Saturday, November 29, 2014

Shut Up and Look

Long ago, when I was a painting student of Edward L. Loper, Sr., I described to him conflicting feelings I had about my work. 

“One day,” I said, “I love what I am doing, and I think I am God’s Gift.”  God’s Gift was a term he often applied to himself when he was particularly pleased with his work.

“The next day,” I continued, “I work on the same painting, and I think it’s terrible, and I am stupid, and I will never paint worth a damn.”

He laughed.

He told me I was attaching my own variable moods to the silent object we call a painting, and those moods have nothing to do with the painting.

His advice: “Shut-up and paint!”

In fact, his students heard “Shut-up and paint” so often to any complaints they made, they designed tee shirts with this instruction on their front. 

I tell you this because recently I visited an exhibit of Harry Sefarbi’s work, and I fell in love with one of his paintings (see Putting it Together for a description of Sefarbi’s career and an analysis of the first painting of his I purchased).  I loved it so much, I purchased it, and I waited eagerly for the show to close so I could bring it home.

When I finally hung it on my living room wall, and I looked at it, I thought, “I don’t like this painting.  Why did I buy it?  I don’t see anything in it that makes sense.  Is that a window?  What is the nude woman holding?  A baby? A cloth? What is the man doing?  Where is he?”

This went on not for days, but weeks.

Then I remembered what I had to do:  Shut up and look.

Here is the painting:

Sefarbi, Gentleman Caller: By the Sea, 1963

You probably remember, not too long ago, I felt stymied by another of Sefarbi’s paintings in this same exhibit.  (See The Surprise of the New).

This time, however, the subject facts coupled with the title muddled my seeing. I looked for the gentleman caller because the title refers to him. I looked for the sea for the same reason. Since the title indicated a relationship between the gentleman caller and the nude woman and both were involved somehow in a seaside setting, I could not get past all this information and see the picture.

Once I turned the canvas upside down, my work could begin.

Here it is:

Upside down, a central trapezoid angled to the right pushes its left side into the frontal plane of the picture.  The “peachy” right edge of the trapezoid recedes as the “light-blue” edge pushes forward.  Now on the left side of the picture, half of a triangle pulls to the left while on it two dome-like shapes, one gold and one pink edged in cerulean, move on an upward angle.  They join a rich green band that “almost” slides over the “leg” of the trapezoid, and links to a cool blue and gold band inside it on the same spatial plane.  This band pierces a blue/black mass pointing like a finger in the opposite direction.  The entire color unit saying “sea” slides under the right side of the trapezoid.

Here is that section cropped and enlarged:


Now examine the central trapezoid.  Within its borders, a sideways broken triangle of deep greens, cool blues, and blue-blacks edged by a border of pulled gold bands and dabs separates the internal bottom light blue trapezoid from the top ochre one.  The top ochre trapezoid, edged in strips of gold bands contains, on its top left, a boxy shape of cool blue edged in gold, and the entire unit recedes to the right.  The strip of cool blue/green of that boxy shape immediately connects it to the cool blue-green strips in the central unit of “sea” that divides the space.  The bottom blue trapezoid of “sky” neither leans to the right or the left but simply flattens in the frontal plane. A slightly darker adjacent color band to the right “leg” of the trapezoid cause the ochre area saying “beach” and the blue area saying “sky” to recede.  However, where that color band goes over the blue/black unit, it causes it to slide behind it. 

These are clues, albeit complicated ones.

Still upside down, now on the right side, a series of crusty, thick, pulled pinks, oranges, lavenders, and ochres, layered, angled, and smooth build ovoid volumes: (1) the “woman’s head” resembles a soft pocket containing ochre slabs; (2) the upper “body,” like a bowl tilted on its side and seen from above, is balanced on the “neck” and contains lavender and peach triangles of color; (3) the lower “body” swerves upward to the right like a Modigliani elongated torso with its arm bent back. These soft, pulled, rich, sensuously appealing color shapes within their inverted trapezoid border are held in place by a pointed peachy band that overlaps the right edge of their border. 

Here is that section cropped and enlarged:

Upside down, next to the half-triangle on the left, is an inverted triangle containing a coiled series of diagonal and dramatic zigzag strokes of orange and yellow bands that spew forth an elongated column-like series of golds, pinks, and oranges ending with a black dome that pulls to the right.  Boxy or triangular, green, thinly applied color backs this area punctuated by a glowing orange blob.

