Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Perceptions, Impressions

The air and light is as soft as a baby’s cheek this morning. A delicate haze in the sunlight brightened with flickers of pistachio, softens the shadows and brings out mauve, lavender and palest lemon yellow. I am seeing with the eyes of the Impressionists.
I have disregarded this visionary group of French painters for a very long time.
Their work reproduced in sofa-sized copies and printed on everything from calendars to museum shop umbrellas had become a cliché that I barely gave notice to or had interest in. I had an ephiphany standing in front of the incredibly long Monet Waterlilies at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Standing close you can only see several feet in each direction, and the scene your mind tells you that you are seeing, transforms into delicious squiggles of luminous paint. It is pure abstraction and vibrantly fresh and alive in mostly unblended color…
Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir “discovered” this way of seeing when they broke the shackles of studying academic art and ventured out into the fresh air along the Seine. The stale formality of Nature as a classical backdrop for historical or classical allegory was transformed into a living, breathing environment. In squinting their eyes just a bit and looking at a sun-drenched scene, all the shades of prismatic color revealed themselves in light and shadow. They kept the colors separated in expressive daubs of paint but juxtaposed them perfectly so the viewer’s eye did the mixing but could translate the artist’s way of seeing at the same time. What a brilliant discovery! This added to the subject of “real life being lived”, and attempting to capture the literal “throb of life” in Paris and surrounding environs in paint on canvas was totally revolutionary….
I have been reading Susan Vreeland’s historical novel about Renoir painting his most ambitious painting, which titles the book as well “Luncheon of the Boating Party”. Though she has done her homework, I was a bit rusty on the ins and outs of friendships and rivalries of this substantial group of French painters and missed many nuances that she alluded to. This has been happily compensated by watching a wonderful series produced by the BBC called “The Impressionists” (available through Netflix). In it Claude Monet is being interviewed in 1920 as an old man, and regales us with the personalities and traits of his friends and contemporaries during these formative years of Impressionism. It is very well acted and filmed on location and has added much to the Vreeland book, which relies mostly on conversation between the characters to tell the story. I highly recommend both for a weekend escape into an amazing time of looking at life and art with new eyes. Time travel anyone?
May you discover a new way of seeing your world and appreciating the beauty that is there before you, if you have but eyes to see!

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