk - meditative, repetitive jobs all help. Dare yourself to try another medium, another voice, another subject that you have not embraced before. Even an idea that is not perhaps initially the most inspired can evolve and become something special, something significant. Whilst sustained hard work can yield results, there are times when other considerations in life - family, illness or whatever - have to be factored in. In those cases, creating art can go on, even if only in your head, for a while. Allow yourself to follow different work rhythms at those times, for ultimately, you will get back to inspiration and art-making, perhaps with added depth and ideas.
These were two drawings I created in the studio, long after I had returned from an art residency in South Italy. The seeds were sown there, the inspiration came later when I was looking back at drawing books and notes I had made there.
Inspiration comes in such magically mysterious ways, often by different routes, but every artist becomes attuned to his or her paths to art-making. Trusting one's inner voice, believing in oneself and keeping one's antennae up high are all ingredients in these mysteries.
Author Simon Schamaused this wonderful phrase about Vincent Van Gogh, in his book, "The Power of Art".Schama talked of Van Gogh seeking to create art that was imbued with the "visionary radiance" that previous generations of artists had found in Christianity. To achieve this source of light and inspiration that could reach out to fellow men, Van Gogh's approach was painting with "blood and blisters and staring until your eyes popped" (my emphasis).
Even though Van Gogh did not necessarily follow the time-honoured rules of perspective, colour usage or subject-matter, he sought to give his art a different, more open view of life that embraced nature in all its aspects. His pulsating interpretations of trees, fields, and flowers show powers of observation that amaze. Catching the clouds, the light, the motion of the wheat, or, in the Olive Grove below, the silvery dance and form of the olive trees - all that requires great, tenacious powers, first of observation, then of organisation and simplification.
Every artist, especially those working with aspects of the world around him or her, knows that observation is key to understanding and thus depicting a subject. It does not necessarily have to be a realistic depiction either, just as in Van Gogh's case. Nonetheless, staring and staring at your subject always brings rewards; you keep noticing fresh aspects, you learn how things interlock, how things work, where the light falls, how shadows shape things. In this month's Artist's Magazine,for instance, in an article on still life artist Eric Wert, he is quoted as spending long hours "trying to get to the reality of a particular element. 'But once all the data are there that makes something look real,' he says, ' I step back and let it become its own creature, develop its own personality. I'm open to what the subject can start to tell me.' "
Another time one needs to stare, stare and stare some more is during life drawing. As soon as an artist begins to draw from a live model, the conversation begins between eyes, hand and the model. The subtleties of light on skin, the delicacy of muscles in tension or at rest, the twist of limbs or torso only reinforce the need to look and understand. Only with that understanding comes the freedom then to simplify, edit and create works that are powerful. Take but one example - Rembrandt:
In other words, as the old English saying goes - "Open your peepers"! Your art will thank you.
Silverpoint, or metalpoint when one refers to all the metals potentially used to make marks, seems to be a drawing medium which elicits instant interest in everyone to whom one talks about it. It always surprises me how its mysterious attraction remains intact.
I was recently reminded of this attraction when I mentioned to a Spanish friend that I draw in silver, and also gold, copper, etc. What had been interest in what I said became intense attention as I was carefully quizzed about just was this drawing medium.
Telling the story of how the monks started using lead for their lines in handwritten manuscripts and outlines for illumination from possibly the 8th century onwards, as demonstrated by the Lindesfarne Gospels, brings home the antiquity of this medium. The fact that, later, all the great artists whose names everyone knows - Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Lorenzo di Credi, Albrecht Durer - all used metalpoint, especially silverpoint, elicits even more interest.
Graphite's appearance helping to decrease the popularity and use of drawing in metal is another surprise. Most people have never even thought about the origins and history of the "lead pencils" they use so often.
The virtual disappearance of metalpoint after Rembrandt's few silverpoint drawingsand Judith Leyster's botanical studies in silver are the next chapter in the story I find myself frequently telling about this medium.
When Cennino Cennini's manuscript of the Il Libro dell' Arte was re-found in the early 19th century in an Italian archive, and people learned once more about silverpoint from Cennini talking of this medium and how to prepare all the materials to draw in metalpoint, there was a renewal of the medium.
