Assignment 2: Poisonous cocktails

Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

22 June 2016. Due to an immense amount of work and dates to be kept outside the OCA I needed to be very careful with the time I have to prepare for Assignment 2. Therefore I am glad that I have done lots of preliminary research and work in my exercises leading up to this assignment. Since my first attempt at a setup showing aggression by movement and choice of colour was not exactly successful I need to change both. So I had a look at Giorgio Morandi and his “communicating vessels” (The Art Story, 2017) and found that the spouts of jugs are incredibly useful in creating the illusion of a talkative atmosphere. I will therefore add at least one of these to my setup.
When looking for “aggressive setups” for still lifes I came once again across the cubists and Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973, Spain) “Mandolin and Guitar” painted in 1924. The aggression comes, besides the bold mark-making, from the positioning of the objects, which form a mask-like face. Picasso painted another still life, which seems to be more or less tumbling out of its frame “The Vase, Bowl and Lemon” (Picasso, 1907). This reminds me of my attempt at doing the same and neither his nor my painting convince me regarding the communicating vessel aspect. The red and yellow bowl does seem to both hide behind the green bottle and appear cheeky by “rolling the lemon out”. The green bottle appears to back off by seemingly hiding a “face” (the brown opening) behind the blue cloth on the left. The red colour of the bowl, although in the same picture plane as the green bottle, seems to push forward, out of the painting. This effect reminds me of Mark Rothko’s (1903-1970, USA) studies, where black automatically takes the position apparently furthest “inside” the picture on the lowest possible plane, whereas red comes out to appear to hang in mid-air above the actual plane (see e.g. Artsy, 2017). My original choice of colours was not completely wrong, but in order to be able to manage the multitude of interconnected effects I will have to reduce objects and colours considerably.
24 June 2016. So, changing my setup while remembering to still serve poisonous cocktails, then doing preliminary sketches in pencil and watercolour. Prepare the Rothko-like background, paint on that with a brush with different colours and let the picture develop.
The following photo sequence (Fig. 1-5) shows how far I have got today and irrespective of the possible final quality of the painting I am pleased that I can stick with my planning now, including using the sketchbook for collecting annotated cutouts and computer prints.

1_Setup
Figure 1. Setup through viewfinder

The red OCA tissue paper behind the decanter gives an impression of a forward movement. When comparing this with my first pencil sketch to test the setup, the difference without the added colour is striking. It lack that particular illusion of movement:

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Figure 2. Pencil sketch with Rothko-type background tonal values

So, my choice of colours depended on the following idea: If I have a Rothko-type background, a red area should automatically push forward. If I put some of the glasses on that background and choose my colours so as to enhance this effect, I might be able to create the illusion of relative movement when e.g. comparing with a subdued vessel on a black background. In order to test my idea I made a quick watercolour sketch. The red area does indeed push forward and the orange watercolour pencil used to reinforce the decanter increases that impression. The same is true for the smaller bottle on the left. I am not convinced, however, of the strength of the black area, but this may be due to the bottle outlined in blue reaching over the top and bottom end of that area:

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Figure 3. Watercolour-watercolour pencil sketch to decide on colours

Next I prepared my background with acrylics on an A2 painting carton, landscape format. It was next to impossible to take a photo that would not show the reflective surface in some way, so the colours are not exact, especially the black looks blue and the red area does not look as strong as it really is:

4_Background
Figure 4. Rothko-type background on A2 painting carton

The first coloured sketch of my objects went relatively well, but since a lot of thinking is involved here I will have to give it a short break in order to let my idea develop further. I quite like how the red of the background seems to have somehow invaded the decanter and seems to push it towards the viewer. I will need to take care to balance the picture, however, especially the bottle in the black area, whose top needs to be far less strong. I am also not sure yet whether I want the violet-blue between decanter and conical glass changed. At the moment it does help to push the decanter, but it gives it a far to prominent position while holding the green glass back, and I have not found out yet why that may be. Also, I will need to think carefully how strong the glass in the bottom left corner can become without tipping over the balance:

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Figure 5. Brush sketch on background

27 June 2016. Today I was informed that I would be transferred to another tutor, since my former tutor had resigned from her post. Since I am not even halfway through Painting 1 yet I hope to be able to adapt quickly to a new tutoring style and that the respective expectations are not too divergent.

