Monday, July 18, 2011

Pinch of salt and sand

Albeit it has been pretty sunny recently in Surrey, I'm really wishing I was on an adventure at a beach somewhere or on the French riviera. I guess I could always pretend by taking some sand toys and a snorkel to the pool... anyway my fix is to look at beach scenes in art. 

This obsession started with John Singer-Sargent's wonderful oil painting Neopolitan Children Bathing (1879). This painting is just really stunningly beautiful. You have an extremely inauspicious snapshot of this family just enjoying their time on the beach, totally nonchalantly naked and relaxed. The body language just makes me filthily green with envy, the languid poses practically flaunting their obliviousness to 'the real world'. The cerulean of the sea and the pale beige of the sand provide a loving contrast on which the characters lightly rest. I also love the small crashing surf on the sand, the sea just looks so real and inviting.

Not every seascape has to be a sandy one or a sunny one at that. This painting by Claude Monet from 1865 gently illustrates that sometimes even a grey day can be calmingly beautiful. The colors in At Low Tide are all cool and evoke the feeling of a chilly, salty breeze coming in off of the sea in the morning. To the right is a cliff that seems rendered in a paint by numbers scheme, you know when you have a blend of different colors and amorphous shapes that are stitched together slightly haphazardly...? The olive greens, beiges, sandy tones and rusts all lend the right side a warmer and earthy edge that is in contrast to the steely greys and greens of the sea and sky. However, in the middle of the sky it looks as though the clouds are breaking to reveal the faintest blue.

Oh Paul Gauguin how you slay me. This past semester I had to do an exhibition review for my modern art class and chose the Gauguin retrospective at the Tate Modern in London. Now, I already had a preconceived idea about the man behind the painting - I didn't like him. Then in addition I wasn't super impressed with the curation if the exhibition. Oh well, you can't please everyone eh? However, all this did not detract from the fact that Paul Gauguin was a very talented artist. His sejourns in Tahiti left a lasting impression on his work and the natives were often subjects in his work as seen in Riders on the Beach (1902).

Some of these names may seem familiar to you as should this one: Pierre-Auguste RenoirSunset at Sea (1879) is an extremely textured painting with layers of golds, blues and oranges all riddled together to create a painting that seems almost sad. We've all seen the highly color infused images of sunsets, often tropical beaches with pinks and tangerine and inky purple yet this one is much more subdued and less 'majestic'. It seems like a long lost memory tucked away into the dusty recesses of your brain after a sad event. The tiny figure of the boat looks fragile in the hostile distance, as though it were threatened by a storm.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-6) by Georges Seurat is a lesson in pointillism - a painting technique when tiny dots of color are layered on top of each other to create a larger image. Seurat is a pioneer of this technique as exemplified by this painting which is two by three metres. It is absolutely huge, imagine the work that when into planning all the colors and dots. This scene is absolutely wonderful. The distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the French middle class come out to sit by the water in all their finery. I'm just so jealous.

Caspar David Friedrich is a name I had never heard of before I came across his quite famous painting The Monk by the Sea (1808-10). Again the colors are quite subdued like those in Monet's earlier, yet there is a calm beauty about the muted blues and greys. It is slightly ominous and atmospheric, the lone figure in the gaping landscape. I dunno, this one is pretty self explanatory.

I'm just in the middle of another bi-annual Lord of the Rings marathon and I realized that these cliffs would look absolutely wonderful in the film. This is another painting by Claude Monet called The Cliffs at Etretat (1885). This and Singer Sargent's painting make me absolutely cry for a sandy beach and blue water. The wonderful pastel hints in this painting make it a joyous visual experience. The reflection of the water, the clear skies and the tiny figure in the row boat are all calling me to come for a visit. I really want a boat, or a plane to take me to all these places.

Another pointillist artist is Paul Signac here with Antibes the Towers (1911). Do I really need to talk alot about this painting? It is so vibrant and calming... I'm really in the mood for French food and a chaise longue in the sun. There is something extremely magical about the neat brushstrokes in thousands of different colors and shades, the precision is unreal.

It's more difficult to find figurative representations of anything in Modern and Contemporary art, let alone landscapes so when I found this John Baldessari work I was content. Figures at Beach/ Figures on Mountain Peak (1990) is a wonderful pair of contrasting photographs that I don't really feel qualified or comfortable discussing... but I'm going to do it anyway. I think the singular figure on the peak of the mountain is in very stark contrast to the multitude of bodies sprawled on the beach. Their facelessness may be Baldessari's way of making a statement about conformity or social habits of our modern age whereas the personal experience of the figures on the mountain may be more spiritual... had enough yet?

Some of these haven't been 'beach scenes', instead some have been about the French riviera or coastal towns but I decided to include this Gustave Caillebotte painting, Baigneur s'apprĂȘtant Ă  plonger (1878) anyway because it is exactly what I would love to be doing. It was really humid at work the other day and it made me think back to when I was younger and my brothers and I got back from a really hot day at camp. We tore through the house, kicking off shoes, socks and ripping off hats and then just dive bombed the pool, fully clothed. I really wished I could have done that after waitressing but sadly the river nearby looked alittle too stagnant. So again I'm living through art.

And finally, I always get alittle too excited when I see a piece of art by Henri Mattise or any of the other Fauves for that matter. Their devotion to color greatly appeals to the magpie in me. Luxe calme et volupte (1904) was one of several Matisse slides on my end of year Modern Art slide test. Like the Signac it is very vibrant and composed of short, static brushstrokes in a multitude of colors, but unlike Signac's linear, structured image there is a more curvilinear aesthetic to Matisse's composition. Whether this is reflected exclusively in his rendering of the female nude or his more fluid style I'm not sure but the painting has a dual vibrancy of both composition and harmony that you don't see in many other paintings here.

So, where are all you lucky devils going on holiday this year then?

- Life is good

[SignacGauguinSeuratMonetRenoirMonetSinger SargentMatisseFriedrichBaldessari, Caillebotte]

Listening to: 'Annie You Save Me' - Graffiti6
Observations: Lord of the Rings still gets me
Craving: a holiday

1 comment:

  1. Do you know of an artist with the signature L. Laurens? The style of the painting in question is similar to John Singer-Sargent.