Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Still life - yesterday, today and tomorrow.

On Saturday afternoon I did a Still Life demonstration at Art Shed Brisbane, a jewel of an art store. It's an artist's delight containing many tempting materials. The demo lasts two hours with a short break at half time. It's not enough time to complete a painting but sufficient to make a good start. I have worked on the painting for another couple of hours, altering some colours, re-drawing certain sections and adding more juicy colour to the poppies.
There is an album showing the process of Blue vase with Poppies on my Facebook Page.

Blue vase with Poppies – oil on canvas 600mm x 600mm
 © 2011 Carol Lee Beckx

It’s fitting that I should be writing about still life at the moment. Australia has recently lost a fine proponent of the genre – Margaret Olley. While her contemporaries experimented with various other styles and ‘isms’ she concentrated on still life and painted the objects in her home in bold vibrant colour, delighting in the simple things in life. She was one of Australia's treasures.

The Still Life genre traces its history back to the Dutch term “Still leven”. The Italian term is “natura morte” which literally means dead nature and indeed many early paintings featured dead birds. The artists wanted to emphasise that their paintings had substance and were not simply indulgent paintings of beautiful objects. So within the paintings there were deeper meanings reminding the viewer of the transience of human life. This was symbolised by wilting flowers, mouldy fruit or the inclusion of a skull.
There is a story from Greece going back to 440 BC that tells of a competition between two of the best painters, Zeuxis and Parrharsius. One painted a bowl of grapes that the birds tried to peck they were so lifelike. He thought he would be the winner and went to look at his rivals’ work. He saw a painting covered by a curtain and tried to push the curtain aside – only to discover that the curtain was in fact painted. Guess who won that round?    
During the Medieval period – there were no still life paintings as most were of religious subjects and the style was largely symbolic. Towards the beginning of the 14th century things started to change and by the following century with the invention of perspective, artists were now able to represent objects realistically showing form and volume.
The first artist to realistically represent simple objects was a Venetian, Jacopo Barbaro who painted the Still Life with Partridge and Iron Gloves 1504 which is in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. He signed his work too – but did so on a small piece of paper painted on the bottom of the picture.
Paul Cezanne said “I shall conquer Paris with an apple” and Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers are among the best known Impressionist works. The genre has had many changes over the years and in the Twentieth century there were many variations.
And now in 2011 the still life moves off the picture plane and on to the gallery floor as still life objects become installations. with the use of computer generated images allows the artist to manipulate images at will.