Friday, September 16, 2011

Inspired By John Henry Twachtman

John Henry Twachtman, Connecticut Landscape, ca. 1889-91, pastel on paper, 16 3/4 x 20 3/4 inches, Private Collection
When you least expect it changes happen, at times they are the kind that you may not have hoped for, and at times they are the kind that you needed to make you look at life with a better, positive outlook. Changes in how we approach art happen just the same, and we have the choice to go with it or resist it. Out of fear of change, artists stick to one specific medium, size, color, format, the list goes on and on; although knowing what works best for you, it isn't always good to remain closed to other possibilities. This has been my case. For many years painting has been my only focus, other ways of producing art were brushed off (no pun intended) because "I am a painter!" I realize now how silly of me.
John Henry Twachtman, House and Tree, undated, pastel on paper, 10 x 10 inches, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
At the plein air competition I took part of a week ago I was re-introduced to pastels. Artist Janet A Cook worked a few feet away from me in oils and pastel and I got to thinking about why I haven't given pastel a chance since 1998. That was the seed that was planted in my brain, and it took a book of John Henry Twachtman's art to make it blossom. In this book, I saw some of his pastel drawings done on site and I was blown away by their beauty.
John Henry Twachtman, The Ledges, ca. 1889-91, pastel on pumice board, 8 3/4 x 13 inches, Spanierman Gallery, LLC, New York
Connecticut Landscape and Spring Landscape made me realize that the effects I love in painting can also be achieved with pastel. I love a light red ground coming through the layers of paint, and Twachtman's pastel drawings made use of that technique with toned paper. I had limited myself by thinking that pastel, a form of drawing, has to be done on paper which by general standard is white. I have been aware of toned paper for years but for some strange reason it didn't click with me that I could used it for pastel and plein air.
John Henry Twachtman, Spring Landscape, ca. 1889-91, pastel on paper, 12 x 20 inches, Huntington Museum of Art, West Virginia
I remember doing some pastel work when I was 17, and what I can recall pastel was messy, and in a way hard to control. I am thinking now that maybe I was the problem and that I didn't have control of my hand and my technique. Through Twachtman's pastels I was able to see that I could also get the painterly aesthetic I enjoy so much about plein air painting. The medium does lend itself to broad and delicate applications, I just needed to be better educated. Now the blind fold has been stripped away and I'm looking to the future with excitement about the new explorations I will do with pastels. This has come at a good time since my plein air easel broke just after the competition. Carrying with me small pieces of paper and pastels to the park, I know, will be easier and I'm even thinking that the working time will also be shorter, allowing me to get more done in one day.
John Henry Twachtman, Three Trees, ca. 1888-95, pastel on paper, 14 x 18 inches, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York
I haven't researched much on Twachtman, coming across his book this week introduced me to his art and so far I am loving it. This has also reiterated the fact that I love Impressionist landscapes, and how my use of color and brushwork keeps getting closer to the way Twatchtman, William Merritt Chase, and other Impressionists worked. It was actually a treat to find out that Chase used to paint in Central Park, and it was very interesting to see how some of the places I'm familiar with looked in the 1800's.
Berthe Morisot, A Village (A Village of Maurecourt), pastel on paper, 18 1/2 x 28 1/4 inches, Private Collection, New York
In my search for Twachtman's pastels, I came across this beautiful pastel landscape by Berthe Morisot. There is no denying I love color and loose applications, just like her.
After so much inspiration I have started applying acrylic ground for pastels on 4 ply museum boards. I have cut down large sheets into small manageable sizes that can fit in my messenger bag so that I don't have to carry other unnecessary bulk. Things happen for a reason, and this new interest will be a great solution to traveling with paint. I am heading to Madrid in a week and I would love to get some plein air work done there, but I was skeptical about carrying oil painting supplies. With a few prepared light weight boards and a small selection of pastels traveling light is feasible.

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