Giorgio Morandi - Still Life - 1920 - 50 x 52 cm - oil on canvas
Giorgio Morandi - Still Life - 1958-oil - 36 x 41 cm - oil on canvas
Morandi’s path is a wonderful study of searching for the essential through restriction of the subject matter. I admire his discipline and the sophistication of his mature work.
Like most of us, his early work was focused on developing figurative skills. Now when he began conveying the essence of the subject matter is difficult to say and of course it happens over time and study. He was well educated in the wonderful considerations in modern painting, and connected to seeking the prime in things.
Here we have two still life paintings thirty eight years apart, which clearly shows his evolution through reduction. Morandi’s focus in his 1920 Still Life (which has a Cezanne influence) was depiction. This is perfectly fine and time honoured. He has allowed some distortion but representing the objects is the intent. We take in the objects, we see but we don’t feel their relationships.
In his 1958 painting his considerations are very different. We instantly connect or “feel” the relationships of the objects. Why is that? I’m not going to impose my analysis on you. I would rather you feel the painting, as I do, and permit yourself time to embrace Morandi’s sensitivity. What is important to know is that Morandi’s understood “primitivism” which is the connection to our prime.
A very sophisticated consideration and I find It truly wonderful how the connection deepens each time I visit his mature paintings. .
Two Boxes – 2012 – 23 x 33 cm – mixed water soluble media
This recent painting is an excellent example of how I permit influences to show in my paintings. My first consideration in this composition is the feeling of the space between the orange chair and the blue boxes and the use of spatial planes (Paul Cezanne). I also refined the composition through reduction (Ben Nicholson), and determined eye movement with Paul Klee’s approach to guiding the viewer’s perusal. I’m not thinking of these masters when working on the painting, but recognize their influences afterwards.
My own sensibilities are prominent, which have developed over time through studying many wonderful artists. Their work and knowledge has provided me with a strong foundation. The key is appreciating the process of the masters.
The spatial planes are very important and fascinating, as they can be quite elusive when developing the sense of space. They usually require a considerable amount of time to feel or refine, (which suits my temperament), ensuring continuity in my work.
Thank you Cezanne for this beautifully open consideration!
Henri Matisse - First Orange Still Life - 1899 - 56 x 73 cm - oil on canvas
Permitting the work of notable artists to show in your development has a great tradition, and can lead to a commitment or direction. The key is being aware of the difference between influence and copying.
The above development level painting by Matisse is a good example of having too many considerations . We have difficulty moving gracefully through the painting because he is more focused on information (what he sees), rather than adjusting for the sake of composition.
Henri Matisse - Still Life with Oranges II - 1899 - 47 x 55 cm - oil on canvas
In this painting, done in the same year, Matisse is permitting Cezanne’s considerations of reduced modelling by allowing shapes and colour to come forth. He has become aware of the power of shapes and colour and how to use them to create harmony in composition. We see this in the fruit, the cup and the pitcher as well as the large shapes in the background. How he chose where not to use shadows is impressive because he is freeing himself from depiction. He reduced the fruit on the table to coloured circles because through studying Cezanne, he realized that modelling would only disrupt the rhythm of the circles and unnecessarily clutter the painting, as we see in “First Orange Still Life” above.
He did not copy, as he flattened the fruit more than Cezanne had done. We see the influence as well as the next step towards what we see as a Matisse.
Showing influence and acknowledging it is a great way to develop.
Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Ginger Jar II - 1912 - 91 x 125 cm - oil on canvas
Mondrian’s dedication to refining the consideration of spatial planes as presented by Cezanne is most impressive and it the beginning of his journey towards abstraction. It is important to note that most abstract art has a figurative base, and I think it is fair to say Mondrian was one of the few who managed to venture beyond the figurative, which will take a few years for him to achieve.
In this painting we see the early steps of his journey by reducing and raising the subject matter towards the picture plane. He also breaks the space into planes as well which unifies the subject matter and the space it occupies
This wonderful refinement of cubism is truly a great step in art which is still difficult for many to accept, and I think it is much closer to our reality than traditional depiction or perspective. We don’t live in a world with perspective because we and every thing else are constantly moving through time, and in painting, spatial planes provide the viewer the ability to move around, (in their minds), in the paintings.
Mondrian, Picasso, Braque and other notable artists of the time, understood this, and journeyed through the door Cezanne presented to them, leading the way to the wonderful world of twentieth century painting.
Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Jinger Jar I - 1912 - 65 x 75 cm - oil on canvas
This painting by Mondrian is an excellent example of master painters permitting influences to show in their work. Mondrian is acknowledging the importance of the great considerations of Cezanne, and his refinements are wonderful.
In this painting he provides a balance between traditional representation and the new approach to creating the sense of space. We see this at the bottom right where he provided a couple of angles and a horizontal line. These create planes in space which are meant to be felt more than seen. Can you feel the space in front of the table?
When we focus on the drapery we sense volume and space through the feeling of overlapping triangles which also are raised towards the picture plane. What impresses me is that diagonal which seems to come forth and how it also parallels beautifully with a second angle, the one connecting to the top of the blue ginger jar. Again try to feel the space between the parallels.
