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Friday, July 5, 2013

Artists' Studios

The Painter's Studio, 1855, Gustave Courbet, probably the most famous painting
ever depicting an artist working in his studio. One has the feeling Courbet
was in need of a visitor's gallery and ticket taker.
Someone once said, "You can tell a lot about an artist by his studio." I'm not sure who it was, maybe even me. I've been known to inadvertently quote myself before. In any case there's a great deal of truth in both the statement and in the broader truth artists reveal about themselves through their contrived, portrait-like, working environments. I suppose that's true of other professionals as well. My wife is a professional tax preparer, and while her "front" office is neat as the proverbial pin, backstage, it's a disordered heap flowing off onto the floor and halfway out the door. My own studio appears to be a cross between a lawyer's office and a relatively neat graphic design studio. It reflects the nature of my mind and personality--one thing at a time, one day at a time--not necessarily clean but relatively neat and uncluttered (for a painter, at least).

Jackson Pollok, 1950--as much paint on the floor as on canvas.
Besides the artists personality and state of mind, his or her studio reflects that artist's medium, style, and type of subject matter. You could expect Jackson Pollock's studio (above) to be huge and sloppy as a pig sty--and it was. You would picture Norman Rockwell's studio as the epitome of New England Yankee rectitude and order (below). least it is now having been turned into a museum piece of conservative artistic veneration. Old black and white photos from the early part of the last century tell a slightly different story. Which reminds us that an artist's studio also reflects the era in which the artist lived. Before electricity, there was the proverbial north light windows, often quite large by the standards of their day. In contrast, Renaissance artist often painted in surroundings which would appear to us today as more like barns than art studios.

Norman Rockwell's tidied-up shrine.
Picasso entertains the seductive film star, Bridget Bardot in his art-strewn studio, 1956.
Even in modern times, they didn't call Andy Warhol's studio "the factory" for nothing. It had been one and became one, something of an art factory. Picasso had his California, his villa in the south of France during his final years (above). His output was so prodigious his art had literally crowded him out of two earlier home studios. He simply locked them up and moved on to bigger digs. In general, the larger an artist paints the larger his or her studio. Monet's studio at Giverny on the Seine (below) had more the appearance of an art gallery than working space, his massive water lilies seemingly flowing from the wall, flooding the studio in all their impressionist glory. The more successful the artist, the larger his or her studio.
Claude Monet's studio seems to have been one of quiet, comfortable, contemplation.
Francis Bacon's less-than-pristine premises. Is there such a word as "cringeworthy"?
Marc Chagall, 1955, poses in his modest,
and modestly neat, studio. One wonders
if it was always so orderly.
Like most of his paintings, British art icon Francis Bacon's studio (above) was a horrendous nightmare of clutter and art paraphernalia seeming to leaving little room for the artist himself. Marc Chagall, whose studio was surprisingly neat and orderly, would have ran screaming from Bacon's lair in bloody horror. John Singer Sargent's studio in Paris (he also had studios in London and New York) reflected the plush, Victorian lifestyle of the socialite artist and the era in which he lived. It even featured a bed for quick afternoon naps after a long day of dashing about his easel. Also, a painter's studio will reflect that artist's strengths and, by necessity, likewise his weaknesses as seen in Joe Fig's poignant painting, Chuck Close: Summer 2004 (below).
Chuck Close: Summer, 2004, Joe Fig

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