Monet & self portraits

Monet & the back story

“If only you could have seen how beautiful it was and how I wished you were here on the terrace with me; it seems it was cold and I was oblivious to in in my enthusiasm for the work in hand and for the novelty of it all, but how hard it's going to be!
I had barely settled down to my painting when the hospital treasurer appeared, to invite me downstairs for tea, but he had not imagined that I would be unable to leave my picture; I made it as clear as I could to him, not in good English, but using sign language to express my keenness to get down to work. Ten minutes later, the good man came back in person with a cup of tea, sandwiches and cakes; which did me some good, I must admit...”

one of only a handful of self-portraits Monet did
For almost the whole of the last year I have been enthralled by Claude Monet. Beginning last summer, I travelled down thru Paris on route to Plum Village (near Bordeaux). I had one day in Paris – the first time I'd been there, and had a long list of things to see, beginning with a visit to Pere Lachase, to the grave of one of my boys Jim Morrison. I found the grave, took a ciggy off it which I smoked and was my last for a week( I left a copy of Leaves of Grass in its place..). From there I headed to the centre, with my long-list in hand - Eiffel Tower, Catacombs, left bank, find just where Hemingway used to wander (another of my boys). The day was still early and I had time for it all. Whilst walking past the Louvre (I knew I had no time for that unfortunately) I stumbled upon the Musay D'Orsay.
I went in, thinking I could maybe spare an hour, but I did not know at that time I would be there for the rest of the day. I spent 5 or 6 hours there, wrote off the rest of Paris, and really for the first time in my life, became aquainted with the impressionists.
I really was totally immersed that day, droppin my eyes into their soft focus. I'd been meditatin' lots at the time n reading lots of the Dharma (and was infact en route to a meditation retreat in plum village) & for me, they had the vision; whether they knew it or not, they had meditative eyes..

Sometimes in life, like when you look upon the world like it's all in bloom, at once, that moment; everything urging onwards; the plants and trees all breathing their quiet breath, & likewise, the wood in the book case is not dead, the stone in the walls neither. Energy riddles & wriggles thru all matter. Its all vegetated and blooming – right now.

Monet would describe his method as looking out at the world and seeing 'a dash of yellow here, a rectangle of violet-blue there'. Breaking the material down in his eye, just to be this whole vegetated sway before him. They saw with Blakean originality;

“Behold our ancient days
before this Earth appeared
in its vegetated mortality
to my mortal vegetated eye”

So for me, that day, wide eyed & wandering the heavy halls of Musay D'Orsay, I totally corralled the vision of the impressionists with the truth we bare witness to in meditation; deep understanding of the truth of nature – impermanence, emptiness, and all the rest of it. I saw their vision as the meditative-vision, their eyes as only recepticals; mortal vegetated eye-holes peering objectively upon the vegetated material world.
Van Gogh maybe best expressed it; that same energy wriggling, thru all material likewise.

I was fortunately able to further this understanding for the whole week following my day in Paris; I spent the whole week in plum village lookin upon the world in blossom. All in high summer bloom – the trees sweating, the waters gushing with easy summer joy. The people not only breathing but every folicle of their vegetated body breathing its own quiet breath. & with such understanding, the vision too; a simple bus journey thru French countryside becoming a feast of activity, of the interplay of colour as you stare wide-eyed at someones face. A conversation feeling fresh as childs play. Such freshness is such beauty. an' it's all around, in blossom & constant.

Since this time, June last year, I have really been learning all I can about the impressionists.

The other day I found in a charity shop a stack of 5 Impressionists/monet books. Some keen impressionist has just died, I thought, and that's sad, but glad that they have fallen into my hands, because I will twist myself with them, bend myself into them, and gladly so.

One of them the quote at the top is from. What I love is to see the other side of the canvas. Revealing the painter behind, how he stood & what he stood for. Learning about their poverty makes things easier. Haha! Makes going to sleep in a shoddy bed & damp abode a thing of diligence rather than societical failure. Ha!

So yes, for the last year almost now, I have thought a lot about Monet, and the impressionists, and bought myself nearer to their understanding. This is the revealing part, because I don't feel I've changed what I felt about painting, or discarded anything atall – I've come nearer to myself as a painter really. That's what it feels like. Painting, whilst learning about the impressionists, has been a fervent interplay which has poked and prodded me diligently along my way. My canvases are developing in a certain direction for sure. The impressionists have helped me to unwind my ignorance, and, especially with the brilliance of Monet, absolute mastery that begs to be followed. (I follow faithfully like a dog to a master, but it is still mine to dog the lead; to sniff this way & that on our endless trail..)

Lets move things forward

Reading Monet's letters, I frequently found him saying about how there is such a short window of opportunity to paint.. for the weather effect to sustain.. sometimes even only 7 minutes. This is why he would work on several canvases at once on site. Or would come back the next day at a simillar time and hope for a simillar weather effect.

