Thursday, March 31, 2011

Henri Rousseau

This isn't one of Henri Rousseau's most famous works, but it showcases his style nicely. I love the business that the leaves of the jungle make, filling the canvass with energy, and how the figure is almost lost in the amazon growth of the foliage. Nature overwhelms. Nothing about a human can be as important as orange trees or big blue flowers. In Rousseau's fantasy human beings are as tiny as fairies, but here, it is the landscape that is magical. The growth of plants, fed only by soil, sunshine and water is a magical occurrence. And the jungle, which Rousseau never saw but liked to tell others that he had visited, is really, really overgrown and pushing the boundaries of what it can contain. There is almost no room for the human. But the picture without the human would be like a story lacking its ending. We know so much about the jungle because we have been given a person to put it all in perspective for us,- she small, the jungle large. Her dress is pink like the pink flowers just peeking through the leaves near the horizon of the sky. I too place pink where the blue of the sky meets the earth, but for me, the horizon light itself is pink.

My husband bought a big picture book all about the artist Renoir in a thrift store. Two nights ago I had trouble sleeping and started reading it. The book started with the artist's early years, showing in pictures and narration his life and artistic development. There was schooling and there were friendships struck up with other artists, particularly with the impressionist Monet. The story of Renoir's life was well told, but it began to trouble my nerves greatly. There were illustrations of paintings that were masterful, and which I knew I could do nothing near as well. Renoir had the history of painting behind him, in his head, and at the command of his brush. No matter his later innovation, he was fluent in academic and he spoke well and long with the exact people who would press forward and bring into the world a new style of painting. He had links to contemporaries that were emotional, real, and instructive. He was situated in society in the best way that an artist can be and while he undoubtedly had talent he was no outcast,- the new style of the impressionists had grounding in artist's discussion and joint interpretation. In short the man had none of the isolation and none of the awkwardness that I feel so strongly in myself. I felt as I read that as I read about Renoir I was reading about a King Midas who was blessed with the magic that everything he touched turned into gold. And I stopped reading because the ease in which Renoir progressed into a great painter sickened and oppressed me. I could not relate my life in any way to his life. And my art looks nothing like his art. So I put the book away and took out a book on Rousseau.

Here in my big book were Rousseau's first paintings - and how primitive they looked! At last a hero I can look up to who has feet of clay! Rousseau's great journey started with awkwardness and fumbling innocence. Could he ever really draw well? No. He had to try as hard as I try. I can't really draw all that well. Did he go to art school? No, he said he first picked up a brush when he was 42 years old. In the beginning he had no artist friends. Even later, when artists began to notice him, their reverence had a tone of mockery. But what I see in Rousseau's paintings is that he tried so hard, and as he painted, clearly, he progressed. Pronouncements of sophistication are bestowed on you, but really, sophistication is a state of mind. There's a difference between saying "he's so sophisticated" and the intense judgment and intellect and vision that leads one to make a sophisticated product. Rousseau clearly felt his own sophistication even as others were announcing him as childlike and naive. He said to Picasso, "You and I are the greatest living painters, you paint in the Egyptian style and I paint in the modern style."

I'm certain when he delivered that line people laughed. But Rousseau had great belief in himself. I know that if I had a healthy mind I would too have great belief in myself. But my mind is sick, and the hours that I can make art are very few. I can't afford to cripple myself more with self loathing and despair, so I make art and try not to judge it. Just do it, I say to myself, and save the self reflection for the journey that every painting must take though its planning stages and execution.

These are my most recent thoughts for my next painting. Do I put flowers close together or far apart? Do I redraw the expression on the face and try to put something more tormented or am I satisfied with the model's vacant, pretty face? And how to draw a bullet entering and exiting a head? What is on the ground, grass, flowers, a ball of twine, or mice? There are already three cats on the ground, perhaps all these things go with cats. Do I paint red fingernail polish on the hands and feet? How high should the pink and orange horizon light go, should it just hover above the ground or take up space in a blue sky? And what blue for my sky, and should I not settle for just one blue, but instead, marry three different blues in alternating streaks? Should there be a aura around the figure, and if so, what color the aura? Am I prepared to give everything living an aura or only the people? Am I going to let the brush leave its mark or make transitions of color smooth and seamless? Where do I paint wet into wet and where do I let dry and then paint wet over? From what direction does the light shine upon my tree and other objects? Or is there simply the all over light of a primitive. How much reality and how much distortion of the objects? Is every line going to be crisp and clean?