Here is that section cropped and enlarged:

Notice how the rich viridian triangle defining the “man’s shoulder” as well as the light blue/gray triangle below it moves under the trapezoid’s edge and emerges as the “sea” within its frame. 

This left side rhythmically repeats the right side by the repetition of the zigzag orange/gold bands that slide behind the lower “body” of the “woman,” become “her” hair at the bottom, and echo the seven horizontal red/gold stripes on “her” right—all sections of the same “towel/rug.” 

Like this:


Let’s look at it right side up again:

Bill Perthes, in an essay titled  Harry Sefarbi: Artist and Teacher,” wrote:  “Each picture is an opportunity for discovery. Nonetheless, no matter what he painted, his work is rooted in color: color directly applied, usually with discernable brushstrokes; color that is intermixed, whether applied wet-on-wet, scumbled, color-chorded, or glazed, creating variety in depth, richness, and texture; limited picture space, often narrow or shallow, yet which rarely feels cramped or confining; a sense of light inseparable from color itself with little need for a directional light source; shallow volumes of structural color – color that forms dimensionality independent of light/shadow modeling – even when color is thinly applied or translucent; and a unfailing sense of wit and humor whether in the subjects he chose – a small man in a dark suit and tie perched atop the shoulders of a large seated redheaded woman in a bright red dress – or through the means used to construct a subject – small interlocking compartments of solid to semi-opaque rich, luminous reds set off by contrasting acidic green color lines. Neither the subject itself nor the colors used to create it are conventional. All the same, each supports the other creating a humorous, unexpected effect.”

Once I got this far, I started to see other connections.

For example, I remembered the Ghent Altarpiece:

Van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, 1432

Notice the greens and reds for starters.  Then notice the geometric compartments within which the “stories” unfold.  Then notice the sizes of the figures, particularly the nude figures on the left and the right in comparison to all the other figures.  Pay special attention to Eve and her very round belly.

Similar features define the following Flemish painting: 

Master of Flemalle,  Robert Campin,  The Annunciation Triptych,  1425, The Cloisters, Met

This triptych provides clues to Sefarbi’s painting: a large kneeling figure in the left panel, the donor, looks into a room from outside; while space is shallow and compressed in the left panel, it opens into a relatively deeper space in the central panel; the third panel includes a “window” device opening up an even deeper space recession.

In both the van Eyck and the Campin paintings, however, the compartments in them enclose the “stories” within them.  Sefarbi’s compartments don’t.

How, then, I wondered, do I reconcile the subject facts in Sefarbi’s painting with the qualities expressed? 

I reexamined the Sefarbi painting.

In all of Sefarbi’s work, the “gentleman” theme usually involves courtship or rendezvous.  He often is dressed in a jacket and tie and wears a hat.  He often seems to be arriving or waiting.

In this picture, he emerges like a “Jack in a Box” above a coiled spring.  His post-like neck and head paste to his deep viridian jacket and are topped by a “hat,” part blackish dome pointing to the left and part green brim connecting to the shoreline out the trapezoid “window” to the left and the rocky shoreline pushing forward on the sliced inverted triangle to the right.  The “gentleman” figure is tucked in a shallow space behind the zigzag spring-like “carpet” or “beach towel,” the “shoreline,” and the washy cool-green triangle behind him, neither inside nor outside, but both.

Like a voyeur, he watches the “nude woman.”

Examine his “head”:

Dabs of glowing red/orange indicate nose and mouth; pink strips indicate eye and cheek; squiggles of light tan suggest a beard; a glowing dab of red/orange a boutonniere.  Ultimately, however, each color dab or line or squiggle moves slightly forward in a confined space.  His “neck,” “head,” and “hat,” are rimmed in gold, echoing the gold scumbled paint of the “rug/towel,” and the “coastline.”

On the left side, the “red-headed, nude woman,” her back to him, stands in front of a “mirror.”

