My thoughts had already turned toward still life, and I had already set up a still life and begun a painting, when one morning I woke with the notion that I should get me to the thrift store. So I did. And I came home with not only some wonderful objects, but with a very inexpensive but expressive and new-to-me still life table worthy of Cezanne.
Exceptional among the haul items was this beautiful amber colored bottle with a raised pattern of arcs and flowers. I don’t know what sort of bottle it is, whether or not it had any non-decorative use. It cost next to nothing at the thrift store and offers amazing possibility as a still life object.
As you can see, the bottle has a beautiful pattern in relief at its base. The glass distorts the shapes of whatever is seen through it, transforming all the surrounding colors into soft blurs while shading them with a veil of the bottle’s own warm color.
For the present I installed the bottle into a still life of predominantly blue colors, where it joins some stone birds that I got at a garden center thirty years ago, with also a large blue and white jar found during the same recent haul.
I also purchased a lovely white, green and rose vase. As I had already noticed and as the diligent thrift store clerk also brought to my attention, it has a chip. The wonderful thing, however, about the still life object is that a chip doesn’t matter. It’s theater. You just turn it to face away or you “repair” the defect by painting the chip away. Alternately, you can go for a pictoresque effect and leave the chip as it is, letting it make a statement about the process of time.
You can see how amazingly lovely the pattern is, particularly when viewed up close.
With a pattern of this sort, you could venture into intricate detail in your still life — notice the lovely raised green leaf design in the corners — or don’t forget that patterns like these can take on a life of their own should your imagination run in that direction. For the pattern is an idea and could be applied anywhere. You could, theoretically, use it as Matisse has used pattern very freely here:
No rule says that the pattern needs to stay confined to the object.
After you set a still life you begin to notice all kinds of potential relationships between objects available to exploit. For instance the flutes at the base of lovely chipped vase relate to the ridges that represent the feathers of the bird’s wings.
Like most painters of still life, I have racks of things to use. Sometimes the stored objects, placed willy nilly on the shelf, form set ups as interesting as the ones I assemble.
But the theater of staging the things you want to paint, of moving them about and seeking the view that’s “just right,” is a joy unto itself. And I’d urge artists of other media to consider the possibilities that still life can play in their lives for you could arrange a poem of things, or a scene in a play, or a pleasing tableau to contemplate in your music room by the just arrangement of lovely things on a shelf.