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10th Nov 2009

Lessons from Monet

Everything was going well with the new Essence Portraits. I had created one of Andy Warhol, then Rembrandt, then van Gogh. Each of them inspired my art and “taught me much about portraiture from the walls of great museums and galleries. Like Warhol, and the self portraits of these artists, I focused in on the faces, ignoring clothing or other extras that could be used to convey status or wealth.

Things were moving along fine until I came to another artist I’ve lovingly , personally called “Papa Monet” since was a prepubescent girl. I am not quite sure If I came up with that or I learned it from one of the gallerists who took, me under their wings. I suspect the latter.

Since the first Essence Portrait of And Warhol, which set the tone for those of other artists, I strove to combine my style somewhat with theirs. For instance, in Vincent van Gogh’s I made “strings” of tiny symbol-strokes to emulate his longer strong brush strokes. For Rembrandt’s I played with his softness and the light.

Working within the theory of Post Conceptual UnGraven Image Art, I use the original letters of Bible texts for each and every stroke. My symbol-strokes are the are the only set of alpha-numeric, phonic and binary symbols in the world. They elegantly represent the strings of elementary physics, which like phonic letters are either energy (sound) or pre-matter (written), basic and essential (prime numbers and phonic letters) to our binary physical universe. Thus, the term, Essence Portraits.

I wanted to keep my focus on the subject’s head, and creating a basic black and white portrait that could be then used in various ways, similar to the way that Warhol used his silk-screened portraits. Usually that is what I create for a basic Essence Portrait.

Except for Claude Monet. For a while, his portrait had me stumped.

As I stared at my initial portraits of Monet, I knew something was missing. But what?

Actually, I had the text I knew I was to use, a Psalm that seems to me to refer to Monet. That was one of the first ones I had as I peruse through Bible texts searching for appropriate ones for portraits, wildlife and other paintings.

The difficulty was whatever I drew and painted did look like Monet, but somehow it was wrong – a likeness that was missing his essence. My portrait looked like Monet, but failed to capture him.

This went on for a week, on and off as I pondered Papa Monet and his life.

I first learned about the wonder and even magic of strokes from Monet, who “held” regular classes for me through his works that hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I learned about art from many of the works of artists at the Met and MOMA, from the time that I was a pre-teen growing up in NYC, armed with a passionate curiosity about art, way too much free time that needed to be spent away from home, passes for free public transportation, plus, most importantly as a student I enjoyed free admittance to all of the art museums in Manhattan.

Being nearsighted, actually with better than normal vision up close, I have always been most comfortable getting as close to things I want to see (especially art). I will get as close as I can without letting my nose touch the work to see the strokes.

Since I was at the Met on an almost every other day schedule, except for summers, and also at MoMA regularly, their guards came to know me, trust me and even watch over me as I roamed and explored. It did not take long until they allowed me to get as up close and personal as I wanted with paintings as they knew I would never touch one, plus out of respect, I even held my breath, usually making a grand display of that effort. I laugh now, because I sort of took a gulp and went “into” a painting much like a diver. Back in my girlhood on wintry or bad weather afternoons the Met was fairly empty, and there were times that I was the only person in some of the rooms, including those that have Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.

Monet taught me more about how to paint and strokes than anyone, except van Gogh.

Monet’s strokes are multi-colored, multi-sized, textural blobs of paint. Unlike the Pointillist Seurat, Monet’s strokes are not of one size, they overlap and one grand cascading jumble of color. Certainly more than any other artist’s work, my original approach to using symbol-strokes was influenced by Monet. My colors are almost always influenced by Monet’s.

We know that Monet painted outdoors, including in horrible weather, working quickly to catch the light, that he would return to the same spot to paint day after day, as change between canvasses, each canvas only worked on for the time that the light was relatively the same as when it was begun. Thus there are series of paintings that show the movement of light through the day. Monet painted in a hurry, capturing the essence of a place, capturing its light. His strokes are the hurried and thoughtful strokes of a master; they are the notes of a symphony of color that he plays upon his canvases.

It took a man who was strong, physically and in resolution to produce the art that Monet did. Physically, he endured long days outdoors in the cold or heat. Most of his paintings were created outdoors as Monet painted what he immediately saw. To do this he was lugging around paints, brushes, solvents, an easel and lots of canvases, from location to location, often on foot. He would stand all day long in whatever conditions, painting. He was strong is resolution, too as he struggled for a long time to make ends meet for his wife Camille and their two children. Then after her death he continued to struggle to take care of his two sons plus the family of Alice Hoschedé, who became his second wife, and her six children. We see photographs of his large studio at Giverney, and an older prosperous Momet, but that came later in his life.

Monet’s career spanned the emergence of photography on into the twentieth century, so we have photographs of him, as well as portraits. In one of my favorites, he is youngish, and has a walking stick in his hand; he pauses for the camera for a moment clearly about to resume his walk. Monet was a strong, vital, good looking man and clearly from his output of paintings and projects at Giverney, very physically active. Only in a few of the last photographs, after he was famous and well, older, does he seem slowed down – but he ever physically active, calm but in motion.

To capture the essence of Monet, the artist in his prime, I needed his body, at least his strong shoulders that had supported so much and so many, and perhaps Impressionism, which ushered in Modern Art. An Essence Portrait of Monet needed his strong broad shoulders to capture his essence.

To capture Monet I needed to include his heavy, worn winter coat– the one that kept him warm as he worked outside on cold winter days and his hat. His is the only portrait so far where the background is painted. Energy fills the space around him. He is the authentic painter of light and like that light he is ever changing energy, penetrating whatever we can see.

I discarded my failed head shot portraits and began again.

Now the work was better, but difficult to complete as something was still missing.

Monet without color is, well, not Monet.

So, I deviated from the pure black and white of the other Essence Portraits, using a third color by adding pure while strokes to the ivory paper.  Monet’s Essence Portrait has more shading, and layers of paint than any other portrait to date.  There is a bit of the purest white in his eyes, those eyes that saw such color and light!

Thus, in my own first portrait of Monet that seemed acceptable, that captured Monet, his essence, and his blobs of strokes permeated the whole of the space, the paper, not just the image of his physical body. He takes over the whole space the way that dynamic and charismatic people can enter a room, most quietly, but their vital energy colors the space with their presence.

Once again, I learn from Monet.

Claude Monet, Essence Portrait by Judy Rey Wasserman

Psalm 97  (Claude Monet) by Judy Rey Wasserman

[Note: for more about Monet ‘s influence on Judy Rey Wasserman and UnGraven Image theory see: Monet’s Blobs and the Hebrew Letters

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Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art. Download a free copy click: Manifesto of Post Conceptual Art– A Painting’s Meaning is Inherent in its Stroke.
Check out the limited and open edition prints in the estore.
Follow her on Twitter at @judyrey .]

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