Notice the zigzag pattern of her “body.”  Notice the projecting angled “belly.”  Notice the horizontally “slashed” pulled color suggesting facial features.  Notice how longer, diagonally “slashed” pulled color define the arm, the flattened buttock, and the leg.  Notice how the entire color shape fills the space in which it is set, with space receding to the left washy cool blue-green rectangle of “window,” the seven red/gold bands continuing the “rug/towel” pattern below it, the deep green to its right, and the zigzag red/ochre bands to its bottom right.  The “nude woman,” filling the left side of the picture space, pushes forward in space at the same time the “gentleman caller” literally pops up, smaller, and tucked back in space, like Poseidon emerging from the sea. 

Except—“he” is both emerging from the sea and in the “room” as well.  Except—the green “wall” behind the “woman” also backs “him.”  Except—at the same time, the far bank of the “sea” also runs behind him and emerges at the top of the far right inverted triangle.  Except—that inverted triangle is on the same spatial plane as the brown interior “floor” covered with the decorative zigzag “towel” or “rug.”

At this point, my adventure felt challenging and revealing.  And I was laughing.

Sefarbi’s painting moved me aesthetically on many fronts: an ingenious play on traditions; the unique appeal of his color; the intricacy of spatial relationships; an unnerving disregard for the expected: inside and outside juxtaposed to create rhythmic connections; subject facts contorted to amuse, not shock.  

What’s the visual idea?

If Sefarbi titled this painting “Zigzag Ribbons of Luminous Color in Unexpected Spaces” or “Swinging Spaces” would it change anything?   How about “Homage to Magritte: This is Not a Woman, a Man, or a View of the Sea”? 

Now that I look at the painting again, I am leaning toward “Swinging Spaces.”  Look at it again, and notice how the “swing shaped” central trapezoid causes the “woman” on the left to push forward in a deep space while the “man” on the right slides backwards in a shallow space, and the inverted triangle on the right and the edges of the “mirror” on the left frame and contain both sides. 

Try this.  Send me your suggested titles, and I will make a list and email it to you.  Click here to send me an email:  Marilyn’s email.

My aesthetic adventure proceeded the way objective discovery always does, slowly,  guided by my interest, the clues in the picture, and the tools I employed to facilitate the work.  I “played” the aesthetic appreciation game, and I experienced the visual impact of this painting as best I could.     

I hope you do too.

Sefarbi’s rules of engagement are direct and simple.  At the conclusion of his essay “The Clue to Klee,” he wrote, “You must investigate the traditions, and sharpen your perception. Or you can’t play.” (in The Barnes Foundation Journal of the Art Department,  Spring 1972, Vol. III, No. 1, p. 42)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Surprise of the New

Recently, I attended a talk about the traditions in Harry Sefarbi’s work given by the Violette de Mazia Foundation’s Director of Education Bill Perthes.  The Wayne Art Center currently has Sefarbi’s work on exhibit, and Bill provided a thorough, interesting, and informative look at several of the paintings on display to illustrate how, as he put it, “Qualities and elements from the great traditions of painting unconsciously found their way back into [Sefarbi’s] pictures, reimagined and reinvented.” (See “Harry Sefarbi: Artist and Teacher,” by clicking here:  Harry Sefarbi). 

At some point between the talk and the next morning, I connected the Maurice Prendergast class I will teach at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in several days and what Bill said about stacked space in Sefarbi’s and Prendergast’s work. 

Here is the Prendergast painting:

Maurice Prendergast, Central Park, c. 1914-15, Met

Here is the Sefarbi painting in the exhibit:

Sefarbi, Untitled 1, 2007, Oil on panel

Now the hard work began, and since I have been writing about how hard it can be and how time consuming it is to uncover the art in a painting, I wondered why I felt both excited to do it and afraid to do it in equal measure. 

Those conflicted feelings accompany this work, but I forge ahead because I learn new ways of seeing, or what I have called Informed Perception, and what Violette de Mazia called Learning to See.  Quite literally, paintings teach me to perceive ordinary, everyday visual experience in new and interesting ways.  Paintings educate my vision.  In my previous post (Re-molding Visual Reality to Our Heart’s Desire), Dr. Barnes described his experience this way: “paintings stretch to the beholder’s personal vision which they progressively develop.”  In other words, we see more in paintings if our personal vision increases, and our personal vision increases because we see more in the works of art. 

