Guest blog – What is Art?

We are fortunate to have Luisa Blignaut, one of our dedicated and talented students, guest blog for us this month.

Luisa Blignaut, Jaime, acrylic on canvas, 2018

What constitutes art? It is a question that I have been asking for most of my life. It defies simple metaphors or descriptions. It is utterly subjective.

In the beginning, it was simple. I grew up in country South Africa. School and church said apartheid had God’s blessing. Everything was divided into boxes. Black or white. Christian or communist. English or Afrikaans. By the age of six I could milk a cow and draw a picture. The pictures I drew told stories. I believed all art was visual. After all, at school we had an hour a day to draw or to colour in books with crayons. It was art class. Crayons became coloured pencils. We learnt about tracing paper. The teacher decided what was art. Art had to be realistic.

At home my father collected paintings. Landscapes mostly. Ornate and ostentatious frames dominated the paintings. My father said the paintings were decorative investments. During my second year at school I developed rheumatic fever. In hindsight it was a blessing in disguise. I missed seven months of school. In turn, my mother, who was English speaking, subscribed to a weekly educational magazine for me called Look and Learn. The first issue that I saw had an article about Vincent van Gogh. My understanding of art burst the dam walls built by Afrikaner Christian Nationalism and its concomitant school curricula and censorship. I remember returning to school and talking about Van Gogh who painted the night as blue waves on which a yellow moon and stars floated. The teacher deflated my enthusiasm by saying he was a mad man who cut off his ear for a woman. I became the laughing stock of the class and the teacher proclaimed that Rembrandt was the greatest artist ever. Afrikaans as a language was a derivative of Dutch. She did not mention Rembrandt’s shadows where wonder resides. The next day she showed a picture of Rembrandt’s Night Watch to the class. White men stepping into the light. She compared it to white people bringing light to darkest Africa. Art was political.

I continued to draw andpaintwater colours. My family had a cottage in the Drakensberg Mountains, splendid in its isolation. It had secrets in its many gullies, densely wooded by indigenous flora including huge yellowwood trees and large ferns. A vagabond called Willy Chalmers, who used to live in the cottage, was a sculptor. In the rocks next to singing streams, he created rock carvings of women and faces. Hid them. Not too far away, were San rock paintings; the reason why Chalmers found his way to the Drakensberg Mountains.

My understanding of art was evolving. The San people or Bushmen,hunter gatherers, were South Africa’s original inhabitants that were squeezed out by negroid people from the north and whites from the south. Bushmen lived in rhythm with nature. They did not recognise “property”. Cattle, like wild animals, were gifts from the spirits. Cattle owners did not take kindly to people who killed their property and ate it. Bushmen became thieves, pests that were hunted. They moved to the deserts of Southern Africa but left their rock art behind. Drawings, paintings of people, animals and hybrid animals and people, in rock shelters and caves. I could look at these paintings all day and marvel at people who acknowledged all life; drew people with hooves running with antelope. I realised that art was cultural, a spiritual chronicle, a history book. Art transcended politics and racism.

I recall a day that I went with my mother to the English Anglican church in town. I had an argument with my father about religion and questioned why black people were not welcome in the white Afrikaner Church. The Anglican church was a small building with stained glass windows. Black and white people worshipped together. This was a new experience for me. During the service sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, accentuating andblurringcolour, touching my face, my mind. It was a magical, fleeting moment. I returned the next few Sundays, but the light was gone. Art is ephemeral.

The next huge step in understanding art was at university. I lived in a residence hall at Stellenbosch University. The residence was built around a quad where residents gathered for tea and coffee. I thinkIlearnt more from debates around the coffee and tea cans than what I learnt in classes. I discovered that Monet and Manet were not spelling mistakes but two different artists. I fell in love with Seurat, Cezanne, Kandinsky and Georgia O’ Keefe. I Also learnt a new word. Kitsch.

