Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cezanne's Ghosts, by Robert Genn

Cezanne's Ghosts

October 12, 2007

I'm one of those painters who is forever fascinated with the
work of Paul Cezanne. I've tracked down his locations around
Mont Sainte-Victoire and peered out at the village of Aix
through the wavy glass of his studio windows. Looking closely
at his paintings and trying to figure out what was going on in
his head has been a major preoccupation. So I paid attention
when Dewain Boyce sent me his latest findings.

Dewain is making a case that Cezanne imbedded cones, ovals and
other geometric motifs in his work. Dewain claims this is the
basis of structural strength in the compositions. He leaves it
to someone else to figure out whether this was conscious or
unconscious. Why should we care about Dewain's well-conducted
research? It's just possible that Cezanne shows us a way to
give weight, mass, volume, compositional integrity and harmony
to our paintings.

Cezanne gave us lots of clues to the pictorial harmony he was
seeking. He told Emile Bernard that one needs "an invisible
scaffolding of spheres, cones and cylinders." Like the
Classical tradition of entasis and other devices in Greek
architecture, he had an understanding of hidden structure. "To
paint is not to copy the object slavishly," he said, "it is to
grasp a harmony among many relationships." So you can get an
idea of Dewain Boyce's remarkable insight, including overlaid
illustrations of Cezanne's work, we've included a link in the
current clickback. See URL below.

Cezanne was a plodder, never far from feelings of personal
failure. Persisting in relatively uninspiring subject matter,
he worked and reworked until a distinctive style emerged. In a
way, it was his sense of failure that drove him in his
obsession--trying to get it right--trying to improve on his
ideas. There's a lesson in this. By his own admission he was
not a great artist. "Chance has not favoured me with
self-assurance," he said. At another time in a rare moment of
bluff, he said, "I have come only to show the way." Indeed he
did. Lineups, implied and continued curves and other forms of
linear activation are now basics of abstraction. Realistic
painters also need to know about these compositional
strengtheners. As in the work of Cezanne, many an unresolved or
wispy painting can be saved and made compelling by hidden

Best regards,

Robert Genn

PS: "Beyond the three dimensions of length, breadth, and
perspective depth, there is a rhythmic, voluminous movement, or
a poised spatial relationship that speaks emotionally to the
spectator. In a great many of Cezanne's canvases one detects a
fluctuation of the volumes and planes--a palpable feeling of
emotional organization." (Art critic Sheldon Cheney, 1886-1980)

Esoterica: Of interest and concern to observant realists is the
apparent pervasive amateurism of much of modern art.
Consciously or unconsciously, Cezanne was one of the first to
ask people to look at something else--something beyond the
simply real--a request made possible only by the advent of
Impressionism. "The Impressionist's style," says Dewain Boyce,
"is the perfect method for camouflaging ellipses, cones and
cylinders and hiding them among sketchy images, loose outlines,
colour and tone changes, arbitrary marks, squiggly lines,
washed-out lines and bare canvas patches."

Current clickback: If you would like to see selected,
illustrated responses to the last letter, "Street art," about
outdoor paint-ins and paint-outs, as well as connectivity to
Dewain Boyce's study, please go to:

Thanks, Robert! Cezanne has always been at the top of my favorite painters list. He and I share the same Sun and Moon signs. Now artistic ability? that's another matter!

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