Landscape Series

All of the following artists worked in series which suggests an investigate spirit or pursuit of perfection. They’re not creating pretty landscapes for the sake of creation but looking for answers in their observations.

Monet 1840 – 1926

Monet is often credited with being one of the founders of Impressionism, he was influenced by Turner’s work and his quest to paint light and colour, trying to capture the changing light and seasons. His emphasis was to create an ‘impression’ of a transitory moment, an atmosphere or essence rather than a detailed representation. He painted the same subject at different times of day and in different weather conditions, observing the light.

Monet convinced his fellow artists to get out of the studio and paint outside. He insisted that painting should take place whilst outside looking at the chosen subject matter and not finished in the studio. This resulted in changing methods and techniques, with the sun passing, there was not time to paint in a leisurely, layered way, artists had to be faster, less precise, with less focus on detail. It led to a looser, more expressive style that did not appeal to the critics at the time.

It clearly preceded modernist abstract art of the twentieth century, whilst moving away from the traditional academic style. The Impressionists, although they were rejected by the French Salon, are generally accepted as the forerunners of Modern Art.

His Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe, 1865-66, is painted after Manet’s original but his version depicts the light falling on the leaves and people, and his people lounge comfortably amidst the landscape. The focus was on the moment of the picnic, rather than the landscape or people.

His work Impression: Sunrise, Le Havre, 1872, is the source of the term Impressionism and was ridiculed by critics. It shows a hazy, diffuse light with indistinct background shapes, the brushstrokes are longer, starting to move away from his more detailed works.

Wild Poppies near Argenteuil, 1873, is a vibrant work that shows his growing interest in colour, with the use of complementary colours,  contrasting red and greens, blues and yellows. He had become aware that colours contained other colours, e.g. browns could be represented by red, yellow and blue.

Whilst the work may often give the ‘impression’ of an event or moment in time, Monet’s works were very considered, great thought and planning were given to the placement of colours. Instead of being accurate representations, he was preoccupied with reflections, water and the enveloppe, the ‘envelope’ of light surrounding everything.

Monet spent decades studying his garden at Giverny, recording it and the seasons and painting waterlilies. The clouds are reflected in the water, amongst the lilies, which adds depth and also a dream-like quality. These paintings got bigger in size, so big he got rid of the frames so as not to distract the view from the lilies and  his fabulous pond.

From 1890 to 1891 he painted nearly thirty paintings of haystacks, Haystack (Effect of Snow and Sun), studying the changing light and the changing season and the effects of these on the stacks. Originally he thought that two canvases would be able to express the light but soon realised he needed many more due to the subtleties caused by the changing weather and seasonal light. By using the repeated image of the haystack, he could depict the light in every way.

Cézanne (1839 – 1906)

Cézanne was also a member of the Impressionists but after criticism and rejection from the Salon he returned to his native Aix-en-Provence. He had some funds so was able to paint at leisure and pursue his own interests. He was particularly concerned with the true forms of nature, especially structure. He spent many hours studying light on surfaces. He noted that the three fundamental shapes were geometrical, namely cylinder, cone and sphere and decided the fundamental colours were the primary and secondary colours with which the Impressionists had experimented.

He was aiming for artistic perfection, which he described as painting ‘Poussin from nature’. He was looking for the harmony and balance of shapes that Poussin so successfully created, and looking for new ways in which to do it. Cézanne believed that the old rules were contrary to nature and painting from  nature was now paramount. The problem was how to achieve the solidity of form using Impressionist strokes and dots, without creating blurriness and disharmony, and in colour was problematic. Attempting to bring the bright colours of nature seemed unrealistic and flat. Cézanne seemed somehow to master the challenge.

One of his obsessions was Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain just outside Aix, which he painted over sixty times.  The summer light is obvious yet the landscape is firm and rooted, patterns of lines are repeated and the overall effects show space and expanse, giving structure and harmony. Everything is considered, from the vertical and horizontal lines, to colour, to direction of brushstrokes.