I started work in Cape Town in the same year that Hundertwasser had an exhibition in the city. Glorious shapesandcolours, political and environmental themes all over the place. I attended the exhibition four times and purchased at least twenty postcard-reproductions of his work. I pasted them on a plywood board that I hung from the wall. Rows of colour. Hundertwasser lead to Klimt. I returned to Stellenbosch to do a post graduate law degree. To finance my studies, I free lanced for a leading Cape Town daily newspaper. I called in stories from a public pay telephone and dictated them to a man called Abe. Every Friday afternoon I returned to Cape Town to meet up with friends, discussions with the News editor and coffee with Abe. Next to the Cape Times was an old neglected building that housed an art gallery. I visited every Friday. The paintings were stacked against the wall and I leafed through them as if I was paging a book. The proprietor became familiar with what I liked and one day told me to take a painting home. I told her I was a student and could not afford it. “Nonsense” she said, “How about $10 a month” That was 1979 and I continued to buy art from her until I left South Africa in 1999.

In 1991 I visited New York. I went to the Museum of Modern Art and turned a corner. Rothko literally arrested me. A huge canvass that jailed me. I became lost in variationsofcolour that left the huge canvas and continued all the way past Samuel Beckett.

So, what is art? I have no idea. It depends on what you see and feel.

It is everywhere.

Written by Luisa Blignaut – artist and MAC student

MAC student Libby Hunter’s van Gogh studies

Copying masters’ works has been practised over the centuries. Before the Louvre was opened for public viewing, it was an unofficial artist retreat, offering artists the freedom work on site, recreating masterpieces. Henri IV offered studio and living quarters to artists, where they were free to create in their chosen medium (from painting to sculpture).

Copying masters’ works is both an educational and meaningful exercise in understanding brushstroke, texture, tone, colour, and becoming intimately involved with a work of art.

Libby Hunter, who attends Marco’s Studio Art Class, has been generous enough to share with us her experience of copying Vincent van Gogh’s work.

Libby Hunter, Sunflowers, after van Gogh, oil on canvas, 2018

I started Marco’s Friday morning art class one year ago. It was my first introduction to painting having only dabbled a bit at school. After six months of Marco teaching the basics of drawing and painting in oils, I decided I wanted to focus on an impressionist artist to get a greater understanding of technique, colour and brushwork. I decided on van Gogh. I have always admired his work, and after the recent exhibition at NGV – which just blew me away! – I thought exploring his techniques would teach me a lot – with Marco’s help of course!

The thing that struck me the most when viewing so many of van Gogh’s works at the NGV was just how vivid his colour was; nothing like the many art history books I’ve collected. And many of the artworks I had never seen before; they were just incredible. I wanted to learn how he achieved such vibrant colour and movement in his work. He also expresses such intense feelings in his painting, which are often quite melancholy; his work really makes me feel something. I think this is what attracts me most to his work.

Libby Hunter, Vase with Cornflower and Poppies, after Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, 2018

Much of van Gogh’s technique is about colour and brushwork and the mix of the two. His brushstrokes are intense, bold, confident, and they create an energy and an impact in his work that is not easy for a novice to re-create. I am still working on this and I expect I could be chasing it for some time. I have discovered the process of copying a great artist is not an easy one.

Marco provided a constant guiding hand through the process but also gave me enough space to find your own way. I really enjoyed analysing books and prints of van Gogh’s work alongside Marco, with us trying to determine exactly what technique he used. It is such a puzzle and a really interesting way to discover and learn painting techniques. I am working on my very first self-portrait now, in van Gogh’s style. A very daunting task, but I am loving the process and hopefully, it will make me a much-improved painter.

Written by Libby Hunter – artists and MAC student

Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice

Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice, oil on canvas, 1823-24

Last Tuesday, Melbourne was recorded as being the most freezing city on earth at 6am, which is one reason why I thought it would be poignant to look at Friedrich’s work, The Sea of Ice.

German-born Caspar David Friedrich was a nineteenth-century Romantic landscape painter, and alongside other Romantic painters, he helped position landscape painting as a major genre within Western art. In his generation, he was a significant painter, and like so many artists, his work gained recognition after his death in 1840.

Landscapes have a magical quality of being able to convey the artists’ feelings of pain, love and suffering just as powerfully as figurative work, or prose. Looking past the connection we can make with the temperature of this work and wintery Melbourne mornings, Friedrich believed that the harshness of nature could console the sorrow of the human condition. When contemplating the violent collision of the ice sheets in his work, it takes us out of ourselves and moves us beyond our own problems in life, reducing our sense of personal persecution, rendering us insignificant in the natural world, much like the tiny toppled ship in the mass of broken ice. Many of Friedrich’s stark, beautiful landscapes give us access to a state of mind where we are acutely aware of the largeness of space and helps us reframe our sadness.

Art collector Johann Gottlob von Quandt commissioned The Sea of Ice, however, its composition was deemed too radical and the painting was sold after Friedrich’s death.

Written by Lauren Ottaway

10 things a beginner artist needs to know

The beginning of an artist’s journey can be fear-inducing, overwhelming, exciting, inspiring (among many other things)! These ten tips will hopefully help you successfully continue on your creative path, with the knowledge that the journey is just as important (if not more) as the destination.

1. You will really learn how to “see”

Drawing is the foundation of many art practises, and you will most likely find yourself learning how to draw again, and during this period, you will learn (or re-learn) how to “see”.

The moment that lightbulb switches on for a beginner artist is unforgettable. It is when you move away from the way you drew as a child. For example, a nose is not a “nose” anymore – it is made up of many smaller shapes – balls, cylinders and curved lines. You will begin to look at previously mundane objects around you and break them down into parts – analysing the different shapes within shapes; the negative space around them; the graduation of lights and darks. Learning how to draw truly opens up a new way of seeing – and it is so exciting!

2. Always be curious

Have your eyes open. Be observant; look at and be engaged in the physical world around you. It can not only inspire you, it can bring forth those moments of inspiration that wouldn’t normally strike you if you didn’t have your eyes truly open.

3. You are unique

You have a unique way of viewing the world and you have chosen to share this through art. Someone, somewhere will identify with your view and love what you do, and even pay for it. Don’t be scared if your work is different; as we all know, controversial artwork in the past has created art movements.

4. Don’t compare your work to others’

The only work you should be comparing is your new work to you old. Everyone is on a journey, and there will always be someone who is ahead of you. It’s very easy to compare your work to other artists’; however, this is not useful if it is affecting your art practice in a negative way. Learn from others, be inspired by others, and reserve the comparisons for your studio only.

5. Prioritise your creative practise

Create every single day or as often as you can. It’s the only way you will learn, and improve. Overcome your internal resistance; it is important to prioritise time to be creative in your life if you want to grow.

6. Keep learning

You don’t have to attend traditional art school to become an artist, however, taking art classes to improve your skills will help get you there faster. If you’re interested in a certain style – research it. Visit galleries and find art the inspires you – then copy it. Learn how the masters created their work; learn about the mistakes they made, and their successes. Take technical art classes, or engage with your local art scene and join an art community to be in the company of other creatives. And don’t stop learning!

7 Embrace your mistakes

The best thing about making mistakes is that you can learn from them. What you might see as a mistake at first, could be part of the journey to a great piece of art. When you believe you have made a mistake, try and push through and continue working. It is often a blockage, and it takes courage to continue working with it. Or leave the piece of work so you can sit with it for a few days – you will often come up with a solution (and you have learnt so much more than if you destroyed the work).

8. Stop thinking

During the creative process, have you ever experienced what can be described as “flow”, where the concept of time disappears and so does your internal dialogue, and it is just you and your work? It’s hard to switch off your inner critic, or your daily running dialogue, but when you do – magic happens. Sometimes it helps not to have a perceived end-goal, and just create for the sake of being creative. This can also help break the initial mental barrier preventing the physical act of creating – to stop thinking/judging/analysing and put that pencil or brush to paper. See what happens.

9. It takes time

It can be frustrating when you are just starting out and can see a masterpiece in your head, but you don’t yet have the skills to bring it to life. Be kind to yourself and remember that every artist has experienced this part of their journey. It takes a lot of work. Enjoy the journey and the improvements you notice in your work along the way.

10. Believe in yourself

Self-doubt can be your biggest enemy. Until you really believe in yourself, you will not understand the true enormity of this statement. These tips above should help you get some of the way there, however you can only truly know when you believe in yourself. We believe in you!

 At Melbourne Art Class we offer a range of art classes for every step of the artist’s journey. You can view all of our current courses here.

Written by Lauren Ottaway

The clown in the ruins

The clown in the painting was like those I saw at the circus when I was a boy. Except I was standing close to this clown, close enough to see that the seated man dressed as a clown pensive and vulnerable. Behind the clown lay the ruins of Rotterdam; the title told me enough to for me to know that this was Rotterdam in 1940, shortly after the Luftwaffe demolished the historic city centre so as to force the Dutch to capitulate.

