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Imitation and Imagination 2, TRAC2018. News.

 

Imitation and Imagination 2, TRAC2018

Dürer, how to imitate complex figures

Dürer, A Draftsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Woman.jpg

In May 2018 I gave a lecture, Imitation and Imagination, at TRAC2018 (The Representational Art Conference) in The Netherlands, together with Ernst van de Wetering, the world’s foremost authority on Rembrandt. His contribution was about Rembrandt and assessing quality. He compared works of Rembrandt with works of his pupils. His lecture  was  based  on:

A  CORPUS  OF  REMBRANDT  PAINTINGS  Volume  V  Chapter  IV  with  the  title:  On  quality:  Comparative  remarks  on  the  function  of  Rembrandt’s  pictorial  mind  (pp.  283  –  310).  Freely  accessible  in  The  Rembrandt  Database:

http://rembrandtdatabase.org/literature/corpus?tmpl=pdf&pdf=/images/corpus/CorpusRembrandt_5.pdf

Rembrandt, Abraham's sacrifice and Unknown, Abraham's sacrifice

Rembrandt, Abraham’s sacrifice and
Unknown, Abraham’s sacrifice

My lecture was on naturalistic realism, the area of tension between imitation and imagination in the classical art, including the contemporary variant.
Naturalism is one of many expressions of representational art, one with a very high degree of imitation.
See for example a comment with regard to a pretty realistic painting, on facebook (28-10-2014):

Huysman. Street in Utrecht i

Gerard Huysman. Utrecht, street in backlight, oil on panel, 2013

“I can’t understand why an artist would work so hard to make a painting like this that is so much like a photo. That’s what cameras are for. I can see the artist’s skill, but not the soul.”

 

This prejudice is often heard. Because really: isn’t imitation getting in the way of imagination? Exactly! No soul, no artistic creativity. And that’s what this discussion is all about.
I will contest the opinion that naturalism lacks imagination.

Part 1 of the lecture is in my earlier blog (see archive, august 2017).
Part 2 of Imitation and Imagination is following now.

However, the criticism does fit in with my doubts about my own work. For years I was haunted by questions:
● Is naturalistic realism actually the same as copying?
● Is it a lower form of art? Boring?
● A lot of people enjoy this kind of work, but that doesn’t mean it is relevant art.
● Does it add something? After all, reality, the real world, is already there. You should do something to it, with it.
● Shouldn’t you put your personal feelings into your art?

drawing I don't know any more

I don’t know any more, pencil-eraser-paper

Good art, who judges?

Contemporary realism in the Netherlands has been flourishing for about thirty years now. This is exceptional in Europe. Nevertheless the official art institutions and the media mostly neglect its existence. After thirty years this is strange. The wider public is deprived of a cultural treasure.
Recently a journalist wrote in a prestigious Dutch newspaper that realism can be dangerous, in the context of great skill. Yes, virtuosity is a must, she writes, but the comment ‘It looks like a photo’ is not a compliment. ‘It looks like the real thing’ even less. The artist has to expose himself, otherwise his painting will be only an illustration, not more than a picture. She mentions Henk Helmantel, who said not to be in search for expressing his personal feelings.1 In her interpretation he is doomed to produce mere illustrations, far from high art.

Henk Helmantel. Stillife with Cheese and Eggs

Henk Helmantel. Stillife with Cheese and Eggs, oil on panel, 1987, Collection Museum MORE. Photo Art Revisited.

Nothing against personal feelings in art. It is a romantic concept and we have seen great romantic art. But there seems to be a consensus that the personality, the feelings of the artist are primordial, while other approaches are excluded or rejected.
Although it’s not quite the same, this reminds me of Giorgio Vasari who pointed out that besides imitation and invention, good art should possess style and maniera, a personal artistic elegant style.2 True, a style of one’s own will add something to the art.

Well, you could say that my development until now just seems to have taken the wrong direction. Some twenty years ago I made The painter and her model, see the picture on the left. On the right a recent work: Daphne. It went from a loose touch, free colors and free imagination to naturalism.
And naturalism is less focussed on style and handwriting.

