Thursday, July 5, 2012

Creatively Seeing: Part III

In the previous two posts (Creatively Seeing and Creatively Seeing: Part II), I described how art informs perception.

Seems I have more to say.

Last week I attended a lecture at the Barnes Foundation about the current Salvatore Pinto exhibit at the Woodmere Art Museum.

I attended for several reasons, but only one of them had to do with Salvatore: (1) Angelo Pinto, his brother,  taught me the traditions at the Barnes Foundation in the late 1970s—and I continue to refer to my notes from those classes when I prepare my own classes; (2) in the late 1970s, I attended one of Angelo’s exhibits, fell in love with one of his reverse paintings on glass, and to this day lament I did not purchase it because I could not afford its modest selling price; (3) during the many years I visited and then taught at the Barnes, I enjoyed the 11 paintings—two by Salvatore and nine by his brothers  Biagio and Angelo—in the collection.

The curator at the Woodmere, Dr. Matthew Palczynski, described not only Salvatore Pinto’s work but also the work of his two brothers.  He described their backgrounds, their relationship with Dr. Barnes (included in the title of the exhibit—Salvatore Pinto: A Retrospective Celebrating the Barnes Legacy), their methods, and their sources in the traditions.

The lecture piqued my interest to see more of Salvatore’s work, and I visited Woodmere this past Sunday to do that.

After my visit, I felt perplexed. I wondered if Salvatore’s work, at least the work in this exhibit, so heavily indebted to Matisse’s work, was more imitative than creative. Edward Sozanski, in his review of the exhibit, concluded that Salvatore’s work is “uncomfortably close to Matisse.”

Dr. Barnes, in The Art in Painting, said the work of all three Pinto brothers (along with John Kane, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Settanni), is entitled to respect because “it represents personal visions embodied in individual plastic forms.” (p. 347)

I decided to put the “originality” debate out of my mind, or so I thought.  In this post, I decided to describe how Salvatore Pinto’s work helped me see creatively.

First, look at Salvatore’s two pictures in the Barnes Foundation:

 Ajaccio, Corsica, c. 1932-1933, Barnes
Marrakech, 1933, Barnes

In both pictures, rich, lush color applied in pulled, curled, thick brushwork orchestrates subtle space recession.

Each picture, at first, seems directly simple: landscapes consisting of rounded color masses moving backwards in relatively shallow space.

And, yes, Matisse comes to mind. 

Look at these two pictures and compare them:

 Matisse,Eucalyptus, Montalban, 1918, The Cone Collection


Now compare these details:

Pinto’s color masses, constructed with rectilinear strokes that tend to curve, build round, dense volumes.  These volumes overlap in compressed space.  Matisse’s color masses not only are less lushly vibrant, they are flatter in volume and separated by dark punctuations setting them off from each other. Qualities of lightness and airiness define the qualities in Matisse’s picture.

By 1918, Matisse had experienced the light, color, and atmosphere in Nice, and the fiery drama of his earlier Fauve work and the boldness of those statements became tempered with delicacy and luminosity.

Examine this earlier painting by Matisse, and you will see what I see:

Matisse, The Sea Seen from Collioure, 1906, Barnes

The color drama of this Matisse, orchestrated by dashes and dabs of washy peach, cool greens, purple, cerulean and ultramarine, become transformed by Pinto into a densely opaque, closely applied series of arcs and curls—not animated as in Van Gogh’s work, or lively as in Glackens’ work, but heavy, set, and solid.

I also see Renoir in Pinto’s visual statement.  Do you? 

Look at this picture:

 Renoir, Farmhouse, 1917, Barnes

Pinto’s interest, like Renoir, directs his perception to rounded, rolling back, overlapping luminous color masses built with arc-shaped brush strokes.  But Pinto does not use chorded color to build his volumes; therefore, his color volumes, unlike either Matisse’s or Renoir’s, have a velvety density quite distinctly his.   

This brings me back to what I sidestepped, or said I did.

Once I started looking carefully at these two Salvatore Pinto paintings, I could see what he invented that was his and not Matisse’s or anyone else’s.  Or, to put it another way, what he borrowed from Matisse he then paid back with his interest in something entirely different—richness, boldness, and structural solidity of color volumes. 

I’ve scratched the surface here.  To do justice to my budding perceptions, I would need to do what Violette de Mazia did in her “Glackens-spiel,” her four-hour lecture that became her twenty-seven page essay “The Case of Glackens vs. Renoir.” (The Barnes Foundation Journal of the Art Department, Autumn, 1971, Vol. II, No. 2, pp. 3-30).  In it, she defended Glackens as a genuinely creative artist, albeit strongly influenced by Renoir.

