A certain way of painting nature belongs to the French. And whenever an artist adopts that way, be it Jennifer Bartlett or Richard Diebenkorn or Winslow Homer, it is the same as speaking French. Call it “visual French.” I have myself been studying different dialects of it. In this picture Bonnard was my teacher. He has a certain distinctive accent that I think I caught in nuance, even though he never would have drawn in the medium I used, or drawn something this large or in quite this way.
Translation is a valuable metaphor for the exchange of ideas that take place among artists living in different eras. I can talk Bonnard’s talk, but I still sound “simply and frankly American” (as Mary Cassatt once famously said). And while I might adopt a second language to express my visual ideas, just like Polish Joseph Conrad became an English novelist, I am nonetheless giving my own opinions.
People trouble themselves over much with the question of originality. Yet one would be hard pressed to be anyone other than oneself. I may speak a visual French, but the pictorial ideas are mine. Thus the language is not quite French even, or English, or American. In a final sense one speaks the language of the self. Spoken earnestly, it’s a language that others can understand without a translator for it speaks to all the other selves in the clear tones of feeling and life.
[Top of the post: Speaking French to the Trees and the Sky, by Aletha Kuschan, crayon on Canson paper, 60 x 47 inches]
I found a quote by Yogi Berra saying, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” My sentiments exactly. Life presents us constantly with paths, so many that one must always be choosing something. Does an hour go by without presenting possibilities?
A painting with a path depicted in it is as enigmatic as a Yogi Berra quote, since of course you cannot really take such a path very far — only as far as what you see. A painting has no path in it at all. It’s just a flat surface with colors. And yet it tells you about a path you see in imagination. And, of course, you’re free to take that one.
It is impossible to paint something like this without reference to Matisse. Still I think one can evoke Matisse while being fully oneself, idiosyncratic and contemporary. It’s also quite possible to find a little El Greco in one’s desire to make an image like this one. I like conversing visually with old painters translating their notions into my era’s slangy modern idiom.
This landscape is a retrospective glance. I first painted this motif many years ago, so many years ago I’ve lost track. However, this latter day version is quite different while simultaneously being quite the same as its older counterpart. It is as though one strolls through a landscape that one has known all one’s life. But then isn’t painting always like that?
Sometimes I think that I am just painting one picture. It is merely the seasons that change.
Taking walks at night has sometimes provided my summer form of exercise. The heat of day has dissipated. City crowds have dispersed. A few lingerers provide a companionable backdrop without interfering with one’s desire for solitude. Appearances change. The shadows of evening going into night, added to a city’s desire for constant illumination, make for interesting contrasts. Trees usually lit from above in the sun’s brilliance are lit from below or from other odd angles, which makes for unexpected shadows and textures.
This painting arose from memories of walks I used to take when my daughter was little. Some evenings I was able to slip away for a brief interlude of exercise and quiet thinking while she slept and was watched by others. We have some enormous old trees in the city and I had a favorite which back then I sometimes drew. Revisiting it now in memory adds something also, a touch of nostalgia and meaning that comes with the passage of time. Reflection and reverie have changed the tree from a real one into a dream with branches.