Doing a Henri Matisse in three new paintings

There is some much pressure on artists to be consistent in their body of work. Galleries like it as it is easy to show. Patrons like it because it is familiar with other work by the artist that they love. But artists, at least this artist, do not necessarily  like it. There is something awkward and unfamiliar with limiting palette and stylistic expression to such a narrow range that the work is immediately recognized as coming from the same creative process. Somehow the painting process often unfolds in quite a different manner.

Today, I did what I refer to as “doing a Henri Matisse” which is the process of digging as deeply as possible in a variety of directions to find what best way to interpret my subject, my desire and my intention.

It started with a reworking of “At The Beach” a plein air painting that had fallen out of my favour.

At The Beach 12 x12 inch oil on canvas by Terrill Welch  IMG_1121

There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with this painting but again, there wasn’t anything particularly right either. So I used it a foundation for today’s warm up which was no small task since I had taken a lengthy painting break during the seasonal holidays. Here is the resting results of my efforts.

“At the Beach another Time” 12 x 12 inch oil on canvas resting.

At the Beach another time resting 12 x 12 inch oil on canvas by Terrill Welch 2013_01_02 050

I now am much happier with how the light bounces across the canvas. I like the deep contrasts and the mystery the painting evokes as the sun rests off to my right shoulder on this August day.

Next, I took on a late December sunrise. I wanted to use bold decisive strokes that would give the sense of a colours woven together by sea, sky and the morning sun.

“Late December West Coast Sunrise” resting 6 x 6 inch oil on gessobord resting.

Late December Westcoast Sunrise resting 6 x 6 inch oil on gessobord by Terrill Welch 2013_01_02 059

The change in palette and foundation from canvas to gessobord  gives me the freedom to devour the winter sky with my brush. It is not about getting it right but rather about getting it live.

Then the final painting of the day came with yet another change in how I use my tools. The palette knife edged and sculptured my subject while the brush smoothed it back into its environment.

“Pear Trees in Winter First Light” 8 x 10 inch oil on canvas resting.

Pear Trees in winter first light resting 8 x 10 inch oil o canvas by Terrill Welch 2013_01_02 040

So there you have it. Today’s work in all its alla prima glory. Are they finished paintings? Maybe or maybe not. It matters not. This artist’s curiosity has been has been satisfied, at least for today.

Henri Matisse would be pleased I think.  Matisse’s vast oeuvre encompassed painting, drawing, sculpture, graphic arts (as diverse as etchings, linocuts, lithographs, and aquatints), paper cutouts, and book illustration. His varied subjects comprised landscape, still life, portraiture, domestic and studio interiors, and particularly focused on the female figure. In fact, it might be easier to show the range and diversity of his work than to lump it together into a gallery and patron series. This is not to say he did not do several paintings of the same subject. Indeed he did paint the same subject sometimes several times. But each time he handled it with sometimes significant differences in his search of “true painting.”

Matisse’s career can be divided into several periods that changed stylistically, but his underlying aim always remained the same: to discover “the essential character of things” and to produce an art “of balance, purity, and serenity,” as he himself put it in his “Notes of a Painter” in 1908.

Reverence: The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954).

I can resonate with this underlying aim and if a painter is to discover “the essential character of things” it stands to reason that the approach, the palette of pigments and the tools will vary. It would also make sense I would think that the subject of inquiry would not be rendered at the same time of day or year and that a viewer might possibly be able to intuit the specifics of light and season if they were familiar with such subtleties.  Therefore, at no time in the near future are you likely to see 20 or 30 of my paintings that look like they were spawn by the same in-bred tribe of pigments, canvases and brushstrokes.

Henri Matisse’s paintings are now showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This exhibition, which curator Rebecca Rabinow has 49 paintings that Matisse made in pairs or trios between 1899-1948. As mentioned, he often painted and repainted the same theme in multiple styles, sometimes halting work on one painting only to continue on another, and preserving much of his own process along the way.

When was the last time that you did a Henri Matisse?