Let’s look at the Prendergast first:

Horizontal bands interwoven with vertical curvilinear rich color shapes provide the framework for a crowded orchestration of in and out movement in shallow space.  The lower, narrow, green band, followed by the wider, creamy white one, followed by the wider still yellow-green band, culminates in the barely visible blue-white band.  The vertical units seem pasted to each background band, but the figures, horses, tree trunks, and buggy wheels move forward enough to act as repoussoir units creating a slight depth of space. 

The canopy of foliage at the top, constructed of small, rectilinear dabs of overlapping color units assist the space recession of the carriages, horses, and figures peeking through the pockets of space divided by the purple tree trunks.    

If you have trouble seeing this, examine this detail:

Now examine this detail of the lower section of the painting:

Figures, horses, and carriages are set in multiple positions: figures walk both left and right, stand, sit, and ride in carriages; horses move from right to left then turn slightly upwards at the left of the canvas as another horse and rider enters and moves to the right.

In one color unit, the lines demarcating the bench slats run over the figure giving it a vaporous quality.

A variety of line binds and sets off each color unit.  In places, it is thin and broken; in other places, it is wide and sinewy.  In all cases, the line rhythmically continues and enhances this painting’s theme: a curvilinear procession of glowing, vivid, color units moving through a stacked backdrop of banded shallow space that expresses the pageantry of New Yorkers enjoying Central Park on a sunny day. 

Did you catch that phrase: stacked backdrop? 

Now look at Sefarbi’s painting:

In this picture, seven stacked horizontal bands set off groupings of vertical, flattened, sometimes elongated and sometimes boxy, muted color shapes seemingly pasted to a band, slipped into it, or bobbing in front of it.  The top band suggesting gray sky, and the rippling sallow green band suggesting the ocean, set off tiny “pebbly” blobs of peachy ochre interspersed with touches of red and cerulean blue suggesting people cavorting in the surf. 

Here is a detail of the top bands:

Sefarbi’s deft touches of tiny dabs of peachy ochre fully express the frolicking movement of individual people and small groups of people, an expressively decorative essence of a sunny day at the beach.

That said, what do you make of the band to the left?

Here is the painting again:

At first, it made no sense to me.  I could see the horizontal divisions of the picture continue through it, and I enjoyed the lower diagonal “family group” sliding into it from the “beach” area.  But I could not see how those stacked tiny curly car shapes fit the theme.  Yes, they repeated with variety colors from the main section of the picture and, yes, they indicated a parking lot with parked cars adjacent to the beach area, but the scale seemed odd and distracting rather than purposeful.

Here is that vertical band by itself:

No matter how long I looked at it, I could not justify it.

I felt frustrated.  I thought of ending this post here, uploading it to my blog, and asking you to email to me your experience with this painting.

Then, as often happens, I began to see.

My analysis so far verified Sefarbi’s ability to achieve space recession without lineal perspective, something he adapted from Prendergast and from the Flemish Tradition, the stacked space seen in Van Eyck’s Last Judgment, in which each figure grouping is viewed head on in its own vertically oriented band of space:

Jan van Eyck, The Last Judgment, 1430, Met

As in Sefarbi’s painting, we perceive deep space in the left panel because the shapes get smaller and smaller and the color gets bluer and bluer toward the top of the painting.

Below is another helpful Prendergast painting:

Maurice Prendergast, The Beach “No. 3,” c. 1914-15, Barnes

Look closely so you can see the weaving of the horizontal background bands to the figures.  The line suggesting the edge of the beach as it meets the “water,” and the lines suggesting the ripples of water attach to the figures at elbows, dress folds, bathing suit patterns, and feet. The groupings of figures, sit, bend, play, and stroll in tightly knit groups. 

Look even more closely at these cropped sections of the top and bottom bands:



Prendergast transformed what were rocks on a beach into a series of coiled color shapes that make their way across the lower band of the picture and get smaller and smaller as they reach the left side.

Prendergast transformed what were clouds in the sky into a series of pebbly, sparkling dabs of color to close off the space recession at the top and rhythmically repeat the pattern at the bottom.

Rocks on a beach, cars in a parking lot: Sefarbi transforms the subject facts of his experience into a series of coiled, lumpy, blobby color shapes that ascend to the upper section of his painting.  His coiled, wiggling, color units saying cars build a visually convincing vertical movement each seen at eye level just as do the leaning, tilting, reclining, sitting figures.   