Charley Toorop, Clown in the Ruins of Rotterdam, 1940-41, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterloo

The painting seemed to lack time. As I looked, I struggled to reconcile my knowledge of the bombing of Rotterdam, my historical distance from the event, with an immediacy of human emotion conveyed and the character of the man ‘as a clown’ before me. The painting itself, its handling and the brush marks, seemed to be telling me this was painted a few days ago. It looked fresh; I could have easily believed that this was a recent event and that somewhere in Rotterdam I would find this man, wandering, questioning, somewhere in the ruins. When viewing this painting more than sixty years after the actual event, I had an experience of being for a moment in the midst of a broken man who had witnessed the consequences of shameful crime.

In art, we find traces of others that have been left behind, little messages in bottles that for some reason resonate on the shores of our consciousness at the right time for us. In our studio, often, someone who has been working will have left their most recent work which others later notice and comment favourably on. I’ve watched people walk in and upon seeing the new artwork, seem to connect with it momentarily. Having myself been in the studio most of the time between the making and seeing of the artwork, it seems like the artwork has the capacity to hurdle between the time which the work was put down and the time when the viewer sees it.

Despite the appearance of new works, we come back to a studio because it is one of those key places in our lives we keep as a constant. We set the studio up to remain unchanged. Perhaps, in reality, while we are away the dust settles, the paintings dry and the fridge compressor hums in rhythm with a slow dripping of a tap.  When we are not there, the morning light stream in through the window and then shifts shadows across the floor until the light ultimately subsides. The world around the studio moves to a rhythm, but what we ask of the studio is that it remain as it is until we return.

Cyclical movements of growth then decline. The waves of the sea rise, surge forward, swell and then recede, again and again. Tides rise and fall, drawn by the moon, which itself has phases in our sky. Seasons pass, the seasons of the year, the seasons of our lives. At first I was unaware of this passing, but, I have memory of standing at the back of my family home when I was three years old and looking up the sun and realising that I was no longer what I was, I was becoming something different; I was growing. Somewhere, perhaps, reverberates the vibration of our laughter as that three-year-old child, a parent drawing us near and holding us tightly. Somewhere, is our first spouting of intelligent five-year-old rhetoric, a newfound intellectual fluency speaking back into the adult world of logic, reasoning and values.

Our seasons pass. Our seasons such as Spring, when we walked out the school gate for the last time embracing hope and possibility; our bountiful Summer; our Autumn as the time of loss, of being stripped bare; and then our Winter, the time of working and persisting, believing but with no evidence for our faith.

In the midst of our seasons, the studio remains the same, like the womb we can return to so that we can make contact with our craft, with our language, with our selves. So that we can cleave off a material expression which conveys the season we are in. And that expression is timeless and goes out, after being nurtured and raised by us, to inform the consciousness of others. The clown I met, may no longer be sitting in the ruins of Rotterdam, but I am aware that he, or perhaps she, is now sitting in the ruins of another devastated city.

Written  by Marco Corsini

Learning to Fly – Marco Corsini’s upcoming exhibition

Exhibition dates: 4 – 17 April

Opening: 6 April 6pm – 9pm

Location: Brunswick Street Gallery

I began to reflect on the King River as a source. Its river stone beds and shallow streams, sometimes bubbling around arrangements of boulders, sometimes disappearing into deep, dark, still waters, which had never been beautiful to me when growing up and I had never thought of its significance in our lives beyond its supply of water. The river as a source which had branded a primordial sense of dependency and intimacy within me over my half lifetime. The river that constantly flowed, had always flowed, will always flow. The river that bound us around itself and preserved us. I slowly connected to the idea of source and slowly felt that my own dependency on this source was being revealed. That I had felt a need for years now, to constantly return to this source. I began to connect with the notion of origin and that just as I sat on the banks of this river or swam or drank from it, all I could ever do was draw close to it, to be within in, return to it. I had to return to this river. I have always returned to the King River.

