Thursday, 13 June 2013

Waterlilies, Monet and some demons.....

Stage 1
One beautiful afternoon we took a stroll to our pond. This painting is the result of that, and it resolves some serious inner struggles. It started innocently enough. One sunny Saturday afternoon, we picked up our gumboots and went for a walk, me with my camera in hand.
This is a pond I adore. I am always mesmerised by its colours, reflections, and meandering fragrances. It is a beautiful spot, magical even, supporting: native (and non-native) waterlilies; surrounded by gum-trees; sky and clouds reflecting in the water; dragon-flies hovering above the water. In short, it is our little slice of rain-forest paradise.

Stage 2
I have always loved ponds and waterlilies. I am also a painter. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that I love Monet's later work. Visiting the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris was a moment in my life that recaptured my original awe for painting, this having been sanded down somewhat by a stiff and formal education. The Musee de l'Orangerie has two large oval rooms in which the walls are covered with Monet's waterlilies, called Nympheas. The paintings are presented in the best possible light, thanks to the diffuse illumination coming from above. The eight large canvases are glued to the curved walls, aligned to the contours, and represent different times of the day. For me, it was like treading in a sacred space of beauty, paint, light, colour and atmosphere... And, oh yes, waterlilies. My impression was that these works by Monet wasn't about the lillies per se, but came from a sense of wonderment from the artist. In my opinion, the beauty of these paintings in the Musee de l,Orangerie, the way they have been sequenced, are without parallel in impressionism.

Which brings me to my dilemma: why even bother attempting to produce a painting, a process, like that?!

Water lillies, 80x80, acrylic on canvas
Yes, out came the demons:
'You can't be a are nowhere near good's all been done before and, really, they're unsurpassable.' It didn't stop there. The inner voices pushed on:
'Lack of originality has always been your problem.. haven't you got anything meaningful to say?... all you want to do is make pretty pictures - how shallow!...'
These were echoes from my training. However, I had to admit, as I've done so many times before, that focussing on the harsher elements of reality, or making a political statement was just not what I signed up for as an artist. Sometimes, it seems to me that, certainly for the art world, beauty for the sake of beauty, is not appreciated. Monet himself copped some of this "Beauty for beauty's sake" criticism. Meanwhile, originality for the sake of it, is lauded. As an example, I remember visiting a renowned museum in Holland where an artist had thrown down a bundle of ropes in a corner of a room. He stated that the way they fell down, and the spontaneity of that process made it art....sigh. Perhaps this is also an example of arrogance for arrogance sake. 

So, with demons in one hand, inspiration and a blank canvas in the other, I took a very deep breath, picked up my brush, and did it my way. Using modern materials like modelling paste and acrylic paints, I started building up layers of paint to resemble the layers of water, reflections and lilies floating on the surface of the pond. Blue skies, muddy waters and purple-rimmed waterlilies emerged slowly but surely. For a change, I'm showing the different stages my painting went through. Please forgive my rudimentary photographic skills, but it is nice to show the straight-forward progress that the evolution of this painting took. It doesn't happen all the time. Plenty of paintings look very different by the time they're finished. Not in this case. Inspiration seemed to flow freely, unfettered. The judgement is yours... I know I am not doing myself any favours here, but to finish off, I'll give you a picture of the master himself. Waterlilies, 1908, oil on canvas, and a picture of one of the walls in the Musee de l'Orangerie.