Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Still life after Matisse after de Heem

Still life without a mandoline (after Matisse after de Heem).
Work in progress, 20"x20", oil on canvas
It's now the fourth week that I am spending with Matisse, de Heem, and their interaction across time, trying to figure out why and wherefore Matisse chose de Heem's still life as an anchor point for his version. In case you've missed the previous posts, they are the three most recent ones under the "In Studio with Masters" tag

I've suspected for some time that, in order to understand Matisse properly, I will have to repeat his endeavor in some way or another, probably taking another Flemish or Dutch still life as my anchor point. I will probably do it later on, but for now, I recalled that I have a series of three 2009 still lifes which I can try and use to explore Matisse's ideas and intent, using them as "underpaintings" for my reworks. Not that the process itself is new to me, but this time, I thought, I would consciously try to understand Matisse, not just to rework a painting... 

Still life with lemons and pears. 2009.
Here on the left is the original version of this still life, from 2009. Neither a Flemish Barocco nor a Dutch Golden Age one, but still considerably more "classical" than I would do now: a simplified neutral background, hidden geometry, lots of variation in light and shadow in the objects depicted. Most importantly (I assumed), a relatively simple and unified value (dark vs. light) structure, which I could try and split into more complex one in my rework (if you recall, this is one major contrast I've identified between Matisse and de Heem's version last week). 

To remind you what I mean, and to show to which extent I have succeeded, here are black-and-white slightly posterized versions of both the original and the rework:

If in the original the highest value contrasts, and most value variations, are located within the objects, now they have moved outwards, simplifying the objects but adding complexity and openness to the overall structure of the picture plane. It is a movement in the "right" (that is, Matisse-determined) direction, but nowhere as strong as in Matisse's rework of de Heem's still life. Just see for yourself a similar juxtaposition of their paintings:

Of course, some of the difference is due to the fact that de Heem's original has a clearer value structure than mine, and much darker background. But it is also clear that Matisse went much, much further on the path of splitting this structure than I did in my today's rework. And so, tomorrow, I will try and follow him on this path... 

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