Often called the father of ‘modern art’ because of his efforts to create harmony through composition and colour, Cézanne was later known as a Post-Impressionist as his work moved on from the original group’s preoccupation with light. He progressed from the small spots of colour instead using larger patches, stripping down the detail to focus on structure. This ‘flat depth’ utilised blocks of colour to represent space and depth. His later work became more abstract and was of major influence to the Cubists.

Hockney (1937 – )

A contributor to the Pop Art movement, Hockney may be better known for his California landscapes of the 1960s, vivid, stylised paintings depicting the relaxed lifestyles of American, with their swimming pools. He painted many pools, attempting to capture transient moments, and the changing movement of water. He used fast-drying acrylic paint which matched the colourful sunny climate of California.

Painted  in 1967, A Bigger Splash seemed to perfectly embody the British sentiment that the war was behind us and the outlook was optimistic for the future. There is no visible human presence but the suggestion is there, beneath the surface, what is left is just the splash and ripple of the water.

Moving Focus (1984-7) is a series made after travelling in Mexico. Hockney became interested in printing and lithographs which allowed him to work in layers. These panaromic works were large in size, which allowed him to show different viewpoints as if someone was walking along, taking in different views from many angles. The fixed viewpoint is intermingled with the multiple viewpoint to give an interesting effect. He plays around with composition and perspective, examining how we see and the role that memory plays.

His next period of work involved making collages with polaroids. He used a camera to draw with, using multiple images to create a larger image called ‘joiners’, see Pearlblossom Highway. They allowed him to represent time and movement, and showed multiple viewpoints to give a three dimensional effect. The ‘joiners’ permits a view closer to the way we really see things.

Initially the polaroids were arranged in a grid before he progressed to collages, using 35mm prints, making the image more abstract.

More recently Hockney returned to his Yorkshire roots to paint outdoors, painting a series from one spot in Woldgate Woods. These paintings show the landscape through the changing seasons, repeating motifs. Some are made in watercolour which allowed him to work quickly to capture the changing light. He first sits for a few hours to observe before working quickly to put it down on paper. They are very colourful, vivid works which seem to elevate the woods in an idealised way. They are also very large in scale, one even bigger than Monet’s waterlilies. His version of landscape has become bigger, brighter and bolder, a celebration of Northern landscape. It’s not too everyone’s taste, some critics have called them repetitive and gaudy, like Matisse meets Disney¹.

Nevertheless, what Hockney has done is similar to Cézanne and his beloved mountain. He is clearly enamoured with the region and his works demonstrate this if nothing else.

Peter Doig (1959- )

Doig is a contemporary artist who paints imagined landscapes, they are enchanted and simultaneously unsettling. He uses photographs as source material to create a land that combines real life and fantasy, often picturing water and canoes, sometimes populated with figures that have hidden features, i.e. hats and glasses, blinds are pulled down putting a veil over everything. They are not quite approachable, there is mystery here amongst the paradise, he questions reality yet with an over-riding sense of serenity.

His painting Swamped, sold for £16 million in 2015. He is reputed to have brought beauty back to painting landscapes, his works are full of colour yet show the paint marks and blobs which are part of the works. They are sometimes described as magic realism, meaning he brings beauty to the most ordinary scene, they do seem almost other worldly, almost dreamlike. This effect is achieved through unusual colour combinations and interesting angles, this is not realism.

The Architects Home in the Ravine, shows an almost inaccessible house, blocked by tree branches, which themselves become the focus of the piece. Instead of the house in the background being the subject, in spite of the title, the viewer is held back from entering by the scene-grabbing trees which demand our attention.

Some of his work refers to Canada where he lived for some years when younger, in White Creep, we see a forbidding mass of snow, it is not the mountain or the sky that dominates but the enormous density of snow. He’s turning traditional focus from the land towards the elements and nature.

Another series concentrated on Le Corbusier’s apartments in France, Concrete Cabin, there’s an attractive designer building, with all that living there suggests, yet the huge trees dominate and overshadow the otherwise idyllic scene. It shows a glimpse as if we were walking through the woods to suddenly come upon the buildings. Our view is hindered which creates tension and drama.

Gillian Carnegie (1971-)

Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2005, Carnegie is an acclaimed painter in the traditional categories of landscape, portrait and still life but her approach questions them. Often challenging the accepted norms for composition, light, colour and technique, she has created a number of series, including woodlands and cats.  They appear to be traditional but on a second glance there is more to consider, they raise many questions. The thickness of the paint stops the viewer from getting too close.

