Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lessons From A Master

Handsome Husband and I are just home from a field trip of sorts to Kansas City, Mo.

Our trip took us across northern Kansas on Highway 36, a beautiful strip of highway cutting through wheat fields and rolling pastures dimming into blue hills far into the distance.  Those who claim Kansas is flat need only travel this area to see how beautiful this part of the country is.
Our field trip was inspired by the Nelson-Atkins ArtCenter’s exhibition of Claude Monet’s Agapanthus Triptych, painted from 1915 to 1926. (Interestingly, the agapanthus of the title was painted over sometime during the 11 years Monet worked on this painting.)  Doubling the pleasure of the weekend was the opportunity to visit the southern branch of the Handsome Husband family tree and go to a cool jazz gig featuring our trombone playing nephew, Brian.  The only way the weekend could have been better was if Santa Claus himself was there.
Our first stop was the Nelson-Atkins.  I approached “The Monet” as if I were in a church; quietly, reverently, waiting for angels to proclaim the moment. I will even admit that I was prepared to fall to my knees in awe. 
Claude Monet  Water Lilies Series  Agapanthus Tryptich panel three 1915-1926

The painting itself is beautiful without a doubt.  Virtually abstract, the swirls of pigment moving from green to pink to blue in short dashes of color, accentuated by thick white figure-eight shapes captured my attention immediately.  What I didn’t expect was the muscular surface (it’s the only way I can think of to describe it).  Monet thought “out loud” with pigment and brush.  He painted, considered, scraped off, painted more, painted over, changed his mind and did the whole thing over again and again.  Rather that claiming the painting ‘finis!’, it is believed he simply ran out of time, dying before it was done.  The surface shows this thought process; it is heavily textured in places, harsh marks show where he scraped and re-worked, and layers of paint hide groups of lilies painted in previous sessions.  There are areas of paste-y pigment, not unpleasant but not entirely expected either from a master of painting.  My college professors would have raised an eyebrow.
My knees didn’t buckle, nor did I hear angels sing.
It’ll be awhile before I have the experience completely evaluated.  I'm not hard-hearted; the painting is beautiful. I am awed by Monet’s obsessive struggle to translate the physics of light into pigment.  That awe includes the appreciation of the plain hard work that goes into this type of creative exploration.  It is a lesson taken to heart.
©2010 Patricia Scarborough New Day  12 x 18 pastel

Monet spent decades discovering what his water garden had to offer, right up until his passing from this earthly world. For me, as an artist exploring new territory there may be no moment of arrival, but simply, delightedly, perhaps painfully, the awareness of yet another step in the process until the work is declared complete - or the clock runs out.  

2011 Patricia Scarborough  Early Morning Spring  6 x 9 pastel

Tick tick tick tick . . .


Karine said...

Your experience of viewing the Monet in person reminds me of the first time I saw a Picasso in person. I could see in the texture of the painting where Picasso had originally painted the composition differently. I was blown away. "Picasso changed his MIND???!!!?" A revelation.

Love your delicate pastels in this post, Patty.

Patty said...

Exactly! I guess the lesson is that even those artists who have made history still put their pants on one leg at a time-

Vickie said...

>Monet thought “out loud” with pigment and brush.

Thinking on this. When my husband is building something, say a playground or a trailer, he likes to just take the pieces and get started and take it apart if he doesn't like it and put it back together, etc. Makes me a little crazy. I'm all about drawing the plan, measuring, comparatively pricing the pieces, etc. I'm the sort of person who can spend the greater part of a day making a most elaborate, deeply considered, and highly decorated "Plan for the Day."

There is room, from this view, for thinking it out as you go along.

Although I've seen the concept since in other places, Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird, introduced me to the concept of a S***y Little First Draft, and this way of painting reminds me of that. Just put some color on the canvas and get started. I wonder if each artistic venue has its own variant of that premise.

Patty said...

Sounds like your Plan for the Day is a work of art in itself!
I love the idea of thinking with paint, although there is risk. How to judge the result? Those of us with muddled minds may never finish!