Balthus – Competing Considerations

Balthus – Solitaire – 1943 – 161 x 164 cm – oil on canvas

These two lovely paintings by Balthus executed ten years apart remind me of how many notable artists struggled with the competing considerations between composition and information in figurative painting.  Which is to be the primary intent, the level of accuracy or the arrangement and altering of the subject matter to lyrically convey feeling.  The choice is with the artist.

In the earlier painting Balthus leaned towards information, focusing on the the figure and her surroundings to ensure our recognition of the when and the where.  We see it in the furnishings, the decor in the room and the style of her clothing.  We are more involved with the information rather than the compositional relationships.

The composition is beautifully considered but is subordinate to the figurative considerations. This was his intent.
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Balthus – Patience – 1954-55 – 90 x 88 cm – oil on canvas

The second painting has a very different “feel” because we respond to relationships and harmony (either consciously or subconsciously) and these compositional considerations were foremost in his mind when working on the painting.

The rhythms and integrations are magnificent.

Let me begin with his sensitive reduction of the room to three horizontal divisions which provides the sense of place.  The tops of the table and stool add to the horizontal rhythmic structure.  I love the elegant vertical arrangement of the legs of the table and stool, with the candle stick and her upper arms.  Can you feel how the horizontal and vertical structure support and integrate with the figure?

Two magnificent integrations (or site paths) are apparent when we notice how the right leg of the table connects with the opening below her torso and right arm and how her left arm integrates with the cat’s tail.  Please note how the shape of the cat echoes the wonderful opening and is also in harmony with the curve of the top of her hair.

The dark patches on the cat also commands our eye to move across the bottom of the painting ensuring a beautiful rhythm supporting her shoe.  Imagine how awkward it would be to return from her black shoe without them.

The shadow from her shoe, the stool and table legs relate to her shadow on the table top. You are meant to feel the relationship rather than see it.

I must mention the subtle rhythmic support for her left wrist.  We sense connection to the shadow on the table which loops, embracing her focus.  The shape of her hair, the curve of the bottom of her sweater and the curve of the stripe on her skirt return us to her contemplation masterfully.  When we engage on this level we actually connect to the artist’s considerations when developing the composition.

We become engaged with the primary reason for the painting because there is less competitive representational detail.

Let us return to the other painting for comparison.  Take in the fingers on her left hand and the creases on her skirt.  They are very well painted of course but do they lead you away from her focus.  Maybe this is why they were changed in the later painting. There are many other adjustments for you to engage with.

We should be thankful to Balthus for presenting these two wonderful paintings for they do teach us how to appreciate art.

Matisse – Shapes and Eye Movement

Henri Matisse - Reader on a Black Background - 1939 - 92 x 74 cm

 

I love the way Matisse invites us to joyfully participate with his paintings.  My long standing admiration only increases with time.

In this posting I would like to focus on his beautifully choreographed shapes and eye movement.

By reducing the shapes to simple rectangles and ovals, he is able to focus on the relationships of these shapes, and guide us lyrically throughout the painting.  We move through the shapes because of his sensitivity to the spacing and integration.  Modelling or superfluous detail would only disrupt the harmony.

My own initial eye movement begins with the white rectangle.  Then, sensing the vertical integration upwards from its left edge, my eye moves to the light shape above the figure’s reflection.  The curved edge (partial oval) then carries me towards the rectangle with the figure drawing.  I then find my eye moving through the small white vertical rectangles to the blue shapes, which in turn guide me to the vertical green shape.  This leads my eye to the beautiful arrangement of ovals.

Another integrating eye path which I found exciting begins with the small black angle on the figure’s blouse, at the right arm.  Following its upward direction leads me to another line just above her head.  I hope you then can see the connection with a subtle series of parallels guiding our perusal through the red ovals and greenery to the hand of the figure drawing above.

I must point out an alternate path from the line just above her head.  It also connects to the reflection of her hair returning us to her face, providing wonderfully subtle containment.

I would like to finish with the orange oval feel of the figure’s legs.  If Matisse stayed within the lines, the lyrical harmony with her face would have been weakened.

There is so much more such as colour and pattern within shapes. I may do another post.

 

Klee – Reduction and Integration

Paul Klee - Forest Bird - 1920 - 14 x 22 cm - watercolour on chalk undercoat over gauze on paper

 

Klee is one of the great masters of colour and composition, as this gorgeous painting conveys.  I marvel at his sophistication and will do my best to convey his colour temperature ratio and rhythmic integrations.

Colour temperature ratio is the relationship of warm and cool.  We can see it in the influence of the cool blues on the warm orange and red shapes.  The blues poetically energize the warms without competing, creating lyrical variations that are music for the eye.

The black shapes are beautifully balanced and supported by the dark grayish shapes as well as three smaller brown shapes.  Can you feel the relationship of the bird’s gaze with the brown shape at the right edge of the painting and how the other two brown shapes return you to the bird? It’s wonderful.

The sensitive parallels provide a structural rhythm that is more felt than seen. One great example is the relationship of the bird’s front leg, the black line in its eye, the brown line under the orange circle and the black line leading to that magnificent green circle.  The other leg has parallel support as well.

