Blair and I painted on the banks of the Seine this week. Despite very grey weather, we sat on the stones and painted the willow. When the two of us paint together, it is quite amusing: we never see things the same. I think something must happen when the subject enters the “interpretive” part of our brain. I translate three dimensions into two with bright colors. Blair has a sense of perspective.
The dilemma of the “plein air” painter is to put a three-dimensional object onto a two dimensional surface. This dynamic, when the dynamo is working, transmits the spark, the individual interpretation, a little bit of the painter’s muse onto the canvas. It is this interpretation which makes a painting unique. A photo is already two dimensional, so when painting from photo, one copies what one sees. En plein air, one is forced to transfer the actual volume of the scene onto a flat surface. The roughness of the stones, the gloom under the bridge, the willow branches skimming the water can all be suggested by the artist.
While we were painting, two men were taking pictures of one another beneath the tree. Later, they asked if they could photograph Harika; one of them WITH Harika; one with me and my painting (Harika crashed that scene). I just love that one day our photos will appear in some far away photo album, and years hence a daughter will say, “this was my Dad when he went to Paris back in 2011”.
A little girl was selling daffodils on the sidewalk this week, a sure sign of spring. She had a large red bucketful of flowers, and was holding them out to passersby. I could see her from my window, and quickly committed the scene onto a wood panel.
The crocuses are in bloom in the garden, and I can never tell if it is someone’s perfume or the scent of flowers wafting through the air when we are out walking the dog.
My goal is always to finish my painting in one swoop. It’s never the same if I have to “go back”: the light is different, my brain is different. I paint “loosely” when I paint outside. In doing so, I leave lots of room for the viewer to finish the scene in his own head.
Although one thinks mainly of figurative painting when painting “en plein air”, it is not strictly limited to painting what one exactly sees. Paul Klee and John Marin painted outdoors. Turner, who painted brilliantly “atmospheric” canvases, was a dedicated “plein air-ist”. He is alleged to have tied himelf to the mast of a ship to realize the impact of a storm at sea. I don’t think we’ll go that far.