I used to paint flowers this way. I got some from the yard or bought them at the store. I put them in a vase. And I painted them. It was very straightforward. After a bit, the flowers had all changed positions (they move around a lot more than one would think), and since I didn’t know how to paint something unless I was looking at it (that’s still essentially true), I had to be firm in deciding what I was doing.
Once the flowers or their shadows and colors have moved around enough to confuse my composition, I had to call the picture “finished.” Since speed was the skill I needed, I learned to see and decide quickly. My technique was all about finding a visual shorthand for whatever aspect my idea I wanted.
The paintings varied, they looked different, because I deliberately tried different things. Different colors, sizes, compositions, different imitations of different artists, different materials. But I still painted from real flowers. I still worked quickly.
After I fell in love with a particular Cezanne still life of flowers, I tried doing the set ups with artificial flowers because that’s what Cezanne had done, at least that’s what he did for his late Vase de Fleurs at the National Gallery of Art. But as I was making my own set up, based loosely on Cezanne’s iconic image, I was also visiting the museum a lot, making drawing after drawing of Cezanne’s amazing image. Everytime I have drawn it, I have felt as though I see it for the first time, and yet I never understand it. It always seems to hold more than I can catch.
I’ve made big drawings, little drawings, big paintings, little paintings, so many ways I have longed for my own version of Cezanne’s idea — of that aspect of it that continually fascinates me. I find myself in a spell, and Cezanne is the hypnotist. Some images float by like wisps of dreams.
And some are dense and vivid like those dreams that seem more real than life.
I drew a magnolia flower from life last summer, it hung on a lower limb at eye level. I felt no awareness of its being like the white flowers of Cezanne’s painting, the partly opening flower ethereal white against impossible darks. The connection was there, but I was sleeping, drawing like a sleep-walker. Awake now, I ask myself what could I do with this? Could I learn to make a bouquet from composites?
It’s like searching for a kind someone that you met in a dream, someone who is not real. Who was he like? I’m sure I’ve met someone like that. It was so familiar …. It was, it was. I was asleep and “it” was not real.
All pictures are just colors. You put bits of color here and there. You assemble them. They assemble you. It’s not always clear what is going on. I knew this picture, it seems so familiar, where did we meet, what did it portray?
I’m still learning how to paint, and still waking while sleeping.