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Archive for March 29th, 2019

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to artists (those who paint) is to paint the pictures they want to see. For me, there is no better way to illustrate this than to look to the work of Henri Rousseau. The post below is from five years back and points out the fearlessly unique quality of his work. I’ve added a few images along with a lovely animation of his work that had slipped my mind.

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Henri Rousseau- Self Portrait -1890

Henri Rousseau- Self Portrait -1890

I wrote a tiny bit on this site about Henri Rousseau over five years back [ten years now], showing a few of  his paintings that I count among my favorites. Over the years, that little blogpost is consistently my most popular page, receiving a considerable number of hits each day. It’s a testament to the  power of his imagery, both in its ability to draw in the viewer and in the timeless quality it possesses in its evocation of mood. I know those are the two qualities that drew me to Rousseau and the qualities I have sought to emulate in my own work.

But going through a large book of his work yesterday, I was stuck by one of his greatest attributes, one that I had overlooked: his fearless approach to painting. His work never tried to be something that it was not and always displayed his hand proudly, always declaring itself as his. It gave even his lesser works a strength that is undeniable and true.

It was evidence of a supreme belief in the manner in which he was expressing himself.

That’s not a small thing. I know for myself, there is a constant struggle to maintain my own voice and vision, to not try to conform to the expectations and definitions set down by others in my work. To remain fearless like Rousseau.

henri_rousseau_-_a_carnival_eveningRousseau was born in 1844 and worked most of his life as a civil servant, a clerk who collected taxes on goods going into Paris. He didn’t start painting until he was in his early 40’s and was not a full-time painter until he was 49.  He was basically self taught and worked for the next seventeen years as a painter, blissfully maintaining his fearless work even though he was ignored or disparaged by most of the critics and much of the art world in general.

Yet, among the painters of his day he was tremendously influential, directly inspiring other giants such as Picasso and many of the the Surrealists. I think they, too, were drawn in and empowered by his fearlessness.

I think he might have been one of the great examples of someone painting the paintings he wanted to see. And that, too, is not a small thing. This and his bold approach are constant reminders to painters who want to maintain their unique voice, who don’t want to be lumped in with genres and styles and schools to stay fearless. To believe in their own voice.

I will try.
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henri-rousseau-sleeping-gypsy Henri Rousseau the dream 1910

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