Still life is a contemplative kind of painting. When you think about it, what does a still life offer? It’s simply a set of objects to gaze upon. Sometimes the objects may have clear symbolic meanings, but often — perhaps most of the time — the objects are just themselves. They might not even be fully themselves, depending upon how they’ve been painted. In the still lifes of my hero Matisse, sometimes the objects are caricatures of themselves, sometimes they are almost cartoon versions of things — bounded by heavy contour lines, generalized into broad colors.
To place overmuch attention to the acquisition of things is called “materialism,” in our culture (which has some uneasy feelings about its various economic successes). And yet we live in a world of objects, and we build our human nests (after a fashion) and fill them with things we think we need or that we cherish. And so still life painting puts the focus squarely upon the things. It offers up the quiet drama of things — or possibly a vision of sentimental attachments — or reflections of private life.
The paper horse was something I rediscovered while cleaning the attic, a relic of my daughter’s childhood when we routinely made things from paper. I brought it down and it almost instantly landed on the still life table. All the objects have some bit of sentimental energy in them (for me, possibly visible to the viewer too). But the objects on the table also seem to insist upon their abstract presence. They are simply and frankly things. Bound to the table by gravity, visible by the light they reflect, they simply are. So they hang there in space like planets revolving around a star or like the particles that physicists tell us make up the physical cosmos.
They have an abstract beingness. They just are. They are stuff. And what do artists do? They look at stuff and copy it into pictures.
Paper Horse measures 48 x 36 inches, is painted in acrylic paint on canvas.
I got a little crazy and painted something really big — or certainly big relative to the size of my studio. I don’t know what it is exactly. It was supposed to be a duck pond, but then this butterfly showed up. Sometimes you just go with the flow.
Notwithstanding its whimsical nature, I made lots of preliminary drawings for it because I just love to draw. And the drawings become like rehearsals. So for instance, the right hand abstract panel was rehearsed a few times. Here’s one of the versions:
It ends up being a separate painting on its own, which is vertical here but could as easily be horizontal. It lacks an solid up or down. It’s 36 x 18 inches.
I made a lot of drawings too. Some of them were studies for the flowers in the central flower panel.
Butterfly Emblem needs a little tiny bit of tweaking before it finds a new home. If you are interested in having its new home be your home — send me a message!
Fairfield Porter clearly liked all the same artists as I like — Bonnard, Matisse and Vuillard. It was fun happening upon this bright image that uses the same theme that I am also presently exploring: the still life in an interior before a window. Seeing this painting made me feel like I was getting a thumbs up from a great artist of my parents’ generation.
I need to get some more flowers so that I have some for the new painting. When I get them, it’s going to be wonderful making another painted study. While I was looking for something else I found these above by Bonnard. Found them at a wonderful site, link below.
I discovered the flowers while I was searching online for a painting from the book “Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature,” the exhibition catalog for a 2003 show that took place in Australia. The painting is “The Green Path and Canal,” c 1919. Somehow looking at the picture made me wonder if the view through the window (in my painting) should be a storm. Bonnard’s painting is very dark and ominous looking. We’ve been having lots of storms lately. Summer storms can be so incredibly beautiful for color. Then there’s the further heightening of contrast between indoor and outdoor, warm and cool, man and nature.
It’s not that I want to imitate the picture that I cannot show you here. It’s just the source for an idea that popped into my head, which I’m not even sure I’ll use at long last. An idea about blue-green and darkness.
I’m putting violet around the edges of the picture.
To get back into the thought world of the flower wall painting, I’ve decided to make studies of various sections of it. Here’s a study for the clump of hydrangea flowers made using Neopastel (Caran d’Ache) on a sheet from a 14 x 17 Strathmore 400 series pad.
I have some pictures available in reproductions at Fine Art America. And the Fine Art America website has introduced a feature that makes it easier to imagine the image hanging in a room. With their new feature, you can get a sense of how the image size you’ve chosen might look in an actual room. All that’s left is to imagine how it will look in your room and in your life.
This is my crazy little practice painting. I just pile up paint on it. Measuring 8 x 10, it’s already gone through a second swipe and there’ll be a third, maybe a fourth, maybe more.
Last session I painted in very low light using a limited palette of teal, orange, brilliant yellow, primary magenta, thalo blue, and white. I couldn’t see the colors properly, which was interesting, plus there’s a blue curtain over one window that creates pale bluish light in the morning.
So it was interesting. I love to play around with color — with the colors on the canvas and with my own color perception.
The last few days I’ve been working on a large still life painting. It’s in the in-between state — a kind of messy place where some elements seem well realized and other features are inchoate. I seem to have settled on colors and positions but I’m not sure they won’t change.
It’s a new way of painting for me because usually I’m working from a motif that I can look at whereas in this painting I am working from drawings, from direct observation of some of the objects in isolation and from old photographs taken at different angles from the motif I’m painting.
And I’m working from an idea, too, of wanting to emulate Bonnard my hero while also wanting to do my own thing.
The painting has a ton of texture.
I like doing new things. Not sure where this one’s going, but the journey pulls me along. I work on one section at a time.
There’s so much stuff that it’s like working on several paintings within the painting.
Some of it doesn’t quite make sense, so for instance, I’m not sure what to think about my out-of-kilter stacked boxes. That’s one of the Bonnard quotes. If you let the perspective drift — “just because” — because Bonnard did, what will that mean? What does it mean in Bonnard’s painting? I don’t know.
I’m not expressing myself well. I think it’s because I really don’t know where any of the picture is going. It’s a strange mental place in which to be. I don’t mind it, though, not at all.
Indeed, it feels like I’m learning something about painting that I’ve wanted for a long time to explore.
I feel like a painting tourist. I’ll be content to walk around inside the picture’s world and gawk!
It will be interesting for me to look back at this post and compare wherever the painting ended up going with what it was like here in the middle.