I suspect, but have not yet objectively determined, the same is true of Salvatore Pinto: strongly influenced by Matisse, Salvatore Pinto selects subjects he subjects to an expressively illustrative interest, not an expressively decorative interest as did Matisse.  He is closer to Glackens in this—a simple, direct, vibrant, picturesque expressive illustration but stressing weight and solidity rather than lightness and liveliness as did Glackens.

Which brings me back to creatively seeing. 

Yesterday, because of the heat, I walked on a trail I usually use for my run.  I spotted a grouping of trees, and I stopped to examine them. 


The clumps of foliage reminded me of Salvatore Pinto’s orbs of receding color units in shallow space.

However, the relentless green of this scene wearied me.  So I experimented a little. I looked at it through the lens Salvatore Pinto’s paintings provided me: to the series of round, heavy color volumes set one behind the other in compressed space, I added Pinto’s lush, rich, purples, oranges, pinks, cool blues and greens.  Then I moved the color units until the color orbs fit together in weighty masses, and I changed the trunk color of the small tree on the right from dark brown to deep red.

I walked on, refreshed.

I did not subject my subject to Matisse’s vision.  I did not see it this way:

Matisse, Periwinkles/Moroccan Garden, 1912, MoMA


In Periwinkles, Matisse abstracts  color shapes, flattens them, and places them, one behind the other, like slices of rightward sloping curvilinear paper cutouts.  They are rhythmically balanced by arcs (the wider, red “tree trunk,” then the slimmer black “tree trunk,” then the thinner red “tree trunk”) that bend to the left and move slightly back in space.  If you look more closely, you will find more rhythms of curves, arcs, ribbons, lines, all echoing the decorative theme. 

The catalog to the Woodmere exhibit contains the transcript of a conversation: William Valero, the director and CEO of Woodmere; Matthew Palczynski, curator; poet Jim Cory; and John Ignarri, great-nephew of Salvatore Pinto.  In talking about influences in Salvatore’s beach paintings, John Ignarri says, “It’s related and it’s all from something.” (p. 21)

This concise statement describes what we are doing. 

I creatively perceived my “landscape” because works of art informed my vision.  Assisting me in my adventure in perception, I recalled Lipstick palm trees I saw in the Allerton Garden in the National Tropical Botanical Garden  in Kauai. The red of their trunks astounded me. Now I used that visual experience, allowing me to enliven the boring landscape in front of me by creatively perceiving the trunk of the foreground tree as “red.” 

Along with the verticality of their red trunks, I enjoyed the colorfulness of the in-and-out movement of the Lipstick palm’s decorative fronds because I knew Matisse’s work.  I remember thinking, “Matisse did not ‘invent’ red tree trunks.  There are red tree trunks.”  

Cyrtostachys renda, Lipstick palm or Red sealing wax palm

It’s all there, but it remains invisible until artist's show it to us or until we look for it.

Even if there were not red tree trunks, we, as well as artists, see what we look for, what we want and need to re-make our visual world to say what we want it to say.

There is nothing new under the sun; all creation is re-creation.

My recent exploration of Salvatore Pinto’s work enabled me to have an adventure in perception as I explored a hazy, hot, green-saturated setting in Delaware.

We, as well as artists, acquire visual acuity from everyday experiences as well as from works of art (aka the traditions). 

We, as well as artists, learn to see creatively based on our everyday visual experiences informed by what we understand and enjoy in relevant works of art (aka the traditions of art).

While the two statements seem to say the same thing, they do not.  The difference between what artists do and what we do is this: artists record the meaning of their visual aesthetic experience in their pictures.  Salvatore Pinto, to paraphrase Matisse, did not make a landscape (or a beach scene, or a ballet dancer).  He made a picture.  In his picture, he orchestrated the qualities he discovered in the subject he used.  The subject did not determine what his picture would be; he did.  And he determined what his picture would be based on his everyday visual experiences along with what he borrowed from visual color statements recorded in other artists’ work. 

Try this.

Bring your camera or smart phone with you when you take a walk.  If you see a subject that interests you, see it through Salvatore Pinto’s eyes.  Take the picture.  Send it to me via e-mail. Tell me why you found it interesting and how you choreographed it, and I will post it.                                                                            

If you do this work imaginatively, you will experience the fruit of your aesthetic labors—you will be creatively seeing.

I also recommend you visit the Barnes Foundation and go on a treasure hunt to find all the Pinto pictures.  Visit the Woodmere Art Museum and see the Salvatore Pinto: A Retrospective Celebrating the Barnes Legacy exhibit. 

Then click here and let me know what you experienced or write me a message below.  I’d love to know your discoveries. 


No comments:

Post a Comment