The landscape of our minds

“Any landscape is a condition of the spirit”

This beautiful quote is from the Journal of Henri Frédéric Amiel. Short, powerful and somewhat enigmatic, it takes our imagination on a flight.

Even though I would not venture to explain it philosophically, this statement makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe because I’ve been looking at nature for a long time, and observing it carefully while painting, I have come to form my own intuitive relationship to this idea.

Whether in reality, in visual representation or in our imagination, the idea of the landscape lends itself to a projection of our spirit. Such a setting enables our unremitting thought process to pause and allow our minds to settle on an intricate leave pattern or the silent march of clouds in the sky. It is a world alive with multiple forms, textures, colors and spaces, offering an array of sensations. As it continually transforms itself, so can we acknowledge our own changes. Yet, under its ephemeral nature lies a sense of permanency that we can appreciate.

Thus, the outer landscape lends itself to the reflection of our inner landscape, much like a screen filled, not with thoughts and words, but with visual and sensory perceptions that speak directly to our souls.

Louise Jalbert, Foliage on Sky, 2017, Watercolor on paper, 3 x 5 on 7 x 11 inches

Mystery

I am attracted to art that leaves room for the imagination. That is compelling and evocative. Art that makes you feel before you think.
One of my early passionate readings was the Journal of Anaïs Nin. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaïs_Nin)
A sensitive, imaginative and audacious writer, Nin has acquainted me with the importance of poetry and the power of suggestion.

Poetry is a mystery, and if you want to draw close to human beings you cannot speak in parables. I pondered on mystery and suggestion, on all that Djuna Barnes did not tell us, all that Proust did not tell us, and in what Henry James did not tell us. In poetry and the myth, you avoid explicitness, but only to reveal another aspect, another life.

Anaïs Nin,
The Journals of Anaîs Nin, 1947-1955

I love the idea of being suggestive, of not being too explicit, and inviting the viewer to a realm beyond what is painted.
When I do a first study, I tend to to put a lot of details in, because I want to capture everything I see. It can take several essays to extract what has caught my attention.
The sketch above is a study of my neighbours’ tree, as seen through the branches of a another tree in front of my window. This combination of form and color happens only at this time of the year. It is ephemeral, beautiful and begs not to look like a postcard. This is my challenge: to capture this beauty and make it visible, even tangible, while keeping alive it’s mystery.

Louise Jalbert, “Yellow Foliage and Dark Branches”, 2017, Gouache on paper, 8 x 10 inches

 

Beauty

On Monday a fierce autumn wind was shaking trees and tearing leaves ruthlessly away from their branches. The splendor of October is now being swept away to be followed by the stark beauty of November. The last few weeks have provided a visual feast, treating us with the sparkling light and extravagant colors of the Québec fall. This ultimate abundance seems to me as nature’s way to saturate our souls and senses so that we may better welcome the austerity of winter.

It is an interesting lesson in thinking about beauty and its many opposite forms. What is beauty, we may ask? How does one define it? There are probably as many meanings for beauty as there are individuals. But I believe that, deep inside us, we all have a yearning for it.

Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue brings a sensitive and profound definition of beauty in the following interview with Krista Tippet:

Beauty isn’t all about just nice, loveliness like. Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.

John O’Donohue

John O’Donohue — The Inner Landscape of Beauty

I admire how O’Donohue articulates such elusive thoughts and stimulates a resonance in our minds with his words. Such is the power of poetry. There is a stirring going on inside me and I feel as if I understand beauty in all its magnificence.

Being neither a philosopher nor a poet, I find defining beauty a bit daunting. In fact, it is quite difficult. But I am drawn to it in all its forms and I like to explore this notion with my own tools, which are color and paint. I may stumble, but what keeps me going is the hope of somehow communicating my own wonderment of this mystery.

Louise Jalbert, “October Foliage”, 2016, Watercolor on paper, 15 x 22 inches

Sifting Through Inspiration

Sifting through inspiration.

I am now back in the studio. Traveling has been rejuvenating, as always. Going back to France and Paris where I lived and studied, where I have good friends, has been…well, a moveable feast, as Hemingway wrote. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Moveable_Feast 

My head is filled with images and my mind brimming with ideas. Sifting through them, I keep coming back to certain ideas that had actually been gestating for a while, even before my departure. Some of those I shared with you, as in my last two posts about spaces and people in museums. 

