Monthly Archives: January 2015

Nolde is more than of the earth

shot of the pier against bright sunset

a Fylde sunset that’s worthy of Nolde

Emil Nolde is an odd one. He is grouped with the Expressionists but he seems to do his own thing, not quite fitting in with the rest of them. There isn’t anyone who paints like Nolde, or has ever done, in watercolour or oil. I thought that he had probably developed his painting style by carefully subverting a known system that he had previously absorbed. I knew Nolde had had art training before he became a famous painter. So, I was surprised to discover an excerpt from a book by James Elkins (the book is called “What Painting Is”) in which Nolde’s painting process was described as being chaotic and experimental, going against all known rules in terms of technique with the result that many paintings were ruined.

This unexpected finding, if true, makes me feel much more comfortable about my own painting process because, having had much less instruction in painting than I have in drawing, I feel very comfortable when I draw but when I paint I feel I am reinventing the wheel, making it up as I go along and striving to do something that might be impossible.

Well, apparently Nolde was a kindred spirit in that he painted furiously, wrongly and overdid it on more occasions than not, turning glowing colours into a grey sludgy mess. It seems hard to believe but the book mentions canvases being destroyed or the backs used for new works. I wish I could show some of Nolde’s paintings here but it would be seen as infringing copyright, so I shall link to this illustrated sample of a recent book about Nolde instead.

Recently I created my own versions of two Nolde paintings, trying to work out his painting process through doing. I think I can safely show the pictures here as there is no way they could be confused with the originals! It was a useful exercise but it made me notice in particular how my efforts very obviously lack his beautiful brushmarks. I find it’s difficult to let go and make painterly and pleasing marks when copying anything – whether it’s one of my own drawings or paintings or someone else’s. Only when painting directly from the subject do my brushstrokes seem to flow, at least a bit.

an homage to Emil Nolde

My own version of Nolde’s painting “Shivering Russians”. I love the colours of the original but couldn’t quite get the same glow

a painting created after Emil Nolde

my own version of Nolde’s painting “The Sea B”. My brushstrokes are nowhere near as moving and sensitive as Nolde’s, needless to say

Recently I’ve been wondering whether I feel so attached to Nolde’s vision because, according to another book about the painter, ” Emil Nolde. Mein Wunderland von Meer zu Meer”, the area that Nolde called home was very similar to the landscape in which I grew up. The borderland where Germany meets Denmark was the place Nolde came from and was inspired by, and it seems to echo the scenery of my childhood.

I grew up in a low, marshy area with salt flats leading out into the Irish Sea, with beautiful hills a few miles inland. The skies over those vast, flat fields were huge and you were never far from the sea which, being born in Blackpool and having relatives there, I felt was part of me. I still miss it. The opening picture of this post gives some idea of the immensity of that coastline (which is not just a place of tacky shell-gifts, rock, silly hats and obscenity but a windswept, light and sand-blasted border where powerful forces of thrashing waves and immovable concrete meet under incredible skies).

photo of lane with fields and hedges

the flat fields, ancient hedgerows and huge skies I grew up with

photo of cornfield, tree and bike

the lush fields of home

photo of hills, trees and hedge

gentle hills rise further inland

Nolde was a member of the German Expressionist group Die Brücke for a while but mostly followed his own mystical, colourful path. Paul Klee once said of him:

Abstract artists, far removed from this earth, or fugitives from it, sometimes forget that Nolde exists. Not so I, even on my furthest flights, from which I always manage to find my way back to earth, to rest in the gravitational force I find there. Nolde is more than of the earth, he is the sphere’s guardian spirit. Domiciled elsewhere oneself, one is always aware of the cousin in the deep, the kinsman of one’s choice.

photo of Blackpool sunset

setting sun at Blackpool

photo of the pier and sunset waves

the end of the pier, where it all begins

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there

image showing three plein air sketches, 6x8

three small plein air paintings used to create a larger work

And as Joseph Campbell said: “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”

Last year I made these three small paintings while I was out on the hill and I’ve been struggling ever since to find a way to make them into a large painting. So far, this is what I’ve come up with but I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m not even sure if I quite like the result. All I know is that I nearly like it, so that will have to be enough for now. I think those clouds are going to be adjusted one last time before I can finally put this experiment to one side.

photo of large landscape oil painting, work in progress

large oil painting, not quite finished, created using smaller sketches

Another experiment has involved trying to make a large painting out of a tiny little pencil sketch and a hazy memory of a place I can’t quite even be sure exists (although I was definitely somewhere when I drew that sketch). In a previous post I showed the A1 charcoal drawing I’d made from the sketch and now I’ve started making an A2 painting, very murky and dark to try and convey just how rainy it was that day. Again. I’ve no idea where this is going but it’s something I feel compelled to try.

photo of unfinished oil painting depicting rainy landscape

murky work in progress of rainy day painting, A2, oil on canvas

Back in the slightly more real world two of my paintings are preparing to leave for new homes. I’ll miss the coffee pot, which probably sounds crazy, but some paintings you just get attached to.

photo of two small paintings

two paintings ready to go to their new homes