Posts Tagged ‘Matisse’

Windows to Beyond

Always Time for Tea 2

Art makes fascinating study.  I’m continually amazed at the varying views and disagreement between artists in every detail of painting.  Some staple or tape their paper to a board before proceding, while others (and I am one of these) just let the paper float so that they can lift and blend colors or rinse off areas which are still damp when so desired.  Many artists make value sketches before beginning to paint, and plan every brush stroke in advance, while others begin intuitively—letting the first blobs of paint on wet paper determine the subject of the work.

Some artists will say, “Never extend a shape to the edge of the paper or let part of an object disappear”, while others contend that disappearing shapes make a piece far more interesting.  (The latter suits my taste best, as you can see in my above still life titled “Always Time for Tea.”)

Both of my samples pictured here (the top one is titled “Windows to Beyond“) defy the supposedly “set in stone” art rule which insists that light comes forward and dark recedes.  Obviously the concept of advancing light and receding dark applies to the magnificent chiaroscuro (strong contrast between light and dark) works of the Old Masters which frequently featured portraits. 

Recently I was treated to a traveling exhibition of Rembrandt’s self-portraits at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  The face and form of the artist loomed prominently in lights and midtones, highlighted in subtle shadows and flanked by a definitive background of darks.  But I am not a “master” in any sense of the word.  Although I understand the chiaroscuro precept (among other art rules) I don’t consciously attempt to employ it.  Rather, I just sit down and paint—and invariably my darks come forward and my lights recede.  

Perhaps my darks are not true darks.  My handling of watercolor evokes the medium’s transparency and ability to diffuse, but I may never replicate the incredibly rich, velvet-textured darks produced by oils.  That’s okay.  I greatly appreciate the skills and materials which are way beyond my ken, and I’m thankful to have even a rudimentary degree of understanding concerning the principle of light and dark.  Also, quite possibly my darks come forth and my lights recede because my (perhaps one and only!) strength is COLOR.  As one of my favorite contemporary artists, Charles Reid explains: vibrant color always predominates.  Viva les couleurs! 

I delight in reading all and any art history I can get my hands on—and there is enough of it out there to keep me entertained for the rest of my life.  Most of the reading is enjoyable and informative, but I’m especially drawn to the artists who exploited color to the max—the Impressionists, Post Impressionists, and various other “Ists” of the 2nd half of the 19th Century into the early 20th.  Currently my most beloved painter of that era is Matisse who shocked the Parisian art world with his blatant use of color.  Matisse and his followers earned the title:  Les Fauves—meaning “Wild Beasts”.

Reading about artists and art movements is, to me, like eating chocolate or maple sugar—thrilling beyond words.  In fact, the reading is far better than candy!  I can’t get sick on reading art history!  Only more and more inspired, drawn, captivated, and excited about the entire amazing world of shape, texture, and COLOR!  🙂

Margaret L. Been ©2013

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I was delighted when someone commented that my art expresses “energy”—so delighted that I painted the above watercolor and titled it “Energy”.  But I was also mystified.  I really don’t think I have much energy!  (For more of my personal energy crisis and health related subjects see http://richesinglory.wordpress.com/ )

How wonderful to know that there is a soul and spirit energy which has nothing to do with whatever is going on in our bodies!  Soul and spirit are the grist of life, and the attributes thereof can carry us as long as we live—if we maintain our priorities and focus!

Within the confinements of age and incapacitating illness the great French painter, Matisse (1869-1954), continued expressing his soul energy in cut paper collages—right up until his death in 1954. 

Art history contains examples of artists who went on working, although at a less intense level, after they became partially blind.  Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is an inspiring example.  Per Wikipedia, “In 1972, O’Keeffe’s eyesight was compromised by macular degeneration, leading to the loss of central vision and leaving her with only periphial vision. She stopped oil painting without assistance in 1972, but continued working in pencil and charcoal until 1984.”

I believe that the older we get, the more we need an intense passion in life—and at least one creative activity that we can take with us wherever we go.  I spent about one-third of the days and nights from September, 2010 until June, 2011 at a nearby hospital.  Several of these occasions involved surgery and recovery for me.  But most of the days and nights were spent camping in my husband’s hospital room, where he underwent a number of serious leg surgeries and heart procedures. 

