Friday, May 29, 2015

The Names of the Painters


Dear Not-That-You-Asked,

Many years ago, when I was first learning the Names of the Painters of Europe, and sorting them into two categories:  The Ones That Spoke To Me, and All The Other Ones, I put Odilon Redon into the latter group, in a twinkling, because I thought classical and mythological imagery was cliché, and also because the Cyclops seemed clumsily painted, and also, well, ugly, like those big-eyed, campy Keane kids.  Not at all what one wants from paintings that are going to be influencing you for the rest of your brush-wielding life.

A few seasons ago, I visited the Musee D'Orsay, and I looked at all the Names, and then, because it is a little harder for me to love them, I tried to give the belle époque furniture and household goods a deeper reading and more of my attention.  I was only mildly successful in Appreciating étagères, and dressing tables.  However, while I wandered, trying hard to Appreciate, I came upon a series of large, decorative panels by Odilon Redon- and they flabbergasted me utterly.  They were exquisite.  The space was completely un-illusionistic and tilted up, like the spaces in modern artwork, of the Abstract Expressionists (whom I never have to struggle to Appreciate), and it was so subtly gestural, and yet so accurate in capturing the essence of flower petal surface. 

The 'arrangement' of the elements in Redon's panels employ the patterns, the spacings, that I try to make live again in my own painting- the patterns of growth, of things that are moved by wind, or waves- the locations of bird and not-bird in flocks flashing overhead.  I had completely missed, in my desire to avoid the Cyclops' stare, the scumbling, velvety qualities of his paint, and his thoughtful attention to composition. 

Apologies, and I am adding your name, Redon, I am adding your name.

"I have often, as an exercise and as a sustenance, painted before an object down to the smallest accidents of its visual appearance; but the day left me sad and with an unsatiated thirst. The next day I let the other source run, that of imagination, through the recollection of the forms and I was then reassured and appeased."
-Odilon Redon, via Wikipedia.

One more lovely Redon, a watercolor.