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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Gauguin’

Color Vibration

Color which vibrates just like music, is able to attain what is most general and yet most elusive in nature.

– Paul Gauguin

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I came across this line that Gauguin had written in a letter to the poet Andre Fontainas and it reminded me of how I often compare painting to music, how I try to find that  rhythm, maybe the vibration to which Gauguin alludes, in my work that has the same effect on the viewer’s unconscious mind as does music. That thing that would make my work, like music, communicable across all boundaries. Something that would easily be absorbed as an emotional response without first having to dissect it intellectually, like music that you hear for the first time and react to without thinking, often finding it still vibrating in your mind for days and weeks afterward.

It’s a grand aspiration and I am never sure if I ever reach that goal. But I do keep hoping and trying.

I chose the painting above to illustrate this post because I like the simplicity and harmony of it. Titled Ever, it’s a 15″ by 18 ” piece on paper that is as much an abstraction, with its spare forms and lines, as it is a depiction of reality. My hope is that the color and harmony of this piece creates a vibration or rhythm that overcomes the unnaturalness of it, allowing it to make an emotional  contact before the mind finds some intellectual objection.

Again, a grand aspiration.

Reading back over this, I have to say that I don’t sit before my easel or table and ponder these concerns before I start to work. I often only think about these matters when I come across a quote or a line like the one above from Gauguin. These words often make me wonder about my own aspirations for my work, what they are and how they compare to the painters of the past whose work I admire. I guess I am looking for a commonality in our views that connects us somehow, even though our work may not reflect this bond.

Another grand aspiration.

The entry above was first posted here back in 2011. I chose to run it again today because as I prepare for my show that opens in a bit over two weeks I find myself seeing the importance of  color in my work, even more than form and subject. It has it’s own feeling, its own rhythm and harmony– the vibration described above. It propels the work and makes certain pieces resonate like visual music.

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The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over the shore. One after another they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall. The waves were steeped deep-blue save for a pattern of diamond-pointed light on their backs which rippled as the backs of great horses ripple with muscles as they move. The waves fell; withdrew and fell again, like the thud of a great beast stamping.

― Virginia WoolfThe Waves

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I was planning on showing this painting, The Green Wave, at some point in the future. It’s from French painter Georges Lacombe  (1868-1916) who was part of Les Nabis, a painting group heavily influenced by the work of Paul Gauguin. I am a big admirer of many of the painters, including Lacombe,  associated with this group.

As I said, this was planned for sometime in the future but yesterday’s results in elections around the country prompted me to want to show it today. It was heartening, a big ray of light in the darkness, to have the people of Virginia show up in a big way and make a big statement against what has been happening this past year carrying the Dems to statewide victories. They rejected Ed Gillespie‘s attempt at copying 45*’s  playbook of divisive rhetoric, giving Ralph Northam a landslide victory in the race for governor and won the majority of the down ballot races.

And it wasn’t just Virginia. Across the country Dems, Independents and disillusioned Republicans made very much the same statement– what is happening is not who we are. Longtime GOP seats were flipped in places that were thought to be bulletproof. If the members of the GOP in the house and senate don’t take notice and begin to act responsibly and in the best interest of the country and their true constituents– not the fat cat donors who line their pockets– they most likely will be swept away by this same wave when it comes around next year.

I can’t think of much, if anything, to say positively about the person who some call our president. But I do thank him for waking people up, for making so many more people take an active interest in what has been taking place while we all allowed ourselves to be distracted. They have been energized and yesterday’s victories demonstrates that real results can occur with focused resistance.

And that will only serve to strengthen the resolve of those who are going to make up the coming wave. This wave cracked the seawall. That was shown yesterday but a bigger wave is out there, restlessly waiting to unleash its full fury.

Like a great beast stamping.

A year ago on this day, that election left many of us thinking that this country was beyond saving, that we had succumbed to our lowest qualities. Hatred. Greed. Selfishness. Fear.

