Willem de Kooning – (Integration with Spatial Planes)

Willem de Kooning - Two Men Standing - 1938 - 155 x 122 cm - 61 x 48 in - oil on canvas

There are some fascinating spatial considerations in this interesting painting by de Kooning.  Not only has he integrated the painting with a motif of rectangles, de Kooning also uses them as spatial planes, providing us with the feeling of space. (which is meant to be felt before seen)

I will begin with the vertical rectangle at the left which has a feeling of being in front of the objects on the floor.  And when you take in the adjacent rectangles they seem to be behind the figure.  I hope you can feel it.

Now to the wonderful warm rectangle connecting the figures. (Or maybe I should say the orange has a feeling of a rectangle)  Do you sense the orange being both in front and behind the figures?  The feeling is emphasized  by the horizontal line which runs behind the left figure’s legs, then turning upwards, connecting to another line at the other figures elbow.  Yes we have another plane.  One more, which I feel is the most exquisite.  The sense of the left figure’s head being within a spatial plane.  Do you feel the rectangle simultaneously in front and behind his head?

This is a very sophisticated painting and I will continue in the next posting.

Matisse – (Integration with lines and shapes)

Henri Matisse - Portrait of Greta Prozer - 147 x 93 cm - oil on canvas

In this delightfully reduced and and rhythmically distorted painting, Matisse has integrated the subject with line and shapes elegantly.

I love the rhythm of lines and how they integrate with the figure.  Lets begin with the line at the top of the chair taking your eye across the rim of her hat, which then loops down to a  vertical black line indicating the chair back at her left.  Which then connects to a faint line that attaches to the left arm of the chair.  The vertical front of the chair arm then integrates beautifully with her leg, taking us to the bottom of her dress.  Matisse then provides us with lines leading us back to the top of the chair.  This is just one of a few rhythmic paths for us to engage with.

There are a number of very interesting considerations in this painting.  One that stands out is her shoes.  Why do they blend with the background?  The reason is Matisse wants your eye to move along the bottom of her dress or under the black shape.  If he hadn’t blended them, they would be competing with these rhythmic lines, returning you to her eyes, and she is now gracefully floating.

Rhythm needs harmonious structure and Matisse has balanced them masterfully with a motif of rectangles holding the composition together beautifully.  We first have the strong black one at the bottom under the chair, then another on her chest and a fantastic one under her chin. (They just need to have the sense of being rectangles.)    How they hold the composition together is most impressive and I often think of this painting when I am working.

Two other great considerations in this painting are distortion and reduction, which comes to the forefront when an artist is thinking composition before information.

Ask yourself why?  I will talk about this in future posts,



Bonnard – (Temperature)

Pierre Bonnard - The Vigil - 1921 - 96 x 125 cm - 38 x 51 in - oil on canvas

One terrific way to provide unity and harmony is to restrict your palette, so your composition will have either a cool or warm feeling.

Bonnard does this in this delightful warm painting, and the viewer immediately responds to the temperature.  We are then directed through the painting by very interesting considerations and I’m sure Bonnard is intentionally pushing our sense of harmony.

The strength of the striped half oval at the left is dominating almost to the point of disharmony and his solutions are very impressive. The two yellow stripes on the baby’s blanket. (she seems to be comforting a baby)   We can’t help moving from the semi circle to the yellow cushion on the chair, and then to those two marvelous stripes.  Do you feel their strength and how they balance the composition?  They also direct us to the yellow partial oval at the upper left, which has a wonderful dark line taking us back to the striped tablecloth.  Brilliant!

I should also point out the dark shapes at the left which hold us in the composition as well as the wonderful oval motif.  Also note the the darkish shape with subtle stripes (very important) between the chairs, connecting the dog’s gaze with the mother and her baby.

We stay with the dog’s vigil, which of course is what Bonnard wants the us to enjoy.  The sophistication of the composition permits this.


Klee – (Shape Motifs)

Paul Klee - Hammamet with Mosque - 1914 - 21 x 28 cm - watercolour

This early watercolour by Paul Klee is a great example of how to provide space and depth with flat shapes and pattern within the shapes.

We automatically read space when we recognize the subject and adding details for the sake of information would only disrupt the freshness of this delightful painting.  Klee’s use of oblique lines, (which form triangles), rhythmically take us through the foreground. The sophistication comes from limiting detail to within a few shapes, and having it read almost as pattern.

The mosque is vertically integrated with the foreground and the sky beautifully.  And having the shapes in the sky continue the motif of the foreground and structures is superb.




Chagall – (Parallel Rhythm, Integration and Motifs)

Marc Chagall - The Poet - 1911 - 197 x 146 cm - 78 x 57 in - oil on canvas

To continue let’s go to the bottle and how it is supported by a rhythm of parallels.  From left to right we have the poet’s right leg, his forearms, a line on his chest, the edge of a red triangle, a small gray rectangle, a small red triangle, and the curtain.  There are a couple other subtle ones as well.

Another series of parallels which is very closely related, are his left leg and the small spatial angle beside it.  The rhythm continues with a very subtle plane in the grayish area, then the edge of the red table, which integrates with blue on his forearm.  Please note the horizontal integrating his arm to the table.  Chagall’s compositional assessments are very sophisticated and most impressive.

Note how his inverted the head is integrated with the background.  There is an edge which connects to the chin and then runs to the right into the curtain.  Can you feel how it supports the head?

We could say the composition has a triangle motif supported by ovals, circles and rectangles.  Take the hand holding the glass.  It is a partial oval, and harmonizes with the head and other ovals above.

My last observation.  Note how the cat is in space.  I say this because of the spatial plane, or the background overlapping the cat. Do you feel it?

I could go on.  Chagall is wonderful!

