Painting

Artists' Ambitions by Jeannine Cook

Ramon Casas, an ambitious, innovative artist from Barcelona who straddled the nineteenth and early twentieth century, frequented many notable artists from France and Spain - from Toulouse-Lautrec to Jaoquin Sorolla and Pablo Picasso. Considered a modernist, he excelled in portrait drawings and paintings, as well as graphic art for art nouveau posters. His self-portrait from 1910 is revealing.

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Plein Air Art - Looking Back (Part 4) by Jeannine Cook

The 19th century saw a flowering of plein air art in Europe and in this part of my blog-series on Plein Air Art - Looking Back, I had fun trying to select images that could celebrate this explosion of energies and talent. We owe a great deal to those artists as they broke with academic tradition and painted as their hearts dictated.

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Plein Air Art - Looking Back (Part 3) by Jeannine Cook

In Part 3 of Plein Air art - Looking Back, I follow the development of plein air art during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe as so many artists paved the way for present-day interpretations of nature and the outdoors.

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Plein Air Art - Looking Back (Part 1) by Jeannine Cook

As plein air artists, we are standing on the shoulders of artists who were lovers and orbservers of nature from many centuries ago. This is a celebration of some of these artists in their depictions of the landscape.

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Artists' Inventiveness by Jeannine Cook

I am back with my artist's "hat" on, and almost immediately, I learn yet again how inventive artists are! Yesterday, in Beaune, Burgundy, an elegant exhibition of paintings by Marie José Malargé was opened. Hung on the dove-grey walls of a lovely restaurant, La Grilladine, in the centre of the old city, it was sensuous, quietly insistent yet serene and very beautiful. It will be on view in Beaune until 23rd November and is well worth seeing.

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Artists' Insights and Imaginations by Jeannine Cook

While I was wandering through London’s National Portrait Gallery recently, following the meandering trail through the rooms to view the exhibit Simon Schama curated of the sixty portraits in “The Faces of Britain”, I was totally fascinated. Not only because there were so many portraits, in so many media, of icon faces of recent times, but because a quote kept ringing through my head.It was a statement in a National Geographic Magazine article in August 2014 on “Before Stonehenge”: “Art offers a glimpse into the minds and imaginations of the people who create it.” This seemed to be so appropriate of the art I was seeing as I followed the “Faces of Britain” exhibit as it was scattered (cunningly, I decided!) through the galleries. Not only were the faces diverse, interesting and evocative of the people depicted, but the actual art created spoke volumes too about the artists, their perception of the portrait’s subject and the times in which the work was created in each case.

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The Intensity of Size - Big or Small in Art by Jeannine Cook

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When I went to see the Richard Diebenkorn survey at the Royal Academy in London recently, I found it interesting but was surprised at my lack of excitement at seeing most of the work. The Ocean Park series on display were, of course, the most lyrical, but again, I was reminded of an internal conversation I frequently have with myself. Does a really big canvas manage to convey the intensity of the artist's passion? Or does the sheer size become, in many cases, a path to dilution of that excitement and energy? If you have to go on labouring day after day to paint huge surfaces, do you run out of steam? Of course, it is not always the case by any means — think of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, when Michelangelo laboured day after day in the most difficult of physical positions and conditions, and yet he achieved a power and impact of work that reverberates for every viewer.

Nonetheless, not every artist is a Michelangelo. And in the case of Richard Diebenkorn, I personally found that all his large canvases began to lack intensity. My reaction to these works was unexpectedly reinforced by three small paintings hung amongst the Ocean Park canvases.

They were three equally abstract works, painted on small cigar box covers. He used the cigar box cover paintings as gifts to friends, apparently, and my feeling was that these were the true gems in the exhibition. They were the perfect epitome of "small is beautiful". AsSarah C. Bancroft, curator of one Diebenkorn museum exhibition observes in the catalogue essay, they “capture one’s attention from across the room and command an expanse of wall space disproportionate to their actual size.”

Richard Diebenkorn, Cigar Box Lid #4, 1976. Oil on wood, 8-3⁄8 x 7-1⁄8". The Grant Family Collection. © The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn.