If I don't leave room for experimentation and distortion will I grow bored with making my painting even as I am painting it? This last question is really the most important. If everything is decided upon ahead of time, execution is tedious because there is no room for later creativity and spontaneity with the paint. As paradoxical as it sounds, you must plan for accidents to happen. You just make the decision; in this space I will wait and see what my brush will do with the paint and where, according to whim, which color paint gets picked up from the pallet.

I've had a rough couple of days. Today and yesterday I drew. Drawing takes up so much concentration that I can only do it for about two hours. But the day before, when I did not get a good nights sleep, and after I had been pushing myself with activity, I was a mess. I went to my therapist's and talked with my eyes closed, head hanging down. I don't know why I didn't cancel, it was difficult driving there. That night I had an outing with my peer support group. I had to be present to buy food. My husband went with me. He drove the car, he socialized when all I could do was again hang my head with my eyes closed. I had to take orders of food, pay for everything, and take the cooked food from the counter to the person. My husband and I did not stay and eat with the others, we ordered a pizza to go and left once we had seen that everyone was settled with their food.

Emotionally I have been harsh and quarrelsome these past few days. I felt at times in the mood where I could hurt a person and suffer no regrets. Emotionally brittle, I had no humor, no restraint, no politeness, no smiles. There were things that simply had to get done and I had to do them - and I promised myself that with sleep, and days of freedom, I would get better. I only cried once. At my therapists I cried because I said I wanted to draw, but I had no concentration with which to draw. That night I read the Renoir book I was up until 3:30am. My therapist posed that perhaps I was a little manic, considering how much medication I take to get to sleep. And he said that March is a cruel month for people with a mental illness.

I would like to travel to Connecticut this weekend to visit with my brother and sister and my sister's children. They are all staying at my mother's. There is a scientist who has predicted a major earthquake in California where they all live so they fled to the East Coast. I don't know how long they are going to stay, waiting for this earthquake. It is one scientist who made the prediction, and since then, other scientists have stepped forward and posed opposite views - the majority of the earthquake specialists have not raised an alarm. Perhaps my brother and sister are also fleeing from radiation drifting 5,000 miles from the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan. Certainly they exhibit a need for self preservation that is mostly devoid in me. I went last weekend and slept overnight at my mother's. My husband stayed home and took care of the puppy. I am afraid though that now I am so fragile that I cannot make the trip again. This is a case of wishing, yet again, that I had more strength. I would then certainly be more social. But I must be the withdrawn schizophrenic. It is self preservation. Ah, so I do have some strong tendencies for self preservation.

I need rest, plenty of sleep, and days with few commitments.

1 comment:

  1. Karen, please try to stop comparing yourself with other artists. Focus on your process and enjoy it. Yes, being careful and precise has its part to play in many paintings, but not all. Have you ever thought about alternating your precise painting techniques with painting just for the plain fun of it? I have bought small cans of enamel house paint in all different colors, usually kids room paint colors, cut a piece of canvas, put a coat of primer on it, laid it on the floor, taken large brushes and just went to work on putting down abstract, colorful marks a la Jackson Pollack. It's not just a waste of time; there is challenge to it...and freedom. It seems to me that you need your serious work, but you also need to just play and not plan your accidents, so to speak.

    I'm sorry you've been having a rough time of it this past week and I do agree that you need your rest and to be free of major commitments.

    As always I enjoy your writing and I've been enjoying looking at the paintings you've been posting. I really like Henri Rousseau too.

    You're in my thoughts, in my prayers,

    Love, Kate


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