A complex ensemble of varied objects sits on a table decorated by a large bouquet. The table cloth is brilliant red. The flowers are of many types: lilies, daisies, carnations, roses. A couple of winter gourds, a queen conch seashell, and a blue pedestal glass filled with smaller seashells sits beside the flowers. Behind them a cloth of pale blues and silver adds a sky-like element. And off to the far right a deep red-orange cloth peeks out framed by some hanging purple flowers from a vase sitting outside the picture frame.
The complexity of a scene like this one gives the artist many sources of intrigue. I love exploring the shapes of many things when they are bunched altogether. It’s a passion that hopefully transfers to the spectator. In any scene of things, many wonderful visual features are always present. One of the aims of visual art is to provoke us to look more deeply into the appearances of the world. Every corner of the universe is filled with splendor. And splendor can begin with the simple contemplation of even a color. A brilliant red is a powerful sensation in its own right. And the shapes of things, the colors of many things, the lines that the mind describes around things are all sources of the most powerful fascination.
The Red Cloth and the Big Bouquet of Flowers is a pastel painting on sanded paper measuring 18 x 24 inches.
The Little Bouquet is little not because the flowers were small, but because the image is small. Scale in art offers an often uncelebrated emotional factor to an image. Small things affect us differently than large ones do. Small pictures sometimes convey a greater sense of intimacy that comes from the way that small things can be held in our hands, are seen in miniature, are made more jewel-like perhaps or more precious-seeming.
In this picture the smallness of things seemed to suggest a philosophical idea — that the small, though often over-looked thing, can be a receptacle and a source of great meaning. A simple vase of flowers reminds us of the ever flowing passage of time. The beauty of all transience can call us back to reverence for life, can remind us of our need to savor the present. These lovely flowers might have been connected to any of life’s celebrations as they sit in quietude upon a table gleaming in the light.
I saw it as a microcosm of time, a moment when Nature and humanity gathered together. The passage of all loved things was once like this, a glimmering moment of light and life.
Little Bouquet of Flowers is a pastel painting on textured paper measuring 11 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches.
If a simple glass pickle jar gives you joy, you know you are a joyful person. I found the pickle jar in my mother’s cabinet. It was one of those things my parents kept out of a desire to give all possessions a second life. Emptied of pickles it became a flower vase. I cleaned it up after its years of disuse and marveled at how lovely the light is that passes through simple clear glass. The flower stems randomly distributed in the jar offer beautiful abstractions of dark green. The glass also reflects and intensifies colors in adjacent objects — the table cloth, the backdrop cloth. It catches highlights of daylight entering the windows. It is in short a light catcher. Whoever wishes to meditate on the meaning of the present tense can gaze into its interior and find passages of beauty to inspect.
The flowers are the heroes of any flower still life: comprised in this instance of carnations and a single large yellow tea rose. But a clear glass jar also brings strong poetry to the scene.
Glass Jar with Flowers is a small pastel painting on textured paper measuring 14 x 18 inches.
Visits to the thrift store are staples of an artist’s still life experience. I like thrift shops not merely because they are thrifty, but because they are the opposite of trendy. They preserve the past, and often that past they preserve is a peculiarly ordinary and everyday past.
Finding the green pitcher was one of those wonderful thrift store discoveries that every flea market aficionado loves.
The pitcher has no value in a monetary sense, but it is visually rich. It’s one of those objects that lends itself to numerable interpretations. Placing it into this still life gave the flowers a new character. I had been portraying the same hardy flowers over the course of several days (it is amazing how long well-tended cut carnations will stay fresh).
The green becomes a factor. The green of the pitcher, colored like a grassy lawn, brings its own associations of spring, evoking the sense of a landscape where flowers bloom. Of course this vase has its own porcelain flowers, too, ones that decorate its waist. A bright gold-yellow cloth and variegated violet and pale linen-colored cloth behind the flowers create a light-filled scene.
Green Pitcher with Flowers is a pastel painting measuring 15 1/4 x 21 inches.
A close up view of the fish drawing is pure abstraction. You can hardly tell there’s a fish there except for a bit contour — that along with being told — does vaguely produce a minimum of fishiness. I am an abstract artist — in some respects. Someone told me this, one of my insightful students. I wasn’t even aware.
Why do I like the scrawl of the crayon more than the specific features of the fish itself? Well, I only like them better in some pictures. In other pictures I’d be quite content to imitate the look of a koi sliding through the water. But here the energy of crayon markings in bright colors has gotten the better of me. The markings capture some of the alacrity of koi energy.
There’s still fish there. And it matters too that they’re fish.
This detail occurs in the giant rehearsal drawing. I reworked it based on some random lights and shadows that fell on the drawing when I was outdoors photographing it. Here’s a picture of it indoors with the tool box and step stool to give a sense of its actual size.
A glass pickle jar sits atop a table covered in a rich and brilliant red cloth. Inside, the jar is filled with a spritely array of flowers of different kinds — mostly carnations of red, yellow and pink, with a couple lilies and red daisies and in the center a lovely yellow tea rose. The jar diffuses the stems of the flowers in a soft way, heightening the light dark abstraction of the oblique lines formed by the stems. The glass jar also catches the light of the room in intriguing patterns of reflection.
