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 painted this still life in the first studio that I ever had outside my house. The room had very dim interior light and huge ceilings. The vault of air above my head was enchanting. The room was badly lit and people coming by to say hello often asked me why I was sitting in the dark. But my still life and the canvas were lit well enough. I loved the diffuse light of that quirky place.
The painting became the DNA for several pictures. Over the years I’ve made versions of the idea. They all bear some resemblance to their parent and yet each one has its own identity too.
Here is the same vase of flowers of my many nocturnal and diurnal repetitions, drawn larger this time, 18 x 24 inches, in pencil. Each time I draw this motif I notice something different about it, and by the motif I refer to the entire scene. I have spent so much attention on the flowers — because in a picture with a vase of flowers you almost have to — and yet I’m not sure if it isn’t really the cloth behind the vase, the patterns on the cloth and the two other objects, the creamer and the rice bowl that interest me more than the flowers.
Indeed, I think what interests me most when I look at the still life itself is some quality about the whole, particularly the way light crosses all the objects. When you redraw something over and over, you are in a process of discovering what it is. I am not really interested in these objects as much as I am intrigued by gravity weighing down the cloth and light moving through the space. And I haven’t captured either of those qualities yet. So though I’ve drawn it a lot, its substance has still eluded me.
“Il faut refaire la meme choses dix fois cents fois,” as Degas said: You must redraw the same thing ten times, a hundred times. Or as a Spanish friend translates for me, “Necesitas re-dibujar la misma cosa diez veces, cien veces.” Italian anyone?
I find myself pursuing the same themes over and over. They come in many guises. Sometimes they are subjects as in my koi pictures. When I did my first few paintings of koi, I thought I was doing something brand new, but over time I began to notice that “fish” were a part of my artwork from a very early date. They were just less numerous in my apprentice days. (I’ve become a more adept fisher-person, though I have yet to experience my Hemingway-esque “one that got away” moment.)
Currently I’m still doing flower painting — or all kinds of studies-for-flower paintings. (Why must I always be doings “studies for”? — another mystery for the psychologist’s couch where I am both patient and doctor.) I find that my flower paintings are not like some of the flower paintings I see other artists do. Other artist have rather more respect for actual flowers than I do. Me, I seem to be positively mesmerized by just the shape of the bunch itself. How do I know this? I see it here:
This is a photograph I took of an image on the label of a Snapple Bottle. Is a snappy image on this Snapple bottle, don’t you think? I was playing with my daughter’s camera and its high-resolution micro feature and needed something to photograph so I grabbed a random object that was near at hand — or so I supposed. But there it is again, that “bunch” shape that so often comprises the form of the bouquet in my flower paintings. I seek these things out evidently: these shapes that are a little like the canopy of certain species of trees.
Don’t know if it’s important for artists to discover their personal inward visual obsessions or whether discovering them has any impact at all upon making art. But I’ve gotta tell you, that scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind has always resonated with me.
Did I mention that I always eat all my broccoli. Why it’s practically my favorite vegetable. Would somebody pass the mashed potatoes, please?
Made several little drawings as preparations for painting. I “rehearse” the image a little. It will help me decide what to paint.
I’m working from photos. But it dawned upon me as I was working today that some of the flowering shrubs of my photos will be blooming in a few weeks. Drawing these motifs from photos certainly prepares one for working from life. I will have engaged many aspects of the scene during my dress rehearsals here before the flowers bloom. And once they are there blooming before me all in real life …
won’t I be ready! (Are we having fun yet? You bet!)
A larger version of one of the images I did yesterday demonstrates (for me) that if a little is good, a lot is even better. I made it bigger. Also drew the landscape over a different colored paper. Every change in the ground color scrambles one’s way of thinking about the colors because they look really different over colored backgrounds than they do on a plain white sheet.
Wish I could think of something to say about the subject itself, but all I see are shapes, colors and forms. That’s terrible, isn’t it! But for me, the colors are so “it.”
Perhaps when I’m back in front of an actual tree, I can wax poetic about the subject. I’ve been told it will be in the 60s tomorrow in Washington, DC. If it’s true, heck — I might go out in search of a real tree.
Sometimes I take my trusty Caran d’ache water soluable crayons out on the road, and I confront Nature face to face. (She has such a pretty face.) I have a few places that have become favorite haunts, and I revisit them and produce different versions of the same motif. The wonderful thing about drawing is its spontaneity. The world’s oldest medium is highly portable. To draw all you really need is a stick and a page.
Well, my sticks are elegant modern inventions, and while they’re not super expensive, they are pricey enough to brag about, and certainly worth rooting around in the grass to find the ones that one has accidentally dropped.
My conundrum as I draw my koi daily is how I continue writing my blog. Drawing the same subject again and again is not a tedious exercise. On the contrary, I find that the drawings are all different. They lead me into different directions. The drawings take on a life of their own. And when the ensemble is complete, and I put them together, I think the variation will be an intriguing as the consistency of theme.
Well, the real koi manage to be interesting every day. They are the stars of their pond. So my art-imitating-life versions should be able to hold their own if I do my job right.
But. You knew there was another shoe to drop …. I’m not saying that one cannot write about these things. A great writer could probably write about the koi every day just as I draw them. But I can’t. My koi are shy. I cannot do this and chew gum too. I can draw them and find them fascinating hour by hour. But I cannot fathom how to put that into words. Indeed, if I could do it with words, why paint?
Painting is painting, and writing is writing.
So, I have got to find other ways to write about art, other topics to draw, while the koi swim somewhere silently in the background dapple light of their lovely pond.
The drawing above is 45 x 60 inches. It’s the pond I’ve been fishing lately for several posts.