Wanted alive not perfect – still life painting with Paul Cézanne

There is an immediacy to painting still life that is even more evident than when painting landscapes. The subjects are closer to the painter and therefore the light moves even quicker when painting alla prima or wet-on-wet then when painting the sea or the forest using the same method. But it is my favourite way to paint and with the west coast being so perpetually grey this winter, I wanted some colour. So colour we shall have!

I grab some available subjects and pulled them together on the kitchen counter and then I snug my old easel up to it. After roughing it a view lines with paint, I am ready to begin.

defining the canvas space for Wine vase pears lemons and blood oranges  by Terrill Welch 2013_02_09 041

The newsprint is intended to help keep the subject close to us and to provide additional reflected light and lightness to the composition. In the end, as you will see, I let go of some of this in favor of more depth and warmth. With an afternoon of painting large loose brush strokes of delicate colour, we come to about here.

set for wine vase with pears lemons and blood oranges by Terrill Welch 2013_02_09 052

There is something about a still life for the impressionist painter that brings home the need to render it alive rather than perfect. If in doubt follow the light and colour. This is what I tell myself anyway – render the light and get it alive.  It is not my idea but the wise perspective of Paul Cézanne. I set it aside to “rest” and at bedtime it looked something like this.

Wine vase pears lemons and blood oranges resting 12 x 16 inch oil on canvas by Terrill Welch 2013_02_09 072

I mean “something like “because every time I looked at the painting I made an adjustment. While the painting was “resting” I cleanup the still life set up, eat one of the pears and set a blood orange aside for morning. I am not completely happy with the painting yet. There is a lost space on the left that leaves the composition more centered than I would like. I wonder what would Paul Cézanne have to say?

Let’s ask the Web Museum in Paris:

Paul Cézanne, one of the creators of modern art, was called the “solidifier of Impressionism”. And indeed he does not draw his picture before painting it: instead, he creates space and depth of perspective by means of planes of color, which are freely associated and at the same time contrasted and compared. The facets which are thus produced create not just one but many perspectives, and in this way volume comes once again to dominate the composition, no longer a product of the line but rather of the color itself. His still-lifes, in their simplicity and delicate tonal harmony, are a typical work and thus ideal for an understanding of Cézanne’s art.

Most of his pictures are still lifes. These were done in the studio, with simple props; a cloth, some apples, a vase or bowl and, later in his career, plaster sculptures. Cézanne’s still lifes are both traditional and modern. The fruits and objects are readily identifiable, but they have no aroma, no sensual or tactile appeal and no other function other than as passive decorative objects coexisting in the same flat space. They bear no relation to the colorful vegetables of Provence — gorgeous red tomatoes, purple aubergines, and bright green courgettes. In his pursuit of the essence of art, Cézanne had to suppress earthly delights.

(reference: Web Museum Paris at http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/cezanne/sl which includes several images of his still life paintings)

Well, I am not sure I agree that his paintings “have no aroma, sensual or tactile appeal and no other function other than as passive decorative objects coexisting on the same flat  space.” However, he did focus on using planes of colour and small brushstrokes that build up to form complex fields of viewer recognition. This is what I am after in this painting. But I want to be sure the viewer experiences the life and sustenance of the subject. These bosc pears, sweet lemons and blood oranges are ready for eating. Delicious in fact. How do I get past the idea of decorative? How do I create more weight on the left side of the composition? Ah yes, questions to sleep on.

It is morning. I cut up the blood orange. I look at it. My mind goes into a long pause. I pick up the cutting board with the orange slices still on it and climb the stairs to the studio.

Rightly or wrongly, there are now slices of blood orange slid in beside the rest of the fruit in the painting. Of course, as always, when one things changes in a painting there is the need to change a dozen others. So here it is. Finished. Not perfect but still alive I think.

WINE VASE, PEARS, LEMONS AND BLOOD ORANGES 12 x 16 inch oil on canvas

Wine vase pears lemons and blood oranges resting 12 x 16 inch oil on canvas by Terrill Welch 2013_02_10 015

The still live painting’s softness and colour harmony in this morning’s light pleases me. And do have a slice of blood orange. They are delicious! The painting will be released over at Terrill Welch Artist at some point in the future.

