Friday, February 10, 2012

What Is "Painterly" Painting?

“Painterliness” generally refers to works with visible brushstrokes, “the result of applying paint in a less than completely controlled manner, generally without closely following carefully drawn lines,” in the apt words of Wikipedia.  

I’d like to offer a possibly clunkier, but arguably more useful working definition. Painterly paintings openly express, rather than absorb or synthesize, the aesthetic choices made at each stage of the creative process. 

Henri Matisse, Fruit and Coffeepot, c. 1898
In painterly painting, the painter’s presence is palpable in various aspects of the work (especially brushwork, but also composition, coloring and object relations, and tonality). The artist gives us the object depicted dynamically, the depiction visibly fused with the thought process behind depicting it.

William Nicholson, Still Life with Cup and Books, c. 1910
Such painting is often said to be primarily “about” painting or “about” seeing rather than primarily (or just) about the subject chosen. It invokes and includes the process of painting (as well as the more or less conscious act of "seeing") in the service, simultaneously, of realism, subjective expression, and an exploration of the processes at the heart of art and perception.

Stuart Shils, Big Sky, Sun Breaking Through Lackan Haze, 2003.

What's your take, and could you suggest any favorite "painterly" painters or paintings we should know about?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bavarian Gentians

Not every man has gentians in his house

Bavarian Gentian
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.
Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto's
gloom, ribbed and torchlike, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off
lead me then, lead me the way.
Persephone (Rossetti)

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
Let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
down the way Persephone goes, just now, in first-frosted September

to the sightless realm where darkness is married to dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice, as a bride
a gloom invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms of Pluto as he ravishes her once again
and pierces her once more with his passion of the utter dark
among the splendour of black-blue torches, shedding
fathomless darkness on the nuptials.

Bavarian gentians, tall and dark, but dark
darkening the daytime torch-like with the smoking blueness of Pluto's gloom,
ribbed hellish flowers erect, with their blaze of darkness spread blue,
blown flat into points, by the heavy white draught of the day. 

- D.H. Lawrence

Blue Morning Glory (La Farge)