Sunday, 17 August 2014


I have been thinking a lot about this lately, having become suddenly more aware of it.  Of course,when you become aware of something, you notice it all the time!

I like to analyse paintings that I admire, and try to discern what it is about those paintings that make them special for me.

I have recently come across the work of a lady artist, who is now President of the UK Pastel Society - Cheryl Culver.  I saw her work at Art in Action for the first time, and found myself standing in front of her paintings for ages, enjoying them thoroughly.  Here is one:

and here is one of the sketches, done in the landscape, that she works from:

What fascinates me about these images is that Cheryl clearly "sees" in 2D, rather than 3D.  She sees SHAPES in the landscape.  The negative shapes, between branches, and trunks, are just as important as the positive shapes of branches and trunks.  On close inspection, the tree trunks and branches are not drawn with huge attention given to conventional three dimensional FORM, are they?   And I suspect that somewhere between the drawing, and the painting, a further transformation takes place, as the artist exaggerates and stylises the shapes within the rectangle, to make a strong design statement.

As a result, the painting works, for me, on a number of different levels.  I enjoy the colours.  I enjoy the shapes.  I enjoy the composition, the flat, two-dimensional pattern. 

There is a sense of recession in the painting, and in the drawing, achieved by changes of scale, but it is not the same kind of recession we see in a rendering of the landscape painted in a more literal way, like this, for instance:

This lovely gentle Marc Hanson painting has all the same elements as Cheryl's - trees, fields, distance....but what a different approach.   It has an equally powerful presence, to my eye...but is much more conventional.  It is more about the world as we see it, rather than about the patterns we might discern in the landscape.

Working with 2 dimensional pattern and shapes, rather than 3 dimensional form, is nothing new of course.
Henri Matisse painted this image using only flat shapes, no form at all other than perhaps the form suggested by the stripes on the sofa (sofa?):

 and of course, Japanese woodcuts often make little use of conventional three dimensions either - this Hokusai woodcut from the C18 or C19, is so modern-looking, and reminds me very much of Cheryl's Culver's painting above with its stylised forms and shapes:

It certainly makes me think a bit.  My own work, generally, follows the same path as Marc Hanson's. And - often, people have said to me "oh my goodness, that could almost be a photograph".  Which aggravates me, because I have to ask myself why I should bother to try to depict the real world faithfully, when mostly, a camera does a better job of depicting the real world, than I can do?   

I think it is time for me to try harder to see more patterns and shapes in my subjects.  Or maybe at least try, even if I do not succeed, in order to stretch myself somewhat.  I am not sure I will be able to make the shift, but it could be fun, and challenging to try. After all, if we stretch to try something new - with a purpose - we  may make some marvellous discoveries.  If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always had.



  1. Um, she's an artist, no? not a "lady" artist. The Japanese woodblock prints are wonderful, always been devoted to them, and you can see why they influenced European art so powerfully in the late 19th century -- then people like Matisse! later on he worked in paper cutouts, a progression from the painting you show here. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  2. mmm- well, she is a lady as well as an artist, it just came naturally to me to say this, perhaps it is a British expression that we use without thinking too much about it, particularly in these days when names like Vivien, for example, are used for both men and woman, so sometimes it is necessary to distinguish. Not sure why mind you. I agree, she is an Artist, with a capital A!! Glad you enjoyed the post - yes I am aware that many artists were influenced by the Japanese images, which came into Europe as wrapping papers initially - fascinating. and thanks for your thanks.

  3. Jackie, wonderful post. And a very thought provoking one and I love Marc Hanson's paintings ... and he is a wonderful person to boot! The last quote is so important for me because I am at a stage (and have been so for over a year) where I am questioning why I am not getting any better. "If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always had."

  4. Jackie...Loved this post. I have just recently started to allow myself to play a bit, rather than doing things as usual. I am hoping that it will allow myself to grow as an artist. You know....nurturing that inner child who played with the crayons years ago. We'll see how it works...

  5. I do not mean to be unkind, but I could not possibly disagree more. I see her work as extremely primitive and not really very interesting. I do applaud the practice of working solely from field sketches, and certainly the ability to mold one's subject into a unique vision is to be valued--and even necessary--in an artist, but to me it seems that she sees not so much as an artist but as a child.

    The first thing that struck me about her work (right before I found this post, when I pulled her up on Google images and was eventually lead here), was exactly what you pointed out: it is almost completely flat, without form. But it is more than that. She paints in symbols rather than unique representations. Every painting has the same tall tree trunks, background evergreens, and frondy-type plants in the foreground, all looking like they were stencilled on. Her language is repetitive and also extremely simplistic. It's like a 6 year old with a puffy-topped tree and a sun with rays coming out of it which are placed ceremoniously in each and every drawing.

    Honestly, these works remind me of nothing so much as the mass produced stencil-looking prints that are so ubiquitous here in the states, which adorn the walls of seemingly every doctor's office or cookie-cutter motel room along the interstate. The colors are bolder in her work, as the former are typically done in washed out pastel colors, but that is the only difference I see. While it may be calming and sometimes pleasing to look at (if you have only seen one or two) there is no substance in this repetitive simplicity to my eye, and certainly no unique vision.

    I cannot imagine, Jackie, why you would feel your own work needed any of what this has to offer. You are a far better artist. Further, I do see an interpretative vision in your work.

    Of course you are free to delete my comment to avoid offending anyone, but it is 3:30 in the morning and I feel the need to be honest.

  6. Tatiana, you are not being unkind in any way, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I have published rather than deleted your post because although we disagree, there is no reason for me to shut down someone just because they do not see things in the same way that I do. However, what I will say is that I am sad that you cannot see the excellence that I can see, and in particular that you feel Cheryl's work is like that of a child, because that, to me, that sounds like the kind of comment I often hear from non-painters, when confronted with work they do not like, and cannot appreciate, possibly because of lack of education...."but my 5 year old could have done that!" It perhaps takes a LOT of experience as a painter to recognise how difficult it is to take the real, 3-D world, and make a 2D representation which is more about shapes and colours than it is to do with recreating trees, grass and leaves.
    To my eye, Cheryl's shapes have an intrinsic beauty which create, for me, an alternative world rather than an attempt to make a copy of my existing, familiar world. They most certainly go WAY, way beyond the kind of "puffy-topped tree and sun ray" paintings that a child would create. As I said above, creating a painting which "could almost be a photograph" is, to my mind, nothing more than reasonably accomplished technique...the ability to make a tree look like a tree, a cloud look just like a cloud. A painting - FOR ME - needs to have a beauty and life absolutely of its own and FOR ME Cheryl's paintings have that.


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