Influences (Cezanne on Morandi)

Georgio Morandi - Landscape - 1940 - 48 x 53 cm - 19 x 21 in - oil on canvas

This is a great example of how a notable painter permits himself to absorb the considerations of other artists without loosing his own unique approach.   We can feel the influence of Cezanne but this painting is a Morandi.

The sense of volume and space is wonderful.   He achieves this with shapes and values, as well as colour.  I will focus on shapes and integration.

The painting is held together by a large shape in the central area, which integrates the buildings and the foliage beautifully.  (It may help if you blur your vision slightly.)

The roof line of the building at the left defines the top of the shape.  It’s right edge runs down through the other building, continuing to it’s bottom edge, which parallels the top of the shape.  Remember the shapes are not meant to be obvious.

Morandi also has provided a wonderful spatial plane at the bottom right.  This is created by the vertical trunk of a tree and a dark horizontal line to the right.  Can you see the rectangle?  The rectangle not only provides structure but is also a plane which seems to come forth.

I also would like to point out the two parallel branches on the tree.  They parallel the roof line above.  Superb parallel rhythm and structure!

Morandi understood Cezanne.


Bonnard (Integration, Rhythm and Motifs)

Pierre Bonnard - After the Meal - 1925 - 117 x 114 cm - 46 x 45 in - oil on canvas

While perusing this painting I remember asking myself.  Why is the wine bottle shape  off kilter?  And thanks to considering composition before subject, I realized the bottle shape had to be adjusted to harmonize (rhythm) and support the figure leaning over the table.

I continued to let Bonnard lead me through his poetic composition.  I love how he integrated the figure with the dark vertical connecting with the blue line in her sweater.  Then how your eye is carried down the edge of the tablecloth to her shoes. Note how the stripes on her skirt parallel the edge of the table, another rhythm.

Another beautiful integration is the dark horizontal which connects to her head.  Then you are taken along the blue line to the other figure at the left.

This figure is a superb example of his sophisticated use of motifs.  She is actually occupies a rectangle and is actually a rhythm of rectangles herself.   It may help if you blur your vision.

The rectangle motif is dominant and is supported by a sub motif of ovals

Also note how the bottom of the smaller figure’s dress integrates with the table top.

There are many other beautiful notes to enjoy such as his sophisticated use of colour.

Let me finish with the bottles.  Do you feel how the dark vertical supports them in size and value?




Diebenkorn (Shape Motifs and Integration)

Richard Diebenkorn - Large Still Life - 1966 - 164 x 178 cm - 64 x 70 in - oil on canvas

This painting has a great example of integration.  Diebenkorn provides a very sensitive integration, where the vertical line on the table connects to the circle in the blue area.  Note how the circle also integrates with a white rectangle on the table.  I’m delighted with how he guides me through the composition.

This brings us to shape motifs, which I feel Diebenkorn had mastered.  The primary motif of this composition is the rectangle supported by circular sub motifs.  By using three rectangles he quickly engages the whole area with the viewer.  If you don’t see them you will feel them for we take in shapes before subject matter.

He integrates the circles in the blue rectangle beautifully, with the shapes of the cup’s top and it’s shadow.

I love the pull in this painting, which is the ink bottle.  I feel it’s just right.  The viewer is pulled to the lower part of the painting then returns to the focal area.  I say the area, for he has left for us to decide if the cup, the circle, or the red dot, is the focus.  This level of sophistication is what we artists should strive for.

Remember there are no rules or formula other than knowledge and level of consideration as Diebenkorn has conveyed beautifully.

Influences (Matisse on Diebenkorn)

Richard Diebenkorn - Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad - 1965 - 183 x 214 cm - 72 x 84 in - oil on canvas

A great example of a notable artist permitting influence in their work.  One could say this is a homage to Matisse.

The influence is obvious, but the painting is a Diebenkorn.  Showing the feel of another artist’s considerations and not losing yourself is very important.

The composition has strong shapes and flatness, which he did so well.  Yet the painting has depth without using perspective.  All that is needed are a couple of obliques which  accomplish this nicely.

Diebenkorn’s superb use of shapes permits colour to come forth and dance!

I must mention the rhythm of blacks taking you across the painting.  They are wonderful notes relieving the strong verticals in the painting.

Henri Matisse - Interior with Eggplants - 1911 - 212 x 246 cm - 84 x 97 in - distemper on canvas



Bonnard (Integration and Pulls)

Pierre Bonnard - The Red Tablecloth - 1910 - 81 x 84 cm - 32 x33 in - oil on canvas

Integration or “knitting the composition together” is primary in composition and Bonnard was a master.

There are many ways to integrate and one is through shape motifs as I talked about in yesterday’s post.

Another way is by providing connections with sight lines or eye paths.

In this painting the strongest one is the vertical line running from the top down through her hand to the oval in the bowl.  Just to the right is a beautifully done subtle vertical above her right shoulder, which connects to a vertical in her blouse, then runs down the handle of the coffee pot.  It then continues down to the napkin.  Note on the next stripe how the shadow on the napkin permits your eye to continue through the napkin.

There is a superb pull for the dog, the dark shape at the figure’s left shoulder.   I find this exciting as I can feel Bonnard’s consideration, of knowing the dark value of the dog would dominate the composition without that pull.

What is a pull?  A pull is something that takes the viewer away from a strong element or the focus in a composition and Bonnard did it so well.

Also, note how the dog’s neck is integrated with a stripe on the table cloth.

Remember the poetic side of painting, which is, you are not meant to see, but rather to feel these considerations.

A last note.  The red vertical at the right.  Is it in front of the table top?

This shows us the level of sophistication of Bonnard’s work, and the connection to Cezanne and many other painters of the period, such as Matisse, Braque and Picasso.