I love this idea, and feel empathy for it too, for portraits. There is only a small window of opportunity. It becomes especially apparent when doing self portraits – there is a certain atmosphere that is all about you in that first sitting – you may be oblivious to it even as you work (It is like nostalgia; we are never aware of nostalgia when it is being created, only is it later that the whiff's come). No mind, infact, perhaps it can be for the better for no specific mood to be apparent.. This means your cards are ever closer to your chest; you cannot see the wood from the tree; you are so ingrained in your current way that it ain't even apparent to you. Well good! Record it, get it down, n just like the weather of the world'll change overnight sometimes, your soul weather can change likewise too. So we must catch it whilst we can; whether the rain trickles slowly off the leaf, or dry grass raises itself to the hotsun; all is nature and all is beautiful & joyous in its essence, so capture it as you see it, as it is.

All this thought about capturing effects in the moment wrings my ears with the wisdom of Walter Benjamin, & his observation that 'The work is the death mask of its conception'. From that initial satori (lightbulb moment) it's an effort of catchin' butterflies before they drift outta reach. In that initial moment – often, you'll know it exactly – see it in your head in pure-whole-completedness. You'll really know just what you wanna say – really have that handful of butterflies. But in a sunken moment they escape you, and it's you to chase after them, and clumsily catch what you can..

This is how it can sometimes feel, tryin' to keep on point. Keep integrety behind what you wanna most say. Especially if a work drags out.

I'm makin efforts now to capture the main things. Perhaps the expression, the pose, in the 1
st sitting. Not worry so much about whatever can be filled in later. Just try to get those indicators of the initial feel down as accurately as I feel them.

Recent work
One thing I love of Monet is how we can witness in his work what I think of as a balanced creation. I've been thinking alot about the differences between the masculine & feminime over the last 6 months (how they work creatively. Will do a seperate post on this at some point). I think in some characters we can find personifications of both in one. E.g Mick Jagger, David Bowie - somethin' very masculine about them, but somethin' very feminime also.
But anywho, to bring this to Monet. From a distance, we see these delicate, blissful, sometimes dainty impressions of joys before us.. but if we peer close, we may see a rugged definition to the brush strokes. A haphazard, quickly lain, workman-like rendering. So in one it contains the two. I really like this, and it's a theme I wanna carry into my own work.

That was certainly, now I think about it, part of the feeling behind my newest self portrait. Recently, like I said, I been thinking alot about the Masculine & feminime dichotomy that lies behind creativity (& life for that matter). I've been thinking alot too about what is the image of 'the divine feminime?' 'what does the divine feminime look like?' (partly inspired by another project & partly inspired by my own intrigue). So that was the theme and feel behind this one; I wanted to represent the masculine, bent & inquisitive, lookin' out just for 'the divine feminime'. I wanted it to look very masculine, but also to have an undercurrent of feminimity to it; e.g in the pose itself (being a bit like a fashion model 'hands on hips n pointed elbows' sorta stance), the bttom half of the body having a bit of a feminime twist to it (the legs are together rather than parted (typically masculine characterisation)) 

To critique this one, I think the window stayed open just a little too long - and what began with a winter shrill eased into a spring-light breeze. Y'know? It lost it's full oomph somewhere near the end - when I found myself doin' details without the conviction - that is to say, with a different conviction - as to which I began. But no mind, still a decent portrait, and more importantly, more lessons learnt. Every wrong attempt n all that.. ;)

One thing, I must admit, that excites me, is that Monet was very sparing with his portraits; he only did a handful of self-portraits and seemingly didn't really push the opportunities much atall. Just dipped his toes.
I wanna take the opportunity to explore portraits with his wit & intrigue for life. Just how he watched the weathers of the world change and record all it's intricacies, that's just what I wanna do; watch the changing effect on the soul, let people be vessels; record it thru them.

What I dig with self-portraits is it gives me the opportunity to cast one off. Cast a certain shade of my character off. You might be feelin' a certain way for a month, or a week perhaps. You can acknowledge it n get it down in a self-portrait. N suddenly the face in the mirror may be reflecting back in a new light. Just like Dylan writing every-song to every-shade of every intricately different feeling he felt of heart-ache or love, it's like that. You capture that specific, intricate feeling.

Next steps
I think my next steps now are to
1) sink further into impressionism, continue to cultivate my style
2) Work on bringing my sketching/draughtsman abilities into oil-painting more. I don't currently sketch with my brush, but I could, so I shall.
3) Continue to make effort to capture someones character. This is a trait people always point out in my drawings & paintings, but I wanna push it more so. 
4) Just keep simply painting. With no real rules or regulations upon myself. Just integrety, sincerity, and other wholesome ways.
5) Get back into life drawing regularly. 

That'll do. As always, bit of a ramble, but hope there's some sense amongst the nonse. Peace x

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