But people have come together to take action and to make their voices heard. So be encouraged this morning  but do not relax, don’t think your responsibility has ended in one day or one small act. You snooze, you lose.

Instead, be even more involved. Double your efforts. Add your full force to the gathering wave and let everyone know what is coming.

Like a great beast stamping.

 

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Harald Sohlberg-Night 1904 There’s a good possibility that you haven’t heard of  Harald Sohlberg, a Norwegian painter who lived from 1869 until 1935.  I know he was not on my radar until I stumbled across a few of his images.  In fact, there is not a lot of info about him outside of a short perfunctory bio.

This kind of stumped me but it wasn’t until I came across the short essay shown below that this made sense, giving me a lot more insight into the man behind the work.  I particularly identified with his connection with the landscape and his feelings as expressed in the final paragraph where, as an old man, he desired that people see his work not for the simple scenes they seemingly portrayed but ” for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.”

As an artist, that is your greatest hope– that people will look beyond the surface and see the emotional and spiritual content that the artist uses as a catalyst.  Take a moment and read this essay from a 1995 exhibit at the National Academy of Design in NYC that featured the work of Sohlberg and Edvard Munch.  At least take a moment to give these few Sohlberg’s paintings a good look.

In an obituary, Pola Gauguin [son of Paul Gauguin and a painter and art critic of the time] wrote that as an artist, Harald Sohlberg was alone and forgotten: “A name which was famous in its day.” Now that Sohlberg was dead, Gauguin thought, “the coldness which he helped surround it with, will thaw.” Sohlberg’s isolation was partly the tragic result of his wholehearted endorsement of the myth of genius as formulated by Romanticism and adopted by the Symbolists. Like Munch, he was obsessively preoccupied with denying that the influence of other contemporary artists had been important to him. He dissociated himself from the discussion about where he belonged in the history of art, relegating the origins of his artistic awakening outside of art to his own psyche.

Sohlberg wrote that his form sprang forth subconsciously from his first awareness of the landscape. The difference in texture of the sky and earth gave him a sense of standing on a heavy and firm planet gazing out into boundless space. He attributed the simple forms and great lines of his pictures to this first awareness of the landscape. The point of departure was the personal experience. Thus, the artist’s experience of his subject preceded the picture. Sohlberg was preoccupied with the concrete local landscape that surrounded him and his emotional reaction to it. The place, in itself, was charged with meaning. For this reason, where he sought his subjects was important. He experienced the landscape in Norway as nature in strong and intense moods and gave form to the echoes of these moods in his mind. He agreed with many of his generation who, taking their point of departure in Andreas Aubert’s writings about Norwegian art, were of the opinion that there existed distinctive, Nordic colors, clear and strong colors created by the clear, intense light of the North. Once artists realized this, it would be possible for an independent Nordic art to develop. Sohlberg believed that, along with the unique construction of the Nordic landscape, local color ought to result in a style of its own. Experience and interpretation of nature determined the choice of colors. For Sohlberg, the main color should assemble the picture and be as strong as possible.

The function of line in painting according to him was to express feelings. It could be lonely, down to earth, or melancholy. It could be willful and persevering as required. It should be developed according to the nature of the subject and the artist’s dialogue with nature. Because the picture was bound by a perceived reality, Sohlberg paid tribute to reality by portraying it naturalistically. But his gaze carried with it the legacy of picture formulas that transformed and adapted nature. He was an artist who rarely put a stroke on the canvas before the picture was clear to him in his imagination. As an artist, he was a substitute viewer. What interested him was his own experience and interpretation, regardless of how naturalistic his pictures appeared to be. Ideally everything in the picture was controlled by his will.

As an older man, Sohlberg longed for confirmation that the public saw the values he wished to impart: “it is probably true that for simple and naive reasons my works have aroused sympathy. But I maintain that they have by no means been properly understood for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.” The quotation contains three words which are keys to an understanding of Sohlberg: “Pictorial,” “spiritual,” and “consistently.” The pictorial is means for expressing the spiritual, and one was obliged to stick to the spiritual values one held true. 

