The household reorganization continues, and it brings many joys. Marie Kondo in her book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” recommends that you begin the big toss by starting with the easy things — starting first with clothes. I did that earlier this week, and it was marvelous to get rid of old items. I’ve trimmed down to essentials. Many things are going to the dumpster and many to the thrift store.
But I have also rediscovered many wonderful old things. Kondo, who is a great appreciator of art, has directed her book toward the non-artist public so she doesn’t address the whole still life question. Clearly artists face a more than ordinary temptation to hoard stuff. So I take her basic principles and merely apply them to this other category of things. But going through the clothes, a few things have now transferred from “clothes” to “still life cloth.” Some of those transfers are quite just because these are things that truly do “spark joy.” Now the future joy will no longer be in the wearing but in the spectacle of seeing the colors and patterns behind various still life objects.
Nonetheless, the clutter gradually and steadily recedes. New spaces and opportunities appear. These are joyful days. I reencounter many memories. I discover new possibilities.
I seem to discard things and get ideas in their stead. I become rich in ideas. And I love ideas! So I am indeed quite rich now. Isn’t it marvelous?
[At the top of the post, one of the early paintings I encountered again. I also retrieved the mustard colored cloth (actually a satchel) that appears in it. The cloth will be making new appearances in the days ahead.]
Many times a bouquet of flowers will be arranged as though to get at a perfect order. I arrange the flowers when I paint them. But the random arrangement of weary flowers is lovely too. The flowers bunched along two sides of the vase leaving one green fond striving upward in space alone. That single leaf intersects the purple shadow that descends from the cloth behind the bouquet locking the composition together .
The striped cloth is a marvel to look at. I love to portray it. Its bands describe the shape of the space they occupy like a physics of color. The bands of green along the sides of the gourd running perpendicular to the bands in the cloth are Nature imitating art. Many colors are scattered through this picture and only the precision of their positions gives them balance. In a picture like this one, the only goal is to put each color exactly where it belongs. And then the rest is easy. The picture composes itself. And then the image resembles the things, like a mirror of life.
Striped Cloth with Flowers and Gourd is a pastel painting measuring 18 x 24 inches.
At the National Gallery yesterday I encountered my old friend Cezanne and his Still life with Apples and Peaches. I made this rapid, unfinished drawing with water soluble crayons. Cezanne’s painting is dark. My version brightens it up a lot. The crayons are very pure. Cezanne’s painting has, no doubt, darkened with age. But he also mixed the colors to deepen and dull them, giving them a feeling of gravitas.
I made my little drawing very quickly. I choose to be impulsive nowadays. Don’t question whether you have time to draw or raise other obstacles. Just pull out the notebook and have at it. With the drawing above, my daughter arrived soon after I started so the drawing didn’t go very far. But I like it’s summary cheerfulness all the same.
I put some of my feelings into a bundle arranged in different colors, placed them into a glass of cool fresh water, set them upon the table, then stood and gazed at them to begin learning who I am and what I want.
The two paintings separated by slightly over twenty years are similar. The subjects are essentially the same. A vase of flowers sits on the table. Surrounding each bouquet are light airy background colors. Whatever you see is there because I put it there. I arranged the flowers and then painted them. How the two works differ reveals not only what I learned in the intervening years, it reveals differences in the way I think in past and present. We know it doesn’t reveal anything about the flowers because the flowers don’t change.
What’s the difference between a white background and a pale blue one? What about the introduction of blue and orange together — those chromatic opposites — what is the meaning of that? Or the emotional effect? How does it make you feel to look at a bunch of daisies sitting on a table? What are the connotations of daisies. They mean something different from roses. Why? Nature has given them radically different forms. The rose has depths. One remembers so many different experiences of flowers by smelling them, holding them, watching them grow, by receiving or giving them as gifts.
Do the details take you deeper into the feelings? Are the details more elaborate emotional landscapes? Shouldn’t we bring things closer for inspection? Closer is more.
These things that reveal our lives to us are so important. For me it’s art, for others, it is something else. Give some thought to the things that connect you to your past and to who you are inside.
Even seeing the differences when you’re the spectator tells something about the two image ideas. The differences in your feelings when you look at different scenes can tell you much about yourself if you watch and listen to the thoughts and feelings.
I put all the flower bouquets into simple settings at the time. Now I put them into complicated settings, with lots of color and patterned cloths. But I like these simpler works, and I did do something like this one when I was painting flowers with pastel last autumn.
The one on the right was painted sometime in the early 1990s, while the one on the left was painted last autumn. They are not so far apart in design — though they are decades apart in years. Thus it goes to show that my youthful self is still residing inside my head. That’s how I’m interpreting the similarity — that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Obviously I am young at heart. Here is the proof.
For some reason I posed these flowers on a round table. The blue cloth seems to have been the only still life cloth I owned! Here it is again. But I like it. I must also have liked it a lot then to have used it so frequently. It reminds me of the blue of the sky.
This time the profusion of flowers was crazy. I was again worried about being able to paint all of them, but evidently I managed. And I also found a way of becoming mesmerized by the visual activity of the glass’s interior where the stems bunch together.
This was my favorite of the still lifes I painted in that era, and it’s still the favorite I suppose.
Now the blue cloth has an ochre colored, hand thrown, North Carolina pottery vase sitting on its pale, cheerful color against a white wall and the bouquet has grown enormous. Daisies, carnations, chrysanthemums and lilacs are all massed together. And the green leaves of the lilac provide a leafy accent to the big assembly of flowers.
I recall that when I began doing the large bouquets, like this one, my chief concern was how I would ever paint so many flowers in the short time allotted for alla prima painting. It was no use trying to paint them the next day because they all shifted and fidgeted as the hours passed.
But somehow I seemed to have gotten them all into the picture. Let me tell you, though, the pressure was on ….
I painted the flowers in simple patterns, graphic in character — really more a way of drawing with color than of painting. But the jar (actually a drinking glass) packed tightly with the flower’s stems attracted much of my attention. I was consciously emulating the late flower paintings of Edouard Manet, one of which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington and which I knew well. I was aware of his other late flower paintings from books.
The white iris, however, that is still Van Gogh’s teaching. My teachers were the Impressionist painters and Van Gogh.
They were good teachers.
The bouquets gradually became more varied. I was buying more flowers, different kinds of flowers. Lilacs were still blooming out in the yard so those got added to the store bought flowers. The blue cloth is still there, but now it creates a lower horizon, and a yellow background lies behind most of the picture.
I switched from the jade colored vase to clear glass. It looks like a jar. I have often favored simple jars for holding flowers. I like the way the stems look through the glass. It would be a theme of some of the subsequent pictures, the ones that come after this one.
I’m not posting the bouquets in order, though. After so many years I have no recollection of the order in which I painted them. I only know that the busier ones came later in the sequence.
The curving forms of the boughs in the tree canopy are so magnificent. How I would love to get in sync with that arboreal architecture. I imitate the loops and curvy forms. They make material the gladness of the light and the visual noise of summer. The riot of colors, the density of growing things, the layers upon layers of intervening leafage wherever you look, light loving leaves that fill the spaces between you and the horizon.
I am summer’s biggest fan.