What might you be wanting to render alive not perfect?

All the best of Sunday to you and wishing you a marvelous week ahead!

© 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 http://terrillwelchartist.com

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22 thoughts on “Wanted alive not perfect – still life painting with Paul Cézanne

  1. Terrill – I love the addition of blood orange slices! I like it the way it was before, but this made all the difference in the world!

    What might you be wanting to render alive not perfect?

    In wabi-sabi (non-perfect) stye, I’ve “pitched” a project to an global women’s magazine. It’s yet to be determined if they want perfect, or alive…

    • Well, I am putting a gentle woman’s wager/spell on their acceptance Laurie. I am glad you like the addition of the blood orange slices. It is always a bit of a gamble to try an addition after the fact but it seems to have worked.

    • Thanks Annerose. We are missing the link to your website with your comment so I am adding in the page with paintings of trees because so many of the Creative Potager readers love trees http://annerosegeorgeson.com/annerose_among_trees.html

      Dear readers, if I didn’t tell you before, Annerose is a fellow artist from my hometown of Vanderhoof. Annerose was a year ahead of me in school. For reason that are not particularly clear but always pleasant, our paths keep crossing in the most delightful ways. Please take a moment and drop in to see the paintings of this talented artist. You won’t be disappointed. I promise you. She is in the throes of packing up paintings for a show in Dawson Creek but I am sure would be delighted by your cyber visit just the same.

  2. I very much liked the first version too, but the addition changes it so dramatically. The light is wonderful! And I enjoyed (very much) reading about the process and how the painting came to be.

    • Thanks Colleen. There is something satisfying about capture the process for a painting just slightly passed the event. Some I will remember for a long time but others, without this documenting practice would be released from any sort of creative memory files.

  3. Alive, alive OH! Yes it has been a grey winter here and I might even venture a grey summer last year. I love color and you have captured it well here. A number of our neighbors are painting their houses this past year and all of the younger folks are using brighter colors – I like it – it makes the neighborhood come alive too

    • Nice bright colours seem to do this alive thing more easily don’t they Patricia. Sorry it has taken me awhile to reply. As you may already know, I have had a very sick baby grandchild who is now recovered and doing well. But it did require me to be away for 8 days to add an extra pair of helping hands to the household.

  4. “Alive but not perfect”. Yes. You’ve described something that is so important in art and life. To feel the spirit of a moment, of people, of objects and to meet that with real intimacy. You do that with your art. I try to do that, too, and sometimes succeed and sometimes not. But to let the spirit shine through even our mistakes, our human-ness, is aliveness at its grandest. Really enjoyed looking at your painting.

    • Thank you Kathy 🙂 I like what you say about feeling the spirit of the moment, of people, of objects and to meet that with real intimacy. This might be the single most important intent I have in my painting and photography as I know is true for you as well. Then to be able to leave our mistakes, our human-ness visible… courage, humility and gratitude.

  5. “There is something about a still life for the impressionist painter that brings home the need to render it alive rather than perfect.”

    Indeed Terrill. But you have certainly gone a good distance toward reaching perfection with your own version of a Cezanne still-life. No survey or appreciation of art of course can ever be complete without scrutiny of this supreme genius. And this type of canvas is a particular favorite of mine.

  6. I love this painting, the way you’ve used the light to make it alive. I think I prefer the first version, though. I liked that empty space on the left. I think the darker colors there, the shadows, balanced well with the lighter subjects on the left. I would disagree with what that person wrote about Cezanne’s still life’s too. If I want the color and aroma of the fruit, I prefer photographs. What I’m looking for it painting is that “liveness” you described, the way light plays with and reveals objects, forms, contours. It’s the extra vision the artist brings to the still-life that’s interesting to me, that makes it come alive, and you do that beautifully here.

    • I still remember painting this one Deborah and yes I can see how you may like the before the blood oranges were added. Always a tough decision this kind of thing but I think I still prefer it with. Glad you enjoy it so much.

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