Joep Franssens’ Harmony of the Spheres and the art of Sohan Qadri
Both express the sense of peace and power that comes from mediation and tapping into the Unconscious. A powerful duo. Enjoy.
I was surprised by how much I love painting abstracts. Just playing with color, design, textures is so freeing and creative. There’s no worry involved, no trying to make the work look like something in particular, or any hesitation to try something new for fear I’ll “ruin” it.
Yet it’s not like I begin with no thought in mind. I have a sense of what I want to create or capture. It’s not like I’m just throwing down color willy-nilly, although I suppose there would be nothing wrong with doing that either. But I like the creative process of laying down lines, swirls, design and adding paint to create a sense of balance, interest, complication, and completion. Each layer or choice adds something distinct and interesting to the whole.
In this first piece I started with that primal swirl in white oil pastel, then added the three slanted lines at the top in gold oil pastel. After that I dropped in various hues of blue, wet-on-wet so they could mix and mingle, and let it dry. When dry I added the dark blue dripping at the top, coaxing the drips around the oil pastel. I added the dark gold at the bottom and in various places for interest and balance, then let it dry again. In the last pass I toned down the gold pastel with blue pastel, added more “sparkles” and swirls of white and gold pastel, then more blue pastel toward the center of the major swirl to help the white pop.
It was all a careful, studied consideration, born of intuition and gut-feel, to reach the balance and interest I was looking for. My love of blue and gold in combination was given full rein to play with each other, and I noticed how my favorite doodles when I’m lost in thought made their way into the painting as well.
In the end, this piece reminds me of the night sky, with its swirling galaxies, shooting stars, and so on. Although intentionally, that wasn’t what I had started out to create, I think my love for the night sky, that mystery and romance, was expressed here subconsciously.
I think that’s what I love about the making of abstract art, the little I’ve done so far, surprising myself with what gets pulled up subconsciously from some deeper inner reservoir. It’s what I’ve always loved about writing too, surprising myself with what comes out on paper.
The next piece I created was totally different in style and by intention. I wanted to experiment with lifting out a figure from layers of paint, which I did on the right. I wanted bright primal colors. After the deep blue and red on the right I laid down a brilliant yellow and then a dark gold below. Then I added the marks at the top and bottom left purely for what I thought would be “interesting” and enough to balance with the dark red and blue on the other side without taking away too much attention from that vague ghostly figure, which I saw as being the main focus.
When I reached what appeared to be an interesting balance, I stopped. “Man in Motion” came to me unbidden when I looked at the figure, so I suppose I will name it that, although what that means, if anything, I do not know.
This last piece was inspired by my love of scarlet and gold “in conversation.” I decided to split the painting into two unequal wholes. I started with swirls of gold and red oil pastel across the whole sheet. Then I used masking tape to divide the two sides and began splashing on two or three variations of red, one on top of the other, wet on wet. I did the same with yellow and gold on the other side. Then I used crushed cellophane to add pattern and texture to both sides. Finally I added some drips of blue on the red, and drips of dark gold and red on the yellow side.
But I wasn’t quite satisfied.
So I did something dangerous and daring. I added a strip of dark blue across the middle of the yellow side. It was awful! I thought I had ruined it and began trying to sponge it away, then I washed and scrubbed it, but a green stain remained. So I added more yellow on top of it and added more swirls of gold oil pastel. And I kept playing and experimenting until finally I was satisfied, and decided I liked this better than what I had before after all.
This is what I ended up with. For some reason the colors seem brighter in the previous photo than in this one, but in actuality, this is as rich and luminous as the one above. However, this final version seems more interesting and “complete” to me than the first, which seemed to lack “something,” a depth, perhaps, or focus, or darker interest.
Anyway, I enjoyed this whole process so much, I know I’ll be painting more abstracts.
Knowing little about abstract art I did some research online and found this essay on the Metropolitan Art Museum website. It was fascinating how many abstract artists felt they were tapping into some “universal inner sources” when they painted, and how they felt their works “stood as reflections of their individual psyches.” I also like how “these artists valued spontaneity and improvisation, and accorded the highest importance to process.”
“For Abstract Expressionists, the authenticity or value of a work lay in its directness and immediacy of expression. A painting is meant to be a revelation of the artist’s authentic identity.”
I suppose that’s why someone like me who is playing with art and doing it purely for my own pleasure and interest would be drawn toward the abstract. And no doubt it is why the creation of art itself can be such a healing activity.
