“The role of the artist, like that of the scholar, consists of seizing current truths often repeated to him, but which will take on new meaning for him and which he will make his own when he has grasped their deepest significance.” — Henri Matisse, 1908 [Matisse on Art, ed. Jack D. Flamm, p. 39]
The drawing above is another study I made for the painting of Crepe Myrtles posted below.
What does it mean to emulate another artist? If you emulate another artist’s ideas because you have none of your own, well you could do worse. Ideas have to come from somewhere. If you don’t have any of your own, use somebody else’s for a season.
It’s quite sensible to acknowledge one’s limits. And don’t we all begin with limits like these?
The cry to be original is a pointless demand until one has reached awareness of the standards that exist. It’s a false commonplace to suppose that the young are more original than their elders. Certainly the young can mistake themselves for originals. But, their ignorance of traditions prevents an authentic originality. Sometimes a young artist is truly original, but not by having sought such a distinction. Rather, it sometimes comes quite unsought, being bestowed by nature Herself. In such a case the young artist is merely being true to himself and happens to be doing something new without knowing or intending it.
We all begin with ABCs. In the realm of art this means learning to draw. One must also learn pictorial invention, something one gets from artists who have come before.
Having said all this, I had some help with this drawing from a very young original. Some of the scribbly lines at the bottom and left-hand side were drawn by my daughter when she was a toddler.
From my first awareness of his painting, I adored Bonnard — so naturally I used ideas that I found in his painting. In the crepe myrtles above, his influence became bright color and a textural approach to paint. Even parts of the bare linen canvas show through and become active colors in the scene.
I drew the shapes with the directness of a very bright, observant child. I saw a curve, I drew it like it an inverted bowl. The looping forms to the trees and shrubs were delights for me. I put them into the scene without hesitating over the idea of their being formed by myriad numbers of leaves. I saw them as clumps of things, and they are so stated. Such directness puts one into a very physical relationship to the landscape, into almost a god-like relationship. I was like an architect of nature, viewing it from a great happy distance.
Comparing our two paintings, Bonnard’s and mine, his vision is flatter. He is looking at nature as a floating veil, a tapestry of light before his eyes. I saw it as an imaginary theatre of forms among whose shapes I wished to wander in and out. Consequently, I used the temperature of colors more as means of creating contrasts around shapes to reveal their forms, with the warms advancing. Bonnard’s is more about the brilliant, sharp sunlight that falls into his space and almost annihilates form.
My painting is larger than this Bonnard composition to which I compare it (this particular painting, however, was not a special source, I was thinking of Bonnard’s work in more general terms). The size of objects in the two paintings is similar, though, notwithstanding their different dimensions. I merely painted more of my scene than he did of his. We both painted objects the same size, and we each have a similar relationship to the things portrayed in our doll-sized semi-distant trees.
illustrations: Pierre Bonnard’s L’escalier dans le jardin from National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (top) [Stairs in the Artist’s Garden, 1942/1944 oil on canvas, 63 x 73 cm Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection; my painting Crepe Myrtles (top) 40 x 56 inches, acrylic on linen.