© 2013 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to

23 thoughts on “Doing a Henri Matisse in three new paintings

  1. Hi, I enjoyed your post on many levels; nice to see your paintings, but also the way you speak of painting and art, galleries, etc. I’ve come to realize in my eclectic endeavors that I have no patience for being limited to only one genre; art to me is part of life, and as such, is alive, inviting exploration. Having said that, when I follow other peoples careers and work, there is usually, the more familiar I become with their work, a signature to their work in some way of color or stroke, that ineffable thing that makes it their own. Thanks!

    • You are most welcome Cynthia and I agree. There is is usually a signature that makes an artist’s work their own and I believe that this comes about without trying or attention. It comes with repeatedly challenging and practicing the art of painting, or photography or writing. However, I continue to muse about the drive to push artists to develop a signature presence prematurely with an unintended result of squelching the breadth and depth of creative exploration. It is only a musing and likely a tension that is held between explorations of a subject and materials and unique expression. Thank you so much for joining into our conversation today Cynthia! 🙂

  2. Terrill, loved your Flash Lesson and the way you illustrated it. Got to say that the pear tree is certainly my favorite, it ‘wiggles’ like a Van Gogh and shimmers with light. Henri Matisse was one of my favorites growing up in the 60’s and I even imitated his style a few times. Matter of fact, one of my paintings still hangs in a house not far from here. I remember a photo from his later years of him sitting propped up in bed, his equipment placed all around, painting away with more intensity than than I can usually muster. Thanks for this insight and to answer your question, I pull a Matisse when ever I have to, just not in painting. It’s problem solving, if something won’t work the first time, approach it from a different angle until it does work!

    • You are most welcome and I am glad you enjoyed it Sandi. I am determined to stretch my own paintbrush wings this year and so you are likely to see more posts like this one that weave the work of masters into my everyday studio session. I can just see you pulling a Matisse when problem-solving… and in a way this is what painting is – problem-solving.

  3. Thank you for your beautiful and thought provoking post, Terrill.
    As you know, I’m in the process of claiming my author voice. And as this experiment continues to unfold I flirt with genre and literary fiction. I can’t wait to discover the next lesson life as to teach me.
    Regardless what story I tell, I see it with the same eyes.

  4. I really love your West Coast Sunrise. It is perfect just the way it is! Such great use of colour.

    We were poking around in Annabelle’s Attic… a second hand store… and we found a couple of prints by Inger Jirby from Taos New Mexico. Very colourful work. Google her up and look at her new paintings.

    Today I got to spend about 40 minutes in a gallery in Tucson while Shirley was getting some fabrics at a quilt shop nest door. The gallery has the work of about 30 local artists displayed. They all take turns being in the store about one day a month, and each of them has a section for their pieces. It was a lot of fun and made me want to get back into the paint.

    Instead we are busy setting up our winter home here. I have been adding heated floors in the bathrooms and new tile everywhere. It seems there is no break for me from doing construction projects… but we do have a goal to be doing more painting as soon as we can get our studio space completed.

    You are such an inspiration… always doing something new and exciting. All the best in the new year.

    • Sherwin this small painting is about the same size as your Pear painting. It is a wee 6 x 6 inch that maybe someday I will work into a larger piece. Or it may simply influence larger work such as the one I am going to work on today. Also, you may have seen the work of an artist colleague of mine in this gallery C.J. Shane. I am not sure of course but it is entirely possible. She is an abstract painter and print maker whose work is stunning for its subtle conversations within a frame. Here is a link to her website gallery for her paintings . Do look around though at her other albums of work. I believe that she will also welcome people to come to her studio by appointment and she is most interesting to visit with and knows the area extremely well. Anyway, if you happen to meet, do say “hello” from me. Happy New Year and glad you are both enjoying some warm weather. It is predicatively cool here on Mayne Island but quietly beautiful just the same.