I also continued with my painting, trying to carefully think about the above ideas and how to give them weight in dealing with the developing work. So, first of all, I changed the shape of the red area to make it less prominent and by coincidence it started looking like a  brightly lit room behind a dimly lit bar. This change required changes to be made to the lighting of the objects in the foreground. None of that is real and I had to rely on my intuition in placing tonal values. Also, there is now a contradiction in the painting. While red pushes forward, its place here is at the far back. I think that it does work, because the decanter is also filled with it. The funny thing here is that it looks by far better in the photo than in the actual painting (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. Front room added to the bar, requiring many subtle changes to the objects

Then I tried to reduce the reddish glow of the decanter, since it continued to be a far too dominant feature in the setting. Again it looks much better on the photo than on the painting) (Fig. 7):

7_Finished_painting_stage2
Figure 7. Decanter subdued, changes to the bottles on the left

Finally I remembered to fill the vessels with the remnants of my poisonous cocktails and this change allowed the balance among the objects to be shifted. By removing much of the glow inside the decanter the glassware appears much more delicate now. The glass on the right has started to look somewhat like the aggressive intruder I wanted it to be. This makes it believable that the blue glass on the bottom left appears to be leaving the scene by the forward action initiated by the intruder. The movement across the canvas is probably not totally convincing yet, but I am happy that I found a way of suggesting such an action at all (Fig. 8).

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Figure 8. Finished painting

Here are some details (Fig. 9-11):

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Figure 9. Detail 1: Bottle top and decanter spout
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Figure 10. Reflections on decanter and table-top
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Figure 11. Red light shining through glass onto table-top

Considering that most of the contents of this painting is purely from imagination I am quite happy with the outcome. There are several places, which do not look quite right yet, e.g. when looking closely the red wine left in the decanter needs its surface extended to the right. Also my style of painting is still not consistent over the whole surface, although I think I am making some progress in that respect.
The last day for submitting Assignment 2 to my previous tutor is the 30th of June. I decided to stick to that date during the “interregnum”, but I expect to be allocated a new/later date by my new tutor. In that case I might return to the painting once more and see whether I might improve it further.

Resources:

Artsy (2017) Mark Rothko [online]. Artsy, New York. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/artist/mark-rothko [Accessed 04 Mar 2017]

Picasso, P. (1907) Vase, Bowl and Lemon [oil on panel] [online]. Private Collection. Available at: http://www.bridgemanimages.com/en-GB/asset/218851/picasso-pablo-1881-1973/pitcher-bowl-and-lemon-1907-oil-on-panel/ [Accessed 04 Mar 2017]

Picasso, P. (1924) Mandolin and Guitar [oil and sand on canvas] [online]. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Available at: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/3441 %5BAccessed 04 Mar 2017]

The Art Story Contributors (2017) Giorgio Morandi Artist Overview and Analysis [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-morandi-giorgio-artworks.htm [Accessed 03 Mar 2017]

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Part 2, project 3, exercise 5: Colour relationships – Still life with colour used to evoke mood

Updated on 2 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

28 May 2016. Working towards my plan for Assignment 2 I want to use this exercise to explore the relative aggressiveness of colours. Using the same setup as in the previous exercise I would like to convey an aggressive mood by making both slight adaptations to my setup, e.g. the relative positions of my cocktail glasses and accessories, using strong brushstrokes, and, most important, a set of appropriate colours.

Referring to my own blog post on colour symbolism (Lacher-Bryk, 2016) and preliminary ideas regarding Assignment 2 I will do the following: Combine purple black and grey in a background consisting of a very dimly lit detail of a chessboard to achieve a gloomy atmosphere, on which the aggressiveness or gentleness of the other colours is also highly visible.

