Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chagall's paradoxes

Marc Chagall. Self-portrait with easel. 1914
If you remember, this painting by Marc Chagall is what my "Autumn with Chagall" studies are currently focused on, and I must admit, it challenges me at some deepest levels, much more than I expected. The more I look at the painting, the more surprises and little miracles I find. 

What I find most fascinating in this self-portrait is how it combines and harmonizes things seemingly incompatible. Look at it from a distance, and your first impression is of extreme freedom, a certain roughness, an "unfinished" look characteristic of the XXth century. Indeed, some parts of the paintings are rather sketch-like (look at the brushes he holds in his right hand, for example, barely outlined). But look a bit closer – and you see that he found it necessary, for some mysterious reason, to meticulously indicate each single nail along the lower edge of his canvas, rhyming with something like dotty ornament along the edge of his collar.  

Another paradox has to do with the anatomy, the modeling of the figure itself, which varies from something nearly Renaissance-like in subtlety of tonal variation (on his forehead, for example) to the extreme in-your-face naivete (in the treatment of his arms, for example) both in drawing and in modeling of volume (or rather, lack thereof). A similar contrast in the treatment of color – from subtlest nuances to rough, free brushwork, from complete control to total freedom – but here, at least, I can begin to understand why and how it is done.     

Painter with his easel (after Marc Chagall). 30"x20".
Here is how my study looks like at the moment more like a variation on the theme than like a study per say.

I have already spent more time on this particular study than I had planned, and I think I'll set it aside till next week. For one thing, what should be done with it requires that the current layers of paint be dry to the touch. More importantly, though, I need to let my impressions and experiences brew themselves in my mind for a while, without forcing them onto the canvas; this, I feel, is an essential prerequisite (albeit by no means a guarantee) for bringing this study to where I want it to be. 
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