Van de Riet, Drawing Model and Daphne

Gezien van de Riet. Left: Drawing her model, acryl/oil on linnen, 1996, and right: Daphne, oil on canvas, 2016

Yes, in my beginner’s years I experimented a lot and I often had a personal spontaneous handwriting. The works of that period will never be dubbed copies or photos. Why on earth did I choose a more naturalistic way of painting? It only complicated things!
The crazy thing was: I couldn’t help myself. More and more I wanted to celebrate the beauty I had seen, to make it my own.

Ancient Greeks

Could it be that the history of art had witnessed earlier discussions about this question? I started on a search.
The Ancient Greeks had a great appreciation of the naturalistic detail. Birds should see painted grapes as real and try to pick them. An anecdote about Apelles clearly illustrates their admiration for imitation. The horse he painted was so life-like, that it is said that the horse of Alexander the Great started whinnying spontaneously on seeing it.

The Greeks had clear views on imagination. The artist should have in mind the Platonic Idea, the perfect form, the supernatural beauty of the object he wanted to portray. This did not come about automatically, because models were only ordinary mortals. Even the most beautiful human body could have fat ankles. Well, in that case you would take somebody else’s ankles!
Idealizing thus, the artist would transcend pure imitation.
So there we have it: Imitation and Imagination…

Aphrodite and Alexander as Hunter.jpg

After Praxiteles. Aphrodite, and After Lysippus. Alexander as hunter, both 4th century BC

But suddenly I jumped up. I read about the sculptor Lysippus, who worked at Alexander’s court. He wanted to convey what he saw in a naturalistic manner! Not following the current rules for perfect beauty, developed by the old masters, but his own observation.
We don’t know much for sure about Lysippus. But the sculpture attributed to him, Alexander the hunter, clearly shows a naturalistic realism. Whoever made it, this artist was capable of far-reaching imitation.
I was happy about this Lysippus.

1) Roodnat, Joyce. “Met drift geschilderde ‘kleine onderwerpen’ “. NRC, 2018-02-28.
2) Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artists. Volume 1. Introduction by George Bull. London, 1987. p. 19-20.
Imitation and Imagination will continue in the coming blogs.

Galería Artelibre ’20 years, in 20×20’

Galería Artelibre

Galería Artelibre

Galería Artelibre invited me to participate in its virtual gallery, in the category of Grandes Autores. This Spanish gallery has artists on its site like Anders Zorn, Natalie Holland, David Kassan.

Galería Artelibre Artistas del mes

Galería Artelibre Artistas del mes

It is promoting realism internationally, already for twenty years, and that is heart-warming, I think! A special exhibition will celebrate their twenty years anniversary, “20 years, in 20×20” (all works will be 20x20cm). It will travel through Spain, and also visit MEAM, Museo Europeo de Arte Moderno, in Barcelona. My work will be part of it!

Link: http://artelibre.net/autor/27050

Calendar, diary, cards

Art editor Bekking&Blitz has published art diaries and calendars for 2019. A work of mine figures between artists like Sorolla, Sargent, Kenne Grégoire.

Kunst weekalender en aganda's Bekking&Blitz

Kunst weekalender en aganda’s Bekking&Blitz

In Brugues I saw an art card of my work in the Groeningemuseum, but it was forbidden to take a photo of it. I explained that it was a work of mine, but no way. Still, I disobeyed and the officer kindly pretended not to see it.

Groeninge en Drents Museum cards and book Gezien van de Riet

Groeninge en Drents Museum cards and book

In the Drents Museum of Assen there was another art card, and my book. Stimulating! This helps the brand awareness. It’s the small things that count!

Translation NL-ES: Jeroen Strengers

Imitatio et Inventio I. And more

Horses’ heaven

Sometimes it all goes by itself, sometimes it’s hard work. The distribution of light was hard: how to distribute it between the ground, the mountains, the sky?

caballos

El cielo de los caballos, distemper-oil-panel, 50x70cm

The picture changed continously. The one constant element was the horses. In the end I came back to one of the earliest versions. Now it’s finished.

Imitatio et Inventio I

The quest

Although I did a lot of experimenting in the beginning of my artistic career, I was attracted more and more to realism. In those days realism was rejected by the official art view. Even when the painting touch was very loose. I went one step further, to a sharp-edged realism, true to nature: naturalism. It was doubtful –including for my myself– if that could be considered serious art. Mere copying? I had to think it over. I discovered that the question was already discussed by the old Greeks. This eventually resulted in a lecture. In my blogs I will serve it up in parts. This is part one.