These times were productive for me.  My knitting and art supplies were ever at my side, along with a few books.  I slept on a futon in Joe’s hospital room, and kept my stuff on my own little corner table by the big windows.  In the daytime, I knitted and read—and many a night I sketched and painted at my little table before going to sleep to the sound of dripping IVs and clicking computer monitors hooked up to my man.  Joe and I were together, and God gave me peace in the midst of these storms.  My lack of physical energy was compensated, and my mind was challenged, by producing colorful art in yarn and on paper.

Energy!  The less we think we have, the more we may have welling up inside—just waiting for some creative venue of expression!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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Hydrangeas in Bavarian Bowl

Every writer understands that we write our best about those places and things we love.  Novelist Willa Cather was steeped in the regional history of her Nebraska roots, and wrote poignant novels of pioneer life on the Great Plains—O PIONEERS and MY ANTONIA, among others.  Hamlin Garland, born on a farm in the hills of Southwestern Wisconsin, wrote about the hardships of Wisconsin farmers—THE ROSE OF DUTCHER’S COOLY being a memorable classic.  English-Canadian poet Robert Service lived and worked in the Yukon in the early 20th century, and left a legacy of Yukon lore in the form of ballads.

The importance of places and things we love applies to artists as well.  The great English watercolorists Constable and Turner immortalized the English landscape, and captured its atmosphere.  French painter Monet featured his gardens, and Matisse poured his soul into congenial still lifes and domestic landscapes around his home in France. 

Most of the contemporary artists whom I read about spend time in Italy.  The antiquity of that country, its quaint villages, and scenic vinyards—plus the classical art tradition and historical context of Venice, Florence, and Rome—have provided centuries of inspiration for artists.  I like to study paintings of Italian street scenes, with laundry strung between windows outside of ancient apartment buildings.  I’m sure that were I to travel to Italy, I’d want to paint it as well.  But at this point, painting Venice or Rome would be a static undertaking for me—lacking in authenticity simply because I’ve never been there.  I love Italian food, Italian opera, and Italian people, but I’ve never experienced Italy.

What are those places and things I love?  Like Georgia O’Keeffe was, I am passionate about New Mexico—particularly the region around Taos, where my husband and I have vacationed several times.  I love my “home away from home”, the state of Colorado:  the high Rockies, the front range and Denver where one of our sons lives with his family, and the artsy atmosphere around Manitou Springs where my husband and I lived in a cabin perched on a canyon many years ago—with our first child.

My family lineage includes centuries of Campbells from Argyll.  That was no more than a fact on paper to me, until 1993 when my husband and I rented a car and toured 2200 miles of back roads in Scotland, England, and Wales.  Our first days and nights in Scotland were spent on a sheep farm in Argyll.  I’m not a “mystical” person, yet I believe there is such a thing as a “racial memory”.  Something intrinsically profound connected me with this country and the history of my ancestors who lived there.  The bleak, rocky, windswept topography of the Scottish Highlands captured my heart.  Scotland is a place I love and would like to paint.

And then there’s Wisconsin.  I love my Wisconsin with its soybean and cornfields, undulating hills, wild forests and rivers, abundance of wildlife (including black bears and wolves in the North), its plethora of inland lakes—and its Great Waters:  the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior.  With an entire state to love, I’ll never run out of inspiration.

In and around the environment of our home, I’m surrounded by familiar things—things I paint with my whole heart.  “Hydrangeas in Bavarian Bowl” is a case in point.  Hydrangeas have become one of my most beloved flowers—right up there with most wildflowers and roses.  Perhaps it’s because of the way hydrangeas dry, and bring their summer essence to our long winters.  Hydrangeas have no fragrance, yet they’re incredibly beautiful to me. 

In the above painting I combined hydrangeas with another thing I fancy, fine china—either English, Bavarian, or Japanese.  Fine china is one more link with the past; it symbolizes my gracious childhood home—and the slow lane, gracious home I keep to this day.  The diffused soft edges of Bavarian porcelain lend themselves to delicate color—reminding me of quiet afternoon teas with my mother and her friends, in the German-American farming community where I grew up. 

The “Hydrangeas in Bavarian Bowl” painting was done on Yupo® paper.  The rendering was amazingly fast—as if the picture actually painted itself because I’m so delighted with the subject!