Here is the Sefarbi painting again:

Look at it now.

If you are like me, you can now enjoy the vertical, gleaming golden bands filling each horizontal one.  You can enjoy the rich, luminous pinks, spots of red, deep blacks, and shiny grays.  The “reclining” figures at the right of the middle band look like a heap of beads, and reminiscent of Matisse’s bronze sculptures of 1907 minus their bulk, their clumped variegated dots, arcs, and squares of color shapes, reinforce and repeat ones seen in every other figure and car. 

In addition, the leaning “family group” of color units on the bottom left are sandwiched between the “beach bands” and the “car bands,” just as “figures” and “figure groups” in the “beach bands” settle in a band, or link several bands together, or project out from a band, establishing a back and forth, in and out, up and down rhythm to the entire picture.

The idea that had escaped me is really quite simple and ingenious:  a rhythmic movement of color-areas and patterns incorporated within a continuous succession of horizontal, glowing, color bands leads the eye back and forth from one part of the picture to another.

When I reached this point in my exploration, I felt satisfied.  More than satisfied, I felt exhilarated.  I looked at this painting as though seeing it for the first time and wondered why I took so long to get here. 

Even better, the rewards kept coming.

A few days ago, the New York Times featured a story on its front page, “As Apprentices in Classrooms, Teachers Learn What Work.”

I spotted this photo:

New York Times, 10/11/14, Page 1, Photo by Jim Wilson

It arrived like a gift, just when I could appreciate it.  Notice the odd perspective created by the camera positioned above the seated children.  Notice the tilted rectilinear “desktops” moving upward and to the right with the rounded heads and shoulders of the seated children popping up at right angles.  Notice the brightly patterned and colorful “mat” on the floor on the right side, its irregular and colorful “state” patterns moving upward and to the left.  Notice the binders on the rectilinear desktops rising upwards in space creating boxy shapes in which the rectilinear white papers, tilted and turned, continue the patterns in space.

Think about whether you would have noticed this photograph or enjoyed its qualities so much if you had not experienced Sefarbi’s painting.

Earlier today, I went to a lecture held in the Comcast Auditorium of the Barnes Foundation.  While I listened to the speaker, I found myself studying the rectilinear backs of the seats as they moved toward the front of the auditorium with the rounded “heads” and coiled shoulders of their sitters creating patterns and colorful groupings between them. 

I would not have noticed that before I struggled with this post.

And that is the surprise of the new.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Re-molding Visual Reality to Our Heart’s Desire

In my last post, “The Fault Is Not In Our Stars, But In Ourselves,” I asked you to let me know how you felt about doing objective aesthetic analysis.

Many of you did let me know.  You confirmed what I suspected: you resist doing it because it is hard and takes a lot of time and effort.

You said you had to spend many hours looking at works of art to figure out their aesthetic content.  Often, you just don’t feel like doing that.

I argued we do it, even if it is difficult and time consuming, because it helps us uncover the art in painting, and applying the objective method is still the only way to appreciate aesthetic meaning in a picture.

In this post, however, I am adding something I have never said before and you may not believe: we also do it for the fun of it, and I do not use the word “fun” to imply something trivial.  I believe it is fun to remake the world as we would like it to be, and that is what artists do and what we do when we experience their work.

Many of us think of Dr. Barnes as serious, ponderous, belligerent, or argumentative. We do not think of him as lighthearted or humorous.  Long ago he wrote an essay, “How to Judge a Painting,” published in the April 1915 edition of Arts and Decoration (pp. 217-220; 246-250). 

Check the date: 1915.  That’s almost 100 years ago.

In it, he explains his joy of collecting.  What are some of its pleasures?  He wrote:

The least is the mere possession, the best, the joy that one can feel but not express to others; between these two extremes are pleasures that can be compared to the notes of a piano, limited in what can be produced only by the performer’s skill and knowledge.  Good paintings are more satisfying companions than the best of books and infinitely more so than most very nice people. I can talk, without speaking, to Cezanne, Prendergast, Daumier, Renoir, and they talk to me in kind.  I can criticize them and take, without offense, the refutation which comes silently but powerfully when I learn, months later, what they mean and not what I thought they meant.  That is one of the joys of a collection, the elasticity with which paintings stretch to the beholder’s personal vision which they progressively develop.  And that is portionate to what a man thinks he sees in it (p. 248).

