Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Painting in the Dark Part II

In the previous post, Painting in the Dark, I asked for your help in describing the aesthetic content of my painting Red Clay Reservation.  I appreciate your responses.

I promised I would revisit this topic in November.  Since I was running out of time, I worked very hard to meet my own deadline.

For starters, I want you to know how difficult it is for the maker of the painting, me, to do the analytical work required to understand what the painting says.  I know that sounds weird, but I will share with you two quotes that sums up this dilemma.

The first is from Doctorow, spoken during the same interview, conducted by George Plimpton, I referred to in the previous post.  When Plimpton asked Doctorow if he knew what he was doing as he wrote, Doctorow replied, “It’s not calculated at all. It never has been. One of the things I had to learn as a writer was to trust the act of writing. To put myself in the position of writing to find out what I was writing. I did that with World’s Fair, as with all of them. The inventions of the book come as discoveries. At a certain point, of course, you figure out what your premises are and what you’re doing. But certainly, with the beginnings of the work, you really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The second is from Matisse, quoted in Rhythm and Line, when asked by Jacqueline and Maurice Guillaud what his work meant. He said, “You want to be a painter?  First of all you must cut out your tongue because your decision has taken away from you the right to express yourself with anything but your brush.” 

In other words, “Don’t ask me.”

Those two statements ring true for me.  However, since I am committed to objective aesthetic analysis, and since I ask you to courageously practice using this method, I can do no less.

I must also confess to making changes to my painting since the last post.  I could not help myself.  I looked at it, found sections that did not “feel” right, and I adjusted them.  So I need to share with you images of the painting as it is now, both right side up and upside down.

Here are comments two of my readers provided:

“I see a wonderful interchange of forward and back movement in the fore and middle ground, halted in the background with the swirling cool colors, similar to the right swirling cool curvilinear colors in the foreground. There is also alternating cool and warm colors that move side to side and back and forth, for very lively movement.  The swirling lines in the central tree seem to enframe the two trees on either side while bursting apart in the middle.”

Van Gogh brush strokes mixed with Gauguin-like color.”

And here is the pattern the light areas made on the original version of the painting, contributed by, as I call him, The Master of Photoshop:

I described the previous version of the painting this way:  a series of circular rhythms of high-key luminous color; geometric planes that jut in and out in relatively compressed space; dramatic contrasts of hot and cold color; curvilinear vs. angular color volumes; and an overall color harmony I could not describe. 

Essentially, then, this picture expresses drama and swirling movement of vivid and striking color patterns that move back and forth and in and out in tight spatial rhythms.

It owes much of its color drama to Gauguin’s striking patterns of line and color and dynamic vivid hues of color.

For instance, look at these two paintings by Gauguin:

Gauguin, Matamoe (Landscape with Peacocks), 1892, The Pushkin Museum, Moscow

Gauguin, Mata Mua (In Olden Times), 1892, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Matamoe demonstrates a swirl of vivid, bright, lava-like roiling color patterns receding into deep space.  Mata Mua vertically sets the more placid orbs of vivid, bright color patterns in and out in a relatively shallow space.

My picture establishes spatial relationships among the three sets of “trees.”  The central lightest and brightest vertical tree rises upward and spreads its twisted branches in and out and back and forth, establishing the theme that unites all the color units in the picture. 

The tree to the left orchestrates those rich, vivid, hot colors into oblongs and circles of packed and concentrated luminous patterns. 

The tree on the right orchestrates them into looser, more curvilinear ribbon-like curls.  Those curls are repeated in the foliage at the top of the picture, in the pond area, and in the shadow under the tree at the left.

These swirling color patterns contrast with the angular, straight patterns of the roof of the spring house and the bank of cut grass behind it.

The spring house juts out to the right, creating another contrast between the angular movements and the swirling, curvilinear movements of luminous color units pulsing within a relatively shallow space.

When everything comes together, whether in the making of the picture, or in the understanding of it, satisfaction rewards the effort involved. 

Here is how Dr. Barnes describes this satisfaction:  “We respond to a work of art, not by doing something, but by participating in the experience of the artist himself, seeing and feeling the world as he saw and felt it.  This participation is not to be had for the asking; it involves effort, the solution of problems as real as those of actual life, and is as little to be solved by untutored spontaneity as the problems of managing a corporation or practicing medicine.  There is a far- reaching parallel between the labor of the artist in acquiring his distinctive vision, and that of the observer who succeeds in sharing it.”  (The Art of Henri Matisse, p. 2)

If I have succeeded in sharing it, it is because I had excellent teachers who taught me how to do this work.  The work itself, hard as it is, forces me to make connections--like the ones I made between my picture and Gauguin's.  The delight I feel when this happens is delicious.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful, dear readers, for you.  When I started writing these posts, I thought my daughter would be my only reader.  Now about 150 of you read each post, many of you comment either in emails or on the blog, and others tell me they enjoy them and learn a lot by reading them.  That is what keeps me going.


  1. I was glad I was right about Gauguin. It's amazing how one can forget how to read music, but other things never go away. Maybe it's a testament to the teacher. This is my favorite painting of yours.

  2. And I thank you for sharing that insight. It made my job easier, as I looked for Gauguin paintings to support your connection. I also love the logo accompanying your user name.

  3. I see more and more each time I read your Posts, Marilyn. Your paintings are intriguing. So much to see, appreciate and understand.