Artistic influences

Camille Claudel, so talented, so heart-wrenching by Jeannine Cook

Camille Claudel lived in Nogent sur Seine as a teenager, and from there, she was launched into her career as a sculptor, her talent carrying her to Auguste Rodin’s studio and into another complex world. The recently-opened Museum in Nogent sur Seine holds an important number of her sculptures, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of late 19th and early 20th century French sculptors.

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Artistic influences, conscious or unconscious by Jeannine Cook

It is always fun to see an image and then link it back to another artist and deduce an influence or heritage, conscious or unwitting. Today, on Art Knowledge News, that wonderful daily Web magazine, there was the announcement of an exhibition opening at the Boise Art Museum. The accompanying image, a reproduction of a detail of Virginia Partridge, is a marvel of accuracy, composition, rhythm and energy. It was painted in 1825 but printed in 1829.

Detail from Plate 76 of John James Audubon's Birds of America. Virginian Partridge (Northern Bobwhite) under attack by a young red-shouldered hawk. Restored by RestoredPrints.com 2008.

Detail from Plate 76 of John James Audubon's Birds of America. Virginian Partridge (Northern Bobwhite) under attack by a young red-shouldered hawk. Restored by RestoredPrints.com 2008.

As I delighted in the image, I suddenly realised that I had seen the same sort of fidelity to nature, allied with a wonderful rhythmic energy and sense of colour in another artist's work.

Walter Anderson , a remarkable artist who was born in 1903 in New Orleans, spent many years recording the natural world in the Gulf of Mexico - work made even more poignant given the current oil spill disaster unfolding in the same areas. He spent a great time of time alone, after 1947, on Horn Island, one of the Mississippi Gulf Coast barrier islands. His watercolours of turtles, fishes, birds of every description, trees and water are marvels of luminosity and freedom. I had hoped to be able to illustrate this entry with one of the images which I find so evocative of Audubon's bobwhite illustrated above, but alas, the copyright situation with the Walter Anderson Museum precludes it. Nonetheless, the painting of red wing blackbirds is well worth the link-click to see it. There is a good selection of his work on the Google images for Walter Anderson- his sense of composition comes through clearly.

Redwing Blackbirds, Walter Anderson (Image courtesy of Walter Anderson Museum of Art

Redwing Blackbirds, Walter Anderson (Image courtesy of Walter Anderson Museum of Art

Anderson was given an art education at the precursor to the Parsons School of Design and then the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before spending time in Europe. There he claimed to be more influenced by the caves and cathedrals than the museums' contents. Nonetheless, as I look at Audubon's wonderful studies of America's birds, I can't help feeling that, wittingly or unwittingly, Walter Inglis Anderson was greatly indebted to him. Just as we all are, as artists, down the chain of years when we learn of how other artists react to the world around us. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

 

Nurturing the Inner Artist by Jeannine Cook

Hope does spring eternal. I assumed that once I was back at home from my hospital stay, I would soon be able to get back to creating art. Not quite so, I discover! An arm sling and other medical "accoutrements", plus a good dose of rummaged-around nerves and muscles don't yet make it easy to pick up pencil, silver stylus or paint brush.

Nonetheless, one does not just turn off the artist's eye. As I first walk into our house, the golden, crystalline late afternoon light floods across the marshes and water in front of us, and I marvel. Still waters reflect a heron's white body catching the rose-orange glow of setting sun as it flies across the creek. At early sunrise, the next morning, the eastern sky's brilliance allowed enough light to sparkle rings of water in the creek below us: the otters were fishing for breakfast. At each of these marvellous moments, I find myself trying to remember, to store up the images so that later, they can, somehow, show up in my art, so that I can share these wonders with others.

Late afternoon view from our home in coastal Georgia

Late afternoon view from our home in coastal Georgia

Another view from our home in coastal Georgia

Another view from our home in coastal Georgia

Within the house, I look afresh at things I have not seen for ten days. Shapes of orchid petals, shadowed into sculpture, tillandsia flowers which have fully opened in my absence into elegant rhythms amid their undulating tendrils of ephiphyte energy, shadows of ornaments lengthened in the morning sun. These are all aspects of life that can be woven into art-making, I hope.

Tillandsia  recurvata   Flowers, silverpoint and white gouache highlights, Jeannine Cook artist

Tillandsia recurvata  Flowers, silverpoint and white gouache highlights, Jeannine Cook artist

As I delight in the beautiful natural world in which I am so fortunate to live, I am also reminded of the diversity of optics that artists have on the very concept of making art. Catching up on the March issue of ARTNews, I found a remark which resonated : "Duchamp made it quite clear a long time ago, and so did Warhol, that art isn't an inherent form but a lens and a set of tools to interpret the world around us". (my emphasis). This was a remark made by Nato Thompson, chief curator of the non-profit public arts organisation, Creative Time, in rebuttal against questions and criticisms about whether works about community or social change are art. Carly Berwick was examining "A Different Way to make a Difference" in public art, methods that are poles away from my personal approach to art, but which are meeting the needs for socially engaged art, particularly in urban settings. The article reminded me forcefully that we are all very diverse as artists, with reactions and concepts that vary enormously, not only because of our surroundings but because of the stage in our individual life experience. So it is normal, and indeed vital, that each of us, as an artist, speak in our own voice, because society needs our diversity of inspiration and creation to help interpret and celebrate the world.

Art, an underground stream flowing through life by Jeannine Cook

In a wonderful PBS American Masters piece on Philip Glass, the composer talks of music being an underground river always flowing, into which one needs to tap by listening carefully and attentively. (http://www.philipglass.com/)

In the same way, I think that visual art is part and parcel of many people, another underground stream flowing through their life. The more you learn to see, the more you can tap into the underground stream - whether that seeing leads to the creation of art or the active enjoyment and collection of art. The stream usually starts flowing early on in life, even if one is unconscious of it at the time. Many artists draw on early visual memories in the creation of later work, even if the memories are transformed. One of my fellow Visiting Artists at Spring Island, SC, is the perfect example of this transposition - Brian Rutenberg, from the Charleston area, uses his "underground stream" of visual experiences to paint wonderfully abstract evocations of those remembered places. Even though he does not live in Charleston now, those childhood memories flow on for him into his art.

Pavilion, 2008-09, by Brian Rutenberg, oil on linen, courtesy of Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC

Pavilion, 2008-09, by Brian Rutenberg, oil on linen, courtesy of Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC

In the same way, I find that my memories of East Africa will periodically become part of my art.

Patterns of Africa, silverpoint, watercolour, Jeannine Cook artist

Patterns of Africa, silverpoint, watercolour, Jeannine Cook artist

This alchemy of the subterranean presence of art being transformed, often almost in spite of oneself, into art is so important that one needs to learn to trust that inner voice, that inner eye. It is part of the experience that is built up over time in the creation of art. Educating one's eye to see potential drawings and paintings, honing one's skills, studying and appreciating other people's art, from all periods, particularly in museums, are all part of tending that underground stream flowing inside each of us.

In a strange way, it makes me think of a description of a French winegrower about the way wines are created. He talked of the slow and noble evolution of the wines, "carrying with them hopes for a prolonged life." With vineyards that have existed for generations, surviving all manner of calamities from disease to war to revolution, there is always the promise of a fresh harvest, a continuing wine making cycle. Indeed, these cycles of wine cultivation and creation represent "a taste of eternity". (War and Wine, a wonderful book by Don and Petie Kladstrup, published in 2002 by Broadway Books). The winegrower was perhaps, in his own way, talking of the same sense of a continuum, an underground stream into which to tap as he created his wines.