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