Black Square, 2008 is one of a series of monochrome landscapes depicted in darkness; painting in such dark colours raises questions about light and visibility and puts an emphasis on the texture. The painting becomes the focus, the texture and materiality are clearly of importance. It questions the very act of painting itself and through this Carnegie is examining the concept of art and traditions of landscape painting.

Carnegie also use photographs as source material. Her work is said to be lacking in narrative and colour but her works are very considered and significant. Whilst many of the artists mentioned here have focused on light and representing light, Carnegie has examined darkness and representing the lack of light in muted or monochrome tones, an interesting departure from the quest for light.

 

Footnotes

  1. Cumming, Laura, 22nd January 2012, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture Review, The Guardian

Bibliography

Pickeral, Tamsin, 2005, Turner, Whistler, Monet, London, Flame Tree Publishing

Gombrich, E.H., 2016, The Story of Art, London, Phaidon Press

Swinglehurt, 1994, Edmund, The Life and Works of Cézanne, Parragon

Farthing, Stephen, 2010, Art: The Whole Story, London, Thames and Hudson

 

Resources

Tate Gallery Website

Searle, Adrian, 16th January 2012, David Hockney Landscapes: The Wold is not Enough, The Guardian

Massie, Claudia, 10th August 2013, London Peter Doig: Places of Enchantment, The Spectator

 

Jones, Jonathan, 16th May 2015, Stroke of Genius: Peter Doig’s Eerie Art Whisks the Mind to Enchanted Places, The Guardian

Gottam, F.G., 31st January 2008, Peter Doig, A Perfectionist in Paradise, The Independent

Jeffries, Stuart, 5th September 2012, Peter Doig: The Outsider Comes Home, The Guardian

Buck, Louisa, 23rd June 2017, The Quietly Transfixing Artist Gillian Carnegie Puts on Her First London Show for Eight Years, The Telegraph

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Vija Celmins

Continuing with the theme of expanse, we are introduced to a different way of drawing landscape with the work of Vija Celmins. She is best known for her highly detailed, monochromatic paintings and drawings of nature. She was born in Latvia in 1938, relocating to America in 1948 as a refugee from the second World War, her career spans six decades.

Her graphite drawings focus on natural elements, such as the ocean, the moon, spiders’ webs, the sky,  shells and close-ups of rocks.

Her night sky images are perhaps what she is known for best, these are pictures of huge, vast natural phenomena that is hard to capture and yet she does capture them, in painstaking detail. There is no focal point, or horizon or even perspective in some, but the detail of her work allows you to really examine it and get lost in it.

For many of her works, Celmins followed Ad Reinhardt’s 12 Rules for Painting, 1953, which dictates no form, no colour, no movement, no light, no colour etc.,  thus determining a ‘pure art’, where more is considered less. Celmins’ work epitomises these rules, the lack of horizon enables her to imagine that “I wrestle a giant image into a very tiny area and make it stay there so that it seems inevitable that it is there¹.”

I find her work a little difficult to explain well and I suspect that much of its significance comes from the process of making her work and why she makes the work. I know that she collected images from childhood, some of her early work of war images is probably a reworking of her early years when she was caught up in the Second World War. This use of found images was popular in Pop Art but she was more influenced by Magritte and Morandi than Warhol. The two dimensional aspect of her painting is important to her, labouring to capture a three dimensional living, moving object, into the two dimensional picture plane of a canvas. It’s important to note that her works are not drawn from the subjects directly but rather from found images, or newspaper clippings or photographs. This suggests a distance from the subject but the meticulous detail of her works suggests something closer, more intimate. I feel like there is a whole lot more to her work than just the microscopic detail of her drawings.

Her work lacks colour, probably originating from her source material of newspaper images which mostly came from black and white newspapers. After the war images, she also painted very severe objects like lamps, space heaters, etc, in an attempt to reject her earlier learning and progress her thinking about art, “I was trying to get back to some kind of a basic thing where I just look and paint, and sort of an old-fashioned kind of way of starting out³.”

Her work is intense, she is studying, examining and then recreating what she sees, in relentless detail. In her interviews she talks about capturing the essence of the subject, so that the subject matter and the image exist together at the same time, they become enmeshed and she wants the viewer to have that same experience of recreation. It creates an intimacy with the subject that you can’t get from the subject itself, e.g. the ocean is too big, constantly moving and splashing but in her pictures it is still so just for a second, if you could suspend it in time, that is what it would be.

The lack of horizon is also intentional, “I want to place the work in a wall, I don’t want to make a pictorial picture where you might imagine a horizon and what’s other the horizon. I want to keep you in that rectangle³.”

 

Whilst her galaxy pictures are about infinity, with no perspective, her cobweb series offer us a map of surface texture, inviting us to look up. They can also be considered as negative or eraser drawings where a black background is laid down with charcoal and erasers used to bring out the image from the original paper. There is no spider, shifting the importance onto the structure rather than the creator. I think this may be as personal as reference to herself as any; she does not seem to really enjoy talking about her work but she wants us to study her work, and interact with it.  She is as considered as her work.

In the video she discusses how she doesn’t think of it as drawing but more “using a pencil as my medium”. Later, when discussing her sculptured stones  To Fix the Image in Memory 1977–82, she says “the point is not to mimic but show a kind of attention span and a thoroughness of putting the paint down and looking at the found object and picking this tiny, tiny area, remembering it and putting it on another object which I had made.” Whilst her picture is still, with no obvious movement, a still life if you like, the natural object is moving, spinning and turning. She is redescribing and remembering a moment in time, capturing it forever.

Close up her pictures are like photographs, highly detailed and textured but from a distance they seem empty and lonely, there is no focal point or people, this feeling is emphasised by the lack of colour and use of greys. There is a real sense of space and time, of movement captured, achieved through the intricate, repeating patterns created throughout her structures.

I’ve read a lot about Celmins now and I’m still struggling to fully understand her approach, in her interviews she talks about her fondness for scientific images, such as the stars and galaxies because they are anonymous². She doesn’t give anything of herself away in these images, rather they are intense studies, almost microscopic in detail, which I would love to see close up. She examines photographs of her chosen subject matter, to “relive that image and put it in a human context, and I would like you to be able to scrutinise it and relive the making of it the way that I have been doing for a long time¹.”

 

Footnotes

  1. Kennedy, Randy, February 9, 2017, New York, the Artist Vija Celmins Conjures Sea and Sky with Brush, accessed 27 June 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/09/arts/design/vija-celmins-matthew-marks-gallery.html
  2. Tate Shorts, April 4, 2014, Vija Celmins Artist Rooms, accessed 27 June, 2017, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-artist-rooms-vija-celmins
  3. Sussler, Betty, 18 October 2011, New York, Interview with Vija Celmins, The Museum of Modern Art, http://www.moma.org/pdfs/docs/learn/archives/transcript_celmins.pdf, accessed 27 June 2017

Bibliography

Manchester, Elizabeth, 2005, Tate Website

Goertz, Ralph, 2011, Cologne, Vija Celmins Desert, Sea and Stars, Institut für Kunstdokumentation

https://art21.org/read/vija-celmins-building-surfaces/

Landscape Artists

When we think of landscape art there are a few artists who spring to mind, Turner, Monet, Van Gogh and we might think of green fields or haystacks. Surprisingly this genre wasn’t taken seriously for many years, only emerging from the background in the seventeenth century. Today it is a major theme and takes all forms, with a variety of subject matter, and media.

ALBRECHT DÜRER

One of the first European landscape artists was fifteenth century artist Albrecht Dürer, as well as painting he is also known for his woodcut prints, and his writings on perspective.

He introduced classical motifs into Northern Art through his travels and knowledge of Italian artists such as Raphael, Bellini and da Vinci. He is one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance not only for his art but also his treaties on maths, perspective and ideal proportions. Before Dürer’s ideas, painters would have worked on instinct alone, by using mathematical systems, advances were made in portraying human proportions, linear perspective and space.