Ruby Red: flowers on a Red Cloth is pastel painting that measures 14 x 18 inches.
Among the first of a suite of small flower paintings, this simple scene depicts a glass jar filled with flowers sitting on a table top with a gold-green cloth against a backdrop of rosy violet. The principle flower of the group is a large yellow tea rose and surrounding it are carnations of different hues, pale pink, rich red, pale yellow. The green stems of the flowers create a lively abstraction in the jar’s interior where reflections of light enliven the pattern of light and dark shapes.
Bouquet of Carnations is a pastel painting that measures 13 x 16.5 inches.
A few days ago (April 2nd) I posted a large preparatory drawing that I have used to rehearse a large painting that’s in the works. The drawing is 50 x 42.5 inches large. One challenge an artist faces making large works is photographing them. In my case there isn’t enough natural light available in the room where I work to get a good photograph. Doing photography outdoors, of course, introduces its own challenges (not the least of which is how to drag the drawing and its huge heavy drawing support outside).
Well, I got the drawing and its heavy support outside. But then I had to locate a place with indirect light because the first and easiest location for my photo shoot produced the image seen below. Very charming, but not descriptive of the drawing.
The photo did however prompt a wonderful idea: the photograph with its “clouds” was so lovely.
Why not make those effects part of the drawing itself?
And I have since altered the drawing (new version at the top of the post) to introduce some of these lights that remind me of cloud reflections floating over the koi pond. The over-exposed sections of light, made more dramatic in contrast to various shadows, are not real clouds, but they’re close enough to push the picture in that direction, and do note that these effects were still natural ones.
These were lights and shadows I found in nature. I’m still imitating nature here.
Certainly it’s possible to continue a process of this sort, I’ve taken the reworked drawing outdoors again and repeated this process.
New lights and shadows in new locations on the reworked drawing.
Portraying Nature is a complex endeavor. Nature is everywhere. It’s in your head as well as “out there.” Time is a part of Nature too.
The stages are part of the lovely game of painting. Taking the picture into this direction is, granted, not the same thing as making a faithful representation of the motif en plein air. But it is nevertheless a kind of naturalism and a kind of fidelity too.
I like to experiment with things. Put the objects on the table, perhaps move them around a little, but not to think about them overly much. Follow the instincts. Set the stuff down and begin. Sometimes I paint the scene fast. The painting above was done rapidly. It’s a very small painting. It’s the size of a postcard. I wanted to see how much I could convey without much fuss. The arrangement was crowded. I think the general sense of it has come through.
Looking at it now, I see how much I borrowed from Matisse without realizing. That’s the kind of influence that’s especially beneficial, when the earlier artist’s thought just seeps silently into your brain. One learns by much looking. We learn about painting from seeing other pictures. And there are so many ways of arranging things, maybe an infinite number.
For some time I have been portraying the objects on my table somewhat randomly as your eye might catch them when you walk into the room and scan the surroundings in an absent-minded way. They are composed and not composed at once. The picture is a composition. It has structure. But the things do not. They are random. The structure that the picture possesses is sleigh of hand. The objects simply are.
Why shouldn’t objects be portrayed haphazardly? Isn’t that how we encounter them? And all the spaces between the things, the strange wonderful interstices, I like to discover those spaces. I feel like I should make them as truthful as possible. I want to get the contours right whenever I can because that’s so much a part of the thing’s identity. The things have identities. Shades of Plato!
Just the top of the teapot peeks over the edge of this picture. That’s where the paper ends. It reminds you that the picture is artificial. The actual world seems not to have edges. But the picture does. So that’s where the objects stop. And the accidental contours of their abrupt conclusions can be fascinating.
Visiting the National Gallery, I made this drawing in oil pastel of a portion of Cezanne’s Chateau Noir. The colors in Cezanne’s picture are so dark and subtle that mine looks very brilliant in comparison. I was mixing together colors to get closer to what I think might have been some of Cezanne’s choices. But his picture is dark in ways that might be effects of age as well.
Certainly he was wont to mix together lots of pigments to achieve his effects, and the long term consequence of so many pigments being mixed together may be both a darkening and dulling of the colors. Whatever the case, his picture is magnificent in its somber darkness. Those qualities would be difficult to capture in the medium I was using though — especially with the particular palette I had available — not impossible, but very time consuming and difficult. So I contented myself with brighter effects. Plus I enjoy making a version of the painting, an interpretation. My choices are informed in part by what I know of Cezanne’s use of watercolor during this same period.
Here’s his painting and a view of the left hand section featured in my little drawing, which is 9 x 12 inches. Cezanne’s painting measures 29 x 38 inches.
Paul Cézanne, Château Noir, French, 1839 – 1906, 1900/1904, oil on canvas, Gift of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer
Paul Cézanne, Château Noir, French, 1839 – 1906, 1900/1904, oil on canvas, Gift of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer