Brief and Intense
It's been a lovely autumn here in Vermont, and that's inspired me to get outdoors with my easel.
You'd think, given the colors on display, that autumn foliage would be an easy subject, but it's quite the opposite.
A maple tree in full fall glory is so beautiful, and so full of sentiment (think sunsets, babies and roses) that it makes for very challenging painting.
This has me thinking about other artists who have painted this brief and intense season, said something personal about it, and managed to avoid the predictable.
I saw the landscape above by Alfred Sisley a few years back at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, and it's stuck with me since. I love the simplicity of the mass of orange, and the varied marks in the foreground and small cluster of houses in the distance. Looking at it, you can feel the light and air of a late autumn afternoon.
This Sisley landscape is more gestural, a tangle of brushstrokes that move around the spectrum from bright yellow to dark violet.
Henri Matisse and Charles Camoin channeled a bold, Fauve spirit in their views of autumn Paris.
Isaac Levitan, the wonderful 19th century Russian landscape painter, found a different mood.
Canadian Tom Thomson made autumn his own. His small oil sketches of the north country woods are passionate observations of a season he loved and a place he knew well.
Wolf Kahn, given his love of color shapes, is a natural for autumn in Vermont. His paintings and pastels range from very specifically observed motifs to full blown studio abstractions.
As he did so often, here Fairfield Porter uses design and color composition to turn an ordinary subject--a parking lot and trees--into an extraordinary painting.
All of these painters are unafraid of pure, strong color.
But they also know how to harness the intensity of yellow, orange and red to a larger visual idea.
For example--take a look at how in these paintings, complements of blue and violet, along with harmonizing greys, blacks and browns, make the warm light colors seem even more intense.
Leaves were falling from this maple as I was painting it. Brief and Intense.
The orange leaves are all down now, and the long, slow calm of winter is coming on. But that's another blog post...