His first known painting is The Wire -Drawing Mill, c1489, clearly he has established foreground, middle-ground and background through a combination of perspective and colour. It seems a little unreal in ways and somehow modern at the same time, his precision probably deriving from his goldsmith training.

He painted the same scene again,The Willow Mill, c1496/8 this time with more expression and less precision, with the landscape playing a less important role.

His travels in Italy had a huge and direct influence on his art, his watercolours from his time in the Alps were described as some of his most beautiful creations, “depicting segments of landscape scenery cleverly chosen for their compositional values, painted with broad strokes, in places roughly sketched in, with amazing harmonisation of detail. He used predominantly unmixed, cool, sombre colours, which, despite his failure to contrast light and dark adequately, still suggest depth and atmosphere¹.”

Though he moved to portraiture he often kept landscape in the background, in the style of Venetian and Florentine paintings of that era. His later works became more expressive and more detailed. He also spent time observing nature at close hand, animals and plants in particular, see his young hare.

His eye for detail led to the exploration of perspective and proportion, resulting in several publications, among them a treatise on fortifications, the first printed book of its kind, using advanced perspective ideas such as bird’s eye views. His woodcuts revolutionised printmaking, elevating it to an independent art form. His tonal range added a dramatic element to the previously flat lacking texture and tone.

CLAUDE LORRAIN

In the seventeenth century Lorrain became known for his idyllic landscapes based on classical proportions and references to mythology. He extended the concept of landscape by adding biblical and mythological characters thereby giving it historical significance and raising its importance. His figures are classically dressed,  set in pastoral settings, representing man in harmony with nature.

This is one of his most famous works, The Father of Psyche sacrificing at the Temple of Apollo, the landscape clearly dominates the scene, the huge trees overshadowing the picture.

He travelled from his native France, spending time in Italy in the hills around Rome. He was noted for his draughtsmanship, showing an eye for detail and carefully planned composition, yet his sketchbooks were filled with realistic detail.

He was meticulous in his work, making copies of all his paintings into a ‘liber veritatas’, in order to defeat forgers, but also as a personal reference and source book. He inspired Turner, Constable and Keats and even influenced the design of many English gardens.

Whilst his style and subject matter are consistent his compositions become increasingly complex. His earlier works are described as charming and picturesque, yet as he matured they become more classical in tone and theme.

His work reflects his appreciation of light and its many effects, almost all of his work shows dawn and twilight, the most poetic times of day. Like Durer he observed nature closely showing a naturalistic style and yet his vision is nostalgic, almost dreamlike, and serene.

L. S. LOWRY

Known for his industrial landscapes, Lowry’s works are very familiar to those who grew up in the North of England. I certainly was aware of Lowry’s ‘matchstick men’ before I understood the concept of landscape painting. See Industrial Landscape, 1955

Although his works were imaginary, they showed panoramic cityscapes, which contained recognisable places such as Stockport Viaduct. He gave a generalised impression of urban environments, dominated by the less attractive city elements such as smoking chimneys, and industrial wastelands.

His earlier work was similar to the Impressionists but without the light which made them brooding in atmosphere, the people like worker ants, faceless, almost non-human. Often described as ‘lonely landscapes’, they were empty, desolate views of Cumbrian hills, grey and bleak landscape.

He said “my ambition was to put the industrial scene on the map, because nobobdy had done it – nobody had done it seriously²”. His pictures unsettle the myth of the land of hope and glory, it’s a commentary on how the wealthy depend on the ceaseless labour of the poor, the human condition of repeated work until death. This is shown through the rigid, faceless figures, the huge dominating factories, drab housing and bleak atmosphere. Yet throughout the bleak imagery there are flashes of detail, bright colour, flowers in a window, or someone waving or whistling, a sudden break in the routine.

GEORGE SHAW

Born in the Midlands, he is known for painting the urban estate where he grew up in 1970’s Britain. His style is highly detailed and naturalistic, but his subject matter is one of English suburbia, the mundane and the overlooked.  It’s a nostalgic view, looking back on a simpler time, no people are present but we somehow still feel their presence. “To me, they are teeming with human presences. The people I grew up with, family, passersby, they are all in there somewhere, embedded in the paintings³.”

