Sunday, January 3, 2010


I'm currently reading a book about Rembrandt called, illuminatingly, Rembrandt!  It's by D.M. Field.  It's a huge, thick book with wonderful illustrations and a good biography of the painter.  I love Rembrandt's work because of his honest portrayals of people.  He didn't try to make them pretty.  He just tried to paint them how they were.  (Or at least that's how it looks to me.)

Here are some quotes about him which resonate for me as I do my paintings:
"The background of a Rembrandt painting may appear as a solid, dark brown.  In fact... it is made up of a mixture of closely associated browns, greens and greys, which acquire life and atmosphere from reflected light.  ....The background is never just packaging, it is an integral, functioning part of the design."
My backgrounds are generally very plain.  They have several colors in them, but that isn't evident unless one looks closely.  I prefer to keep the backgrounds clean and simple so that the empasis is on the figure, not the surroundings.  I use intuition to guide me as I decide where to crop a painting/photograph and leave much space around the figure if I like how the composition looks.  In Sleek Back, Saucy Shadow the negative space and the shadow play as big a part in the composition as the body itself does, though the empasis is on the figure.

"But the basis of Rembrandt's art is not so much color as tone - the effects of light and shadow known by the term chiaroscuro.  It is this that decides the scheme or composition of the picture."
When I choose my subjects to paint, I always think about the light and shadows.  I find that the form is described well by them, and having strong darks and lights makes the picture more dramatic.  Woman in a Chair is the piece I've done which exemplifies this idea best. 

About Rembrandt's composition, Field writes:
"...his paintings have a 'center', and they hardly ever contain different, self-contained areas of interest.  His compositions are quite simple, but strong and unerring....there is little movement.  Rembrandt's figures, seen against them, have an impact that does not spring exclusively from his intellect or his unique psychological insight.  Design and technique are also responsible."
Rembrandt's paintings are amazing for that.  Out of the dismal dark, there shines a face with so much humanity in it.  This image is a great example both of chiaroscuro and of the compositional elements Field wrote about above.  It's a self-portrait of Rembrandt when he was a young man.

I am trying to have the same sort of affect in The Dancer at 89 - simple composition, no movement - giving the viewer a chance to experience the interior life of the subject.
"Although he seldom paints a real room or a real landscape background, his art does not aspire to rise above nature, but shows us the essence, the true reality, of it.  As a modern biographer says, 'He was driven by a passion to set down every shape, area, tone and colour exactly as he saw it.' ...  Rembrandt does not paint the ideal, he paints the reality."

"Once Rembrandt's naturalistic style and sympathy for the poor, the old and the ugly, were deplored.  ...But our feelings on this score are precisely the contrary....  According to early biographies, Rembrandt is supposed to have said that an artist ought to be guided by nature and not by any other rules."

I am trying for that sense of reality as well.  I paint my models as realistically as I possibly can.  I find them so beautiful already that I have no need to enhance that beauty or to modify it in any way.  It may not be beauty in the conventional sense, but is it exquisite in its authenticity.

And a stimulating quote from Picasso to end this blog entry...

"Art is never pure, we should keep it far away from the innocent ignorant. We should never let people approach. Yes, art is dangerous. If it is pure it is not art."

(Pablo Picasso)

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