I got to see an old friend
after many long years separation. Cezanne’s Vase of Flowers is back on view at the National Gallery of Art. For years and years it had its own special place and I visited it, studied it, drew it, copied it — and then it was gone. But it’s back, and recently I made this quick and rough drawing in front of the painting, drawing a portion of its features approximately life size.
It’s not the sort of drawing for getting a likeness. I was instead keen merely to make the gestures that I see in one small part of the painting. And I want to do many more such drawings in the future — private drawings that I make for my own use even if I do also afterwards make some of them occasionally public by posting them here.
The painting, for those not familiar with it, is reproduced below.
You can learn more about the painting and can use the zoom feature to see it more closely here: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.45867.html
I’ve drawn it many times before, as for instance here: https://alethakuschan.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/my-cezanne/
The portion of the painting I was drawing above can deciphered by comparing the same area from one drawing I made in the past.
Not only the directions of the folds, but the textures of the pencil become the subject of the picture. I made tones with hatch marks and their directions create a kind of movement inside the details, in the lumps and folds like lichen growing between rocky ledges. Through the different tones, a spectator can savor distinctions between one shadow layer of darkness and another.
You can enter into the music of the image. What bass or treble are to music, light and dark are to drawing. A drawing like this one is not made in a rush, and an observer ought not to rush either. Linger here a while. It was a spectacle seen that captured my spirit. At the edge of the mind’s scenic overlook, standing over the chasm, feeling the breeze at the altitude, I paused. I caught this view. I found this mountain of cloth. Lewis and Clark never surveyed it.
If the cloth was metaphorically a mountain, then in drawing it was I climbing? And each small pencil stroke is a foot hold. And the whole is a meditation. What Mont Ste Victoire was for Cezanne, this can be a Rockies that tumbled out of the laundry basket.
I am so far away from real mountains that I am reduced to creating my own from the materials lying about the house. And yet art can be real and imaginary in more ways than we suppose. After all, I drew this mountain from life.
This morning with coffee making random drawings, I was opening books, drawing whatever caught my eye. The drawing above is after Cezanne’s Blue Vase (Musee d’Orsay). Never noticed the distortion in the vase in quite the same way before making this drawing. The vase has a scalloped rim, but only on one side. The shape is distorted too — everything is distorted. And yet I seemed to see the why of the distortion more clearly today.
I was supposed to be studying landscape. Indeed I picked up the Cezanne book to look at landscapes when I was derailed by this still life. The vase and huge bough of flowers is tree-like and so it satisfies some of what I sought.
But today was also random day. See things and make pictures. Grab tools and think with them. Crayons, blue ball point pen, paint, whatever.
I have resumed doing a series of koi drawings of different sizes. And in between drawing the koi, I do fast drawings after old masters. I pick up whatever book is lying nearby. (A book on Paul Cezanne is often one of those lying near by.) I flip to a random page. And I start drawing.
Looking at paintings I love — by old masters — with pen in hand — sets my thoughts free. I copy Cezanne fast. Pick any spot in his picture that catches my interest and just dive in.
It’s like having a conversation with someone from the past. And we speak entirely in images.
I posted the teaser earlier. Here is the whole drawing I made after Paul Cezanne’s “Still life with Apples and Peaches” from the National Gallery of Art. I made this copy from a reproduction in a book, though I have also made drawings (numerous times) in front of the actual painting.
It took me all day of drawing off and on to make all these lines. But what a wonderful way to spend the day! This was my trip to Aix en Provence, my chance to hang out with Cezanne yet again.
He’s my dear old pal.
I spent so much time on one drawing (of which this is a detail) that I can be forgiven if I love looking at it. I cross hatched until I thought my hand would fall off. And still I didn’t stop.
It’s a good thing I just stocked up on ball point pens — or else I’d be running out of ink.
I was copying Cezanne’s “Still life with Apples and Peaches” from the National Gallery of Art, and though I’ve drawn it many times in front of the actual painting I made this copy from a reproduction in a book.
The detail of the painting above corresponds roughly to the section of my drawing featured in this post.
I had gone to the National Gallery of Art and made a quick drawing with oil pastel in front of Cezanne’s “Peppermint Bottle” and had drawn a detail of two of its apples. And reencountering Cezanne with crayons in my hand led me to make a vigorous drawing of my own household apples. Remembering that event (one great virtue of keeping a journal or a blog lies in its power to bring the past back before your eyes), I feel once again that keen desire to make a bold study of some ordinary thing.
Draw apples, or anything ordinary. Draw your shoes. Lay some clothes on the bed and make a study of them. Open the cabinets and draw your china. It doesn’t matter what it is. Simply study the visible world.
The garden I walk through this Columbus Day morning is Cezanne’s Vase de Fleurs. Its corridors and hedgerows, its flowering trelis and mossy banks, and fragrant shadows provide my autumn refuge.
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue, and from the outshirts of a city named to commemorate his oceanic leap into the unknown, I write near the District of Columbia. I wander paths planted and pruned by nineteenth century French transplanted Cezanne on this day of Our Lord, October Tenth, Two Thousand Eleven in the U.S.A.
Just me and my handy dandy ball point pen. Five hundred and nineteen years later, bringing various fellows named Paul along for the ride since “time is not linear.”
I had been visiting the museum, looking at old masters with the memory of my own art still in my head. I had been wondering how I could put dimension into the painting I was working on. And before I left the museum, I stopped to look once more at Cezanne’s Vase de Fleurs.
Until then I had somewhat ruefully accepted that my painting perhaps was simply going to be flat – like Matisse (I thought to myself brightly). But unable to surrender this desire for space – while also looking at the Cezanne – I got an inkling how one might create space from the ground up – doing it through the parts.
His bunch of flowers has such a strong feeling of dimensionality within it. You sense the in-between-ness of the flowers, feel as though you could move around and between them, sense the air separating and surrounding them.
You might only need as little as an “inch” of dimension after all. The picture itself is just an illusion, so an inch might be all you need. Just enough to break the surface. Just enough to establish some plausibility – that this is not just a colored surface, but a world that lies beyond the picture plane.
Ever since silly Andy Warhol, some artists (not this one) have assiduously sought their fifteen minutes of fame. Instead of searching for that, however, they should seek fifteen minutes of drawing. When fifteen minutes is all you’ve got, what the heck, go for it. That’s what I did today. I was at the National Gallery of Art. A glance at my watch told me I had about twenty minutes until my parking meter expired. That meant fifteen minutes to draw. So I took it, drawing a detail from Paul Cezanne’s Peppermint Bottle.
After I got home I drew my blue compotier with the same urgency I had used in front of Cezanne’s picture. It’s amazing how much you can extract from just fifteen minutes.
Give me fifteen minutes of drawing over fame any day.