Category Archives: Research point: compare the approaches of contemporary landscape artists with those of earlier artists.

Research point: compare the approaches of contemporary landscape artists with those of earlier artists.

Tacita Dean’s blackboard drawings compared to Seurat’s Landscape with House:

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Tacita Dean, Fatigues, 2012 (chalk on blackboard)

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Georges Seurat, Landscape with Houses, 1881/82, (conte crayon on paper)

Comparison:

Similarities: Both are monochrome and use drawing medium (chalk and conte crayon) that can be smudged. Other than that I’m struggling!

Differences: Tacita isolates her ‘glacier’ from reality and pins it like a bug in an entomological collection, like a butterfly in a case, for us to examine. It’s even got pseudo labelling. Her drawing is pin sharp and has a photographic reality. We are an unconnected observer, a scientist, not absorbed into the atmosphere of being on, or in, or near the glacier, and not emotionally involved.

We are in awe of her skill and the beauty, size and power of the glacier. But it is a psychological response not an emotional or sensory one. We remain as detached as we would from an illustration in a scientific photographic journal, with the foreground and background blacked out.

In total contrast, Seurat emotionally engages. We are drawn into his picture both emotionally and physically. The drawing is dark (where Tacita’s is all light and definition) and indistinct. We peer through the darkness with Seurat at this ‘home farm’. And are taken to that special moment, or a special moment of our own, where we are returning home in the gloom.

His focus (the buildings) exists in space whereas in Tacita’s her glacier is divorced from it.

We are standing in the foreground – near the tree, staring… a little light patch of grass in front of us, at the farm building. We use the drawing as a key to see with our mind and experience with our body, our emotions, and our senses. In contrast, in Tacita’s drawing we ‘see’ with our eyes, as we would a fully photographic image. But with Seurat we don’t ‘see’ the drawing… we experience it.

Also the different mediums and supporting mediums, of chalk on board and conte on paper, would affect the physicality of the drawing.

Conclusion: It would be difficult to pick two more dissimilar drawings, one art as science and the other art as a shared human experience.

Note on my choices:

  • It was difficult to find non commercial unbiased academic articles online about the best contemporary (living) landscape painters. Though the web was awash with gallery websites and painters selling their wares… unlike still lifes where I struggled to find any.  So I had to resort to a commercial filter… I looked at paintings that were selling for over £1000 and if possible had won some recognisable art prizes and picked ones that I liked from that group.
  • Interestingly (with the possible notable exception of David Hockney) the ‘big beasts’ of the art world… the artistic and commercial superstars packing the museums and selling their  paintings for £50,000 plus… were not landscape painters.

 

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Andrew Macara, self taught, distictive style – very popular – commercially successful and won lots of awards – his subject matter incidental to the light – always full of life – simplified but captures essence of a scene.

(The above was on the art site that sold his paintings)

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Monet, The Magpie in 1868-1869, before the first Impressionist exhibition of 1873.

The Magpie is a masterpiece of Monet’s early style, more Realist than Impressionist.

Comparison:

Similarities: Well… they’re both snow scenes. And (for me) they both capture the feel of the moment. Different feel… the Monet I’m walking on my own in fresh snow – see the bird – pause – and there’s that newborn world feel. For the Macara I’m taking my little boy sledging (it’s been a while now he’s at uni!!) and full of the excitement of the moment.

Both use blue in the shadows and both have a hedge casting a shadow.

But I think that the biggest similarity is they both take us away from the moment and into a meditation… whether we rest on the far horizon or rush forward in anticipation.

And I think they both capture the light. One hard midday and the other early morning – but the magic is there in both.

Differences: The Monet is a landscape has a far distance while Macara focuses on the middle ground – the ridge of excitement.

The Monet captures a feeling of contemplation while the Macara captures excitement.

I think the biggest difference is that the Macara is not at all realistic (in visual terms with its hard blue shadows and look of being drawn from imagination rather than on site or from a sketch) – but as with the Seurat it gives us enough to enter the moment. Maybe this is how we actually see? In the ‘moment’ we’re not focusing on the visual?

(Just thinking that when we look at a photograph that’s not how we look at the world – as when we look at a photograph we’re focusing on the visual detached from life… but in life we’re absorbed in the moment. So that’s maybe what we should paint if we want to capture a moment. Not the visual ‘reality’. And why a photograph never works. Because the visual is just one sense [and maybe not even the most important one?!] mixed with  and effected by all our other senses, our emotions and our thoughts.)

Back to the task in hand!!

Whereas the Monet is (although not photorealistic) much more realistic. We could get held by the detail but it has the magpie which draws our eye and a scattering of magic. From the magpie we go to the far horizon. Where we enter the moment.

