Posts Tagged ‘Symbology’

Marc Chagall Sun of ParisWhen I am finishing a picture I hold some God-made object up to it / a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand / as a kind of final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there’s a clash between the two, it is bad art.

–Marc Chagall


I haven’t mentioned Marc Chagall  here but once over the 6+ years I have been doing this blog and I very seldom list him as one of my influences or even one of my favorite artists.   But somehow he always seems to be sitting prominently there at the end of the day, both as a favorite and an influence.

One way in which his influence takes  form is in the way in which he created a unique visual vocabulary of symbology within his work.  His soaring people, his goats and horses and angels all seem at once mythic yet vaguely reminiscent of our own dreams, part of each of us but hidden deeply within.

They are mysterious but familiar.

marc-chagall-fishermans-family-1968And that’s a quality– mysterious and familiar– that I sought for my own symbols: the Red Chair, the Red Tree and the anonymous houses, for examples.  That need to paint familiar objects that could take on other aspects of meaning very much came from Chagall’s paintings.

He also exerted his influence in the way in which he painted, distinct and as free-flowing as a signature.  It was very much what I would call his Native Voice.  Not affected or trying to adhere to any standards, just coming off his brush freely and naturally.

An organic expression of himself.  And that is something I have sought since I first began painting– my own native voice, one in which I painted as easily and without thought as I would write my signature.

  So to read how Chagall judged his work for authenticity makes me consider how I validate my own work.  It’s not that different.  I use the term a sense of rightness to describe what I am seeking in the work which is the same sense one gets when you pick up a stone and consider it.  Worn through the ages, untouched for the most part by man, it is precisely what it is.  It’s form and feel are natural and organic. There is just an inherent  rightness to it.  I hope for that same sense when I look at my work and I am sure that it is not far from the feeling Chagall sought when he compared his own work to a rock or a flower or his own hand.

Marc Chagall Song of Songs

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GC Myers -High Sign  Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson


I think I understand what Emerson is getting at with these words.  I know that when I look around I often see juxtapositions of natural elements– trees and stone and water and sky– which move me in ways that I can never fully explain.  Some fill me with inspiration.  Some with a sense of wonder  and great calmness.  Peaceful unity with the world.  And, with some, a sense of foreboding, a dread of the inevitable valleys that accompany all peaks.  Even those scenes which make me feel as being “in the moment” resonate because they have some underlying  connection to a deeper strand of thought or being.

I think it’s this sense of this symbology that fills in some of the gaps in my work, that gives it a little more depth than the surface offers.  I know that it is this greater sense of being that I am trying to capture in my work, hoping that perhaps others who feel this same type of  innate symbolism in the natural world  somehow sense it and connect with it.

I think this newer piece, High Sign (6″ by 10″ on paper), is a good example of this.  It is a simple scene but, for me, is filled with symbolism.  Some is obvious and some subtle.   The tree and it’s position on the mound against the graded sky is obvious as is the road that winds through.  Less obvious are the upward pointing arrows of the houses’ peaks and the light and shadows of their walls.

The odd thing is that it’s not something I think about when I am painting the piece.  It’s all about achieving a sense of rightness in each move in the painting.  Each move is  step forward and if I can maintain  that feeling of rightness throughout the process, generally the painting will have this added depth, this layer of symbolism.  It comes of its own accord, naturally.   And I guess that the way it should be.

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