contemplating planes

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The objects on the table would appear — I think — at slightly varying angles.  In Bonnard’s painting La salle à manger sur le jardin which this painting emulates, one comes upon the table as though standing in the room so that objects on the table are slightly below you.  In my painting, by contrast, the compotier and certain various other objects are not really sitting on the same plane.  And I guess I shouldn’t write that in my blog post because perhaps some observers wouldn’t notice unless one draws attention to it.

I am not being literal, though, about the objects.  The compotier has to be seen slightly from above or it looks wrong.  In contrast I think seeing the bottom level of objects in profile just somehow feels right.  So I’m going with my artistic intuition rather than attempting to assemble these things in true space.

When you walk into a room you look around, and you move through the space yourself.  This painting is large enough that it benefits from having a mobile quality.  So the objects sit in ways that perhaps relate to their being noticed at different points in time.

Below, my painting in progress on the left and its mentor by Pierre Bonnard on the right.

 

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finding touchstones

fairfield porter table window
Fairfield Porter

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.

 

 

Monsieur Bonnard’s thoughts on color

bonnard mimosas

Il s’agit de noter aussitôt que possible ce qui vous a frappé. Si l’on a dans la suite une simple couleur comme point de départ, on compose toute une peinture autour. La couleur a une logique aussi exacte que celle de la forme. Il ne faut pas lâcher, avant d’avoir réussi à rendre l’impression première.

It’s important to notice as soon as possible whatever shakes you up.  If one takes a single color as a point of departure, you can compose an entire painting around it.  Color has a logic that is as exact as the logic of form.  You must not let go until you have succeeded in rendering the first impression.

So that’s what we learned in Monsieur Bonnard’s class today.  And I have to compose my whole painting around even one color perhaps — one amazing color that has shaken me to my foundations.

staying the course

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I’ve been painting a study of the flowers that will go into the big painting I’m working on — the painting that I’m doing in emulation of Bonnard’s “Dining Room overlooking the Garden.”  As often happens, though, while I’m in the process of painting a motif in a certain manner I begin thinking about other ways that I might use instead.  It can lead to doubt and dissatisfaction.

So many little hindrances can crop up.  For instance, I find it hard even to see the picture sometimes.  I thought it was my imagination but then I take a photo and discover that the camera is also having difficulting “seeing” the painting.  Oil paint when it’s wet can become shiny enough to affect your awareness of tonality.  Thus parts of the picture that are dark look lighter than they should.  It’s one example that I use to make a point about psychology.  I’ve been painting a long time, but I still find myself affected by this distraction.  Duh!  I have to pinch myself as it were.  “The painting will look different in a day or so after it begins to dry.”

You have to make sure that you don’t let little things knock you off course.  Because the painting that I’m doing the study for is really large, I remind myself that each of the studies provides me with information that I need.  And information of itself is neutral.  If it were to happen that I decided I didn’t like my study, I can always paint another one.  Or I can use the study, but alter it in various ways when I adapt it to the larger work.

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I ask myself how much more energy I will have for this task when I learn how to banish all the negative thoughts that creep in.

I was beginning to think that the forms in the bouquet lack dimension, or that they seem loopy the way they’re painted.  That’s an even more insidious idea that I must cast out of my brain.  I remind myself — “HELLO, self!  Remember the whole idea has been to emulate Bonnard.  Loopy! It goes with the territory.”

For some crazy reason when Bonnard paints forms in a “loopy” way, I love it.  Then when I do it — when I do it successfully — I feel many doubts.

This too is another bump in the road.  It’s important to keep going with an idea and see where it leads.  If I get critical too early in the process, I succeed in doing nothing except erecting obstacles in my own path.  Clearly that makes no sense at all!

At any rate I have stayed the course.  I carry on with the still life, with the studies, and I’m advancing work on the large painting by gathering this information.  However, I ask myself how much more energy I will have for this task when I learn how to banish all the negative thoughts that creep in.  They are unnecessary friction.  Yes, I’m still “moving” but I’d move more smoothly without the friction.