  5. To discover the essential character of the thing…seems to be just what I am about these days…I sometimes wonder if I will arrive? anywhere? Great post and I loved the lessons and the variations on the style and exploration. I am leading an Epiphany Workshop on Sunday and working at discovering the essential and variation – exciting stuff
    thank you for sharing. We had Sunshine on News Years Day husband did not paint this year – went bicycle riding with friends for 5 hours. I wonder if he will finish Ruby Beach painting – his youngest daughter wants it for her house

    • Thanks Patricia and you are most welcome. I have decided to share some of my own journal-entry kinds of observations here this year. I most often keep these kinds of things more private because they are fragments of thought and not particularly well edited and therefore can be more controversial than my usual posts. However, the benefits of a more in depth and deeper conversation seem to be worth the risks. We will see over time I suppose. On another note I didn’t remember or didn’t know that your husband was a painter. You also took a painting course this past year. Are you going to continue exploring this means of expression as well?

      • I took the painting class to break down feelings. I will just use this as a form of refreshing my thinking and recognizing change. My brother in law is the painter in the family doing water colors at Birch Bay. Does not share on line. My husband is an architect who paints usually on holidays. He started a piece on Thanksgiving in San Francisco but got too involved in cross country skiing. And a bicycle ride to finish it. It relaxes him. We need him to paint the house next!

        • Oh house painting is next … hum 🙂 This wouldn’t be my first choice Patricia. Believe it or not I dislike painting walls (interior or exterior) almost as much as I like to paint on canvas or gessobord. Those walls have to be so darn even!

  6. Terrill,

    It is early morning, the sun has not even risen as of yet. Cold and dark, the vision that dances across my eyes is shimmering light and color, waves, clouds, land and sea!

    There are many paths this blog can journey for I see you not wishing to be stuck in style, finding a style is a comfort zone, a place where we know what we are doing, it also gives the viewer, collector, gallery owners something to choose from, but not a challenge.

    The challenge to being an artist is to stay creative, to challenge ourselves to see in new way. I my self study to learn of photographers and photography I find that each and every photographer has an accepted, recognizable body of work that most of the public has seen. Upon further study we find completely different work by many of these artist. And so it should be, times change, equipment changes, the subject matter all change to meet the needs of the artist themselves, not to fill the need of the art work.

    I have photographed my little wood for the past, what five, six years, in every kind of light, and season, as well as weather, for each are unique in themselves. Is this a conscious thought/action? Yes and no! It is the desire to see, to create, to challenge my art and my self!

    • Jeff I can see over the valley in the distance the most spectacular sunrise with the morning light turning the low-lying fog the most brilliant pinks. Your passion for photographing the same small piece of woods is akin to mine passion for photographing our small island in every season and time of day for the past five years. I believe we do go deeper and learn new and interesting things by this kind of familiarity with a particular location. I also believe this is something that is not as easily and may not even be accessibly at all with limited exposure to a place. These are the benefits of NOT traveling and living and discovering what is right where we are. I like your confirmation of what I too have discovered – most artists have a wide range of work even though the public awareness of it might be of only a snippet. All the best with your continued exploration of your photography Jeff.

  7. “…use bold decisive strokes that would give the sense of a colours woven together by sea, sky and the morning sun.”

    I love that sentence, Terrill!

    When was the last time that you did a Henri Matisse?

    I suspect the answer is just about every day as I shift my perspective, or help someone else to shift theirs.

    • Thanks Laurie and I believe as a health care and healing professional you would indeed be doing a Henri Matisse at every turn. This approach and continue drive to learn and discover is one of the aspects of my connection to you over the years that has fed my own yearning for deeper understandings. May our paths continue to cross and influence each other for many years to come.

  8. Very lovely, Terrill. I learn something more about light every time I pass by your blog. Happy New Year–may you continue to create beautiful art & life during 2013. May you continue to Henri Matisse…

  9. The post is an art lover’s dream in every sense Terill. Compelling and provocative. I wonder if Matisse’s exibition is still there. It is well within my grasp to negotiate. I’ll have to check it out!

    • I believe it is still there until sometime in March Sam. I have a colleague who is going and if she likes the catalog is going to pick me up one and ship it to our humble corner of the world here on Mayne Island.

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