The exhibition, "The Hidden Cézanne; From Sketchbook to Canvas" is still on until September 24th, 2017, at the Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland. Cézanne's drawings, kept very private during his lifetime, tell of his questing, learning, thought processes in creating art or just recording for inspiration much later on. It reminds us all that drawing is a pathway to many ways of analysing, understanding and forging an artistic identity that is unique.Read More
Between spending my days in hospitals and hotels, there has been little time in the last six weeks to remember about my real passion in life, art. Nonetheless, luck lent me a day of being able to talk about art-making, the joys and fascinations - and challenges - that come with it.
I felt a little like this watercolour painting that I had done in early January, which I entitled Aloe Exuberance. The talk I was giving about art was at the end of my exhibition, Brush or Stylus: Jeannine Cook's Choices, at the spacious Albany Arts Council gallery in Albany, Georgia. A roomful of ladies and one gentleman gathered at lunchtime: I soon learnt that most of them were watercolour artists, some art teachers, and most were also curious about metalpoint drawing.
It was really restorative to be talking about my passion for art and about how I approached art-making. Each of us is very individualistic about this process of creation, but nonetheless, as I reminded my audience, there is a unifying element to it all. Beyond the life experience that each of us brings to art, there are the basics of technique, in whatever medium being used.
Being able to draw, from real life, is for me of prime importance. It doesn't mean that the finished result will even resemble what is in front of one; that is not really the point. Drawing this way enables one to understand how the object works in space, how it is weighted, how it is articulated, how it smells and feels... Even if later, the resultant art is abstract, there is a veracity, a knowledge implied that help to convey what the artist is trying to say. This understanding aids in composition, in colour planning in a painting, in catching the light, in organising what one is trying to depict. Obviously, in a finished drawing, the initial understanding and exploration aid hugely, particularly if the drawing is in silverpoint/metalpoint, where no erasure nor alteration are possible.
Being comfortable in the medium chosen, whether it be watercolour or other painting media, is crucial. That ease only comes with practice and understanding, but a realistic choice of pigments helps too. A limited palette is often much more harmonious and does not restrict the range of colours and tones at all. Being beguiled by all the brightest, newest and most luscious of pigments can be problematic in art! A little restraint often pays off and makes for a less complicated painting process.
Perhaps the most important aspect to me of creating art is learning to listen to that small, interior voice in one's head. Trust it, because it allows the creation of truly individual pieces of art, expressions of you and you alone. You are a unique person and artist. Your own ideas and visions, your own way of expressing them, in an adequately professional technical fashion, are the path to your own artistic voice, one that will make you different from every other artist.
As I reminded my audience in Albany, we are all products of complex, rich lives. Thus our art-making can be equally individualistic and special. In a way, this silverpoint drawing, Warbler Weaving, that I drew earlier this year, is a symbol of our creative lives as artists. We weave together so many strands of different things - large, small, fragile, strong- to create art that expresses who we are. The results go out into the world, sending messages and inviting shared experiences, as the creative circle is completed between artist and viewer. In the same way, this exquisite little nest I found goes from being a home in which to rear nestlings to sharing the warbler's magical creation with a wider human audience.
I was so grateful to the Albany Arts Council and its gracious Executive Director, Carol Hetzler, for allowing me to share my passion for art. It enabled me to remember that I need to return to creating art, very soon.
A wonderful quote from Sir Anthony Caro, the famed British sculptor, was in the 2/9th June 2012 Spectator: "I believe art is about what it is to be alive". The article was by Ariane Bankes, discussing Caro's current exhibition of sculpture at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Ms. Bankes was writing of Caro's huge and unending curiosity about the world around him, and his use of these interests as the source of his creative work. It reminded me how important it is to be curious about everything around one: as an artist, antennae need to be up as much as possible, eyes and ears open, and a questing attitude cultivated. Not always easy and other things in "life" obtrude, but even then, it seems that later, things not consciously registered at the time come floating back into one's mind.
I realised, the other day, that a day I had spent drawing on the coast was more rewarding than I had thought. I was concentrating on what I was trying to do at the time, but indeed, I was "alive" to many more things around me. The result was a watercolour that came flowing, quite some time after this day's drawing. The different elements of the painting - marshwrack, a contorted dead cedar, eythrinia flowers, a baby alligator, different birds - are those that I was not drawing at the time, but were burned in my memory because of the heightened senses that art was allowing me to have. A lovely gift. Capturing the energies and magical forces of life around one is a never-ending quest for an artist and a passport to living life to the full.
I have just spent time in my other home in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. There, it is a green and beautiful spring after bountiful rains this year, and the island is celebrating with exuberant growth on mountain slopes and down stony valleys.
I had some time to paint and draw, and once again, my sense of place was expanded and extended. I know that wherever one is working outdoors as an artist, you become conscious of all your surroundings. It seemed to be especially the case this spring in Spain: the perfume of orange blossom, lemon blossom, jasmine and roses floated everywhere on the air.
As the sun warmed, each morning, and the sky became brilliant, the perfumes intensified and became intoxicating. The light grew more brilliant - oh, that Mediterranean light! And as I sat quietly, totally enraptured with all this light and drunk on these exquisite perfumes, I was serenaded by blackbirds singing their wondrous melodies, or tiny serins buzzing excitedly high in the trees above.
I was soothed and inspired. As the light changed and the flowers I was depicting opened, moved and faded, I was enveloped in this world in which I was sitting. I felt a bond and a sense of kinship with all the wonderful artists who have worked in the Mediterranean region down the ages - Italian masters like Botticelli or Guercino, Corot, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne or Raoul Dufy in France, even Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, just to name one Spanish artist who celebrated so superbly the brilliant light of Spain (go to this site if you speak Spanish or this one for English). They all responded to the same light, perfumes and sounds. From the flowers painted on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs to the frescoes on walls of opulent homes in Pompeii, artists have always gloried in the beauties of flowers growing in the Mediterranean world. I felt it was a great privilege to be immersed in this world of brilliant light, intoxicating perfume and liquid bird song, as I celebrated Mallorca's spring flowers in silverpoint and watercolour.