Representation and imagination in naturalistic realism

Dürer-imitate-figures

Dürer, A Draftsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Woman

‘Imitatio et Inventio’ , imitation and invention, are much discussed concepts in art history. I shall try to put them in a new light, based on my own painting practice and art history.
Imitation and invention were indissolubly connected in the classical tradition. Thru time, the content of the imagination and the technique of copying or imitating it assumed different shapes. Also, the relative weight of both elements changed continuously.

In contemporary representational art –or more precisely: naturalistic realism based on classical imagery– the tension between ‘Imitatio’ and ‘Inventio’ is still there.

Gerard Huysman, Street in Utrecht, oil-panel

Gerard Huysman, Street in Utrecht, oil-panel, 55x65cm

October 2014 this picture of a work by Gerard Huysman was posted on Facebook’s The Representational Art Group. The first comment was by Joel Mattingly:

I can’t understand why an artist would work so hard to make a painting like this that looks so much like a photo. That’s what cameras are for. Here I see the skill of the artist, but not the soul.

He added later:

Don’t get me wrong, this artist has mad skills! (…) … realism exists in reality and in photographs, and though I think we all can appreciate the skill in which it takes to make photo realistic art, I find it rather boring to look at.

Apart from the fact that this painting doesn’t belong to photo realism, this comment touches upon a delicate aspect of realistic art. Imitation, naturalistic representation, has assumed such precedence here that is seems to have crowded out the imagination. I would spontaneously agree with Mattingly, if it weren’t for the fact that –different from him– I am struck by the beauty of this painting.

Next time:  the reality is already there and the horse of Alexander the Great.

Art cards, Art agendas, Art calendars

Bekking&Blitz publish art cards for the big museums in the Netherlands. They have also published a number of cards of my work. In wonderful designs.

dubbele kaarten enveloppen

Roses

Roses,
a case of 10 double cards with envelopes.
Painting a live rose can be quite exciting. Sometimes, sitting with your field easel near a rose, all of a sudden a leaf unfolds: the rose continues to grow! In my garden each rose has its own character: they unfold in surprising forms, like a triangle for example.

roos schilderen kaart

Roses

Sitting in front of this rose, this thought came to my mind: the beauty of the rose is the rose itself. If I want to capture that beauty, I will have to paint that rose, with everything on it.
Roses: you can send them to family and friends. A very nice gift!

Museum Cards
Bekking&Blitz also published double cards of my work in its series Museum Cards. That reminds of of earlier times when artists had their paintings copied as engravings, to spread their name and work as much as possible.

museumkaart

5 Museum Cards Bekking&Blitz

Such a card, made from a painting, that covered the long distance from work shop to gallery to publisher to printer to museum shop or book shop to postal worker to door mat, that is of course… nicer than e-mail. In stead of engravings we now have art cards.

museum postkaart kunst

5 Museum Cards Bekking&Blitz, 2

Art Agenda & Art Calendar
For 2018 Bekking&Blitz published Art Agendas – also in pocket size – and Art Calendars. They include a pastel of mine. In 2018 I am one of the pantheon of greatest artists of all times… and proud as a peacock!

art, agenda, Gezuien van de Riet

Art Agenda, pastel van Gezien van de Riet

You know how much you support me buying cards, agendas of calendars, or making a present of them, or sending them to some-one…?

It is all for sale in museums and bookshop.

Competition

My painting Espitau, beech forest in the Pyrenees gained the semi-finals in the competition ‘Figurativas 2017 – MEAM, Museo Europeo de Arte Moderno’.

Painting Beech forest Espitau Pyrenees

Beech forest Espitau Pyrenees, distemper-oil-panel, 40x60cm

2.400 artists from 98 countries participated, 7 of them were from the Netherlands, and I was one of them. Not quite the finals, but still hurray!

FACE-TRAC, it moves!

The movement in the US connected to the classical tradition continues! Meeting in Miami, November 2017.
I intend to be there and look forward to it!

Translation: Jeroen Strengers