It’s a landscape most are familiar with, evoking a remembered experience of what it is to be a working class teenager, waiting around. His works captures memories and moments from adolescent life.

He reinforces this feeling of nostalgia with his choice of paint, his favourite medium is Humbrol enamel paint, the very thought of which conjures up images of teens concentrating on getting that Airfix plane just so, sitting in their bedroom of a terraced house. Almost photographic in style, the enamel paint gives the paintings a unique flavour of a particular era yet raises it from a purely representational state, its old fashioned but somehow timeless at the same time. He elevates this bland suburban places into something more important, in the same way that Lorrain elevated beautiful landscapes from the background of historical genre paintings.

For the exhibition “George Shaw: My Back to Nature”, Shaw spent a lot of time in the National Gallery studying the old masters. He studied the clash of cultures, linking classical stories to the modern world and religion.

Painting his home town of Coventry he said, “the work came out of an abandonment of plans. It was not just about going back to a place physically, it was a return to a metaphorical place where I existed as a positive, passionate adolescent, unhampered by the history of my ideas or other people’s, a place where I did what I did because it grew from me – and didn’t question it. If you can’t find yourself in your own backyard, you’re not going to find yourself in the Serengeti, are you? So for me, it was taking those clichés of epiphany and the sublime and putting them in a place where great thoughts aren’t rumoured to happen³.”

His work is often described as sentimental, but are devoid of people, perhaps they are more nostalgic, although as he says “I don’t know why sentimentality has to be a negative quality. What I look for in art are the qualities I admire or don’t admire in human beings. And very rarely do I meet people who aren’t sentimental.” (4)

In his exhibition My Back to Nature, he painted a series of woodland landscapes, described as scenes of intense human drama. the moment has just passed, is about to happen or is happening now. Even though we don’t see any signs of people there, they have clearly been there, marks made on the ground, a page left behind, red paint dripping on a tree trunk. Shaw’s woods are like scenes from a movie, with the possibility hinted that maybe you are not alone, the feeling of anticipation that anything could happen.

The tree is humanised, cut down, lying on the ground, one end charred by matches as if tortured. His trees almost have faces.

SARAH WOODFINE

Trained as a scupltor, Woodfine’s landscapes are imaginary worlds, evocative of familiar childhood memories and fantasies. Her drawings are monochromatic and very precise and carefully considered, lending an almost sinister atmosphere. Everything might appear to be magical and dreamy but there is a slight apprehension evoked by the lack of colour.

Drawings form the main body of work but, extending the miniature worlds she has also created 3D scenes housed in cases and glass domes. She considers drawing a form of scuplture, creating the illusion of three dimensions, worlds that exist on their own.

Even some of her pencil drawings look like miniature scenes, and slightly foreboding in mood, The Crypt, 2010, perhaps because of the subject matter.

Whilst creating realistic worlds, she has also created surreal, dreamlike ones, always depicted in moonlight, reinforcing that other-worldly feel, with a sense of threat.

In conclusion, landscape is a huge and diverse topic, which will take you on many winding pathways but all of them manage to convey a sense of place and time, which is pretty remarkable.

 

Footnotes

1. Britannica website

2. Winterson, Jeanetter, June 13, 2013, L.S. Lowry’s Rage Against the Machine, The Guardian, accessed 20th June 2017

3. O’Hagan, Sean, February 13th 2011, Sometimes I Look at My Work and its Conservatism Shocks Me, The Guardian, accessed 20th June 2017

4 and 5. Kellaway, Kate, November 15, 2015 George Shaw, 49, Every Second, Every Ounce of Time has to be Accounted For, The Guardian, accessed 20th June 2017

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Farthing, Stephen, 2010, Art: The Whole Story, 2016 edition, London, Thames and Hudson

Gombrich, E.H., 1950, The Story of Art, 2016 edition, London, Phaidon Press

Suchin, Peter, Sarah Woodine CV, Exhibition Press Info, 2015, London, accessed 21st June 2017

Robinson, Fiona, Interview with Strange Worlds artist Sarah Woodfine, 2017, London, accessed 21st June 2017

Victoria and Albert museum website, Newfoundland by Sarah Woodfine, 2005, London, accessed 21st June 2017