From, Returning to the river, Marco Corsini, 2016

Marco Corsini’s paintings feature the landscape and his immediate environment. Using shifts in viewpoint and perspective and often painted over extended periods of time, the works explore perception and the nature of painting as a recorder of experience rather than as a representative tool. Alongside a phenomenological interest in consciousness and experience, Corsini’s work also incorporates personal motifs such as the horse, indicating the artist’s own presence. The paintings explore perception and subjectivity, asking us to go beyond everyday discourse into deeper engagement with the nature of our existence.

Originally published on Thursday, 29 March, 2018 by Marco Corsini

Seeing but seeing.

André who has been attending my Studio Art class this term spent an entire session drawing a Protea. A charming older man who is always brimming with encouraging and engaging energy; he turned to me and exclaimed in his beautiful French accent, ‘I see, but I don’t see.’ For he had been drawing the complex flower for about two hours, only to come to the realisation that after drawing what he thought he had seen, he found himself coming back to see that what he had drawn didn’t really correspond with a deeper understanding he was gaining of the flower.

I had understood what he meant. After all, my own journey as an artist and in many respects as a person has been one of seeing, only to realise what I thought I saw was not the actual reality, but an approximate reality. I’m sure we can all relate to this.

After having thought about the comment he had made, I raised the topic at our next class. André responded by describing his own journey of realising how preconceived notions can get in the way of real perception. He said he had realized this when undertaking studies in philosophy. He spoke of his realisation that to understand what one is looking at, one has to become, in his words, ‘nothing’. I took this to mean that one has to suspend all judgement. It almost seems a little absurd that one would have to suspend judgment when encountering something as simple as a flower. But even in encountering a Protea, to have to quieten ourselves and observe, then observe again, we realize that we really don’t have the capacity to comprehend what is ultimately infinite in its nature. With the perceiving of all things, especially other people, we comprehend but we cannot ever fully grasp.

André, pencil on paper, 2017

Above: André’s drawing of the Protea on the left which he theatrically signed off at the bottom announcing, ‘Remember that name’.

The conversation with André reminded me of some comments a friend who works as a counsellor made to me recently. He said that the most powerful thing anyone can do for somebody who is seeking counsel is to listen without judgement. According to my friend, this is very difficult for most of us to do. I have since been trying to suspend judgement and am resisting the habit I have of giving advice when in conversations. I’ve resisted the urge to judge what was being said, included asking leading questions based on my own assumptions and internal reactions. I would have to say that to be listened to seems to be helpful for other people, so I have tried it again and again. Perhaps making art stems from the desire to be heard with the process of manipulating materials giving artists, for a period, the ability to speak without being interrupted. What does all this say about us, this hunger to be heard, to be understood?

The courses and workshops we teach focus on the fundamentals of art practice. Interestingly in an age where there is a multiplicity of art practices, most people that come to MAC want to draw and paint. Most people have tried and are seeking to deepen their understanding of these art disciplines. We live with abundant possibilities available to us, including almost infinite access to images, yet for many of us there stirs within us a desire to do something as simple as draw. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise; drawing is one of the few key ways in which we encounter the world and translate it. Drawing, mathematics, language, and music are some key ways in which we encounter, understand and manipulate the world. Drawing is the most direct way of perceiving the world in a spatial way, so we shouldn’t be surprised at its popularity. Perhaps, we should be asking instead why we dismiss drawing so soon after early childhood, when it is so fundamental to perception. By focusing on the foundational aspects of drawing and painting, I’ve been able to appreciate that skills we once presumed were gifts are actually very similar to mathematics, or music, or language, in that they can be learnt through good training.

André’s declaration of seeing but not seeing indicates that at the heart of good training in drawing and painting is the setting aside of all assumptions. To start with, setting aside self-judgement about our ability to draw or paint. Then setting aside of other assumptions about the subject we are encountering. Often, we have spent a lifetime representing our subject using a formula which has more to do with the iconographic type of language than real perception. Think here of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. So much of how we teach centres upon introducing tools and techniques that enable people to see rather than reverting to a set visual language.

We see this setting aside of assumptions in great achievements such as in the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. I recently had the opportunity to return to see the Sagrada Famiglia Basilica in Barcelona. Designed by Gaudi, it has been under construction since 1882. He oversaw its construction from 1883 until his death in 1926. It quite literally is the fruit of a lifetime of dedication and study, encapsulating a vision which is unlike any other. Nothing can describe this Basilica adequately; the scale and intensity of a lifetime’s work condensed into one massive sacred building. I have never come close to tears in front of a building but this one caught me unawares. Gaudi not only redefined the aesthetics of architecture by studying nature and carrying across many organic aspects, he redefined the very mechanical nature of construction with that same study. The brilliance of the Sagrada Famiglia is that it not only looks organic, it is in many ways structurally organic, its engineering being based upon the structures Gaudi saw in nature.

