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.
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.
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’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.
I’ve become fascinated by the paintings of Redon (1840-1916), a French artist and Symbolist working mostly in charcoal, pastel, and oil. I included one of his paintings in my last post called “La Barque.” I even went so far as to paint a study of it in watercolor as a way to loosen up my own work and let imagination and feeling help free me from an over-reliance on realism.
Many of his paintings feature boats, the sea, and underwater images, which no doubt is why I first gravitated to his work. But I think his musical compositions, his richly saturated colors, and his turn toward the poetic–the mystical and mythical–also drew me. Even perhaps his interest in Eastern philosophy, in Buddha and Hinduism, the indeterminate and invisible. In all these ways he is an artist that speaks to my heart.
Many of his paintings are dream-like. They evoke reality rather than depict it. On his painting entitled “Underwater Vision,” he wrote: “You will feel the poetry of the sands, the charms of the air of the imperceptible line. While I recognize the necessity for a basis of observed reality… true art lies in a reality that is felt.”
His earlier work, mostly in charcoal and lithograph, was dark and sometimes seemed demonic (a spider with a human head, for instance.) But later they became full of light. One art historian says that Redon began to want his works to portray “the triumph of light over darkness.”
Redon wrote: “My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.”
Here are a few of his works that inspire me and show a range of his subjects.