The Laws of Nature

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

First Impressions, Lasting Impressions

When I was fifteen years old, my art instructor arranged for a visit the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts. As I walked through the galleries, nothing really interested me until I stood before Fume'e d'Ambre Gris by John Singer Sargent. I was mesmerized and couldn't move! To me, this painting was a miracle, and one that I would never forget. Since that time, many decades ago, I've traveled to the Clark to see this painting at least forty times. At this point, I understand Sargent's technical achievement, but remain in awe nevertheless. This painting made me fall in love with what I call "white on white" painting and so I began to study it. I realized that the illusion is achieved through temperature change and by predominantly using high-key values. The temperature change occurs by adding to white either "warm" colors (yellows, oranges, reds) or "cool" colors (blues, violets, blue greens). Here are some other "white on white" paintings that fascinate me:

Jasper Johns, White Flag (below)

Georgia O'Keeffe, Iris (below)

Greg Mort, River of Life (below)

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #54 (below)

It's logical to ask how these works have influenced my art. Honestly, I still don't know. My paintings are usually highly chromatic. Yet, the paintings that I love are just the opposite. Is it true that "opposites attract?"

What work made a first and lasting impression on you?


Mark Sheeky said...

Thanks for making me think of these. Light colours can be so tricky due to subtlety but always evoke the spiritual or ghostly to me, forever nice, peaceful, but also distant and cold.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately in terms of being exposed to western art while I was growing up it was nil. When I did move back to California from Japan, I think seeing a Rothko in person really changed my perspective on work of his type. Thumbnails or even large prints do his paintings no justice and people who say they don't understand it, probably never was in front of an original piece. I literally could get lost in one of his paintings.

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M said...

In 2001 the year I changed careers, I was in France for a holiday and spent time in Giverney. At the Americian Museum of Art I saw a Sargent painting, A Parisian Beggar Girl which he painted in 1880. It is similar in certain ways to your "white" painting. There was an emotional pull into the painting. I couldn't analyze it at the time and I can only vaguely articulate it now but the image has stayed with me. Here's the link:

hw (hallie) farber said...

I spent a lot of time at museums in D.C. looking primarily at sculpture. Not until I attended Georgia O'Keefe's show and Francis Bacon's show did I realize the power of paintings--that was probably late eighties or early nineties.

I don't think I've ever seen this painting by Sargent (not even in books); I can understand why you couldn't move.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark - how true! Thanks for commenting.

Hi Sheila - you have such an interesting background! I agree about Rothko. I felt the same way the first time I saw a Pollock in person, too. Thanks for your comments.

Hi Pam - did his work have an influence on your quilting? Thanks for your comment.

Hi Margaret - oh, yes! That's a marvelous painting. Thank you.

Hi Hallie - two of my other favorite artists. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, Wonderful paintings! And, great postings! When I started painting watercolors, a friend of my Dad's (and a retired instructor from the Art's Students League) suggested studying Sargent's watercolors. It seemed to me the brush really became an extension of his hand-arm-brain.

In my childhood home, we had lots of art books and Art News magazines laying around. There is a Picasso painting with a blue frying pan, I have no idea what the title is, that I have always loved. It captured my imagination. And, I always liked Cezanne's card players. We had a book on Botticelli that I liked. And, El Greco was a favorite. Chagall, Miro, you suppose these had an impact?

I think of Rothko like I think of Pollack and Miro. One must really experience them in person; commune with them, then experience the power of the painting.

The Artist Within Us said...

Greetings Katharine,

At an early age I was exposed to a number of paintings that captivated me, but there were two sculptures at the Louvre, Winged Victory and Venus de Milo that held my attention and I was only eight years of age.

More recently it was seeing a number of Jasper Johns paintings, especially three with the American flag since I had to try something similar.

About six or seven years ago I was at the Getty and it was my first visit. After seeing a few paintings I knew from books well, I became so overwhelmed and began to cry for the next 90 minutes. I did not hide my tears, nor was I ashamed, it was a day I will never forget.

Warmest regards,

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Mary Paquet said...