Richard Diebenkorn, Cigar Box Lid #4, 1976. Oil on wood, 8-3⁄8 x 7-1⁄8". The Grant Family Collection. © The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn.

Lyrical, free, certainly intense, but utterly lovely - they just sang. The more one explores the work Diebenkorn did in this small format, on cigar box lids, the more delightful and intimate the body of work becomes. Perhaps Diebenkorn felt liberated in this small format - he was not constrained by acres of canvas, nor the demands of gallery settings and collectors demanding impressive pieces. He could just create small delights that are intimate in scale, where his true sense of colour and the fitness of abstraction could be married to an acute sense of human celebration of life.

Cigar Box Lid #5

Cigar Box Lid #5

Richard Diebenkorn, Cigar Box Lid #6, oil on wood, 1979

Richard Diebenkorn, Cigar Box Lid #6, oil on wood, 1979

As Diebenkorn himself observed, "The idea is to get everything right — it’s not just color or form or space or line — it’s everything all at once."  He certainly achieved that for me in the cigar box lid paintings.

The three large rooms of the Royal Academy's Diebenkorn exhibition were distilled down to these three small pieces, for me. In a funny way, they helped me feel more reassured about my own art - my frequent choice of small format in metalpoint drawings was strangely validated. I was grateful to Diebenkorn for that, but most of all, for three paintings that still sing to me weeks after seeing them.

Tiny Images, Vast Scenes by Jeannine Cook

The Tempest, Peder Balke, 1862

The Tempest, Peder Balke, 1862

Peder Balke is not the name of an artist that readily springs to mind, yet he is now considered the pre-eminent Norwegian artist of the 19th century. His landscapes and especially seascapes, highly unusual in their techniques, are now justly celebrated. I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of his paintings at the National Gallery, having seen a smaller one of his work in the same rooms four years ago. Balke lived from 1804-1887, started out as a full-time painter and then had to turn to other ways of earning his living. Nonetheless, he continued to paint, for his own pleasure, experimenting and using paints in ways that heralded modern expressionism. He travelled to the North Cape in Norway, an area of dramatic coastlines and radiantly strange light of the Arctic Circle. These scenes continued to influence him many years later. He did not always paint specific scenes, but used the moods and impressions of nature, often in almost abstract fashion, to convey the majesty, mystery, solitude and power of the natural world.

The Old Bridge, Oil on panel, Peder Balke

The Old Bridge, Oil on panel, Peder Balke

Seascape c. 1860, oil on canvas mounted on panel, Peder Balke

Seascape c. 1860, oil on canvas mounted on panel, Peder Balke

While the larger paintings on display in the National Gallery exhibition were impressive, especially the highly atmospheric ones of Northern scenes, done in the 1870s, the ones that fascinate me are the tiny ones. They pack a punch, almost in a visceral way.

Stormy Sea, oil on panel, Peder Balke

Stormy Sea, oil on panel, Peder Balke

Stormy Sea, oil on cardboard, Peder Balke (Image courtesy of Drammens Museum)

Stormy Sea, oil on cardboard, Peder Balke (Image courtesy of Drammens Museum)

They are indeed small, mostly blacks and white, seascapes and some landscapes of glaciers or waterfalls, often almost abstracts. They are not small, however, when it comes to impact. Their effect is perhaps more powerful than that of many of the larger paintings he did. Perhaps my love of monochromatic works leads me to them, but to me, they are stunning in their big voices coming from very small rectangles of oil on cardboard or oil on board.

Northern Lights, 1870s, Peder Balke

Northern Lights, 1870s, Peder Balke

Norther Lights over Coastal Landscape, c. 1870, oil on panel, Peder Balke

Norther Lights over Coastal Landscape, c. 1870, oil on panel, Peder Balke

Peder Balke

Peder Balke

Sun breaking through the Clouds at Vardohus, 1860-1870s, oil on panel, Private Collection

Sun breaking through the Clouds at Vardohus, 1860-1870s, oil on panel, Private Collection

The Tempest, oil on panel, Peder Balke

The Tempest, oil on panel, Peder Balke

Seascape, Peder Balke

Seascape, Peder Balke

I wonder if other people find them as arresting as I do?