The essay ends with this interesting bit about the “expressive potential of color,” and the artist’s quest for the sublime.
Mature Abstract Expressionism: Color Field
Another path lay in the expressive potential of color. Rothko, Newman, and Still, for instance, created art based on simplified, large-format, color-dominated fields. The impulse was, in general, reflective and cerebral, with pictorial means simplified in order to create a kind of elemental impact. Rothko and Newman, among others, spoke of a goal to achieve the “sublime” rather than the “beautiful,” harkening back to Edmund Burke in a drive for the grand, heroic vision in opposition to a calming or comforting effect. . . . For Rothko, his glowing, soft-edged rectangles of luminescent color should provoke in viewers a quasi-religious experience, even eliciting tears.
Certainly color and color combinations have always had a particular hold on me, even to the point of a “quasi-religious experience” that has led to a “tearing up.” It’s how I judge art in general, not so much for its beauty but for its ability to move me, whether toward the sublime or in some other deeply felt way. This is true for me both as a maker of art and a lover of art.
Love, I think, is the glue that holds it altogether.
Two of my paintings are being shown at a local gallery this month. They are part of an exhibition titled “For Love of Central & Coastal California.”
One is a view of iconic Morro Bay Rock as seen from the top of Highway 46, not far from where we live. It is one of my favorite views, especially in the spring with the green hills folding down to the sea. In the actual view from the highway, Morro Rock can barely be seen, even on a clear day. But one of the wonderful things about painting is that you can move things around and make them smaller or larger to fit your vision and what you want to capture.
This painting was a composite of the following two photographs that I took not long ago. I tried to capture the intense green hills and their shadows from the first photo, and more detail of the ravines that spider up the far hills in the second. I made the hills steeper than they actually are and emphasized the road dipping into the folds.
The second painting on display is a view of a hidden sea cave as seen from Highway 1 near Big Sur.
It is a composite of the following two photos, the first featuring the yellow wild flowers that grow near the highway overlooking the sea, and the second shows the cave itself in its private cove. You can barely make out the fence and pathway leading down the cliff toward the ocean in the photo.
This last painting is not part of the show but shares the theme. It is a painting of a pathway lined with oaks leading to the river near our home. A “California dreamer” leans against a tree trunk.
This is the reference photo, sans the mountain and the “dreamer” I added.
I was trying to use the colors and the looser style found in the following painting, one of my favorites by Henri Manguin.
Mine isn’t as successful as I had hoped, but it still captures enough of that “dreamy” feeling of late afternoon, with the sun filtering down through the leaves, to want to keep it.
I hope you enjoyed this brief stroll with me through California’s sunlit and sea-splashed hills. May you savor the natural beauty that lies in your own backyard, wherever that may be.
Recently I discovered the sculptures of Francisco Zuniga and have been drawn to recapture what I love about them in the only mediums I have access to: watercolor and words.
My paintings, of course, don’t do them justice, nor do these photos of the originals, I imagine. But they are all I have to work with and share.
This first, called “Stooping Woman,” in white marble, was found in a book of his artwork. I love the luscious curves, the way the light and shadows play against the form to deepen the contours and highlight the delicate curve of her spine and hips—the way they glisten. And yet she seems soft enough to touch. You can imagine her unfolding herself, stretching her arms and stepping from the stool.
There’s almost an egg-like feel to the image, her folded over on herself like that, as if gathering herself downward and inward toward her essential being: round and solid, half-hidden, womb-like.
I decided to give her flesh tones and contrast that silky smoothness with a rough-textured background. She’s wrapped in a blue-green sea, although I kept her stool to keep her grounded. She’s not floating off anywhere. She knows what she’s doing.
The proportion isn’t quite right I’ve decided, the right hip not round enough. But aside from that I’m happy with the results. She says what I wanted her to say.
The second Zuniga sculpture I found on Pinterest when I was creating my “Mothers and Other Lovers” page. The stone here is rough and earthy, a warm reddish-brown. The baby looks soft enough to want to squeeze. This one has a more primitive feel, as seems appropriate for the Madonna theme.
I’m not as happy about my attempt to capture what I love about this image, as I was with the other. I wanted to show them within a cave-like setting, as if emerging from the darkness into light. And I let the mother’s hair sweep around to surround them. The blue and red geometric design was meant to lend it an iconic feel. But the “cave-like” part looks (and was) overworked, and parts of the figures look washed out, especially in this photo. I’ll probably work on it some more, or start fresh and try again.
Zuniga also worked in watercolor. Simple designs, mostly of indigenous women. If you’d like to learn more about his work, you can watch this short video.
As I’ve been experimenting with styles, I’ve been mixing watercolor with collage and ink, and having a lot of fun with it. The first one I tried was a bouquet with butterflies, in homage to Odilon Redon. I wanted to capture the richness of his oils in watercolor by adding texture, crumbled tissue paper. using white and colored tissue paper. First I painted the flowers and butterflies watercolor, and then tore off larger swaths of crumbled white tissue to paste over larger areas. Then added smaller bits of colored tissue where needed on some of the petals and leaves and butterfly wings. When that dried, I added more detail with water watercolor paint and pencils. I was pleased with the results. I don’t think the photo here does it justice. Although you can make out some of the texture.
I followed a similar method on the painting of the blue oak tree. This is from a photo I took of an old oak tree., one of my favorites. It’s featured as the heading of my Facebook page. I’ve always loved the way the branches of some oaks look like octopus arms, and I was striving for that look. You can see some of the texture from the tissue here along the branches and also in the foliage background. I hadn’t planned on adding the white dove. That came later after I completed the painting and just didn’t feel satisfied. Something was missing. That’s when I drew a small dove on white paper and glued to a tree branch. Then I pasted my white tissue over it and around it to help it blend in more. That seemed to be just what it needed..
The last one here isn’t a collage, although it almost looks like it is. I was aiming for a playful, abstracted look, using the intense colors you find in a marina setting and focusing on the “dancing lights” reflected on the water. When I was finished painting, I outlined the boats and dock with black ink to help the images “pop” even more. I used to do that as a child when I colored, outlining the images in black. I always thought they looked better that way.
I’ve found I like working with collage and ink and the way they enhance my paintings. I imagine I’ll be experimenting more with this technique as I continue playing with watercolor.
Recently I discovered the watercolors of John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer, two great American artists that I had known primarily for their oil portraits and landscapes. But each in their later years, especially when travelling (Sargent the to Mediterranean, Homer to the Key West and Bahamas) preferred painting in watercolor and created some astonishing works. Each was drawn toward capturing the dazzling whites and blues of the sea, the lights and shadows and reflections thrown up on the hulls of boats and mirrored in the water.
“To live with Sargent’s water-colours is to live with sunshine captured and held,” writes one biographer. Another calls Homer “the poet of the sea.”
Sargent was born some 20 years after Homer and outlived him by about as much. But at the height of their careers their worked overlapped each other. Yet while working in similar mediums (oil and watercolor) and drawn toward similar scenes (boats, the sea, light on water) their styles, while equally masterful, were unique. Each captured some unique aspect of the sailing experience, and each captured the spirit of the thing they were after. But they were after different things.
I lived and sailed on the sea for many years, both in the tropics and the Mediterranean. I spent long days in tranquil coves and landless seas, as well as busy ports and colorful quay-sides. I know that balmy bliss and dreamy languidness. I know the thrill of that chaotic energy.
Sargent’s watercolors capture the boldness and busyness of the ports, the dazzling brightness as the sun dances across the hulls of ships and scatters into the sea, winks among the rigging and splashes upon the warm decks. His paintings capture the sweeping rhythm of hull lines and mast tilts, of sails fluttering in the breeze above swaying decks.
Immersed in that chaotic noise, the eye is too dazzled, too overcome with the busyness and beauty of it all to separate out all the chaotic details. One sees only the mass and movement, the lines and curves, the dazzling light and cool shadows. That is what Sargent captures in the watercolors here. Immersion in the moment. When I enter his scenes I’m immediately transported back in time. I’m there standing on the docks with him . . .
. . . or approaching the scene from a dinghy.
I’m seeing what he sees, feeling what he feels. I am right there at the center of it all.
Some insight into Sargent’s style and method can be found in a publication about his watercolors:
“Sargent’s approach to watercolor was unconventional. Disregarding contemporary aesthetic standards that called for carefully delineated and composed landscapes filled with transparent washes, his confidently bold, dense strokes, loosely defined forms, and unexpected vantage points startled critics and fellow practitioners alike. One reviewer of an exhibition in London proclaimed him “an eagle in a dove-cote”; another called his work “swagger” watercolors. For Sargent, watercolors were not so much about swagger as about a renewed and liberated approach to painting. His vision became more personal and his works began to interconnect as he considered the way one image—often of friends or favorite places—enhanced another.”
