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?

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