very rich hours
The idea that there are visual patterns, arrangements of colors, or certain compositions that we're drawn to over a lifetime is one that intrigues and mystifies me. Recently my friend Marina Broere
mentioned in a blog post that she has been drawn to the work of Mark Rothko ever since she was a child. This made me wonder about what I have found visually compelling over the years and how that might relate to what I do now.
Thinking different artists and kinds of art that I've loved, I soon saw that it would be a big project to identify the consistent threads. As a younger artist, I was all over the place--my preferences were in pretty constant flux. But focusing on just one of these did prove interesting. For my graduation present from high school. I asked for and received from my parents an expensive art book, a reproduction of a medieval illuminated manuscript--Les Tres Riches Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry.
(OK, so I was a bit of an art nerd.)
Marina's post and my rambling thoughts led me to pull this book from its dusty slipcover--probably the first time it has been out in 20 years or more. When I was 18 and 19, I used to pore over it with delight. Thirty five years later, what do I see in these images now, and what did I see then?
It's not hard to see why, as a teenager, I'd appreciate the pretty, romantic painting shown here (April
, from the calendar in the beginning of the book) --but most of the rest of the book is actually taken up with Biblical illustrations--and given my particular brand of religious upbringing, I had scant knowledge of the meaning and symbolism of Christian imagery. So I think that my interest in all of these was almost purely visual. At the time, I was taken by the rich colors and especially by the tiny detail (this painting measures only about 8"x5") since I was into meticulous pen and ink drawing at the time. These were miniature worlds, exotic and beautiful.
What do I see in Les Tres Riches Heures
today? All of the above, still--but more. What struck me as I paged through my copy, in too many examples to show here, is how much correspondence there is in terms of color, texture and composition to my current work. It's not very obvious perhaps--but here's what I see: bright colors played off against earthy ones, contrasting visual textures, the overall grid-like composition, the use of metallic paint, which I have recently let into my work in subtle ways--even the quiet mood created--all of these are aspects of how I work today.
So, I wonder, was I drawn to these images as a teenager because of some central, inherent idea of what art should look like, and have carried that forward to today, or does it work the other way around--that these particular aspects of my work can be traced back to this early influence, put aside for many years? I suspect it is actually a complex interweaving of the two...neither one nor the other exclusively. And I'm also sure this kind of art/life story is very common among those of us who have been chasing after elusive ideals in our work for years. Visual ideas and attractions can take lots of forms over time..thinking about what may tie them together (and why?) is fascinating.