Sunday, July 5, 2009

Show hopping: Gustave Caillebotte & James Ensor

"Gallery yoga," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

I often wait for the end of a show's run before going to see it. Unfortunately, the show at which the above picture was taken closed today. But if Gustave Caillebotte: Impressionist Paintings from Paris to the Sea , comes to your city, I'd recommend it. Caillebotte has the boldness and rebellious spirit of the impressionists but doesn't indulge, for the most part, in dancing light, bosomy serving girls in open air cafes or gardens. I had never heard of him before, but he makes me love the impressionist style all over again.

"Regattas at Villers," 1880, Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848–1894)

I enjoy looking at paintings, maybe even more than looking at photos. I love to look at the way the paint is applied -- in
Caillebotte's case , it's considered & controlled but gives an impression of wildness. When looked at close up, his painting technique -- dabs, swathes, scratches, etc., combining & layering unlikely-seeming colors -- become, when one steps back, a convincing illusion of reality . For instance, in the Normandy seascape above, many of the distant sailing ships strung out along the horizon turn out, on close inspection, to be small, nearly shapeless blobs of paint. They could as well be houses or pieces of fruit, yet I saw them definitively as sailboats. This fascinates me. Part of the pleasure, I think, is not knowing how the magic is made. When I look at a photograph, I usually have a pretty good idea of how it was created. With painting I have no real understanding of how it's done. I can admire the work, empathize with the artist, but I can't put myself in his shoes. That frees me, unburdens my looking.

This weekend I also saw a huge & wonderful retrospective of this wildman at MOMA

skeletons James Ensor
"Skeletons trying to warm themselves," James Ensor, 1860-1949

Check out the
Peter Schjeldahl's audio slide show about Ensor. In his review in the magazine, Schjedahl says, "Ensor painted like an angel while conceiving like a devil. But it would take a susceptible soul to reward the MOMA show with Ensor’s strenuously sought response of laughter out loud." I don't agree. I laughed out loud a couple of times. Contrary to what I expected, this painter of skeletons, masks & demonic dolls was obviously having a lot of fun!


Ted Sherarts said...

Dear susceptible soul,
Paintings command longer and deeper views than photographs because paintings require a many more decisions and much more construction time. I don't think a fraction of a second is enough to probe the soul of anything.
Enjoying Caillebotte is a lot easier than pronouncing his name.--Ted

Tim Connor said...

Ted, I take your point but don't agree about the fraction of a second. Enlightenment -- the experience, beyond words or description, that (I'll be using words to describe) everything is everything & it's exactly what it is -- is always described as a moment, a sudden all-at-once realization. Whammo.