22 February 2022

Pierre Bonnard est un ange qui me surveille de loin

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 10 February 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 10 February 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are two studies from last week which were both made the same night yet feel quite different from one another. The first one I painted is on top, while the second study arrived along with a red curtain of dusk 20 minutes later. 

Lately, I have been struggling with finding my way into 'something new'. Like a kind of writer's block I think. The only answer is to persevere and to remember that one cannot give up before the miracle. And this is a truism for me but at the same time there are ways to freshen things up in this solitary line of work. While it is wise to keep at it in a disciplined fashion, there are ways to shake things up at the same time. So I have cleared an area in my studio and have separated lots of older pictures which don't quite excite me. It's usually because they are boring for one reason or another, or they lay around my house in a state of limbo like bored teenagers because I haven't had the courage to paint over them to begin again. 

So, on the better ones I've started adding touches of colour, patiently looking for a way into them in hopes of finding an answer from the distance of both time and space. I am looking for the penultimate ending, like for a writer at the end of his/her novel. 

And all this, of course, makes me think of Pierre Bonnard, the King of Patience, himself! Apparently, he worked on canvas's tacked up on his studio walls for months and years on end. He painted (I believe) with a painfully slow deliberation as if Time itself had slowed down to a crawl. Really great things in art possess that awful cliché of 'timelessness', but it's true. Once a successful artwork lives, it lives forever; music, books, architecture, poems, paintings, they are all created in their own time, only to then live on in eternity (and as my cousin Frank in the Bronx always used to complain, what can you do about these clichés anyway, huh??) 
But then, this also leads me to some of Bonnard's famously discreet but brilliant things he said in letters to friends (which I have quoted several time already in these pages over the years). Here are a few which I read continuously through in times of difficulty in my own work. I hope your French is good.

"L'oeuvre d'art; un arrêt du temps" 

"Ce qui est beau dans la nature ne l’est pas toujours dans la peinture. Exemples : effets de soir, de nuit"

J’espère que ma peinture tiendra, sans craquelures. Je voudrais arriver devant les jeunes peintres de l’an 2000 avec des ailes de papillon.

J’ai une palette. Mais les assiettes me permettent d’isoler les tons, tandis que la palette a le défaut de proposer, de les imposer, et c’est un danger. Ce sont des choses que l’on n’apprend que très tard. Ce serait trop facile de se mettre devant un paysage, de l’observer et de le transposer simplement sur la toile. Il faut encore songer au lieu où les toiles seront ensuite regardées.

Élément étranger : souvent le blanc pur ou le noir.

Il y a une formule qui convient parfaitement à la peinture : beaucoup de petits mensonges pour une grande vérité.

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