I quote Dr. Barnes as affirmation of our struggle to confront paintings and wrestle from them what they are trying to show us.

I also quote him because, at first, when he started to purchase paintings and build his collection, he did not know how to talk to or listen to paintings nor did he possess an education in art appreciation.  Dr. Richard Wattenmaker’s book, American Paintings and Works on Paper in the Barnes Foundation, documents and describes Dr. Barnes’s relationships with artists he befriended: Glackens, Hartley, Maurer, Demuth, among others.  He asked them questions; they suggested to him the work of artists they thought were creative; he looked, and questioned, and studied, and listened.  He read books on art appreciation and found most of them useless, but others helpful.  And he looked some more.  Slowly, he began to develop a sensible way to evaluate creative achievement, and he credited his frequent association with his life-long friend Glackens, “who combines greatness as an artist with a big man’s mind,” as his most valuable single educational factor. (p. 248)

Then he wrote books so we could apply the insights and tools he invented.  During his lifetime, he changed his mind about some of his conclusions, and he deepened and enriched his ability to see and describe his discoveries. 

All the while, he enjoyed himself immensely. 

Recently, I showed a book to my daughter, a book I loved as a child, and one I wanted her to treasure and not discard some day in the future when she “cleaned out” my possessions as she just did for her grandfather.  An eleventh century Persian mathematician wrote original rhymes (literally rubá-i or rubáiyát, a collection of rhymes).  His name was Ghiyáthuddin Abulfath Omar bin Ibráhim al-Khayyámi—or, Omar, son of Abraham, the tent-maker.

We know his rhymes as the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.  When I was about 7 years old, my mother showed me the illustrations in this book and, to this day, I remember them.  A thirty-one year old artist, Mahmoud Sayah, illustrated the edition she had, a reprint of the First Edition, published by Random House in 1947.

The 73rd stanza goes like this:

Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,

            Would not we shatter it to bits—and then

Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

Artists do this.  They remold the world and bring it closer to their heart’s desire.

And we do this too.  By examining works of art, we bring them closer to our heart’s desire.  As Dr. Barnes wrote, the work of art stretches to our personal vision, and it is the work of art, every step of the way, informing, developing, and stretching our personal vision.  Our skill and knowledge allows us to share our discoveries as best we can.

Today, therefore, I will share with you two paintings I have been studying.  To be honest, not studying so much as researching whether Demuth actually saw the following Pascin picture before he painted Interior with Group of People around Red-Headed Woman:

Pascin, Cuban Hospitality, 1915, Oil on canvas, Barnes

Here is the Demuth:

Demuth, Interior with Group of People around Red-Headed Woman, 1919, Watercolor and graphite on wove paper, Barnes

At first glance, I saw striking similarities in the subjects, the color schemes, and the compositions.

I have scoured Dr. Wattenmaker’s writings on both Pascin and Demuth; I have scrutinized every footnote. Yes, Demuth knew and borrowed visual ideas from Pascin, but these two pictures suggest he might have set out deliberately to use Pascin’s Cuban Hospitality as a starting point.

Research did not verify my suspicions. A librarian at the Barnes Foundation told me the1915 Pascin was acquired by Dr. Barnes in 1921. The Demuth, painted in 1919, does not have an acquisition date. If Demuth saw this Pascin painting before it reached the Foundation in 1921, Pascin would have had to show it to him since there are no other references listed for it before a 1921 exhibition—the same year it was acquisitioned by Dr. Barnes.

Today, I finally decided to get to know both paintings and let the paintings talk to me.  Once I made this decision, I felt that mixture of excitement and fear that attends every objective exploration I have done. 

I thought, “I can’t do this; I don’t feel like doing this; I do not know enough to do this well?” 

Courage does not imply fearlessness.  A courageous person feels fear and goes ahead anyway.  Rollo May wrote a book about this, The Courage to Create. 

Knowing that encouraged me to go to work.

