I was sick a couple weeks ago and took it as opportunity to watch art movies that no one else in my household would ever watch with me: Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict (2015) and A Model for Matisse (2005). They were fine little documentaries that you might yawn over if forced to watch them in your art history class, but I was more than happy to watch them by choice on my couch that week. There were a couple of great little nuggets from each one that made them extra satisfying.
In Peggy’s movie there was a bit of old film from a “meeting” (more like just smoking and gabbing) of some soon-to-be-important artists. Willem de Kooning said that in his daily life he’d catch a glimpse of something and feel like he had to paint it. “I’m very interested in painting that, this frozen glimpse. That’s a wonderful sensation to slip into this glimpse. I’m a slipping glimpser.” Me, too! I’ll notice something in a quick moment, and I’ll want to remember it as a painting. But I don’t always know how. It’s not a full scene I want to record, but rather a feeling that comes from a glimpse. For example, the above photo from a stroll through Charleston was an attempt to capture a glimpse. That bright pink flowering tree exploding between these dark, worn structures obviously stopped me in my tracks. It's a terrible photograph, but I wanted to bring it back to my studio to try to remember how startling it was and make something from it. Maybe, like De Kooning, abstraction is the answer.
The Matisse film was about the creation of the chapel he designed in Vence, France, but my favorite part was at the beginning in an interview with the woman who inspired the chapel. They first met when she, Monique Bourgeois, was his caretaker while he was convalescing after surgery from intestinal cancer. (He had posted an ad for a “young and pretty night nurse” at the local nursing school. In her words, “Well, I was very young.”) They became friends and he soon asked her to pose for him. After the first sitting, he asked her opinion of the portrait. She didn’t like it all, didn’t think it looked like her, and she told him so. His response: “If I wanted something that captures reality, I’d take a photograph.” HA! I love that response because it speaks to the artistic difference between photography and painting. There is something about using paint that transmutes a subject to something beyond representation. The physical qualities of paint are an obvious factor, but the more important one is that every painter's hand is unique, every one takes their liberties, even when working from a photographic reference. I know I do. I’ll make the colors brighter, shadows darker, etc., and that’s what makes it MY interpretation of a scene. This reminds me of a quote from Robert Henri: “Don’t try to paint good landscapes. Try to paint canvases that show how interesting a landscape looks to you—your pleasure in the thing.”
I Heart Art
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