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...


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