The flat surface...
My good friend Dick Schellens asked me to clarify one of the ideas I wrote about on 10/22/2010. Yesterday I was unable to get into the studio, so I will take this moment to show three paintings which will help describe one of the major problems a painter encounters. At this point in my career solving the flat surface is ingrained and therefore innate. However, there are paintings in museums which fail this test, and one of them is a highly regarded painting by John Singer Sargent in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I mentioned one of my teachers, James Weeks, in my blog post of 10/22/2010; Weeks chided me for loving Rembrandt. Weeks believed Rembrandt did not pay enough attention to a painting's surface as an insistent flat plane. Week's spoke often of Henri Matisse, using Matisse's work as the quintessential solution to this problem of the flat surface. Today I will show you three interiors: Sargent's "Daughters of Edward Darley Bolt," Rembrandt's "The Painter in His Studio," and Matisse's "Interior with Red Fish." By the way, the Rembrandt and the Sargent can both be seen in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
James Weeks said you could "drive a truck through" the black hole in Sargent's painting. By this Weeks meant there is loss of comprehension of surface in the Sargent. When one views this painting the composition is disturbing because it cannot be fully read. One can read every element in the Matisse. Cezanne and Matisse instruct painters on how shape and paint texture animate surface and therefore composition. Van Gogh used paint texture marvelously to do the same (it is one aspect of Van Gogh's best work which elevate's it to greatness). Sargent fakes depth with his black hole, disregarding the reality of the painting's flatness.
Now to the Rembrandt: There are NO black holes in any of Rembrandt's paintings. Rembrandt is known for his use of chiaroscuro, his movement from light to darkness. Rembrandt's darkest areas can be read; he is also very conscious of shapes (look at the canvas on the easel moving the viewer into the perspective depth of the painting). Rembrandt's use of paint texture also marvelously animates his surfaces.
Again, please view works of art in person. Reproduction is unable to translate the sophistication seen in viewing great works of art.
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