I want to explore the idea of space a little bit more now: space in the representation of nature, and people in spaces. I am curious to see how color can express form and depth in a composition, how forms in nature relate to each other and indicate space, and how people become visually part of the space they are in.  

Since I hadn’t done any portraits for a while, I was itching to do so, and I started with a small portrait of a fellow attendee of our Mastermind from Seth Godin’s Marketing Seminar, Shelley Graner.
http://www.shelleygraner.com
https://themarketingseminar.com

It’s always best to draw or paint from life, I think.  For one thing, the space is real and deeper than a photograph. For another, time and movement add life to it, which a photograph can’t because it is fixed in time and a lens does not move constantly like our eyes do. But today, I merely wanted to get going, and since I had no model on hand, I was inspired by a caption in a video. 

The image was small and blurry, which suited me for this sketch. I am not looking for accurate portraiture, rather for an evocation of a presence, or a moment. On the video, Shelley appeared in sepia tones and we joked about her looking like a Rembrandt portrait. I did not manage the Rembrandt effect so well but the exercise was fun.

I did it with gouache because it is a water based paint that allows for quick sketches, and has a body that resembles acrylic or oil paint. It has solidity and I am looking for that now.

So there’s a start. Let’s see where this take me.

Louise Jalbert, “Shelley”, 2017, Gouache on paper, 3.5 x 3 inches

Cézanne’s Studio

 I had been thinking of visiting Paul Cézanne’s studio for a long time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Cézanne 

Visiting an artist’s working place is always an intimate experience, but when it is the studio of a visionary who had an impact on generations of painters, it is also very moving.

Paul Cézanne’s life-long research in painting, his determination to find his own artistic vision is impressive. This was a man very rooted in his native Provence, who had gone to Paris, (as every painter did then), in order to establish his career. However, neither him nor his vision fitted in the city’s sophisticated society. He came back with a resolution to “astonish Paris with a few apples”, meaning to bring about a new vision of painting that would reveal the structural basic volumes of things and beings, be it apples, landscapes, or even the human figure. Cézanne was reacting to the Impressionnist’s ephemeral depiction of nature. He wanted to express more than light and color, he wanted to reveal the very essence of things.
And astonish Paris he did, though very quietly during his lifetime, being slowly noticed near the end of his life by a few young painters in search of a fresh vision. His art influenced generations of painters, primarily the generation after him, namely Picasso and Braque, in their cubist period, Matisse and Léger, among others.

Cézanne built this studio in 1900, only 6 years before passing away. He designed it so he could control the light and heat from the intense sun, with the large window opening to the north, the smaller windows facing south with shutters.

The view to the north was of a hill facing mont Sainte-Victoire, the view to the south towards Aix-en-Provence. Trees and construction have since obstructed those original views.

At the right of the big window, there is an opening in the wall: this was to allow the painter to slide big works like his « Baigneuses » outside, so he could look at it in daylight, his gardener/model holding it for him.

Here is why, in his own words: “When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.”

 

 So how did it feel for me to be there? Understated and moving. Understated because nothing has changed since Cézanne died of pneumonia on October 20th, 1906. Nothing was added to make his studio appealing, and nothing was touched, not even his hats and coats on the hangers. Even the paint on the wall is the same.

Moving because one can feel his spirit, almost grasp his struggle with the objects that composed his world, a mixture of dusty artist materials – the paint, brushes, vases, tablecloth, images and books that inspired him.
Nothing has changed except for the fresh apples bringing a fragrance to the place…

 

…And the young lady who guided us in that very 19th century setting, now absorbed in a very 21st century occupation.

Louise Jalbert, photos prises à l’atelier de Paul Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence, septembre 2017

Septembre

I’ve written septembre in French to cast a spell on you.
 
 The spell of a foreign word spoken softly. A simple word, a song or a color, and voilà!  You are moved. Transported from a cold rainy day into the land of poets. Your shriveled heart enraptured into voluptous intimacy, eager to pour into another heart. It happens instantly, deep within us, because art, music and language have the power to transport us.
 
Can you say septembre ?
Listen to Camélia Jordana as she sings this song from iconic French singer and composer Barbara, with Alexandre Tharaud at the piano.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-8izi-sq5w 
This is what I would call grand simplicity. Simple in form, masterly in craft, magnificent with emotion.

Carrying you away. 

Louise Jalbert, “Feuillage illuminé, septembre”, 2017, Aquarelle sur papier, 28 x 37 cm