Columns from the Sagrada Famiglia which contain within them several different mechanical elements which are copied directly from nature.

An experience of great art is an experience of seeing, of seeing reality, often all at once, as an intense surge of truth. And it is, exhilarating. Whilst we perceive the inherent fidelity almost instantaneously, it has been for the artist, a lifetime’s journey in learning to see and subsequently translate. We as the viewer are struck by the distilled truthfulness which has been translated from long experience and work. I think this is what drives me as an artist. It is the quest for the unreachable infinite which received one grain at a time through labour, then imbues all things with meaning. If a Protea can be infinite, complex and beautiful, then how much more then, our lives.

Written by Marco Corsini

Students’ work from our Abstract Painting Workshop

Marco ran an Abstract Painting Course over the long weekend.

Over seven hours, students explored colour theory, conceptual elements, tone, colour and composition in an artwork.

Students were given a number of ways to approach abstraction by looking for compositional ideas and manipulate shapes and forms. They began by creating collages using images from magazines, cut up paper, or by drawing from life using Still Life. These collages were then used to create the composition on their canvas.

This course provided a unique opportunity to explore abstraction and different compositional elements of an artwork. Take a look below at the incredible work that was produced during the workshop!

Below are the initial abstract concepts:

And here are the final works:

If you would like to join our next Abstract Painting Workshop, visit our course page and join our waiting list!

The magical effect of spring on artists

Although the weather is lagging a little, spring is definitely all around us. Beautiful pink and white buds are appearing and then blooming so quickly, leaving a beautiful blanket of colour on garden beds. The trees are transforming with abundant new growth and the birds are becoming louder each morning. This is such a fleeting time of this season, so we thought we would showcase some works that depict spring and rebirth in different ways. We hope this time of the year is also inspiring you, too!

Claude Monet, Springtime, oil on canvas, 1875

Claude Monet was one of the most prolific French Impressionist painters. Through Monet’s works, some of which were the same scene painted at different times of the day and year to reflect the changing light and seasons, you can clearly see the approach of capturing one’s perceptions before nature. In this painting, Springtime, you can also imagine Monet setting up with his easel in the fragrant, warm countryside capturing the early blossom of spring.

Sandro Botticelli, La Primavera, oil on canvas, c.1482

La Primavera literally translates to the season of spring. This masterpiece was commissioned by Lorenzo Pierfrancesco de’Medici and now hangs in the Uffizi in Florence. Venus stands in the centre of the canvas in a lush orange grove on a beautiful carpet of wildflowers. It is a celebration of the return of spring and the ripeness and fertility that the season brings as it awakens the world out of its cold, wintery slumber.

There are a number of interpretations of this work. Some believe that the woman in the foreground of the painting represents Primavera, the embodiment of spring. Others believe the figures on the right to be Zephyrus grasping at the nymph Chloris. According to myth, he married her and she was transformed to Goddess of Spring. And some see the figure with roses as representing the metamorphosis of Chloris to Flora.

Mary Cassatt, Spring Margot Standing in a Garden (Fillette dans un jardin), oil on canvas, 1900

Mary Cassatt produced many studies of young girls during the early 1900s. The child featured in this work is Margot Lux, from the village near Cassatt’s country home who modelled for Cassatt in more than fifty of her works. This image captures a fleeting instant of play suggested by the movement of Margot’s clothes slipping from her shoulder and bundling her dress in both hands – perhaps before or after running. The striking, pink flower in her bonnet and the warm background portray this beautiful moment on a spring day with soft application of paint and sensitive detail.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Spring, oil on canvas, 1622-35

This work celebrates the preparation of the land as spring nears. It shows the community working together to prepare the soil, sow seeds and plant crops as the world itself wakes up from a cold, Flemish winter. Brueghel would take his father’s sketches and drawings (Brueghel the Elder), and would execute them in paint, and many of these works detailed the lives of Flemish peasants. This particular piece is a re-working of his father’s drawing of 1565.