– From Ivind Storm Bjerke, Edvard Munch, Harald Sohlberg: Landscapes of the Mind

Harald Sohlberg-A Street in Oslo 1911Harald Sohlberg-Night in the Mountains 1914Harald Sohlberg- After The Snowstorm Harald Sohlberg-Storgaten_Røros_1904

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Paul Gauguin- Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?What still concerns me the most is: am I on the right track, am I making progress, am I making mistakes in art?

Paul Gauguin

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At one of my gallery talks a year or two ago, I was asked about confidence in my work.  I can’t remember the exact wording but the questioner seemed to imply that at a certain point in an artist’s evolution doubts fade away and one is absolutely certain and confident in their work.

I think I laughed a bit then tried to let them know that even though I stood up there and seemed confident in that moment, it was mere illusion, that I was often filled with raging doubts about my voice or direction or my ability.   I wanted them to know that there were often periods when I lost all confidence in what I was doing, that there were days that turned into weeks where I bounced around in my studio, paralyzed with a giant knot in my gut because it seemed like everything I had done before was suddenly worthless and without content in my mind.

I don’t know that I explained myself well that day or if I can right now.  There are moments (and days and weeks) of clarity where the doubts do ease up and I no longer pelt myself with questions that I can’t answer.  Kind of like the painting at the top, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, the masterpiece from Paul Gauguin.  Those are tough questions to answer, especially for a person who has little religious belief.

And maybe that’s the answer.  Maybe my work has always served as a type of surrogate belief system, expressing instinctual reactions to these great questions.  I don’t really know and I doubt that I ever will.  I only hope that the doubts take a break once in a while.

There was another quote I was considering using for this subject from critic Robert Hughes:

The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is given to the less talented as a consolation prize.

I liked that but it felt kind of self-serving, like saying that being aware aware of your own stupidity is actually a sign of your intelligence.  I would really like to believe that all those times when I realized I was dumb as a stump were actually evidence of my brilliance. I think many of us can  claim that one.

Likewise, if Hughes is correct  then I may be one of the the greatest artists of all time.

And at the moment, I have my doubts…

 

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paul-gauguin-the-alyscamps-in-arlesDo not paint too much after nature. Art is an abstraction; derive this abstraction from nature while dreaming before it, and think more of the creation which will result than nature.

-Paul Gauguin

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Although I wouldn’t probably call Paul Gauguin one of my favorite artists, I do admire and respect much of his work.  More importantly, there are a lot of things I’ve taken from his work over the years, including the advice offered in the above quote.  The idea that the painter could paint the landscape not exactly as it were before them but, rather, in how they felt they saw it was a mind expanding thought.  It meant that the artist could take liberties with color, space and form to find their own expression of nature.

Another thing I culled from looking at Gauguin’s paintings was his use of multiple colors within his surfaces.  I remember seeing an exhibit quite a few years ago at the MFA in Boston.  Looking closely at some of his Tahitian scenes, I noticed that while one would say the overriding color of each piece might be green there were other colors among the greens of the tropical landscape, most noticeably large flecks of vermillion, that gave the overall color so much more depth and interest.  I knew that I needed to increase the complexity of my own colors.

I’ve also talked quite a bit about Native Voice, about painting in a way that was purely natural and distinct like a signature to the artist.  Gauguin’s work is to me a perfect example of this native voice.  His ease in being himself on his surfaces made it easier for me to be myself.  Whenever I get a chance to look closely at his work I take the opportunity because I almost always find something in it that helps me in my own work.

 It always has something to say and share.  And that in itself is an influence and a hope for my own work.

Paul Gauguin A Farm in Brittany

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pablo_picasso_les_femmes_d_alger_  Photo by ChristiesThis is Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O’), a 1955 painting from artist Pablo Picasso.  It created quite a stir yesterday when it became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it went for a cool $179.36 million at Christie’s.