The background shapes run into each other in a number of places, integrating the painting beautifully.   The bottom of the foreground shape of the bird’s neck connects to the edge of the blue shape beautifully.  Klee masterfully provides exceptions to the integrations such as the closed shapes of the circles and where the orange touches the blue just above the bird’s beak.  We sense the variation.

Klee used the consideration of pattern within shapes on the bird.  To hold the viewer just perfectly.

I think how Klee sensitively provides the feeling of the forest is magnificent and I absolutely love that green circle which is beyond explaining.

My Work – Shape Motifs, Reduction, Rhythm and Spatial Considerations

Blue Cup VI - 37 x 50 in - mixed media on canvas

This composition with my blue cup is a great example of reducing composition to an arrangement of shapes.  This seemingly basic approach opens the door to wonderful spatial ad rhythmic considerations.  The most important aspect of painting is the viewer’s engagement with how things relate, and one of the best ways to accomplish this is working with shape motifs.

This painting could be described as an arrangement of rectangles supported with a sub motif of ovals and a triangle.  The challenge is orchestrating them, which usually calls for considerable reworking, until I “feel” their relationships.  I become excited when this begins to happen and will stay with it no matter how many adjustments or refinements my sense of rhythm and harmony commands. I never tire of the process.

The primary relationship in this painting is between the cup and the rectangular pan.  The distance, or space, between has an energy which is embraced by the table top and supported by the rhythmic arrangement of the small white sketches.

Now to the very important play with lines and markings on the table.  I felt the ovals and half ovals needed rhythmic support.  Can you see the curved lines and feel their influence with the ovals?

The four lines (detail) between the cup and the pan were instinctively placed to support the four sketches. The triangle below was instinctively placed for a counter movement toward the sketches. There is also a small angle (detail) at the right which guides your eye back towards the sketches. 

The balance of the painting supports the rectangle motif with the lines at the top harmonizing with the horizontals of the table, especially the front edge.

A very important connection is a small line on the wall, just above the left edge of the soaking pan.  It carries you upward towards the strong white line carved into the painting.  I spent considerable time determining the placement, weight and length to harmonize its relationship with the cup and pan.  I also used the same consideration with the right edge of the cup and the edge of the white sketch above.

Striving to ensure every mark and shape have harmonious relationships and avoiding competition is the key.

If the shapes were not simple their relationships would not be felt as strongly.

 

 

My Work – Movement – (The Reductive Process)

Direction VI - 2008 - 49 x 97 in (124 x 246 cm) - mixed media on canvas

This painting has a special place for me as it represents how wonderful it can be when a composition succeeds through the reductive process.

The seed of the painting is to convey movement as purely as possible without any superfluous markings or information.  This can be very challenging, for it is not simplification just through omission and reduction.  It is striving to have the viewer connect and participate at the primal level.  Arranging and rearranging the markings until I respond is genuinely exhilarating. and It always seems to be a circuitous route..

Those small dancing angles are an invitation to engage and they may represent anything the viewer wishes.  The colours and textures are open as well, and it is my hope the painting invites a different response with every visit.

I should mention a very important structural consideration.  Note how the bottom edge of the light area curves upward at the right.  To support this movement I provided a parallel line just above.  This is very important for the composition and is meant to be felt more than seen.

I would like to share another detail which I feel is the finishing touch to the painting.  When my eye comes to where the blue intrudes slightly into the light texture, gently holding me briefly, I smile. (see detail)   The best notes appear when we are responding to the painting.

We artists put ourselves through a great deal to arrive where we initially intended, and to be truthful that place can be elusive. 

 

 

Morandi – (Sophistication Through Reduction)

Georgio Morandi – Still Life – 25 x 30 cm – oil on canvas

Morandi’s contemplative paintings speak to me and I quite often find myself visiting them for the appreciation of his mastery of the reductive process.

In this Still Life he arranged three items directly in front of each other creating a beautiful arrangement of shapes and lines.  How he integrated the three with the table and background is absolutely gorgeous.

 I love the elegant structure of the shapes, especially the relationship of the top of the spout with the rhythmic movement of the three marks at the right. The horizontal dark line holds them beautifully. (see detail image)   I hope you can feel the relationships.

Two of the marks (above the dark line) and the top of the goblet seem to float, connecting our gaze to that sensitive horizontal shadow in the goblet’s top, and leading us to the oval top of the spout.  We are then gently brought down to the wonderful dark structure.  I mustn’t neglect another sensitive movement, leading our eye down the spout to the bottom edge of the ochre shape on the goblet.  This in turn takes us to that magnificent small curved mark engaging us with the movements above.

The top of the goblet seems to be floating, energizing the painting brilliantly. Reducing the subject matter to an arrangement of shapes supports this consideration masterfully.  The blending or integration of the objects with the background and table is visual poetry at it’s best.

Note how we seem to be both level with the goblet and slightly above it at the same time.  I’m sure this is an homage to Cézanne.

The painting is an exquisite arrangement of shapes and lines revealing a level of sophistication and visual poetry I admire greatly.