When looking for any artists exposing themselves to the subject of aggression in their paintings, regardless of the quality of their works of art, they have in common the use of red and black, the use of strong and wild brush strokes and a predilection for exposed teeth in their subjects. This is not the kind of aggression I am looking for. I would like to be able to raise an aggressive atmosphere with something as harmless as a set of cocktail glasses. So looking for other methods:
It is vitally important to create movement towards the attacked object, see e.g. the painting “Abstract Aggression” (2014) by Pratik Chavan (*?, India) or “Three Roots that Obscure” (2015) by Hildy Maze (*?, USA) or even in an untitled work (2011) by Martin Bromirski (*?, USA). In the latter the aggression becomnes visible only at second glance. The shapes and pointed cutouts appear to move in a particular way that evokes a feeling of uneasiness, althought the main colours, blue and yellow, would suggest otherwise. The use of aggressive colours like red to me feels more effective if used sparingly rather than by covering the whole canvas. Apart from the above I did not find too many works of art giving me a lot of new aspects to think about. Being human, we instinctively know all about aggression (I just had another look at Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973, Spain) “Guernica” (1937)) and we can read its signposts very well. For me, the task is to find my own way of transporting it to canvas. Since my previous steps of working towards a finished piece seemed to work quite well, I am going to repeat and possibly correct and refine them.
First of all I will add to the setup some of the ingredients I am planning to use in the assignment piece, i.e. a Belladonna cherry and ivy leaves and use my sketchbook to play with the relative positions of my cocktail glasses with respect to each other and the imaginary chessboard background. In particular, I would like the whole arrangement to appear to to move in a panic towards the viewer by creating an impression of overbalancing “out of the canvas”.

4 June 2016. What a week and no painting. Today, finally, I managed to finish this exercise with a less than satisfying result. In notice that every time something very demanding happens on the hospital front it takes me ages to return to an already started painting. This time it was worse than I ever experienced before, we even thought about quitting our fight altogether, but then, looking at our son, we just must not give up.
Last week we got some ivy and having played around with my arrangement I noticed that it would have to be either chessboard or ivy to avoid crowding and loss of message. And since it is the ivy that is poisonous it was easy to let go of the chessboard. So this is the sequence, on A2 acrylic paper as in the previous exercise (Fig. 1-6):

1_setup
Figure 1. Setup through my viewfinder
2_first_layer
Figure 2. Intuitive first layer of colours
3_second_layer
Figure 3. Strengthening the colours, taking back the 3D impression
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Figure 4. Finished painting
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Figure 5. Finished painting, detail with complementary and similar colours
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Figure 6. Finished painting, creating space without using perspective

In summary I very much enjoy this new way of painting, but my brushstrokes are so inconfident and change with every object I paint, and even when I paint over an old layer, that the result is less than convincing. I do feel, however, that I start recognizing the weakest bits and after having dealt with them I find the next weakest bits. This means that I could go round and round in circles and never finish this exercise. Hopefully learning takes place here, too.

Comparing the result of this exercise with the previous one: It was definitely easier to paint with two complementary colours and white only. In this exercise I spent a long time thinking about the juxtaposition of colours in connection with the message I had in my mind. I did not refer to the setup again after having produced a pencil sketch and drawn the outlines on my paper, because I wanted to see whether intuition would be capable of taking over the final choice of colours and the position of additional – and imaginary – accessories in creating an aggressive atmosphere. This was probably the mistake, because I feel that I am not ready yet for such a complex task, but I will go ahead with my plan for Assignment 2 nevertheless. I owe it to my son.

Resources:

Bromirski, M. (2011) Untitled [n.k.] [online painting]. Martin Bromirski, New York. Available at: http://www.painters-table.com/link/structure-and-imagery/martin-bromirski-rachel-labine-elizabeth-riley [Accessed 2 March 2017]

Chavan, P. (2014) Abstract Aggression [n.k.] [online painting]. Pratik Chavan, Mumbai. Available at: http://www.touchtalent.com/painting/art/abstract-aggression-231846 [Accessed 2 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Part 2, project 3, exercise 4: Colour Relationships – Still Life With Complementary Colours [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/part-2-project-3-exercise-4-colour-relationships-still-life-with-complementary-colours/ [Accessed 1 March 2017]

Maze, H. (2015) Three Roots That Obscure – Aggression, Passion, Ignorance [oil on paper] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://hildymaze.com/artwork/3780677-three-roots-that-obscure-passion-aggression-ignorance.html [Accessed 28 May 2016]

Picasso, P. (1937) Guernica [oil on canvas] [online]. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/74/PicassoGuernica.jpg [Accessed 28 May 2016]

Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 1: preliminary thoughts, choice of objects and first sketches)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

3 May 2016. Right. This time I am going to do this properly. Originally I had planned to use soft pastel crayons and sand paper for this exercise, but since there was so much to be explored regarding the behaviour of acrylics after the last two exercises that I could not just leave it as it is.

