This past Wednesday, my painter friend, Meredith and I traveled to Williamstown and visited the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute http://www.clarkart.edu/ . On displayed was an exhibit entitled, "Rembrandt and Degas: Two Young Artists". As a young artist, Degas had spent three years in Italy studying and copying the masters including many of Rembrandt's self portraits. This show is intimate in number, 16 artworks in total as well as in subject matter, Degas's and Rembrandt's self portraits, in paint and print. I opted to skip the overwhelming MFA, Boston Degas Exhibition for this little show. I wasn't disappointed.
A few years ago I wrote a little essay about portraits. The piece follows :
This past winter my plein air painting friends decided to rent a studio to keep our friendship fires warm and our painting eyes and hands honed. On Thursday mornings, while the Northeast winds howled and the ice dams grew, we each drew numbered lots and took turns sitting quietly to pose for a 30 minute period as the hub for searching eyes and sketching tools. These portrait drawing sessions were an experience that included both vulnerability and veneration: the former for the sitter, the latter for the artist.
Alexej von Jawlensky (Russian, 1864-1941) was fascinated by the sensual and spiritual power of the face. About the end of WWI, he started to draw "mystic heads" or faces of the saints and entitled them poetically. By 1916, he progressed to a spiritual brand of abstraction called Meditative Art, a unique contribution to Modern Art. I too found myself drawn to the transcendent spiritual qualities of my painter friends' faces.
There is a similarity of approach to the painting of an outdoor landscape and the landscape of the human face. With lines, colors and textures, these elements express much and then more. They describe the terrain by delineating flesh into deep fissures, soft wrinkles and perhaps end with a dimple. The landscape maybe capped with a snow white crown, or covered with the rosy patch of blood vessels steamy on the surface or divided into dark and light by the vertical slope of the nose. Will the focus be on the smile or the pensive look or the inward glance towards the soul? Look deeply at this landscape. Give quiet pause. Let the eyes move across the surfaces. Travel their history.
The artist's challenge is to fill a small format with rapid chiseling paint and brush into the jewel we all are.
"Come meditate upon my face and I upon yours and then with point, line and mass express the sensual and the spiritual represented in the human face while coming to terms with the question of who we are: we are merely humans with the face like His." SJS