Camille Pissaro (1873)
Mention impressionism and usually the first name that comes to mind is Claude Monet. Yes Monet was the giant of impressionism and he was faithful to the idea for his entire career. Who else can compare to Monet? To my mind the next name should be Camille Pissaro.
Pissaro was the epitomy of steady progress through the impressionist period and beyond. Wise beyond his years and always willing to pass on his thoughts . Many famous artists of the late 1800’s sought advice from Pissaro. Most famous of his collaborators was Paul Cezanne to whom Pissaro provided much moral support.
“Precise drawing is dry and hampers the impression of the whole. It is the brushstroke of the right value and color which should produce the drawings.” (Pissaro)
Pissaro sought truth in nature. He was passionate about painting from real life. The rural scenes, common folk and hardships of everyday life were typical subjects. Pissaro was influenced by artists like Corot and Courbet who started painting from real rural scenes. However Pissaro went further and followed the entire progression of impressionism until the movement began to give way to new directions in the early twentieth century.
Despite the appearance of a conservative patriach Pissaro was very much left leaning in his beliefs. He had no time for the aristocracy and elite classes. Yet his dedication and work ethic was unquestioned. In his later years, despite an eye infection and old age, Pissaro continued to work outdoors or from hotel windows when necessary to express himself through the natural world.
Pissaro left a major contribution to the art world for others to learn from and enjoy.
Do not be timid in the presence of nature; one must be bold at the risk of being deceived and making mistakes. One must have only one teacher – nature. She is the one always to be consulted.
Recently while browsing through a book store I cam across Stoep Zen* by Antony Osler. The sub-title was also intriguing - A zen Life in South Africa. Books about leading a life of simplicity and zen are common enough, but not from a local South African perspective. The pictures of the karoo and country life made this book all the more appealing.
What a gem of a book! Filled with anecdotes, observations and zen philosophy with a deeply South African flavour. Antony Osler is a South African former Zen monk, writer, teacher and if that is not enough he provides arbitration services too. He lives with his family on a farm in the Colesberg region.
There are many interesting viewpoints on facing life's challenges in South Africa. The author offers an approach that may help many of us release our attachment to certain negative beliefs and conditioning. Live in the moment, appreciate what is and have faith in our humanity. Osler certainly encountered strong viewpoints when he was involved in a Law Clinic in the old South Africa. No doubt his strong belief in truth and the good within all of us gave him much fortitude during difficult times.
It is however the cradle of the karoo that speaks so strongly through the author's words. It is a place that you can either accept for what it is or it will leave you broken. There is beauty and simplicity in its many facets. Here is also a glimpse into the lives of the people living in the karoo, often under harsh conditions.
For all of these reasons and more I can recommend this book.
Stoep Zen can be ordered from the author. For more details please visit www.stoepzen.co.za
The pale sun sets.
* Stoep means a porch or verandah
Last year I wrote an article about how artists often base their ideas on work of other artists. The saying goes that we need to steal like an artist to progress. Is all art a remix of what has gone before us? Where does creativity come from? Are we really creative or do we simply rehash things and call them our own? If so is this enough?
These questions may trouble some while others shrug and get on with creating what they want to. Would someone who does not get exposed to any outside influence still come up with creative ideas and works? Personally I think we are all inherently creative, but there is a critical factor that we all need. The spark.
As Bruce Springsteen says - you cannot light a fire without a spark! I suspect that we learn very early on what that spark is. We know for example that we love praise and attention. This is normal from a very early age. Our childish drawings were praised and encouraged. We saw this happen to others around us and we wanted it too. We knew that we could get love from doing something creative! Plus we enjoyed this creativity too as a process.
Moving on as we get older we know what works for us and what does not. At some point many drop artistic endeavour since it becomes risky. As soon as we feel art can lead to embarassment or those we look up to no longer value our art then we will drop it.
