Enchanted by a Limoges Vase

The vase is key to the painting.

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This Limoges vase occupies center place in a planned floral still life, and it has itself flowers adorning its surface. And I love drawing it. So I’ve drawn it, so far, four times to get well acquainted with its beautiful design and to put it against the main colors of the picture: a light green cloth the color of spring grasses and sky blue for the general background.

I also did a quick preliminary study of the cloth and put this drawing next to the Limoges vase drawing to get a sense of the overall scheme.

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The ideas for this painting develop bit by bit. Most of the ideas are still confined to my head.

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I’ve started another drawing, this one on Strathmore 400 series 18 x 24 paper, where I experiment with the arrangement of flowers. I wonder how many arrangements I’ll do before settling on the bouquet. It’s time consuming because I go flower by flower. Later when there’s a group of them, I have to somehow invent the flowers “behind” the visible flowers and do something about the fall of light and indicate some sense of dimension, of flowers occupying different positions in space.

All that lies ahead.


Reckless Abandon

I’m painting a version


of the current flower painting, reusing a canvas. Recycling the canvas signifies for my brain that I can do absolutely anything to the painting in the most careless way imaginable and nothing really matters. I can take any chances. Of course much of the initial painting consists in covering up what was there before. Until a sufficient amount of the covering is done, it’s hard even to make the present subject come forward.  But even the rude beginning has its charms, not for the spectator perhaps, but definitely for the artist. Places where the old and new paint sit together provide intriguing color juxtapositions. Textures of built up paint are like a moon landscape.

I began with the Limoges vase. Somehow when all is done, the painting is probably going to be “about” the Limoges vase. Flower by flower afterwards, I have been filling the vase to make a bouquet. I need a bouquet, any old bouquet. Until there’s a group of flowers, it’s difficult to see what doesn’t work.  So first I put them in. I can adjust them, tweak, shift them around later. Subsequent versions of the painting lie in the unknowable future. Right now, I just deal with this thick paint, these crude two dimensional flowers and bright glaring colors.


The painting’s surface is so rough from the repainting. The texture reminds me of features that I like from two works I admire, both painted around the same time — by Cezanne and Matisse, respectively. One is the National Gallery of Art’s late Vase of Flowers (c 1900/03) and the other is a large, dark, rough table top still life in the Hermitage (c 1902) by Matisse that I know from books.


Cezanne above, Matisse below.

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Cezanne reworked his flowers so much that the paint mounds in ridges along the contours of the major forms and the color is inky dark.  Matisse, in turn, painted something that to my eyes seems like a magnificent failure. Everything about the painting is so ragged, and yet it has such mystery and gravitas — even delicacy in how its rough paint is scumbled across its darks.

My neon version of flowers with its glaring color is a different world from that of these heroes, but there’s a manic element that is somehow aiming in their direction. A painting holds secrets.  I believe I’m doing one thing, and yet I look at my painting at the session’s conclusion and kind of wonder what’s really going on. Well, that’s what I’ve signed up for. I could control this painting more than I’m doing but I might as well find out where recklessness leads.

It’s strange to talk of yielding control when I make so many little drawings and studies, when I do so much rehearsal and practice. It’s like jazz.  The repetitions allow you to improvise.  And I have discovered weird things through making of this picture, and it’s not done being weird yet.

I steal the flowers from various art historical sources. You can’t really put crocuses into a vase, but this is a painting, a fiction. So it’s got a crocus taken from the garden of the engraving below.

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In odd moments I make little sketches.

vase of flowers sketch

Ideally the reckless version of a painting could be produced as freely as the little sketch above. But in reality even a reckless painting is plodding.

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Hours of mooshing paint around has brought me this far.