Here are two cropped and enlarged details from each painting:


The center-right of the Pascin oil shows warm chocolate brown, ochre, and orangey tans contrasted with cool blues, greens, and lavenders.   The curvy, loose outlines, made up of arcs and arabesques, occur within and outside of the color volumes.  The lines are various hues of brown, blue, and black, as well as crisp, broken, and rhythmic, creating an active sense of movement. 

The soft, pillow-like, shimmering color volumes, including the background spaces between the figures and hugging the small green bottle in the lower center, move from left to right.  If you look back at the entire painting, you will see how every unit actively pulses, and every line and volume swirls in animated motion.  Dr. Barnes argues each “unit in [this] canvas is alive, and so, thanks to the pervasive, delicate, graceful rhythms, is the composition as a whole.” (The Art in Painting, p. 376). 

The enlarged section of the 1919 Demuth watercolor exhibits deep, luminous black and grays contrasted with ivory and ochre. The orangery tans are similar to the Pascin.  I felt surprised when I realized the similarities ended there. Demuth’s figures are set against a rhythmic background of repeated linear strokes.  The cucumber-like leg extended diagonally right sets off a series of angular, delicate, upward moving geometric planes derived from Cézanne, but with greater fluidity and lightness.   Individual facial expressions and gestures rather than generalized movement become the keynote: the reclining man’s right hand holding a card; his left hand bent at the wrist fingers bent under creating an open C-shape of space; the redheaded woman caught in a moment of surprise or anger holding the glass, her hand wrapped around it like soft dough; the black-haired woman, mouth wide open in a C, nose pointed, her profile echoing the dark/light contrast of the angular C shape and the object’s pointedness in the man’s left hand.  At the same time, the tip of his knee repeats the triangle of her nose.

Here are both pictures upside down: 

As I now look at these paintings, I wonder why I felt they had so much in common.  Yes, both are crowded with figures and backed by a rectilinear screen that divides the spatial areas.  Yes, both have an overall color scheme of brown, ochre, and tan.  The luminous color units overlap, their linear boundaries are loose and undulating, and the linear patterns repeat, creating motifs of their expressive and/or decorative design.

Individually, the differences are striking.  The impact of the Pascin is a series of circular color shapes with sinewy, undulating, verticals rising from them—all blocked by the diagonal greenish screen on which the semicircular bands repeat. 

The Demuth is a semicircle of dark/light color units that move in front of the rectilinear wall (now on the right) and behind it (now on the left).  At the (now) top, chair rails form tube-shaped cages, a big head looming forward on the right, and a smaller head moving backward on the left.  These intricate color units set up all the relationships of the orchestrated planes in space.

The figures finally settled the matter. 

Examine these cropped and enlarged sections of both paintings: 



In the Pascin, the figure is a solid, three-dimensional volume ruggedly constructed with bands and patches of deep, rich, brown, tan, and cool gray, and outlined with sometimes delicate and sketchy lines and sometimes thick and heavy ones.  The resultant volume is heavier in weight than Demuth’s.

In the Demuth, the figure is softly rounded, delineated with graceful curvilinear lines, and mottled, lightly applied, washes of color.  The resulting volume has, according to Dr. Wattenmaker, a “luminous, atmospheric shimmer that heightens the drama.” (American Paintings and Works on Paper in the Barnes Foundation, p. 261).  A series of lines applied in sections of the volume and surrounding it repeat motifs occurring throughout the picture.

Laurence Buermeyer wrote in The Aesthetic Experience that the “story of fine art is only half told when we have said that is expression, and expression more complete than the conditions of ordinary living allow. To finish the story we must add that it is expression in a medium of sense.” (p. 85) When the purpose of an artist’s work is grasped and understood, we feel consoled, and this is what art offers “for our relatively infirm hold on the real world,” he said.

But fun?

In that 1915 article, here is what Dr. Barnes wrote about the negative criticism Glackens’ work received in the Armory Exhibit of 1913, illustrating, at the same time, his understanding of how visual ideas evolve: 

Manet’s spirit says to the Glackens, “You put your paint on like a painter”; Renoir chimes in, “You have bettered my skill in making figures merge with the landscape”: Monet adds, “Your sunshine, play of light and color, atmosphere, make you my rival”; Degas’s grunts, “Humph-he-ha, fine drawing that.”  (p. 246)

Spot on, as the Brits say, and fun.