Those artist who keep at their work are learning from other artists all the time. This can be deliberate or by assimilation, but mostly both. There is no other way. Art is about creating and sharing. Art that is never shared and remains locked away is irrelevant to the world. We can accept that only by reworking influences on our creative nature into our personal expression can art progress. Only by sharing this new work with the world can others receive and assimilate the work.
The human condition is a common experience. Art is the expression of the human condition and everything is linked in some way. Create something beautiful and share it. It is our human nature and we cannot resist it.
Check out this TED talk by Kirby Ferguson that provides great examples of the remix of art by some famous artists and designers.
What influences a painting's outcome? The artist's skill and use of techniques? Quality of art materials, design and subject? Yes all of these are important, but they are all relative to the artist. What is it that makes you produce your personal best work today? I suggest that it is one critical quality. Enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm for the painting in front of you is made up of your inspiration for the subject and your mood. The overall emotional state and response to the task at hand. This can all be summed up in your joyful spirit - your enthusiasm for the painting. When enthusiasm is abundant then this translates into confident painting.
Confidence is critical for artists when painting a subject. One can see confidence in how the overall painting adds up. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The magic is present! What are the clues to enthusiastic painting? Brushwork comes to mind. Confident brushwork is interesting to look at yet is applied with economy. It is not laboured in great detail. Quick brushstrokes. Broken brushwork and other interesting effects point to an artist in the moment relishing every stroke of the brush. This is also sometimes referred to as intuitive painting.
Other signs of enthusiasm is the drama of the scene, clean colour and treatment of light effects. When the artist's eye is responding to light and colour in a spontaneous manner it will show in the painting and delight the viewer. It is not to say that the painting will please everyone's taste. That is not within the artist's control and is ultimately not the issue. Enthusiasm is the road to each artist producing their best work.
When I look at a painting that I did with enthusiasm, like the one above of my children exploring Nieu Bethesda, I realise that it feels like it painted itself. Almost effortless and time seemed to fly by. Again this is all about being in the moment and responding to the scene with creative energy. Sheer pleasure. I know that these moments are sometimes few and far between. Especially when we need to produce a large number of works, but the process can be made easier too.
We can find the moment easier if we paint what gets us enthusiastic. The subject that calls us and challenges us to paint it! Personally this is usually achieved painting en plein air. Studio painting from references is more difficult. It helps if the subject is fresh in my memory, for instance, and I can still transport myself emotionally into the painting.
Life is too short to paint what leaves us cold. Be inspired and enthusiastic about painting and love it. It is a great way to spend your time.
The past long weekend gave me the opportunity to take some time a get out along some familiar backroads to relax with my family. These moments remind me that there is so much nearby that I tend to take for granted. If I spent a fortune to visit far away lands with closed eyes I would be wasting my time and money. By being aware of what is here I can see all there is in the world. It is what it is.Zest Cafe
One of our stops was at the Pig and Whistle Inn in Bathurst to drop off some paintings that will be on display at the Inn. Speaking to Gavin, the owner, I was struck by his enthusiasm for the Inn. It happens to be oldest licensed pub in South Africa. The inn dates back to 1832 and was founded by Thomas Hartley, an 1820 settler himself. Another famous settler who owned the Inn was Jeremiah Goldswain. I may mention my own family connection with an uncle who owned the Inn for some twenty-four years. It is a beautiful old building and a real treasure inside too. Stop by the next time you venture through Bathurst.
Enthusiasm and attention to what is really important are the essential ingredients for enjoying your work. I could see this in the way the Pig and Whistle is run. Later on as we ventured to Port Alfred to deliver more paintings at Zest Cafe in Van Der Riet street. The idea loving what you do in the moment was also apparent at Zest Cafe. This busy little courtyard cafe never fails to satisfy my family. It is clear from the number of visitors on Saturday that we are not the only ones who love the cafe. Go along there and enjoy a great lunch and check out the art too.