What I learned from the last exercise:

  • start with a uniform but coloured background, it can always be changed later
  • do not prepare a background with gloss medium, it is awful to paint on without the right type of practice
  • avoid mixing brand of gloss medium and brand of acrylics. They do not seem to like each other.
  • keep diluting with water, just keep spraying water on both support and tray
  • choose SIMPLE objects (I just realised that a reason for my wrong choices may be the fact that I keep returning to the great images in the study guide, but most of them are way beyond what I can achieve at my stage of development)

I had a look on the internet for artists who paint in a way I would like to explore in line with my list and found a number of paintings by Cathleen Rehfeld (Rehfeld, 2016-17), whose style I find appealing. She explains that she uses black gesso to prepare her support, then paints on that with bold strokes, leaving some of the black background to serve as outline of the painted objects. I was also impressed by her daily paintings (Daily Paintwork, n.d.), where the simplest everyday items appear to come to life. Since her style reminds me of that of some impressionists and my all-time favourite Expressionist, Egon Schiele (1890-1918, Austria) (Fig.1), and I think that during the last few exercises I seem to have worked towards, inconsistently and with the wrong colours, a style reminiscent of the above, I am going to do my best to stay with what seems to be developing anyway. So, another attempt at strong lines and “dirty” colours.

Egon_Schiele_004
Figure 1. Egon Schiele: “Old Mill”, oil on canvas, 1916. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via malerei-meisterwerke.de
When coming to the choice of items, I will try the “less is more” principle, but will be still be looking for unusual shapes and setups. For example, Picasso’s  “Still Life with Pitcher and Apples” (Picasso, 1919) could not be more straightforward in choice, but the shape of the pitcher and position of fruit attract the attention of a viewer because of the unexpected arrangement. The same applies, in my opinion, to his  “Still Life with Skull and Pot” (Picasso, 1943): It is deceptively simple, but catches the light in an admirable way, while knowing skull and cheeky pot appear to be engaged in some act of important communication. What I also found was a still life by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945, USA), from a three generation dynasty of painters, called “Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle” (Wyeth, 1922): again, simple objects, the most straightforward of arrangements, and all the beauty of it coming from the incredible background and use of light on the objects. It seems as if the shape of the bottle consisted of black background only, its outline defined by wall and table, and only a hint of light on its neck.
This is all well, but I think a big point where my planning goes wrong may be the ACTUAL choice of objects. We do not seem to be a household with stuff that lends itself easily to posing for a still life, so I will need to take my time.

8 May 2016. I took my time and finally came up with a driftwood salt and pepper holder made by my sister, a silver spoon and, as a contrast in material and colour my son’s plastic egg cup. I am not too pleased with my choice, because it will not tell a story beyond “waiting for my boiled egg to arrive”, but this is an exercise and I will concentrate on improving my technique to leave the message for Assignment 2.
Bearing in mind the beautiful choice of background by N.C. Wyeth, I used a dark grey wooden board to serve as wall and a piece of dark brown paper taken from a Nespresso bag to cover the table (Fig. 2):

Setup1_08052016
Figure 2. Objects chosen for this exercise (setup discarded later because of weak shadows und unfavourable distribution of darkest tones)

With this arrangement, my viewfinder and a desktop daylight lamp I experimented until negative spaces, distribution of colours, shadows and highlights looked satisfactory to me. In fact the latter did not come true, but after a day I made up my mind to go for the setup which in my opinion came closest to the requirements. For my sketches I used three different ink pens, a fineliner, a calligraphy pen for the darkest tones and a brush-tip one for the mid tones. The latter unfortunately started to run out of ink and so the last, and most interesting, of the following sketches is lighter in tone than I would have liked it to be (Fig. 3-5).

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Figure 3
First_sketch_ink_pens_v2_08052016
Figure 4
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Figure 5

The above sketch I recreated in my sketchbook at a slightly larger scale with a dark watercolour background and soft pastel crayons, a combination which produced some very beautiful effects (Fig. 6):

Sketch_watercolour_pastels_detail_08052016
Figure 6. Watercolour and pastel sketch emphasizing darest and lightest tonal values

With this sketch to work from I decided to choose an A2 painting carton, portrait format and a coloured background. Report to follow.

