From my mediations today on Bonnard’s art, I had one of those moments when you bang into the obvious. “Pierre Bonnard’s art is indistinct.” The thought floated into view in my brain like a boat that you see as it silently sails down the river. Why should I feel some need to plan everything when his own starts (some of those exist) demonstrate how furtively he sometimes snuck up on his motifs? And writing about the big painting conjured in me a great desire to begin, so I’ve begun.
I’ve started with his sketch, which I’ve decided to use like a map. Certain key locations of the canvas I plot using this map. I have things that I’ll be adding — most keenly the vase of flowers — that are absent from his motif. The part of his canvas where my flowers will go is empty wall so clearly that changes everything. But I sort of copy the general plot of his design. My format is wider, too. He has things in his picture that will not appear in mine — like ghostly Marthe on the left margin of his scene! All these differences and the many that will follow will make the two images very different from each other. Yet I learn things about Bonnard’s painting already in even these most cursory gestures.
I feel like Diebenkorn looks over my shoulder. He studied Bonnard too. And because I must change things from the outset, I become aware of all the changes that Diebenkorn introduced into his most Bonnard-like images.
And, oh! the things you notice. Bonnard’s vertical lines are not plumb! Not at all. The frame of the window just veers off in wild fashion. The painting entire holds together like an iron grill or like diamond thread — both delicate and adamant. What gravity binds his image together … who can say?
Already the delight begins …. my delight … as I begin painting.