Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In Studio with Masters: composition and meaning

Still life without a mandoline. 2009-2013. Original versions in the top row. 20"x20" each.
This collage is a preliminary result of "painter's" approach to analysis of Matisse's still life after de Heem's "Table of desserts" (if you want to read earlier posts in this sequence, or see Matisse's and de Heem's originals, please look up the "In Studio with Masters" tag on this blog). In the top row, you see two impressionistic still life studies I did in December 2009-January 2010; the bottom row shows them reworked, pushing the left one towards de Heem's approach to composition, and the right one, towards Matisse's "modern principles of construction". 

Although I am still in the process of absorbing and formulating the results of this analysis, there is one major lesson already clear. It's nothing new, but, as it seems, still not quite learned well enough (by me, at least). I began this series with a certain frustration with the discussion of Matisse's work on MOMA website and its focus on superficial matters of technique, which seemed so much beside the point of this work. The thing is, I know from experience that, if something frustrates me, it means, quite often, that I do something very similar myself without realizing it: it's almost always easier to notice such things in others than in oneself. 

And so it was in this case: I was focusing on the overall structure of composition and value design as though they could be detached from the content of a painting, its meaning and its message, and understood on their own. And that's simply not how great paintings come to exist. Of course, I was mislead by the "identity" of the subject matter in both paintings; and yet, the subject matter and the meaning aren't the same: de Heem's meaning is "hidden" together with his books; and Matisse's, in his still life opening up to the landscape beyond it. 

But in any event, it was my focus on composition that lead me to discover these meanings eventually: de Heem "closing up" his design with simplified darker value areas of the background; Matisse opening it up with stark value contrasts all over the place, "split" chiaroscuro as it were. And that was my initial focus in reworking my own still lifes, so I'll close this post with a posterized black-and-white version of the same collage, which shows this "evolution" from impressionism: back in time towards de Heem, and forwards, to Matisse: 



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