I had just returned from seeing this superb little exhibition at the Courtauld Galleries at Somerset House. ‘Little’ in size perhaps but most certainly not in scope, depth and value to the serious modern artist. To be able to get beneath the surface of these important works, see how the concept was developed, the thinking and process made manifest was vital to me as someone whose valued Cezanne above all others for some 40 years. And moreover to get up tight to the paint surface and see the application and colours (so often corrupted by the printing process) for real was a unique opportunity: these paintings and drawings will never again be reunited in our lifetime. Only two were missing, one from the Barnes Foundation (who aren’t allowed to loan out works) and one in private hands who were regrettably unwilling to lend.
Going back to look at some of Cezanne’s writings, I came across some timely thoughts. One in particular seemed germaine, “Art never addresses itself to more than an extremely small number of individuals“. I heard someone at the exhibition say, “Are all these by Cezanne?”..!
He also said “It’s sufficient to have a feeling for art – and without doubt it’s the horror of the bourgeois, this feeling.”
Finally, “One doesn’t replace the past, one only adds a new link to it.”
The mark of a good exhibition for me is one that gets me leaping back to my own easel while reassuring me that I’m going in the right direction.
[February 2014] Well I was then but not now for I’ve been away, battling with science and the corruption of it by politicians. I’m waiting for a visit from Cezanne (he usually sits on my shoulder, grumbling and encouraging) or someone to gee me up and make me see the beauty all around me once again.
It’s one of those cliches that gets under your skin. Well, under my skin, since it’s not something I’ve heard others complain about: it’s the notion that as painters we ‘Capture’ something. You hear it all the time: “So and so has captured this or that”. Said without thinking, as cliches are.
When I was working in Natural History and involved in field trips, what most people seemed largely concerned with was naming whatever it was they encountered. As soon as it was named, or nailed down, they’d move on to the next thing and do the same again. I used to try to get folk actually to look and not just capture it with a name, which is after all merely a human construct. It can obscure the real beauty and wonder of the thing.
I’ve noticed that gallery vistors often spend longer reading the label than looking at the work. Again they need to ‘nail it’ somehow.
In painting, we should be less interested in capturing some quality or life that exists elsewhere than in creating our own. A subject, be it a model, an idea or a view, is a starting point. One stays faithful to the origin while building and extemporising to create something unique and quite different and alternative. At least that is my view. When one looks at a tree or a card player, only the artist can know the subject at first hand: tomorrow it will be different… in the next half hour it will be different !
The painting exists more or less for ever, and as such it becomes the timeless reality. Cezanne ‘created’ his card players, they never actually existed. It was his genius as an artist that rendered them timeless. Here is the difference between photography (that does endeavour to capture some moment in time and space) and mere illustration, however competent. A true artist never makes that mistake but there are hundreds of good illustrators.