Now, in the early 21st century, after spluttering interest during the 20th century, there seems to be another renaissance in metalpoint, despite its relentless aspects of narrow value range, impossibility to erase marks and slow development of the work. With increased interest in drawing media in general, it is natural that metalpoint be one of the voices in the drawing chorus. There is a wonderful diversity in the work being done, from classical approaches to very experimental work. Realistic (helped by the very fine lines which characterise drawing with a metal stylus) approaches are complemented by strictly abstract work, but share the shimmering, discreetly elegant characteristics of these drawings.
Metalpoint's allure, a medium that to me seems very much of our contemporary often sleek and understated approach to art and design, comes from its lustrous appearance and also, as I keep finding, its mystery of origins and history. I must admit, I thoroughly enjoy telling people about this drawing medium, and I suspect that my hundred or so fellow metalpoint artists also relish their role of ambassador for this special way of drawing.
A visual artist always has a set of decisions to make at the beginning of a work - how to compose the picture, what to emphasise, what to convey by the way the picture is composed. That is in part why so many people advocate doing thumbnail sketches before embarking on a painting or drawing; one needs to work out a sensible road map, a composition that works.
Henri Matisse once remarked, "I don't paint things. I only paint between things." He paid close attention to the relationships between objects and how they relate to the whole composition. In a way, he was, in essence, creating an abstract web and underpinning to the composition by looking at the negative spaces, versus focusing on the "things".
Look, for instance, at this Still Life with Geraniums which Matisse painted in 1910. There is a wonderful, energetic structure going on thanks to the contrasts between the horizontals and verticals and the organically curvaceous objects and flowers. Half-closing your eyes and looking at the negative spaces in the painting leads to a really strong, dynamic underpinning to the work. Yet there is also a sense of space and airiness that was one of Matisse's great skills. His paintings looked out, not inwards in a hermetic fashion.
In the same way, the 1912 painting, The Window at Tanger, relies heavily on the relationships between the sense of space and spaciousness and the "things". (The image is courtesy of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.)
The deep blue knits everything together, but flattens the space into a near-abstract image. Matisse visited Morocco in 1912 and again in 1913, and the bright colours and flat perspective show the influence that Islamic art was having on Matisse. He had already brightened his palette considerably with his Fauve period, so it was a logical development to embrace the brilliance of the Moroccan world. He used the "differences" in this scene from his hotel window to knit together an enormously evocative and energetic composition.
Another very different approach to the concept of composing a picture by concentrating on the spaces between objects can be seen in Rembrandt's prints. When he was working on his etchings, he was so technically skilled that he could fade out the contours of objects he was depicting and allow the "differences between things" to evoke the desired effect. Seventeenth century Italian art historian and connoisseur, Filippo Baldinucci, remarked, "that which is truly noteworthy of this artist (Rembrandt) was his remarkable style that he invented to etch in copper - that is, loose hatching and irregular lines and without contours he succeed in making profound contrasts."
Rembrandt's 1654 etching, The Descent from the Cross, is one example. Few contours, wonderful spaces between "things" and an arresting composition all are rendered more powerful by this technique that Baldinucci described.
In the same way, the spaces between, so expertly depicted and so vital to the composition, are masterfully achieved in this 1658 etching, The Woman before a Dutch Stove.
For every artist working now, it is always rewarding to go back and study attentively what has been done by the great artists of the past. The Internet helps greatly in allowing us to see these images, but there is, even now, a huge difference between these digital images and the actual artwork. That is when seeing how Matisse actually applied paint to the canvas as he evoked those relationships between things, or peering at Rembrandt's etchings, with their amazing hatching, through a magnifying glass, allow us to see the artist's hand and deft, skilled touch. Those details allow the ultimate consolidation and achievement of the composition, the relationships of things one to the other and thus to the whole work.
The celebrated art dealer and collector, Ernst Beyeler, who died in Basel, Switzerland, last year, remarked, "I have always perceived works of art as parables of creation - analogous to nature, as Cezanne once said - an expression of joie de vivre". That perception and keenness of eye made him famous for his choices in art.
