Friday, March 12, 2010

peter doig

lately, i've been really attracted to mountains. my recent work has incorporated both imagery of mountains, scenes taking place on, and/or what i imagine the feeling of being on a mountain, or scaling one would feel like. i'm not really sure what turned me onto it, but if i think back as hard as i can, it could be one of several things;

a long conversation i had with my dad about landscapes in general, and the magnetism mountains have.

the idea of a peak, purpose, even a literal idea of climbing.

the sensuality of its shape, as basic as it seems; suggesting the curvatures of a woman, or even phallic, depending on the kind of mountain.

the possibility of the shape, both in suggestion and rhythm; and the strength of triangles in general.

it might also be the boldness of mountains, its presence and the awe it invokes in every person before it.

hokusai katsushika

then i started thinking about a great tribute to painting mountains, paul cézanne’s mont saint-victoire pieces. it’s obvious that cézanne had been drawn to this aix-en-provence mountain, enough to paint over 60 versions of it. i sometimes try to put myself in his shoes and try to imagine what is going through his mind as he painted them, and what drew him so strongly to the subject.

i’d imagine that he’d be in different states from the first painting, through say, the 34th painting, and toward his 60th and so forth. it’s as if, (and this is speculation based on personal experience,) he used the subject as a springboard into the shorthand, experimenting, developing and finesse of his painting.

reading about his dedication to painting saint-victoire, i’m sure that in some occasions, cézanne transcended the state of painting the physicality of the mountain and delved into the spirit of the monument; creating a volume with his paint that was less about visual accuracy than about a stirring of something deep within the viewer and himself.

given the context of painting at the time, the change that can be seen from one of his earlier paintings of mont saint-victoire and a later one, approximately eleven years after, is inspiring.

Mont Sainte-Victoire 1885-87, oil on canvas, 26 x 35 3/8"

Le Mont Sainte-Victoire vu des Lauves 1904-06 oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 28 3/8"

to see the evolution and the confidence developed is really exciting. at the same time, i suspect that cézanne’s move into a richer, freer painting method would not have been possible if his subject were not so majestic, immovable and awesome.

'You see, a motif is this...' (He put his hands together, drew them apart, the ten fingers open, then slowly, very slowly brought them together again, clasped them, squeezed them tightly, meshing them.) 'That's what one should try to achieve. If one hand is held too high or too low, it won't work. Not a single link should be too slack, leaving a hole through which the emotion, the light, the truth can escape. You must understand that I work on the whole canvas, on everything at once. With one impulse, with undivided faith, I approach all the scattered bits and pieces. Everything we see falls apart, vanishes, doesn't it? Nature is always the same, but nothing in her that appears to us, lasts. Our art must render the thrill of her permanence along with her elements, the appearance of all her changes. It must give us a taste of her eternity. What is there underneath? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Everything, you understand! So I bring together her wandering hands. I take something at right, something at left, here, there, everywhere, her tones, her colors, her nuances, I set them down, I bring them together. They form lines. They become objects, rocks, trees, without my planning. They take on volume, value. If these volumes, these values, correspond on my canvas, in my sensibility, to the planes, to the spots which I have, which are there before our eyes, then my canvas has brought its hands together. It does not waver. The hands have been joined neither too high nor too low. My canvas is true, compact, full. But if there is the slightest distraction, if I fail just a little bit, above all if I interpret too much one day, if today I am carried away by a theory which runs counter to that of yesterday, if I think while I paint, if I meddle, whoosh! everything goes to pieces.

'The artist is no more than a receptacle for sensations, a brain, a recording apparatus. But if it interferes, if it dares, feeble apparatus that it is, to deliberately intervene in what it should be translating, its own pettiness gets into the picture. The work becomes inferior.

'Art is a harmony parallel to nature. What can we say to the fools who tell us: the painter is always inferior to nature? He is parallel to her. Provided, of course, he does not intervene deliberately. His only aspiration must be to silence. He must stifle within himself the voices of prejudice, he must forget, always forget, establish silence, be a perfect echo. Then the landscape will inscribe itself on his sensitive tablet. In order to record it on the canvas, to externalize it, his craft will have to be appealed to, but a respectful craft which also must be ready only to obey, to translate unconsciously--so well does it know its language--the text it is deciphering, the two parallel texts, nature as seen, nature as felt, the one that is there... (he pointed to the green and blue plain), the one that is here... (he tapped his forehead), both of which must merge in order to endure, to live a life half human, half divine, the life of art, listen to me... the life of God.'

-cézanne, (sourced from

here are some other mountains by some of my favourites:

peter doig

paul wackers

makoto aida

paul gauguin

megan whitmarsh

i guess i’m intrigued by how something can evoke so much amazement and wonder- and i'd say essentially, that feeling of sublimity is something a lot of painters try to evoke- however fleeting- in their subject or their art as object.

thinking about the possibilities is almost as sublime as the 'translating'.


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