Homer’s watercolor scenes have a different style and feel. There’s no “swagger,” no startling viewpoints.
While Sargent’s watercolors have an abstract, impressionistic feel, Homer’s paintings feed a narrative. They aren’t so close up and chaotic. They have a writerly gaze. A “watching from a distance” feel. Rarely do you find a painting without people visible. Without the sense that you are watching a story unfold.
You see the wide sweep of sky and sea. You feel the heavy humidity in those clouds and the heat from that dazzling brightness. You see a crowded deck with people raising sails. You see an unfamiliar distant vista. You see a story unfolding. And while you see only one moment of that story, his paintings invite you to imagine more.
In Homer’s painting, the viewer is right there–we feel the heat, the hot sky, the warm water, the hand gripping the deck–but like a reader immersed in another’s story, not like we are there personally ourselves.
Homer’s paintings can be as exciting and full of movement as Sargent’s, as we see below.
But Sargent’s are rarely as full of human drama and emotion as Homer’s.
Or as dreamy and wistful.
And that’s a criticism made of each. How so many of Sargent’s paintings, while artistically masterful, fail to evoke human emotion or even a sense of what he sees as “beautiful,” as one critic complains. While on the other hand many of Homer’s paintings can be seen as nostalgic, or bordering on the sentimental.
As for me, I see something I love in each. Both speak to me and my experience in powerful ways.
As we were sailing, every leg of our journey was a story unfolding, for my family personally, but also for those people and places we glimpsed along the way. We were voyeurs as well as voyages. We saw scenes unfolding around us that never came to a conclusion. Long lazy days and balmy nights invited us to wonder where they might lead.
At the same time we were immersed in our very own chaotic and exciting sense-experiences, void of narrative, but full of feeling. We wafted between that abstract intensity and the dreamily nostalgic. As perhaps we all do, immersed in the moment as the long thread of our lives unfolds.
Which artist speaks to you? Do you have a favorite among those shown today, or ones you’ve seen elsewhere?
You can read more about these artists and see more of their works in the links below.
Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910)
John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)
I fell in love with the title of Milan Kundera’s novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” long before I ever read it. To me it evokes something unbearably joyful and rich, playful and profound.
So I was disappointed to find the novel itself, while a wonderful read, rich and playful and its own way, suggested a different interpretation of its title, a profound sadness at how fragile and transitory life is, how quickly its bright light fades.
I don’t see life that way at all. I mean, I see it, I understand why it may seem that way. But I don’t believe it.
To me, the beauty of this “lightness of being” is not that it is “unbearable” as in too horrible to bear, but “unbearable” as in too delicious to bear, to contain. It spills over.
I think that’s what I was trying to convey in my painting of the dancing poppies in a blue bowl. The beauty of the seemingly solid things that surround us, that make up our lives, is that they are not “heavy” or “static,” but constantly in motion, “dancing” as it were through time and space. Constantly dissolving itself and resolving into something else, similar, but not quite the same. The way the present moment dissolves and resolves instantaneously as we move through time.
There’s a wonderful analogy of the universe/reality by the physicist David Bohm. He sees reality and consciousness, what he calls the “implicate order,” as a “coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment.” He likens this whole (all that ever was and ever will be) as a tightly woven ball of yarn, one infinite thread. Yet the way we perceive it through time and space is as if the ball of yarn is rolling away and unraveling before our eyes. We glimpse “what is” second by second, inch by inch, as it reveals itself to us in micro-bites and nano-seconds. It’s not that reality is actually unraveling, but that the illusion of its unraveling is how we come to comprehend it, see it, know it, love it. We are one with it all the while, even while it appears as something distinct and separate from our selves.
Another analogy that I love is Indra’s Net. Here the universe/reality is like an infinite net with a pearl at each interstice. Each pearl reflects every other pearl as well as the whole net itself. Each pearl contains within itself, as part of its own lustrous being, part of its own distinct individuality, all the others around it. The part contains the whole and vice versa.
This view of reality makes sense to me, not only from a scientific and spiritual viewpoint, but experientialy as well. I experience this every time I walk through the house and pass through one doorway after another and watch this interior landscape flowing past me, one room dissolving as a new one approaches. Every time I look out the window and take in the trees and hills and houses and sky and hold them in my mind’s eye even as I turn away. Practical, ordinary, experiences we all share.
