This post is something of a testament to my indebtedness to Cezanne, his construal of landscapes, use of color and shape. Additionally here, I'll probe different understandings of industry and their effects on individuals, art, and society.
I've recently been drawn back to the medium of pastel (See first image above). Pastels consist of dry Pigments (as opposed to other colorants such as dyes) bound with something like Gum Arabic. I appreciate the tactility of pastel, which transmits an experience of the support (the drawing surface) into my fingers and hand, much like a needle acts as mediator between a record and the electronic interstices preceding the speaker. The act of drawing creates its own soundtrack, the grittiness of the paper providing the lead voice. The sound of the shifting paper signals the full engagement of the medium with the surface that causes it to overcome the friction with the table. This is a cue to more fully embrace the surface with my other hand, to provide restraint so the conversation between the subject and drawing/painting can continue.
Cezanne understood distillation, which in a chemical context refers to separating substances based on their volatility, however Cezanne's vitality inheres in visual variability as opposed to chemical curiosities). Every visual element has a different presence and effect on the viewer, a non-tactile texture. Bound up in the visual are cues about the nature of the thing inspiring the painting. (Tangentially I suggest one spends a long time thinking about the senses in which something is painted). Cezanne pulled out an underlying compositional structure, the sine qua non of the sight, and managed to regularly and successfully cement/translate the structure into the language of pigmented oil. Underlying geometries comprised Cezanne's grammar, as though he was mining the landscape with the tools of Euclid's Axioms. These compositions did not depend on the viewer being lost in details and minutia of every leaf, rather they capitalize on the seemingly mundane visual architecture that is presented in every sight.
I hear an echo of the perennial philosophical problem of "unity and diversity," the "particulars and universals." There is a harmony in Cezanne between these elements. The particulars are understood and communicated as having synergistic importance. Attention to individual instances of a visual element tend to isolate one from the larger, fuller context necessary to adequately understand the subject studied. Each element of Cezanne's landscapes contribute its force and function to the whole, rendering the viewer impressed and impressed upon by his experience, which has been mediated by his vision, arm, brush, viscosity, time and possibly the ink on paper or pixels on the screen.
The uniqueness of Cezanne's location in history cannot be underestimated. His life saw the dawn of the explosion of industry and importantly the development of synthetic pigments. For centuries pigments were derived from "natural" sources, such as various Earths. The advent of industrialization permitted Cezanne access to a palette previously out of the artist's grasp (what would the Renaissance have been with Cobalt colors?) The future acts and acted simultaneously as a limit and an open door to possibilities, creative and otherwise. While developments in industry seemed to welcome the Post-impressionists (of which Cezanne is one), how did these developments limit our resourcefulness as artists, who often thrive in a paucity of material procurements.
Cezanne was industrious and prolific in his lifetime, creating more than a 1000 paintings, in oil and watercolor. I can only long for an age when this pace and quality of life was commonplace. Cezanne was partaking in a revolution in representation, preserved in virtue of the chemical qualities of the oil paint he used. He understood the value of industry and I still learn from each encounter with him.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.