the idea of the structure

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So far my painting follows the structure set forth in Bonnard’s picture which I emulate. And notwithstanding my window shopping, I seem to be using his window — at least for the present.  The horizontal and vertical elements of Bonnard’s window are an essential component of his painting’s structure.  Of course, the real structure of mine is as yet unresolved.  I’m looking for it, and I’m hardly even started.

I made the study above a year or two ago with the aim of using it in a variation on the motif of flowers on a table sitting in front of a window.  I recall that the light was changing rapidly and I just decided impulsively to see if I could make a fast drawing with oil pastels.  Some element of the colors still beckons and those sinewy lines of the tree that’s up against the house.  The tension between the squares of the window panes and the curvy trees and the colors, they all hint at something.  I don’t know what.

For much art, getting the perspective right is significant for the sake of realism.  In Bonnard’s art the flying off askew of perpendicular and horizontal lines obeys a visual physics all its own.  You don’t get there by constructing perspective lines or by assiduously drawing the architecture as it is.  You have to find the lines through sensibility the way that ants follow pheromone trails.

I was having trouble drawing a door many years ago.  Just couldn’t figure it out.  So I poured through my Bonnard books until I found a door of his.  Simply looking at his image showed me the solutions I needed.  They weren’t elements of perspective.  They were ideas about what to describe and what to forget about.  My door is as wobbly as his, but it serves its pictorial purpose — it’s a passage way into the pictorial outdoors — or from realm to realm.

open door

Distortions in the Spacetime

If I wanted to copy the source photos I use to make my koi pictures, to make even an extremely accurate copy of the complex image captured by the camera both the fish and the water as they are frozen in a moment of time, with the myriad facets of atomized color, I could easily do it using any number of rational methods, as for instance using grids;  but interpreting the image is what I want, and the distortions that I introduce from my observations, both my deliberate changes as well as my “mistakes” offer so much material to explore, and so I resist the temptation (admittedly it is weak) to reproduce the photo in an exacting way. 

The photo already exists; why copy it?

But even if I did use a grid to transfer the image, and I may do that at last — I have done things like that with other works — within each of the small squares, I tell you, all the same freedom to muse and to invent still exists.  You can introduce the distortions at whatever level of detail that you wish, in every little square.

I paint the koi from photographs

I paint my koi from photographs. It would be an interesting experiment to do them entirely from life. Many years ago I painted from life almost exclusively, and back when I decided that I would be an artist, when I was trying to learn what I thought of as being the foundation of art, I worked from life.  I’m glad I did.  The habits I gained have worn well.  But later on, I found that certain subjects did not fit into an approach devant le motif.  Indeed, it became a kind of lesson in art history too — to become more aware of all the various kinds of artifice employed to create seeming “life likenesses” over the centuries.

The koi was something I wanted to do to explore abstraction in the wake of my renewed love for the work of Californian Richard Diebenkorn (one of my favorite 20th artists).  I found something that was very perceptual and which had a lot of distortion built into it, but which was of course as “real” as one might ever desire.  Yet I soon realized that I needed the photograph for practical reasons (the koi pond was not convenient to my home).  But I also soon found that the photograph interprets the image so thoroughly that many of the effects I found most interesting could be achieved by no other means. 

The camera stops time.  In some of my photographs (I had no idea what I was doing, by the way), the water was frozen.  Planes of the water’s structure were caught and carved out of their constant fluidity.  The amazing shape of the water as it moves was there to draw — something that I cannot see with the naked eye. 

Then the fish, also, were alterred in interesting ways.  In some photos the fish are stretched out as they swim through the exposure, the exaggeration of their shapes simulating something of their movement.

Happily I found that the photograph was amenable to interpretation as readily as the real place.  I began by drawing the photos very faithfully (I thought), but my own habits of vision interpolated something that wasn’t strictly there.  One introduces “distortions” that arise from longing and attention.  So I was in effect synthesizing the experience in ways parallel to what I would do when drawing from life.  Only the photograph opens up a world not visible to ordinary sight.
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