 

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

Monsieur Bonnard’s notes

canvas morning of may 30

He was talking about the landscape but his observations can apply equally to an interior.  Anyway, there’s a landscape in this interior — the one that’s visible, that will be visible, through the window.  Color is what this picture’s about.

Il a dit: Par temps beau mais froid, il y a du violet dans les gris et du vermillon dans les ombres orangées.

He said: Beautiful weather though cold, there’s violet in the grays and vermilion in the orange tinted shadows.

The painting comes along slowly.  I make studies of particular objects to figure out what they’re going to look like.  Not all the things have locations yet.  I’m setting the table.

more brainstorming

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Pierre Bonnard – flowers

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.

https://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/list.php?s=tu&m=a&aid=449&p=3

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.

We’ll see.

I’m putting violet around the edges of the picture.

trying to figure out color

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I have been thinking about what colors should occur in the painting I’ve just started.  It’s a different approach to painting for me — having decided to study Bonnard more closely.  There are largish areas of my canvas that have no real-life referents.  I can make those areas any color I want (just as the bathroom in Bonnard’s famous painting of Marthe was actually white).  My painting of an interior doesn’t depict an actual place — unless you consider the actual place to be Bonnard’s dining room in the Villa Castellamare at Arcachon.  I could use the same colors Bonnard did for some areas of the picture if I knew what those colors are.  But I have only my books to consult and even the best of them never get the color exactly right. It was a long time ago that I saw the actual canvas.

Well, mine is my painting anyway.  It’s a weird situation to be in to “be able” to choose whatever color I want.  I’m not used to that.  I typically don’t paint that way.  So, here’s to learning new things.

[Detail of the still very amorphous picture, above, taken at night in insufficient light.]

Miscellaneous related ideas below (including two of Bonnard’s works.

 

most tentative beginning

very early stage bonnard's window

It begins — still very dependent upon Bonnard’s picture.  Recall I said that his version is the map I’m using.  It determines the territory, but as the picture progresses I will be planting more and more of my own images and ideas into this painting.  It measures 60 x 48 inches.  I am trying to keep it vague enough to accommodate whichever window treatment I finally choose.

The foreground cloth was going to be pale yellow-white until I found the green cloth with stripes.  The cloth’s beautiful color sold me on the idea that it should be included.  Bonnard’s cloth was pale white with blue stripes.  So the stripes have crossed over from his picture to mine.  But now my table will be mostly green.  Green in the window above and green on the table below.

discoveries

photo of motif Bonnard ideaFrom my mediations today on Bonnard’s art, I had one of those moments when you bang into the obvious.  “Pierre Bonnard’s art is indistinct.”  The thought floated into view in my brain like a boat that you see as it silently sails down the river.  Why should I feel some need to plan everything when his own starts (some of those exist) demonstrate how furtively he sometimes snuck up on his motifs?  And writing about the big painting conjured in me a great desire to begin, so I’ve begun.

I’ve started with his sketch, which I’ve decided to use like a map.  Certain key locations of the canvas I plot using this map.  I have things that I’ll be adding — most keenly the vase of flowers — that are absent from his motif.  The part of his canvas where my flowers will go is empty wall so clearly that changes everything.  But I sort of copy the general plot of his design.  My format is wider, too.  He has things in his picture that will not appear in mine — like ghostly Marthe on the left margin of his scene!  All these differences and the many that will follow will make the two images very different from each other. Yet I learn things about Bonnard’s painting already in even these most  cursory gestures.

I feel like Diebenkorn looks over my shoulder.  He studied Bonnard too.  And because I must change things from the outset, I become aware of all the changes that Diebenkorn introduced into his most Bonnard-like images.

And, oh! the things you notice.  Bonnard’s vertical lines are not plumb!  Not at all.  The frame of the window just veers off in wild fashion.  The painting entire holds together like an iron grill or like diamond thread — both delicate and adamant.  What gravity binds his image together … who can say?

Already the delight begins …. my delight … as I begin painting.