There are many places and things that I love—but not nearly so much as I love my people, and animals!  I have tried and I will try again to capture the life and vitality of the people I love, and those critters in my life:  the birds in my garden, the chipmunk on our patio, the cats and dogs I’ve loved in the past— and my precious Pembroke Welsh corgi, Dylan, who is sleeping at my feet this very moment.  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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One of the many delightful adventures involved in finding a new life passion, is researching its history.  Since I’ve been steeped and schooled in literature and the English language from little on, I’m no stranger to the craft of writing.  But art history provides a whole new world for me to explore.

Especially fascinating to me are the various art movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Many of us love the French Impressionists, and the Post Impressionists who followed.  Nearly everyone is familiar with reproductions of Monet’s gardens, Degas’ ballerinas, and Van Gogh’s sunflowers.  The fact that these works have not become clichés testifies to their enduring, classic appeal.

The Impressionists came into being with the advent of photography.  For centuries, the artist (along with the scribe) had been the keeper of documentary provenance and the servant of history.  Painting frequently focused on detail.  In the mid 19th century, Paris was considered to be the art hub of the world.  Art accepted for display by the jury of the Louvres Grand Salon was subject to strict guidelines as to technique and subject matter.  Detailed representations of religious, historical, or mythological scenes dominated—with no room for deviation, individual choice of themes, or experimental methods of painting.

Into this stulted environment came the Impressionists, let by Monet.  Camera technology was capable of capturing detail but at that point photographs were in sepia, or black and white.  The Impressionists were inspired (and also aggravated!) to explode in color.  In contrast to the subdued Northern European palette in vogue at the time, these pioneers introduced a vibrancy of color which shocked and angered the art establishment. 

Freed from the boundaries of detailed representation, Impressionist artists explored the frontiers of subjective creativity.  Painters began to develop the essence and effects of outdoor light, en plein air.  The Impressionists also violated the standards of Parisian exhibitors and patrons by spurning traditional topics and painting everyday life—boating parties, gardens, gatherings at outdoor cafés, etc.

Because the reaction of the Paris art community was so vitriolic and violent, the Impressionists (named “Les Refusés” by their critics) had to stage their own showings which were not well-attended.  Patronage was virtually non-existent for years, and the Impressionists—so loved today—were probably the world’s first “starving artists”.  Judges proclaimed Impressionism to be “highly unsuitable for the public—the result of mental derangement.”

Finally, in the 1870s, the French Impressionists found a kindred soul who believed in them.  Gallery owner/art connoisseur Paul Durand-Ruel began buying and selling Impressionist works, largely to American collectors.  Durand-Ruel is quoted to have said, “The American public does not laugh; it buys!”

The Impressionists were followed by more experimental schools, theories, and “isms”, one of which grabs me by the throat:  Fauvism.  Introduced by Henri Matisse in the early 20th century, the Fauvists emphasized the free and arbitrary use of that element which I love best:  COLOR.  Les Fauvists not only wrenched themselves loose from accurate color representation, but they also forayed into the wonderland of abstract (or at least vaguely recognizable) shapes. 

Again, the Parisian art world reacted in anger.  “Les Fauves” means “The Wild Beasts”—humorous because the initial Fauvist, Henri Matisse, was every bit a conventional, family-oriented, balanced, and stable individual in contrast to many great artists before and since. 

Art and the raging isms . . . such fun to read about!  For the untrained and amateur hobbyist such as I am, one motivation predominates; I will paint what I want, however I want!  I’m not painting for an Academie des Beaux Arts, not for patrons, not for a teacher, but rather for myself.  Whomever wishes to come along and enjoy the results of my freedom is welcome!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

Note:  I’ve never had a desire to “copy”, but I’m open to inspiration from some areas of art making.  I identify with Les Fauvists, although I’d never even heard of them when I began sloshing brazen color all over the place!

I fell in love with New Mexico—especially Santa Fe and Taos—years before I’d ever heard of Georgia O’Keeffe.  Above is one of my Southwest-themed renderings—digitally enhanced with suns, moon, poofs of cloud or whatever, and an explosion of light created by a program called Home Photo Studio. 

This software is great for art as well as photos.  Quite possibly, I qualify as a “wild beast” for venturing into digital enhancement! 

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