Art as a parable of creation is an interesting concept. In a literal sense, there has long been art which illustrates and teaches aspects of religion, particularly when the Catholic Church was, de facto, the sponsor of some of the world's greatest artists during the Renaissance time and beyond. One of the most celebrated examples is, of course, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling.
This is one of the most iconic parts of that vast series of paintings, when God gives Adam the gift of life.
Artists explored every way they could conceive of conveying interpretations of creation, as written in the Bible. Some of this art also spoke of joie de vivre, of sensuous love, of beauty and of life. Nature came once more into prominence, as it had been in earlier Medieval art, when depictions of flowers, birds, and landscapes had symbolised holy matters. As the 16th century moved on in Italy, for instance, more and more artists were combining the richness of the new technique of oil painting with their draughting skills. Their subjects expanded to landscapes, cityscapes, everyday scenes – art where creation could have a much wider meaning. The same movement was happening in Northern Europe.
Rembrandt, for instance, was magisterial in his ability to create art that evoked deep meaning about creation, about man's condition, and - sometimes - joie de vivre. Interestingly, as highlighted by an exhibition this year at the Louvre and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rembrandt broke with artistic tradition by using Jewish models to depict Christ and made his Christ a living person, not an icon due great reverence. Indeed, by the 17th century, the artistic vocabulary had become much more elastic; it could allude to many more emotions that were not so dictated by religious concept.
As art - and Western society - moved on through the centuries to our own, both the definitions of creation and joie de vivre have evolved hugely. Art became less and less "coded" and straightforward, so that knowledge of symbols, especially religious, became unnecessary. There can of course be many layers of meaning, but most paintings can be read to some degree, with consequent enjoyment. (Think of people's reactions to Impressionist paintings, or those of 20th century artists.) Nature has always contributed greatly to the joie de vivre of viewers, from flower paintings onwards. Now the parables of creation are more about general celebrations of life, our world in general.
Meanwhile, other civilisations' art (China, Japan, Korea, India, Islamic art, etc.) have been equally eloquent spokesmen for parables of creation - just in totally different fashion. In truth, personally, I have always found Japanese art totally intoxicating in its beauty and thus,joie de vivre.
In the same way, exquisite Koranic calligraphy is sacred art and in a way, a very real parable of creation. Look at this:
I have strayed far from Ernst Beyeler's opinion, but I think his criteria of how to delight in beautiful art, of all descriptions, are very accurate. When a work of art rings true, is "analogous to Nature", then a viewer can indeed fall in love with that art at first glance - in other words, have a coup de foudre. What fun!
You enter an exhibition, perhaps almost by chance. You see the title of the show, and you are trying to orient yourself as to what it is about.
Then you round the first corner in the exhibit room, and boom, you get a jolt. Straight in front of you, out of the blue, you see a piece of art that you know well, something that has resonated with you before. And there it is again, quietly hanging on the wall. This shock of recognition, a thrill of interest and delight, are what makes me realise how much art means to me in daily life.
This reunion with pieces of art that I admire happened a little while ago when I strayed into the lovely CaixaForum exhibition hall in Palma, in the elegantly restored modernist Gran Hotel. I saw that there was an exhibition of etchings entitled, "From Dürer to Morandi. Engravings from the William Cuendet Foundation and the Atelier Saint-Pret". It was a large Swiss collection of very fine editions of work by innumerable artists from Dürer to Rembrandt, Canneletto, Piranesi, Goya, Degas and many others.
One of my first delights was a Rembrandt work - The Holy Family with a Cat, from 1654 - a work that always enchanted me with the inclusion of the cat. I had not seen it for a while, and so lingered to savour of the composition, the feeling conveyed by the whole harmonious order of the etching.
Another happy reunion amongst the other one hundred and thirty works was this deliciously memorable work by Edgar Degas, At the Louvre, Painting, Mary Cassatt, 1879-1880. I have always loved its daring composition and essentially late 19th century French atmosphere. Both these images are courtesy of the Jenisch Museum, Vevey, Switzerland.
My impulsive choice to walk into this exhibition, as I hastened through a list of errands, was such a bonus. The shock of recognition jolted me again and again. I came out exhilarated and grateful for the serendipitious gifts of art.