Thursday, September 18, 2008

canvas exposed

André Derain.
Fishing Boats, Collioure. 1905.
Oil on canvas, 15 1/8 x 18 1/4"

more fascinating is what a painter chooses to leave out.

Take the Fauvist painters for example. I never liked the paintings with the raw canvas peeking through - to my eye they were unfinished, unbearably muddy. These days I find myself drawn to works that are sparsely covered or have spaces that are deliberately left exposed.

The Fauvists, particularly Mattise, Derain and Dufy just to name a few, have a delicious touch - sometimes brilliant hues are dabbed and scraped onto the brown or white raw canvas ground. For the Fauvists this was a radical technique - particularly as it seemed to some as a sacrilegious departure from the divisionist techniques of the day.

Instinctively it feels like they had found a way to reduce the intensity of colour - as though even they acknowledged their wild unpredictable brushstrokes needed to be tamed.

But the picture above likely came as a result of Derain's desire to capture the landscape, utilizing blank space with only hints of colour to express sunlight on water.

It takes courage to allow a colour to hum above the bare surface, to resist the urge to fuss and tighten or cool colour with heavy doses of muted greys, browns and whites. Even Morandi, famous for fastidiously finishing a canvas with an all over skin of paint, left some sections untouched or just lightly scumbled. And this is why his paintings breathe.

Raw ground makes me wonder what's underneath, behind and through.

What isn't there creates passages for the eye, provides resting places, or defines a broad flat shape, energizing rather than flattening the space. The eye is unsettled until it adjusts and learns to see it with a fresh vision.

Fauvist painters did it. This painter and this painter does it. My most favourite Bonnard does it, (though you have to see it in the flesh to appreciate it)


Anonymous said...

Nice post UP and thanks for stopping by. I'm all about the empty space. Or rather, maybe because I love things (shapes & color) so much I need it to make them clear, and to make clear their orinetation towards one another.

I find that breathing quality in almost all the painters I love: Matisee, Cezanne, Newman, Ryman.
I gues because it acknowledges the history of (the) painting, its history in particular and in general, and just because it looks cool.

S.A. said...

Great post UP! I too love those small Matisse landscapes where the brushstrokes just sit on the raw canvas --- then their later large scale manifestations in Joan Mitchell and mid-period Guston.

* said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
* said...

Hi UP--
Got very interested when I saw this over on Steven Alexander's blog:
"My next post will explore the spaces between paint - the raw canvas." and then this, here: "...makes me wonder what's underneath behind and through...".
Good topic. I'm glad vc brought up Ryman, because he took it farther (by "it" I mean specifically the relationship of paint to the stuff behind it in a painting.)

lookinaroundbob said...

The first time I noticed was Gilbert Stuart's Washington for a whole different reason I guess?--Nice blog-keep it up.

Gordon Fraser said...

was just at moma last friday and commented to a friend about how matisse could really use the raw canvas. next to the derain the matisse painting feels like it can breathe, it has a lighness, whereas the derain has a heaviness and intensity.

Undercover Painter said...

Thanks for stopping by Gordon. Like you I'm not posting much of late. I'll get inspired soon but just at the moment I'm too involved in, well, painting!

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