Appreciating art and visiting museums came later in life for me. I was in awe when I stood before Michelangelo's David and then the Pieta. The experience reinforced my desire to make art.

Thanks Pam, for the pointer to Andrew Saftel's art - wonderful, and Margaret for the link to Sargent's beggar girl - what a master.

I appreciate this opportunity to learn the art experiences of my fellow artists. Thanks, Kathy.

Dan Kent said...

I love Diebenkorn. I have a book of his paintings, and have gone through it many, many times. Interestingly, I have seen some in person and they have not had the same impact. I had a print of Sargent hanging in my office for years. It is "The Fountain", and has much white on white in that painting as well. (At ) But what truly astonished me was the water. And I love the handling of the paint - so rich. He is truly brilliant, and not given enough credit as an impressionist in my opinion.

-Don said...

Growing up in a very rural environment I never had the opportunity to visit an art museum until my college days. So, my early exposure to art was thru prints and books.

The first time I remember noticing a specific work of art was in the 2nd grade. My teacher had a print of Picasso's "Three Musicians". I studied over that print the entire year - trying to figure it out, trying to understand it, trying to "get" it. It wasn't until MANY years later that it clicked for me - but it was always present in my psyche during that time. I considered myself a realist painter thru my teens and early college years and couldn't understand "modern art".

In 7th grade I became obsessed with Michelangelo and checked out every book that I could find on him - mostly for the pictures back then. I envy those who have stood before La Pieta and David and those who have experienced the Sistine Chapel.

I've mentioned this before and hopefully it is not redundant here, but in 2006 I visited the MOMA for the first time. I had been looking forward to getting in front of my favorite Picasso "Girl Before a Mirror" for a long time. When I got there I had the same type of experience Egmont had at the Getty. Tears started streaming down my face uncontrollably - and like Egmont, there was no embarrassment.

My FAVORITE artist is Franz Marc. I have had the pleasure of standing before several of his works, but long to see "The Fate of the Animals" which hangs in the Kunstmuseum Basle in Switzerland. Someday...


Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - your childhood was remarkably "art rich!" I love hearing about it. Thank so much.

Hi Egmont - the influences you mention are powerful ones, and your response to art as a youth says it all. You were born with the heart and sould of an artist. Thank you for sharing your memorable moment.

Hi Pam - thanks for the clarification. I can understand, now. I agree with you: every one of the regular commentors to this blog inspires me!! Thank you.

Hi Mary - ah, yes! The Pieta. Oddly, I saw that statue first and loved it, but when I glimpsed The David I was overcome. Thank you!

Hi Dan - isn't it interesting how many people respond to Sargent's work? I know the fountain painting and it's a beauty! Some critics were hard on Sargent, maybe deservedly, because he was arrogant and critics sometimes thought that he had no emotional connection to his work. Whatever the case, I don't care - I just admire. Thank you for commenting!

Hi Don - it IS quite a different experience to see the actual painting after years of seeing it only in a book. You describe that perfectly, and I've been there, too. I hope you and yours have the chance to travel to Florence, Italy and to Switzerland. It's well worth the trip. Since this is "The Year of the Don" you'll sell so many paintings that you will be able to take the "grand tour" of Europe!!

Unknown said...

Greg Mort's River of Life relects the passions and mysteries so many of his images hold. It is featured in his new book Voyages Exploring the Art of Greg Mort as are over 150 of his beautiful and thought-provoking images. Mort's academic web site sets the standard for contemporary artists displaying his scholarly and social artistic projects such as

layers said...

my son Matt graduated from Williams College with honors with a degree in Fine Art- and received the Professors award in his senior show-- he now lives in NYC and works for Jeff Koons as he also tries to do his own work and paint commissions. I was very happy to visit him for those 4 years and got to go to the Clark museum, the college museum which is fabulous, and the MassMoCA museum nearby. 3 museums in one location was heaven.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I just realized that I met Greg Mort several times when I lived in MD. I regret not buying his apple painting at an auction to raise money for Olney Theater. I also regret that I sold my favorite piece of sculpture at that same auction.

I'll add these to my list of "dumb things I have done."