When these spatial considerations were coming to the forefront in painting something interesting also took hold. It was the idea of suggesting rather than explaining, and Mondrian displays this idea in how he treats the subject matter in the upper right of the picture.This is just one of the seeds that will eventually lead Mondrian towards abstraction.
Ben Nicholson - Still Life with Jugs and Mugs -1929 - 38 x 56 cm - oil and pencil on canvas
This, what may seam to be a simple painting is really very sophisticated, and Nicholson was successfully developing his approach to the wonderful spatial considerations being refined in the twentieth century.
He has subtly provided us a sense of movement (our movement) by altering our position in space when we view the mugs from above and from a level position simultaneously. You are meant to sense it more than to see it, and the sophistication of his elegant simplicity is wonderful.
I love how he also provides us with the sense of space by rendering the mug handles in front of the mugs. This has stayed with me for years and I hope you can you feel and appreciate it. The handles also provide a lovely rhythm, integrating the two mugs with the jug at the right. Nicholson also provided other beautiful rhythms with the vertical bands on lower mug and the horizontal bands of colour on the pictures and the mug in the centre, which obviously brings us to the focus with strong use of colour. I feel the strong white shape balances with the strong combination of the green and reds and their combined power is on the verge of dominating. This is a great example of colour ratio, or in other words not having the colour compete or dominate the wonderful subtle considerations in the rest of the composition.
It is a joy to engage with Nicholson’s wonderful journey towards becoming a true master.
Vincent Van Gogh - Van Gogh's Chair - 1888 - 93 x 73 cm - oil on canvas
I must continue with other compositional aspects in this masterpiece by Van Gogh. How he used line and colour, integrating the left front leg of the chair with the door is wonderful, and can you feel the floor connecting with the diagonal in the seat? And how the pipe is in parallel harmony as well?
The vertical feel of the painting is emphasised with vertical brushstrokes in the wall and door, ensuring harmony with the chair.
Van Gogh’s masterful integration with colour, the yellow on the door and the blue notes in the chair, is magnifiscent.
His place in art is highly deserved.
Vincent Van Gogh - Van Gogh's Chair - 1888 - 93 x 73 cm - oil on canvas
This great painting was truly ahead of it’s time because Van Gogh provided us with the sense of moving. The subject is not but we are, be it consciously or subconsciously!
We see this in the chair, which may appear twisted at first glance, but Van Gogh actually has provided us with multiple views of the chair. We see this most clearly at the right of the where the seat is at a different angle than the rungs. We are viewing them from different places, in other words we would need to move.
We feel this very strongly in the floor which seems to drop down. What Van Gogh has actually done is painted it as we would view it in reality. When we view an actual chair we will drop our head or gaze downward to view the floor. Brilliant!
This is closer to reality because he has provided the sense or time.
Richard Diebenkorn - Girl with Flowered Background - 1962 - 103 x 52 cm - oil on canvas
How Diebenkorn integrated the figure with the Matisse like rhythm of the background is beautifully considered. Let’s begin with the horizontal black shape at the left of the painting and how it sweeps up and integrates with the blue shadow, through the red shape, then with her hair. The sweep also connects to the delightfully assessed black shape above her right shoulder, which brings the eye to the blue stripe on her blouse, very impressive. We then automatically follow the red stripe which not only integrates with her hair, but when you follow it down from her right shoulder you will eventually connect to the stem of the small flower above her left shoulder, which then joins with a white shape connecting us to the horizontal division of the painting. Very sophisticated.
There are two wonderful pulls permitting us to leave the focus of her hair and move through the painting. I’m referring to the beautifully balanced black shape at the bottom and the other one at the right edge of the painting. Remember, these are meant to be felt more than noticed and pulls relate through closeness in either value or colour.
The centres of the flowers provide a beautiful subtle horizontal rhythm supporting the division in the composition and gently relieving us from the strength of her black hair. Do you find your gaze moving to the dots when you focus on her? As I said these considerations are not meant to be obvious. They are invitations to a visual dance.
I must also mention the fantastic blue shadow which Diebenkorn painted as a shape. We see a master permitting preceding masters to influence his work. We can all join this great tradition, whether we paint or love to engage through cultivated study.
Richard Diebenkorn - Woman with Newspaper - 122 x 86 cm - oil on canvas
This painting by Diebenkorn has an excellent example of what I like to term a pull, which is a shape, value or colour pulling the viewer from the focus of the composition. Master artists are very aware of the viewer’s perusal, and how to guide the eye away from the focus without competing. This is not easily accomplished and it takes time before you find what works for you.
Diebenkorn masterfully takes us from the focus of the girl’s head to the black coffee, which is beautifully supported with the similar values below. I hope you can feel the pull as it should not be obvious. If it’s too strong we would have competition which in Diebenkorn’s hands, has been superbly avoided.
This is orchestration and good artists resist formula. The continuity, or style, comes from knowledge combined with intuition and of course experience.
Now there is a great pause(which is not as strong as a pull) on the newspaper in the shape of a “U”, gently taking you from the coffee. Can you see the path? He guides us from her hair, to the cup, to the “U”, (where you pause), and then back to her head. There are other avenues to guide us as well, which I hope you enjoy discovering and appreciating.
I must also mention how the figure is beautifully integrated with the background at her left shoulder. Do you see how the white shape curls up to connect to her hair? And I love that black line leading in and forming her knuckles. Great integration. What a painter!