References:

Daily Paintworks (n.d.) Cathleen Rehfeld [online]. Daily Paintworks. Available at: http://www.dailypaintworks.com/Artists/cathleen-rehfeld-206 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1919) Still Life with Pitcher and Apples [oil on canvas] [online]. Musée National Picasso, Paris. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-14/picasso27s-still-life-with-pitcher-and-apples2c-1919/3664892 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1943) Still Life with Skull and Pot [n.k.] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net/work-1594.php [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Rehfeld, C. (2016-17) Cathleen Rehfeld Oil Paintings [blog] [online]. Cathleen Rehfeld. Available at: http://crehfeld.blogspot.co.at/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

Schiele, E. (1916) Old Mill [oil on canvas] [online]. Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum, Wien. Available at: http://www.malerei-meisterwerke.de/bilder/egon-schiele-alte-muehle-08818.html [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Wyeth, N.C. (1922) Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle [oil on canvas][online]. Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eoskins/5598698301/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

 

Research point: Still life

Updated on 20 February 2017 (Harvard referencing and reworking of contents).

14 April 2016. While in the everyday world we have everything but a still life it is an attractive idea to sit down and do some research on just that, objects around us taken and captured for what a human mind might call an eternity, by the means of paint.

On the Tate homepage I found a most to the point definition of still life: “One of the principal genres (subject types) of Western art – essentially, the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead” (Tate, n.d.). What seems commonplace from a 21st century viewpoint was revolutionary at the time the genre was developed. Until the 17th century only a few privileged private persons or institutions like the church or royalty could afford paintings at all. With the rise of the new merchant class in the Netherlands they came within reach of a wider public and so subjects changed away somewhat from the traditional demonstrating of ruling power. Still lifes thus became immensely popular with both artists as a field of experimentation and budding art lovers, who were without doubt introduced to a radically different concept of seeing the world around them.

17 April 2016. Having a closer look at the history of still life painting I react in the same way as I used to when I was still a child. I cannot keep my eyes off the breathtaking arrangements, the incredible translation of light into paint, and still … The French “nature morte” is for me exactly what I feel when looking at still life arrangements. There is, maybe only for me, something dead about the objects, whether tools of everyday use, fruit, vegetables or animals. There is a feeling of abandonment, not as if the owner of the objects had just left the room to go for a walk, but as if they had been interrupted in a feast by some invisible disaster. They remind me of the famous 1957 novel by Nevil Shute “On the Beach”, where after an unprecedented nuclear war the last people alive on Earth await their certain end by radiation sickness. Shute describes such abandoned places in his novel. Briefly I thought of including the novel in my planning for Assignment 2, but a short read made me aware that as things are I may not be strong enough mentally. Never mind, back to the 17th century.

I started my journey with one of the most renowned of the Dutch still life painters, Willem Kalf (1619-1693) (Fig. 1):

Willem_Kalf
Figure 1. Willem Kalf: “Still Life with Fruit, Glassware, and a Wan-li Bowl” (1659″, oil on canvas. Source: Willem Kalf (1619-1693) [Public domain] via the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I cannot help but admire the wonderful use of the chiaroscuro technique in the chosen painting above. The objects are arranged, before a very dark background which makes no other contribution to the painting except being the background, in a pyramid shape, where from the base upwards the objects become increasingly delicate until there is nothing but a reflection on glass to form the tip of the pyramid. Although the bowl containing fruit is tilted to the left, there is an incredible balance in the arrangement. Neither the folded carpet in the foreground not its counterpart in balance, the illuminated corner of the table with some wonderfully delicate piece of jewellery (probably an earring or similar), would be believable without its counterpart. Interestingly, the earring itself has a further counterpart in balance in the bright reflection off the glass of white wine. If I cover it with a finger, the reflection on the glass of white wine is directly affected, the balance of the painting is thereby pushed towards the left. If on the other hand, the reflection is covered, the overall balance of the painting seems undisturbed, but one of the main points of interest is suddenly gone. What I learn from looking at this painting is that it takes outstanding sensitivity to create, control and paint an arrangement in such a way. The objects interact with one another in a multitude of ways, none of which can be omitted or replaced without unbalancing the composition and very likely its hidden meaning. The peeled lemon, and other fruit, are some of the many symbols used by painters of the time to point out the ephemeral nature of life (commonly known as “vanitas paintings”). Other symbols include skulls, musical instruments, all sorts of dead animals and plants, smoke or objects measuring time.

