Friday, January 30, 2015

For Darkest Winter

Monet's "Rouen Cathedral, Sunlight"

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Sometimes I assume too much. I forget that not everyone is as happy-go-lucky as an art curmudgeon. I forget that not everyone appreciates a pointed tongue, even when it is firmly in cheek. I also forget that not everyone copes as easily as I do with the darkness of winter, when the depressing elements and shortened days allow me to work at a more fevered pitch, but when the same season severely limits the functions and attitudes of others. For those feeling trapped by this seemingly unrelenting season, today’s blog is for you.

Without light, artists are pretty much helpless – and useless. We use light to create illusions – of which all art is – and the same light is necessary for viewers to appreciate the art we create. Winter depletes light from our world like a brand-new, energy-efficient bulb, but we need light to survive – and cope. There are all kinds of light, from the dim, shadow-casting variety that fuels brooding souls, to the day-flooding sort that lifts sun-starved spirits.

Monet's "Woman with a Parasol"

Let’s take a heavy dose of the latter and add some lumens to our day. But please, let’s sidestep the painter of [b]light and his pseudo-nostalgic rays issuing from Victorian street lamps and windowed candle stands. The Impressionists are a much better bunch on which to focus our attention. Besides, they aren’t trademarked or shrink wrapped. We’re talking about serious artists who knew the subtleties of the day’s ever-changing light, who understood its effect on our world, and who chased light with a passion. So grab a cup of cocoa or, better yet, a Margarita, and join me in the sun room of Impressionism.

First on my list is Claude Monet. Famous for his painting series in which he followed the sun’s daily progression on stationary objects, this artist gave us a true impression of the light itself without belaboring details. “Rouen Cathedral, West Facade, Sunlight,” 1894, (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) is perfect for our consideration. The light is intense in this painting and floods the cathedral’s stonework with whites and pale yellows. Unlike other paintings from the cathedral series, the sun is near it’s zenith, pushing ambers into the facade’s shadowy violets and blues. Monet’s handling of paint creates a shimmering effect, and one can almost sense heat radiating from the hallowed walls.
Sisley's "Church of Moret"

Another Monet painting that can lift spirits is his earlier painting, “Study of a Figure Outdoors: Woman with a Parasol,” 1886, (Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France). Again, the impressionistic light is intensely bright, and clouds, clothing and wildflowers all play in an early summer breeze. The gestural image evokes not only sights of midday, but also teases our senses with imagined sounds and smells, and we are transported out of our perpetual snowbank into marvelous warmth.

Alfred Sisley, a fellow French Impressionist, painted “Church of Moret,” 1893 (Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, France) with a similar flavor as Monet’s ‘Rouen Cathedral.’ Rendered a bit more tightly than Monet’s cathedral, light caresses the massive building. This time the sun is lower in the sky, intensifying the color. In fact, it is earlier in the season – perhaps much earlier. The ground seems snow-covered, but gives up cool colors to ambers and warm siennas. Light saturates the church’s stonework and invades the cityscape. Warm light, coupled with a clearing sky, gives viewers the promise of fairer seasons to come.

Given that hope, darkest winter can be kept in proper perspective. If necessary, shutter winter’s bleak silhouettes and somber shadows, put on some soft piano music and cozy up to a good book or studio easel. And remember the impressions of summers past from the likes of Monet and Sisley, while enjoying the season’s hushed gentleness. The hectic days of coming seasons will arrive in their own time, and will make us yearn for the solitude that is now ours.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I for one appreciate your "sharp" tongue. It has often given me a chortle on a bleak day. Raising my margarita to it.