Posts Tagged ‘Henri Rousseau’


What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?

Henri Rousseau


I still have a lot to do before I can deliver my new show, The Rising, to the West End Gallery at the end of this week so I don’t have a lot of time to spend on the blog today. But taking a few minutes to look at the work of Henri Rousseau always does me a world of good. It both settles my mind and sets off sparks in it, making me want to grab the nearest brush and just go at it. I don’t need that inspiration this morning but I will gladly embrace the calming effect found in Rousseau’s colors and forms.


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What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?

Henri Rousseau


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Henri RousseauI just love the paintings of Henri Rousseau. It’s not something that I can quantify in any way. It’s not just the harmony of color and form or the subject matter or even the way it is painted. There’s just such a great sense of rightness in the work, a great sense that this is the artists’s reality.  It just reaches out and allows you to step easily into it while still maintaining a feeling of depth and emotion, a quality that many artists seek but few find.

I was surprised when I came across a video that animated some of Rousseau’s better known pieces.  Actually I was a little skeptical of the the whole thing.  But I watched it and found it very captivating in the way it is put together.  Soothing, actually, is a better word for it.

I don’t know if Rousseau would approve but it seems to be done with a great deal of affection for the work and maintains that sense of naivete, mystery and whimsy that runs through so much of Rousseau’s work.  Take a look for yourself.


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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, 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 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 remains one of the most 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.

I will try.

henri-rousseau-sleeping-gypsy Henri Rousseau the dream 1910


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Ivan Generalic- River Landscape 1964I came across the work of the late Croatian painter Ivan Generalic (1914-1992) recently.  I had never heard of him but was instantly pulled in by his easily palatable work. It was colorful and had simple forms that fit the eye easily.  Muscular bare trees under beautifully graded skies of rich color.  Thick peasants and cows among simple square houses.  Golden fields with each stalk of grain painted individually.  It reminded me both of the gorgeous flora of Henri Rousseau’s paintings and the peasant scenes of Brueghel but still spoke in its own voice.  Simple yet not.

Ivan Generalic- Village 1954Generalic was considered a Naive Painter.  I never quite know what to make when I hear that term, whether it is disparaging or simply describing the form.  By definition, much of my own work is naive although I seldom refer to it in that way.  By naive,  I mean that I often disregard many of the elements of classical realism such as true perspective or the fading of color and detail over distance.  Plus I often leave out shadows and may have several light sources within a picture.  But it was never studied.  To me  it is simply painting as I see things in my mind, translating them on a surface in a way that makes sense.  Maybe that is why I am drawn to the work of people like Ivan Generalic who seem to make this translation seem so simple and elegant..

One of the ways I judge work of other painters now is to pull up a Google Images page of their work.  You can get a real sense of their work in this quick overview, seeing all of the paintings together playing off of each other.  It gives you a core feel  for it, what it was really about.  This definitely worked for Generalic, as you can see below.  There’s is a real sense of fullness and purpose in the work.  Certainty.

Ivan Generalic- Google Images Page

We don’t hear much about Croatian painters like Generalic here or even many Naive painters in general, which is our loss.  I find his work beautiful and intriguing and am glad to have stumbled across it.

Ivan Generalic -Cows in a Landscape 1957 Ivan Generalic-  Deer in the Forest 1956

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I recently picked up a book, Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography, which is not really an autobiography but features over 130 of his pieces throughout his career along with short descriptions about them by the artist.  It’s quite a striking collection of images especially if you’re attracted to the Wyeth palette of  earthy browns and greys, as I am.

I have many favorites here  but perhaps the one I like best is this piece, Night Sleeper.  There’s a lot here to look at yet it maintains a quiet and  contemplative stillness that one associates with Wyeth’s work.  The two windows provide two separate examples of landscapes, the moonlit mill in one and the dam and millstream in the other,  that could be great paintings on their own.

  It’s all held together and anchored by the tee of the interior windows and the sleeping dog, an image I’m really drawn to.  There’s something about the posture and comfort that dogs adopt when sleeping that I find interesting, something that plays on a sense of reciprocity that I have with dogs, one where they watch out for me when they are  awake and I watch out for them when they are asleep.  Their sleep indicates a deep trust and a sense of security.

But the bit of this painting that makes the whole thing sing for me is the pale blue striping on the pillow or bag or whatever it is that the dog rests against.  That bit of color adds a whole layer of depth that would not be there otherwise and creates a beautiful harmony, echoing the moonlight that plays on the window frame on the right.  For me, it immediately brings to mind Henri Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy and its whole feeling.  They are very different paintings in many obvious ways but there is a ribbon of feeling that runs between them, in my mind at least.  I think this immediate visceral association adds a layer of appreciation of this painting for myself.  That little blue striping adds all the warmth of the Rousseau painting to my sense of this Wyeth painting.