Katsushika Hokusai, Fuji from Gotenyama near Shinagawa on the Tokaido, colour woodcut, 1830-1835

Hokusai was a ukiyo-e painter and printer of the Edo period in Japan. He was inspired by Mt. Fuji and produced a series of thirty-six woodcuts depicting different viewpoints of the impressive volcano, entitled Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji. This work is part of that series and celebrates not only Japan’s national icon but its most revered season. Springtime is so heavily celebrated throughout the country that they have blossom reports on television during the weather report, complete with maps of Japan, which slowly turn pink as the whole country blooms. In Hokusai’s work, you can see the couple on the hill on a picnic blanket underneath the cherry tree; this is still a popular activity around the country and is the traditional way to enjoy the blossom in Japan. The other figures are dancing and celebrating the arrival of this vibrant and important season for Japanese people; not only is it meaningful for the farmers, the joy of spring is culturally ingrained

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Spring Bouquet, oil on canvas, 1866

Renoir’s work is absolutely bursting with colour, vitality, and spring. This is one of Renoir’s earlier works, as you can see the precise rendering of reality (although there is an apparent looseness), painted before his great Impressionist works of the 1870s. This wild work lends itself to a country garden in spring. The brightness of it, glowing with light and colour indicates that Impressionism is just around the corner.

Alfred Sisley, The Small Meadows in Spring, 1880-1

Sisley was there at the beginning of Impressionism with Pissarro and Monet, and a pioneer of the plein-air method and the movement’s aesthetic. Sisley’s work took on a new vitality when, due to financial reasons, he was forced to leave Paris and move to the countryside in 1880. He loyally worked en plein-air, which can be felt in his work, The Small Meadows in Spring. You will notice that there are no hints of spring blossom or wild flowers in this piece. It is his daughter painted in the foreground who represents the image of spring and new life.

Vincent van Gogh, Almond Blossom, oil on canvas 1890

The almond tree is one of the first to bloom in the southern regions of France and is a symbol of spring which can arrive as early as February. This beautiful, Japanese-inspired work was a gift for Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, whose wife had just given birth to their first child. The painting was meant to hang above their bed and represent new life.

Claude Monet, Springtime, oil on canvas, 1872

We had to include a second painting of Monet’s in this list, because this piece captures such a beautiful moment of solitude, in nature, and also reminds us how important it is to disconnect and be outside. Featured in this painting is Monet’s first wife, Camille Doncieux, who, before they were married, was his model in the 1860s and 70s. It has been claimed that she also modelled for Renoir and Manet.

This serene setting, with the dappled sunlight dancing on her dress through the canopy of trees, the wildflowers in the foreground and patches of warmth in the background magically captures a special moment in spring.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Primavera, oil on canvas, 1894

Dutch-born Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was infatuated with Rome and the ancient world. A classicist painter, in this work he portrays the annual Victorian custom of sending children into the countryside on May 1, however, the scene is placed in Rome.

In this impressive work, he used his extensive research of the ancient world to depict the dress, sculpture, architecture, and musical instruments. The procession of figures adorned with spring flowers, playing musical instruments, and surrounded by townspeople above celebrating spring renders a spectacular and captivating scene.

Margaret Olley, Ranunculus and pears, oil on canvas, 2004

Margaret Olley is a widely-recognised figure of Australian art and is one of the most significant still-life and interior painters. Ranunculus and pears is one of many Still Lifes she painted in her home, from which she drew inspiration. Many of her Still Lifes evoke the warmth and colour of spring. She also found beauty in the everyday objects she gathered around her, and most of her works feature pottery, art and exotica of her travels. She acquired many, many objects over her lifetime and her bulging studio almost became as famous as the artist herself! To outsiders, her house appeared chaotic, but Olley had actually arranged it like a Still Life.

Written by Lauren Ottaway.

 

 

The artist as receiver

Written by Marco Corsini

We all experience the same material world, albeit at different times and under different circumstances. As artists, we look at the same objects, however, the infinite possibilities our minds present and the possibilities of the medium we use, open up unique paths of interpretation and representation. As observer and representer, we discover a unique version of a perceived reality.