After a day of travelling and making stops here and there it was welcome relief to spend some time in the afternoon and watch the sun setting over the eastern cape hills. As the sun went down with the sky turning orange the winter chill suddenly came back. It was time to light a fire and watch the first stars come out. Moments to savour.
I wonder how often I have missed the glory of the present moment by trying to look into the future or churning over something that happened in the past. Far too many! The beauty of art is that it captures my attention fully for however long I paint. Soon after I stop, if I am not aware, the thinking starts again to fill in the silence with chatter. That is what we should guard against - idle thoughts. Stay in the moment. Enjoy the fine work of others and contribute with your own work from time to time.
There is a universe on our doorstep.
For most of us each weekday is about getting up and starting a process of chores culminating in a commute home again after eight hours of work. The same routine becomes a rut and the rut seems to get deeper with time. We all know that time tends to speed by ever faster as we get older too. Is it really August! It seems that we have just seen off the New Year and it is downhill to December again!
That intro was not particularly inspiring was it? No indeed! I wonder whether we are living now how we imagined it would be ten, twenty or more years ago? How many are disappointed by how things turned out? Some may be happy or even perhaps exceeding expectations. The very few I should think. The thing is though we are responsible for it all.
Recently I have experienced the up and down of a hectic week. For three days my mind kept me mired in the frustration of drudgery. I was blocked and annoyed. What I wanted and what was happening were poles apart. Everyone around me seemed to be in a similar state and we all fed off this negative energy. Then an amazing thing happened. I cannot say what the exact spark was, but a solution arose and almost instantly my situation changed.
A creative solution came to mind and literally within minutes we were all filled with renewed energy and there was smiles all round. I could only marvel at the mood I was in only hours before. It seemed ridiculous actually. Why take a lesson from one week? Because that week was a microcosm of months and years. Cycles of ups and downs without awareness of just how we each could change these conditioned responses.
What I imagine to be the case is usually just that - my imagination. When I paint or work on preparations to paint my imagination and actions are in sync. Positive creative energy gets flowing and solutions come with action. When I let chores and paperwork, for example, drag me down I am simply letting my mind turn it into a drama that does not really exist.
The quote above says it all. What we paint on our life's canvas depends on our imagination. Good bad or indifferent. It is up to us to create it and that is good, because we have the power to change what we imagine.
Recently I was delving through old photographs probably looking for ideas, but with no particular goal. I came across a series of photos of the Owl House in Nieu Bethesda. If you have been visiting this site for some time you will have noted my fondness for this tiny karoo village. In particular the owl house, famous today for the cement sculptures by Helen Martins and her assistant Koos Malgas. Helen Martins was viewed with suspicion in her time and she must have lived a lonely and desperate life until her passing by suicide in 1976. The label of eccentric seems to follow her, but in truth she was one of our greatest artists.
Looking through the photos of her home's interior leaves no doubt about Helen Martin's vision and desire to capture the sunlight as it arced its way across the karoo sky. Crushed glass is pasted onto walls and ceilings to sparkle throughout the day. Sculptures of many figures including the ever present owls keep watch over the warm interior. Some visitors today are disturbed by the spectacle and even feel spooked. What is a fact however is that Helen Martins was a determined and highly creative person. She followed her own path even though it was against popular views of the time. A contrarian. Sadly she paid the price for it by being ostracised in the little town. Ironically her legacy continues to benefit the village to this day.
It reminds me of that other artist who followed the harsh sunlight of southern France trying to capture the essence of the landscape in thick, bright and expressive brushstrokes. Van Gogh was misunderstood and regarded as an eccentric, but his undeniable talent was fully recognised after his death.
Not every artist needs to live with extreme views or obsessive lifestyles. The lesson I think is that every artist must express themselves truthfully. Finding that truth may be difficult until the artist stops seeking and then discovers it was always there to begin with. Do not follow the path of others, learn from others where necessary, but unless we walk our own path we will always be unsatisfied. Be contrary, when needed, to stay on your unique path.