Conclusion: Although quite different in painting style (realistic and non realistic) and what they capture (contemplation and energy) I think these paintings are very similar because they both use the picture as a key to open the door to another world far away from our present. And embrace us in a totality of experience.

 

 

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Cormac O’Leary, Irish, acrylic and oil, commercially successful enough to be selling at £1000 a pop but couldn’t find much analysis of his style.

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Paul Sérusier: The Bois d’Amour à Pont-Aven: The Talisman (Le Talisman), 1888, oil on wood, 27 cm × 21.5 cm (10 34 in × 8 12 in) Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Comparison:

Similarities: They’re both moving towards the abstract and towards flat shapes in a pattern. And they both have representational elements… in O’Leary’s painting he has aerial perspective with the fading colors, a skyline, size gets smaller and details less distinct with distance and the reflection of the sky in the foreground puddle.

In the Seruier we have the house and less obviously the reflections in the water.

So they both relate to an external reality.

Differences: The Seruier is more divorced from reality than the O’Leary. Apart from the house (which I find really annoying as it keeps pulling me back to this being a painting of a house by a lake) I could get lost in the pattern. It’s aesthetically very pleasing. I’m vaguely aware that there’s a reflection in water but it’s not precise enough to matter.

I’m not in the picture, not in the moment.

It feels like I’m on the edge of a dream on a hot sunny afternoon, vaguely aware of my surroundings, as I slip between waking and sleeping.

In contrast the O’leary is weighted the other way, towards reality. Although it does have abstract elements in the blotches and splotches of colour it’s rooted in the real. I start to move towards the picture… but there’s not quite enough detail (visual or emotional) so I start working to summon up the cold wind and the distant rumble of thunder.

Also the colours in the O’leary aren’t as bright as the Serusier

Conclusion: They are both frustrating because of the dissonance between the different elements in the paintings. And both seem in conflict, transitional… between abstract and reality – as if they can’t fully work out which path to tread.

The O’Leary because I want to become present in the moment but it’s too indistinct. More indistinct and I could abandon myself… less and I could be in the moment like the Monet.

And in the Seruier because just as I drift off I have to fight to ignore the house or start finding the representational clues (which aren’t necessarily there) so I can wake up and see the lakeside.

 

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Nancy Albrecht, Californian, paints ‘en plain air’ on board with aggressive brushstrokes, lots of texture.

(Notes on ‘Best World Landscape Artists’ search – but they were all in USA!!)

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Flowering Trees, 1909, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (leading exponent of German Expressionism)

 

Comparison:

Similarities: Bold energetic brushstrokes and a bright red and black palette.

Differences: The Nancy Albrecht is representational in a sort of cross between expressionism and impressionism way and the Schmidt-Rottluff is pure expressionism. Albeit one that is still tied to reality.

But there again Abstract Expressionism is a totally different thing… that Schmidt-Rottluff’s expressionism is rooted in the flowering trees gives it a totally different impact to a painting with no external visual references.

However, the Schmidt-Rottluff’s painting is definitely not about the trees. We are not meant to journey to the spot and walk into the moment (compare it to the Monet painting).

In contrast, in the Nancy Albrecht painting I think we are meant to stand among the trees and smell the heady tropical scents. She achieves this with bold vibrant brushstrokes and gestural foliage. But the grey sky doesn’t match the vibrancy of the rest of her painting and (visually) sucks the emotional power out of the painting.

In contrast the Schmidt-Rotluff goes for a pop blue sky.

It’s interesting in the Schmidt-Rotluff that even though it is manifestly not ‘real’ it still differentiates the blocks of colour. The trees (however unreal their colour) are not flat… neither is the sky… or the red ‘hedge?’ This stops the blocks of colour jarring and allows us to ‘ignore them’. If it was a flat pattern it couldn’t be a ‘real’ landscape, it would look odd. So even though it’s about the person painting the picture and how they see the world, and not the landscape in front of them, the landscape has to be ‘real enough’ not to distract us.

Conclusion: I think the Nancy Albrecht is a hybrid of Expressionism and Impressionism, neither of which are taken to their full conclusion and which don’t work together. It’s visually plumped up but never goes the whole hog and is pulled back by being too tied to reality – a cloudy grey sky. It doesn’t take us to the moment, it doesn’t take us elsewhere and it doesn’t become something else. And on continued viewing it feels empty…

In contrast the Schmidt-Rottluff does what it says on the tin. It is a pedigree expressionist work of incredible beauty. You enter into it, into the person creating it, and for a brief moment you are no longer alone.

 

 

 

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