Spanish artist, Antonio López García has mentioned advising art students that they must choose between the objective and the subjective. While some of the nuances of his statement may remain lost in translation, I think what this means for most of us is that we should be aware of the creative tension between representing the world we understand with fidelity (the objective), and the language, the signs, the symbols, techniques, and strategies we use to represent that world (the subjective).

Juan Ford, The Luminary, 2015, oil on linen, 51 x 41 cm

If painting styles sit on a scale between the objective and the subjective, then Hyperrealism and Photorealism would sit at the objective end of the scale and Abstraction would be at the subjective end of the scale. A work really never has just one element alone, objective or subjective, but a mix of both, in different proportions.

For example, Hyperrealism and Photorealism are often images interpreted from a photographic image as the reference used by the artist, which has been used to assist in achieving extreme realist effects. However, although appearing objective, this technical process can introduce its own inherent element of subjectivity. Not only in the choices made (like subject and lighting), but subtly, in its technical means. Standing in front of a work by Juan Ford’s for example, soft, lens effects are evident, translated faithfully and most likely, consciously into the final painted image.

At the other extreme could be a work like that of Sean Scully whose abstraction looks subjective, but has various objective real-world origins. I’ve seen it quoted that Scully’s abstract paintings are inspired by the shapes and the patterns of New York City’s walls, facades, and hoardings. I’ve also read that they originate in Scully’s experience of a checkered Irish society. Either way, there is an objective element to a subjective interpretation.

Sean Scully, Raval Rojo, 2004, oil on linen, 92 cm. x 102 cm.

As artists, we are able to perceive and receive that which we observe. It is the observing that drives us to respond in the creative act, but also our attempt to respond in the same creative act, which drives us back to observe. We inhabit a cycle of receiving from that which we observe and responding, all because we make.

As artists, a creative tension exists between the objective which we observe and perceive as external to us, the objective which we receive, and the subjective elements of our response. It’s tempting to say that an artwork is an entirely subjective product, but if art were entirely subjective, we would not consistently be able to see universal elements in art which we understand and discuss corporately. These elements are a transferral of the objective, the perceived, received by the artist and communicated effectively enough to be referenced by others as an objective real world element. Elements such as Scully’s clashing yet simultaneous association of forms which give us a visual sense of what we may later be told are relationships within a society or urban habitation. We may not know what Scully’s inspiration or intention was but we get a sense of the relationships described through the visual. Or that we get a sense of isolation and irony when viewing the ridiculously bound yet robustly physical masculine figure by Ford, which seems to also represent something of the current male experience. There are real world elements in these artworks which render them in part, reflections of an objective world.

The three painters I have mentioned have all received in some way. Ford, his Australian male locality and subjectivity, his conceptual formation. Scully received from the pattern and form of his society, both in the cityscape and sociologically, also from the development of painting into modernism and abstraction. López García, received from being trained by his uncle when he was a boy and from his encounter with his immediate environment and life. These artists, having received, have also chosen to respond through their art practice, or we could say have chosen to give, because they have not just responded, they have passed something on, as if they themselves have become a conduit of the world. Each artist a unique conduit derived from the tension between objective and subjective.

Vincent van Gogh came to realise that he could receive and give through his immediate surroundings of light, colour and persons in southern France. He opened up to this provision that for him eclipsed, at least for a moment, negative experiences such as mental health struggles and poverty. I am not advocating a cure-all in art, but the fruit of such receiving and subsequent giving was visible in the lines of people that inhabited the National Gallery of Victoria for months during the recent exhibition, Van Gogh and the Seasons.

I adore the reclusive, awkward man, Paul Cézanne. Although just like Van Gogh, he was committed to working from life around him, Cézanne didn’t necessarily represent the world perfectly. To my mind, his paintings were sometimes awkward and flawed, but from the awkwardness and from his unique way of seeing the world, a position developed which translated into great visual poetry in his later work. Cézanne tells me that while my mastery of my craft as a painter may seem slow at times, if I am open to being a student of the painting tradition and if I open myself to receiving from that which is around me, I will eventually respond from my own beautiful position in the world. In giving in this way, I add something to the world.

Grand Via by Antonio López García, 1974-1981, oil painting, 88.9 cm. x 91.44 cm
Marco Corsini, Where I stand, 2010, oil on canvas, 100 cm. x 100 cm. Private collection