On Cezanne

Cezanne might be the most reassuring painter to those of us facing a canvas today. Not that he was in any way easy. His work is monumental. His personality was prickly, certainly not one to console anyone. The temper of a loner diabetic with deep sugar crashes and the rages this can bring on. But standing in front of his work there is a quiet, persistent calm. The way this communicates itself to me, from one painter to another, if translated into words might go something like this,

Painting is hard. Seeing is hard. Finding is hard. Locating where something is, what its shape is, how it fits into its surroundings; all hard. Paint is intractable and totally revealing at the same time. It does not lie. It cannot lie. What is put down will show.

But all we need to do is make one choice. Make one mark. And then move on. Make another. Compare the two. Find how they interact and call for a third. Honesty is rewarded. Paint turns from enemy to ally when we stop attempting to deceive… our selves?

A painting is an accumulation of marks. There is no negation. Even blotting-out is a step forward. The canvas welcomes our interaction with it.

Form is not supplied. It is found.

Cezanne “invented” the canvas as a surface/field. The thing Picasso/Braque made explicit at the start of cubist painting. Every touch is simultaneously on the surface, here; and in there, in the space within the field. Every touch changes every part. There is no “preparatory” stage where what is done to the canvas doesn’t matter. It can’t be worked on in pieces, scraps, fragments without having everything that was done in that part completely changed by what happens somewhere else on/in the surface/field.

A painting is not prepared, and it is never finished. It is abandoned or it reaches a point of equilibrium, leaving us with a sense that it asks no more of us. Nothing more to add. A point at which our eyes begin to flow through and over its surface/field finding more in it than was put there. Or, a painting is partially or totally destroyed by acts of will attempting to push it farther or faster than it could go.

Every touch is a mark, and also a color. Each mark/color lives in relation with every other mark/color. Each is a stab at what we think we see. Each addition changes what is there, requiring that we attend to what has happened and not get stuck imagining we see what we intended. Each touch is as good as we can do it at the time. We don’t leap after inspiration and expect to be caught by virtuosity. Yet, the sum of all this honest labor can achieve something beyond the seductions of the virtuoso. The painting may come to life and simply Be.

The monumentality of confronting the presence of something that is. There is room for everything in such a painting. We are changed by the experience.

Humility holds all of the weight, all of the evanescence of being in its light cradle. A cradle of light. Made of light. Made of paint. Colored mud daubed on a scrap of cloth.

Paul Cézanne "Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier" (1893 - 1894)
Paul Cézanne “Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier” (1893 – 1894)

 

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