And while that might seem like an unfathomable amount of money to pay for any piece of art- or a small town for that matter- it is only the tip of the iceberg for extravagance in the recent art market.  At the same auction, a life size sculpture, Pointing Man, from Alberto Giacometti became the most expensive sculpture sold at auction when it fetched $143.3 million.

Paul Gauguin- When Will You Marry?

Paul Gauguin- When Will You Marry?

And keep in mind that these records are for pieces sold in auction, not those sold privately by dealers or other collectors.  In February, When Will You Marry? from Paul Gauguin sold privately for a whopping $300 million to a Swiss collector.  There are rumors of many other similar private sales with fantastic sums of money attached.

It’s always interesting to see the prices that these pieces bring and how we, the public, respond to these over the top sales, almost like a cheering crowd at the big game rooting the bidders to go ever higher.  We do like a spectacle. The shame is that the focus becomes all about the money and less about the artwork.  But then again, these big sales really have little to do with the actual art.  These exhibits of extreme affluence have become performance art in themselves with the artwork a mere prop that acts as a catalyst in setting off a series of actions that result in prices that boggle the mind of the average person.  It’s the Picasso and Gauguin now.  In time they will be replaced by a new crop of props designed to set off the same reactive chain.

Do I believe these works deserve these incredible prices?  Well, I do believe they are great pieces of art, high in the pantheon of art history with stories behind them that deserve telling.  They would be great without those prices attached to them.  No, these prices aren’t the value of the work itself– they are the price someone is willing to pay to attach their own name and ego to the history of the piece.

It’s kind of a reverse provenance.  Normally, an artist’s work is validated and gains value when it becomes part of a prestigious collection.  In this scenario, it is the collector who is trying to gain prestige and validation through the attainment of the artwork.  And at the moment, the going price to get that kind of thing is well over a 100 mil.

I think both Picasso and Gauguin would be more than a little amused at these prices.  And probably a little pissed off that they missed out on this kind of loot in their own lifetimes. For myself, I don’t give a damn what someone else paid for the work.  I would prefer that someone with those kind of resources would try to use them in helping others rather than conspicuously consuming but that is not my decision, is it?

In the end, it is what it is, as they say…

 

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John LaFarge- Samoan Dancing a Standing Siva 1909I am a big fan of stained glass windows.  It has influenced my work in many ways, from trying to emulate the brilliance and glow of the colors to the way in which I see and compose my work.  I have been lucky enough to live in an area with access to the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany who is easily the best known and most stylish of stained glass makers.  The Corning Museum of Glass has a number of his pieces, which are remarkable,  as do several churches in the area.

But there is someone to rival, if not eclipse, the works of Tiffany, someone who actually paved the way for Tiffany’s work with his innovative work in stained glass.  This was John LaFarge.  I can’t remember the exact piece or location of the first time I saw his work except that it was somewhere in NYC.  But I do remember the stunning colors and the lead work which held the glass pieces together.  It  was so different than that of other stained glass windows I had seen which was normally clean and neat, fitting for the solemnity of a church.  But the LaFarge lead work I saw was rough and dark, dividing the opalescent glass but also becoming part of the composition in itself.  His lines were organic and integral to the composition.  It was remarkable.

I came across the image shown above recently,  Samoan Dancing a Standing Siva, in a book about LaFarge’s travels to Tahiti and other South Pacific islands in the early 1890’s and about how this expedition changed his work.  It’s interesting that the other artist whose work was transformed by Tahiti, Paul Gauguin, arrived on the island just days after LaFarge departed.

This piece of stained glass excites me very much in the use of line, especially in the naturalness and organic feel of them, as well as the contrast between the brilliance of the colors and the the darknesses that surround them.  To me,this is simply magnificent, possessing those things that I want to see in my own work.

There is a Pinterest page with many of LaFarge’s more famous stained glass pieces, most of which are a bit more formal than this piece above.  But it gives a nice overview of his work on one page.  To see it click here.

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