I hold all those I love with me wherever I go as I know they do me. My breath is constantly circulating through my body as I breathe in the world around me and breath it out again. Nothing is still for even a second. All of life is in constant motion, the atoms within us and the galaxies swirling about our heads.
This is the unbearable lightness of being. Dancing poppies, dissolving bowl. Brush dipped in water and paint spilling images across a page. All this spilling together going on right here and now as you read this, my heart and mind spilling out to you.
What could be lighter, brighter, more playful and profound than that? This unbearably rich and joyful lightness of being.
I’ve long had a thing about the colors blue and gold, especially in combination. Something about them soothes and excites me. I created a Pinterest page of nothing but images of blue and gold. I go there to feel enriched, refreshed. To simply bask in the feelings these colors evoke. Depth and richness, serenity and empowerment.
Blue is the color of the sea and the sky, or sleep and twilight. In color psychology it represents mystery, depth, intuition. It also symbolizes intelligence, inspiration, wisdom and spirituality, even the Virgin Mary. One source considers blue as “beneficial to the mind and body.” It is associated with peace and tranquility.
The color gold is associated with “illumination, love, compassion, courage, passion, magic, and wisdom.” It symbolizes self-purification, humankind’s quest to perfect, illuminate and refine ourselves. In Christian art it is often used to convey divine love.
Together, I think they symbolize the creative spirit, with all the mystery and intuition, passion and empowerment that implies.
Sometimes I find myself dreaming of images in blue and gold, and that’s where these last two paintings come from. Both were inspired in part by paintings of Odilon Redon, his blue poppies, his lady in blue, as shown above.
But in my dream, the poppies were dancing, lighter than air, in a deep blue bowl, partial and incomplete. As if blown away by, or evaporating into, the light.
My blue lady, deep in meditation, became sphinx-like, swathed in swirling spirals of blue and gold.
The blue I used is my favorite, Daniel Smith’s French Aquamarine, which I used straight from the tube with only enough water to allow it to flow. Applied that way it has such a velvety texture it makes you want to touch it.
The gold is Smith’s Quinacridone Deep Gold, another favorite, which I mellowed with Cadmium Yellow Light.
The poppies are framed now at the end of my hallway. I named it, appropriately enough, “Dancing Poppies in a Blue Bowl.” Although sometimes I just think of it as “blown away.” I like the lightness of the poppies, the weight of the bowl, the way the whole piece is in motion.
The other, “Meditation in Blue and Gold,” is leaning on a bookshelf in my study. When I glance at her she instills in me that sense of peace and inspiration and love essential to any creative task.
Capturing light in painting is one of the artist’s greatest challenges and deepest joys.
I fell in love with the dazzling white lights in the paintings of Sorolla. And later the warm, buttery light that infuses Franz Bischoff’s California seascapes. I couldn’t help but be tempted to try my own hand at capturing even a fraction of the light they capture in their paintings. I knew I wouldn’t be able to come close, but you can learn so much from your failures. You learn what is possible, what doesn’t work, what your limits are, what you still need to learn.
I decided to start by trying to capture some of that warm buttery feel in Bischoff’s paintings, before moving toward Sorolla’s dazzling white light.
These first two attempts are from photographs I took on a trip to Big Sur at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park along Highway 1. Before donating the land to the state, the original owners had a house on a bluff overlooking the ocean. These are the views from her home. On one side the coastline and Highway 1 snaking northward. to the south a private cove with an 80 foot waterfall. In their backyard are the redwoods. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have lived in that magical place, to have woke each morning to these views from their windows.
I’m not unhappy with the results. When I compare my paintings to photographs of his (below), I think I captured some of that warm, buttery glow.
That encouraged me to try a study of one of my favorite Sorolla paintings, changing it slightly–a different boat and adding a swimmer snorkeling. I could not capture his dazzling white rocks, so I settled for a something more colorful, abstract.
I’m happy enough with the results, although it’s nothing like Sorolla’s. His secret is still safe from me. Still, I’m more in awe of him now than before.
His blues are so much deeper, his lights so much brighter. And his reflections! His colors! How does he do that? I get drunk on his colors. I want to dive in and live there.
Here are links to more of Sorolla’s and Bischoff’s paintings where you can see them in greater detail. They are artists you could fall in love with. I did.