In contrast to the above is another still life painting, this time by Jan Weenix (ca. 1641?-1719) (Fig. 2):

Jan_Weenix
Figure 2. Jan Weenix: “Gamepiece with a Dead Heron (“Falconer’s Bag”)”, 1695, oil on canvas. Source: Jan Weenix (ca. 1641?-1719) [Public Domain] via the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Although in the above painting without doubt both arrangement and painting are delicate and breathtakingly realistic, and while the objects depicted are full of meaning and the background provides an idealized landscape, I do not feel the same awe as with Kalf’s much more reduced approach. Maybe again it is just me who as an ecologist prefers life to hunter-inflicted death, but there is also too much of everything packed on the canvas, just as if Weenix had wanted to impress his viewers by saying: “Look here, I can do this, and this as well, and this, and that …”

A representative flower painting from the 17th century was created by Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678) (Fig. 3):

Jan_Brueghel_Younger
Figure 3. Jan Brueghel the Younger: “A Basket of Flowers”, 1620s?, oil on wood. Source: Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678) [Public domain] via the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Again, and probably due to my modern biologist’s training, I would rather want to see the overwhelming number of different flowers in their respective habitats or a garden. The arrangement itself however is wonderful, light and colours carefully balanced, and the characteristics of each species faithfully reproduced, including even some visiting insects. At the time of painting the approach will have been nothing less but revolutionary, going hand in hand with the increased interest in the workings of nature, the beginnings of explorer travelling and the early approach to understanding nature. The latter was fuelled by the feeling of living on a vast planet with endless resources, most yet undiscovered and undescribed and by an urge to collect and bring back home and own much, much more of what was found than was would in the end be needed (own experience gained over a long period of time when working in our local natural science museum). Not surprisingly the whole was, as always, another expression of power. Coming to think of that, most still lifes of the time will have served exactly that purpose after all.

During the 18th century still life painting techniques were, from what I could find, not much changed if somewhat less sombre concerning their backgrounds, so that I omit examples from that period. A number of examples can be found on Wikimedia Commons (2016).

In the 19th century there was a side by side existence of traditional still life painting with a tendency to be more adventurous regarding both style and subject. For example, the  “Mound of Butter” by Antoine Vollon (1833-1900) (Fig. 4) has all the traditional characteristics including a dark background, a staggered arrangement, both front to back and bottom to top and a carefully balanced position of the objects, but although Vollon was a realist painter, the brushstrokes appear impressionist. Both eggs and butter might of course be interpreted as vanitas symbols.

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Figure 4. Antoine Vollon: “Mound of Butter”, 1875/1885, oil on canvas. Source: Antoine Vollon (1833-1900) [Public domain] via the National Gallery of Art

In contrast to the above Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890, Netherlands) in one of his “violent” still lifes below disregarded all conventions (Fig. 5): viewpoint from above, seemingly arbirary arrangement in more or less two dimensions, light background, fierce brushstrokes draw the view towards the centre and by means of what I would call “lines of energy” back out towards the edges. Some of the fruit and leaves appear not to lie on a firm surface, so I suspect that what looks like waves may well be shallow water.

Van_Gogh
Figure 5. Vincent Van Gogh: “Grapes, Lemons, Pears and Apples”, 1887, oil on canvas. Source: Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) [Public domain] via Art Institute Chicago

One of the highly productive still life painters of the 19th century leading far into the 20th century was Henri Matisse (1869-1954, France). While his approach was somewhat more traditionalist, Matisse was highly interested in including background and further surroundings in the arrangement. He played with patterns of cloth and walls and was much less interested in the realistic reproduction of natural characteristics than in expressing a feeling coming with an arrangement. In the early painting below (Fig. 6) that particular morning light (I may be wrong) comes with a wisp of summer air hovering above the arrangement with a hint of freshly made coffee. But even in this case, strangely enough, I have a feeling that someone just left the breakfast table for good, never to return.

Matisse
Figure 6. Henri Matisse: “Fruit and Coffeepot”, c.1898, oil on canvas. Source: Henri Matisse (1869-1954) [Public domain] via the State Art Museum

See in comparison one of his later still lifes “Large Red Interior” (Matisse, 1948), where the play with patterns is pushed very far. I get the impression that the whole room became a pattern itself in the process. This painting could not be further from the early Dutch approach.