In short, I think this painting is a peach.

Have a great Saturday.


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The Work of Hundertwasser

I’ve been doing this blog for just over two years now.  I write something every day although to be honest, there are a lot of days when content is less than I would hope.  But I try to do something everyday just to maintain the discipline.  The site recently went over a million hits and gave me cause for a little investigation of where some of those hits came from over the past two years.

By a wide margin, a post on the work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser from August of 2009 has been the most popular post.  It still receives about 100 hits a day and over 21000 hits overall, a testimony to the great attraction of the late painter’s work.

Urwald Mit Tigern- Henri Rousseau

Several posts on other artists also continue to pull in substantial numbers of hits.  One on Henri Rousseau has consistently attracted a large number of views as has one on the wave paintings of Hokusai.  Another on the densely textured paintings of Ivan Albright is another consistent favorite among visitors.

One of the posts that also draws a large number of views on a consistent but sporadic basis is one that I did on the ridiculous uproar over Barack Obama’s birth certificate.  It will mosey along pulling in a few hits here and there for months then suddenly get 70 or 80 hits a day for a week or so, shadowing the activityof the birther movement at the moment.  This amazes me.  I still occasionally get comments  from some loonies who want to argue the point, almost 18 months after its initial appearance on the blog.  I moderate most of them out now, not wanting to continue this absurd argument and refusing to give it credence by engaging in heated debate.  I guess it’s just another example that shows how intensely these people refuse to believe that Obama is our president.

It’s always interesting to examine what triggers response in readers and viewers.  Whether it’s just a matter of curiosity or whether I will use the info in some way in the future is debatable.  I’m just glad folks continue to stop in.


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Rousseau The DreamSunday morning and I’m thinking, of all things, about Henri Rousseau.

I’ve always been attracted to his work, mainly by the quality and density of his color.  It is rich and deep and translates easily to the eye and mind.  The lushness of his many greens and the way they all come together so cohesively is another factor.Rousseau A Carnival Evening

Then there his life as a self-taught painter, a man who was never taken quite seriously in his lifetime.  Quite compelling and an object lesson for artists everywhere to stick with their own vision and not be swayed by the style of the day to merely fit in with that which prevails.


That’s the first time I’ve used this term and one that my wife, Cheri, uses to describe my work.  I’m still trying to define this definition.  In my head, it’s the intoxication of color, when I’m in front of a piece and the color I’m working in is deep and strong and I seem to be within the paint itself, engulfed and embraced.  Time is irrelevant at that moment and floats away.Rousseau Jungle Sunset

Thought becomes mute.  It is not from the front of the brain anymore, it is deeper, instinctual and reactive.  Ancient and ingrained.

It becomes a different form of expression where language is reduced to sensation, the feel of the wind above, the excitement raised by a mere arc or curve.  The depth of color.  Raw emotion.

Obsessionism.  It leaves me at a loss for words to properly describe what the term means to me but I see it in the work of Rousseau and perhaps that is why I am so drawn to it.

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Quiet Rising

It seems a little odd to sit down and write something about why you like your own work.  I know a lot of artists find it difficult and maybe even a little distasteful.  For me, it’s about trying to find that part of a painting that reaches out to people, the part that is communicating.  I am the first person to see the work so in order for the piece to be able to speak to others it must first speak to me.  It must excite me on some level.  That excitement is a very big part of my process and carries me through a lot of long days alone in my studio.  So when I write or speak about my own work it’s so that I might understand better why the painting works.

That being said, this is a painting titled Quiet Rising which I’m showing  because I like this piece on many different levels.  On an emotional level I find this piece very calm, very quiet.  There is a nice harmony in the way the colors and forms fit together, again in a way that I find very calming.  For me, that appearance of placid calm seems to be an important aspect in my own evaluation of my work.

The path in the foreground has a curve that I find very intriguing.  I can’t put my finger on the reason but it reminds me of an element from Henri Rousseau painting.  Maybe it’s the movement of the path or the quality of the blue in the sky– I can’t be sure.  A lot of the feelings I get from a piece are not quite fully realized thoughts.  More like snippets or a tiny bit of a memory that comes to you without the whole episode, leaving you unsure if there even was a real memory there to begin with.

Whatever the case, this painting works for me and is worth sharing.  It’s being shown at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY.

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