Monday, November 10, 2014

Achieving Beauty Through an Infinite Amount of Pains

Hooded Mergansers at Morris Arboretum Wetlands. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

He[Corot] will not allow that one can achieve beauty by taking an infinite amount of pains. Titian; Raphael; Rubens; etc. all did their work easily. ..
Eugene Delacroix, The Journals of Eugene Delacroix, Phaidon Press, translated by Hubert Wellington, entry for March 24, 1847.

As I said in my last post I plan on continuing to quote from Delacroix's Journals as I continue to reread them. Almost every page has something that sticks in my mind and that I write down as something to remember.

But I wasn't thinking of Delacroix when I started the watercolor of four Hooded Mergansers, surprise visitors to Morris Arboretum last week. Or if I was thinking of him it wasn't in regard to the idea of working easily. Instead I was thinking about doing work that seemed more contemporary.

In my earlier reading of him today he mentioned how he thought that perhaps he enjoyed Beethoven more than his beloved Mozart because Beethoven seemed more contemporary, more of his own time. This is a theme throughout his writings. Of course I always take notice of it. What could be more anachronistic than painting and drawing birds, especially in a more or less realistic manner?

I'd answer, as Delacroix also does in earlier in his journals, that artists always feel that something that has already been seen and expressed has still not been seen and expressed well enough for that individual artist. So the old is new and vice versa.

Still I think he's right about the need to be contemporary, though who knows what that might mean today. Video is passé as is environmental art. What in the world is contemporary in art today, outside of a lot of hot air proselytizing about something or other? Worthy though the causes may be didactic art and proselytizing art has never preached to anyone but the choir. The rest of the world, and posterity, does not notice. Probably because it seems so much like what it is, preaching.

So when I think about being contemporary in my art, either prints or watercolor, my two main media these days I realize that by contemporary I mean about 100 years ago. In terms of watercolor, especially ones like the one above, I'm probably closer to John Marin or Raoul Dufy than anyone else. Neither are great favorites of mine, though I did like both quite a bit when I was much younger.

Watercolor can be the most constrained, the most obviously done with an infinite amount of pain, medium in the world. So much watercolor I see today is done in that style. My goal, less so in the sketches but very true in actual watercolors, is to get away from that to get some of the freshness and brashness of artists like Marin and Dufy. I'm not at all trying to paint like them. But I do think, based just on looking at their work not on having read anything by them about their intentions, that they also wanted to free watercolor from its bonds to what I would call the infinitely finicky.

It's for that reason that I chose to work on Arches Rough paper instead of Cold or Hot Press paper. It's a bit like painting on cinder block. It's nearly impossible to get smooth marks. But it's also impossible to be finicky. You have to be bold and hope for the best. That's what I did in the watercolor above.

I think it is a lot less beautiful than the watercolor sketch of the Solitary Sandpiper from my last post. But it's more expressive and more contemporary I think. I do hope though that I learn something from watercolor sketches like that of the Solitary Sandpiper and that it still comes out in a bolder way when I work more in the manner, a seemingly rough and careless manner, of the four handsome Hooded Mergansers above.

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