The same could be said of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973, Spain) and Georges Braque (1882-1963, France) during their Cubist periods. In the painting below by Georges Braque (Fig. 7), the real boundaries of objects are dissolved and rearranged in a more abstracted manner, while a three-dimensional representation was not intended. Is is rather that it was attempted to include the information taken from several viewpoints in order to create an increased density of knowledge about an object to be transported to the viewer (The Art Story, n.d.):

Braque
Figure 7. Georges Braque: “Still Life with Clarinet”, 1927, oil on canvas. Source: Georges Braque (1882-1963) [Fair Use] via Philips Collection

Today, the drawing and painting of still lifes is still considered essential in mastering all the basic techniques required of a painter. The professionally created arrangements are, however, much more adventurous, mostly less aimed at faithfully reproducing nature or exploring the characteristics of paint and light, but there to provoke unusual thought and illusions, e.g. this collection of Postmodern Still Life (Pinterest, 2016):


Finally here comes a selection from Saatchi online gallery illustrating some more of today’s diverse still life landscape. I made the choice not with favourites in mind, but to show a small potpourri of possibilities: “Still Life” (van de Lande, n.d.), “Something Like a Still Life” (Edmunds, 2015), “Still Life with Check Tablecloth” (McEwan, n.d.), “Plastic Animal Still Life with Leopard Print Cloth” (Ridley, n.d.), “21st Century Still Life” (Hinojos, n.d.), “Blue Still Life (Puyandaev, n.d.) or “Box and Nail Box Still Life Square” McHarrie (n.d.).

Resources:

Braque, G. (1927) Still Life with Clarinet [oil on canvas] [online] Philips Collection, Washington, DC. Available at:
https://www.wikiart.org/en/georges-braque/still-life-with-clarinet-1927 [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Brueghel the Younger, J. (1620s?) A Basket of Flowers [oil on wood] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nstl/hd_nstl.htm [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Edmunds, B. (2015) Something Like a Still Life [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Something-Like-a-Still-Life/402101/2557916/view [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Hinojos, J.A. (n.d.) 21st Century Still Life [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-21st-century-still-life/701475/2385001/view [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Kalf, W. (1659) Still Life with Fruit, Glassware, and a Wan-li Bowl [oil on canvas] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/53.111/ [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Lande, van de, P. (n.d.) Still Life [acrylic on wood] [online] [n.k.] Available at: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Still-life/737785/2520596/view [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Matisse, H. (c.1898) Fruit and Coffeepot [oil on canvas] [online]. State Art Museum, St Petersburg. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Matisse_-_Fruit_and_Coffeepot_(1898).jpg [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Matisse, H. (1948) Large Red Interior [oil on canvas] [online] Georges Pompidou Center, Paris. Available at: https://www.wikiart.org/en/henri-matisse/large-red-interior-1948 [Accessed 20 February 2017]

McEwan, S. (n.d.) Still Life with Check Tablecloth [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-STILL-LIFE-WITH-CHECK-TABLE-CLOTH-5-102x102cm-oil-on-linen/661847/2471651/view [Accessed 20 February 2017]

McHarrie, S. (n.d.) Box and Nail Box Still Life Square [acrylic on wood] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Box-and-nail-box-still-life-square/396889/2886866/view [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Pinterest (2016) Postmodern Still Life [online]. Avaliable at: https://in.pinterest.com/madeleinebotto/postmodern-still-life/ %5BAccessed 20 February 2017]

Puyandaev, V. (n.d.) Blue Still Life [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-blue-still-life/520651/2288840/view [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Ridley, T. (n.d.) Plastic Animal Still Life with Leopard Print Cloth [oil and MDF on wood] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Plastic-animal-still-life-with-leopard-print-cloth/151547/1885610/view [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Shute, N. (1957) On the Beach. Pan Books, London.

Tate (n.d.) Still life [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/s/still-life [Accessed 20 February 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.) Cubism [online]. The Art Story. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-cubism.htm [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Van Gogh, V. (1887) Grapes, Lemons, Pears and Apples [oil on canvas]. Art Institute Chicago. Available at: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/64957 [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Vollon, A. (1875/1885) Mound of Butter [oil on canvas] [online]. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. Available at: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.75030.html [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Weenix, J. (1695) Gamepiece with a Dead Heron (“Falconer’s Bag”) [oil on canvas] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nstl/hd_nstl.htm [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Wikimedia Commons (2016) Category:18th-century still-life paintings [online] Wikimedia Commons. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:18th-century_still-life_paintings [Accessed 20 February 2017]