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Monday, November 12, 2018

Autumn Art

Captured Light, Cathy Hillegas--Autumn art in a unique light.
When we think of autumn art, most of us think first of color-laden landscapes, usually rife with yellows, oranges, reds, and browns. Sometimes there's a bit of green or blue, thrown in--complementary colors just to break the monotony. Unfortunately, that's just what most such autumn art amounts, to, sheer monotony. Moreover, even though Halloween and Thanks-giving fall during the fall season, they do little or nothing to relieve this monotony. Often, with their trite, stock images, they might be considered the worst offenders along this line.
Autumn, Sorin Apostolescu
For those who have been following my series (this is the final posting), you know I always look for fresh insights into seasonal subjects that all too often tempt artists to fall back on safe (and profitable) images which have been "done to death" by every painter in the phone book and his second cousin. Now I have nothing against landscapes or their dead and dying leaves. I can even tolerate the traditional fall colors (in moderation). What I make no attempt to tolerate is sameness. Five minutes on the Internet inundated by the plethora of leafy paths or streams through the woods are enough to trigger the onset of nausea. Sorin Apostolescu's Autumn (above), though the leaves and colors are somewhat subdued, is a fine example of what I mean. Even the title is tiresome.
Autumn Hawthorn Berries, Ann Mortimer--fall colors, but in pleasant moderation.
First of all, there's a lot more to Autumn art than leafy landscapes. Cathy Hillegas' Captured Light (top) is an autumn still-life. The realm of possibilities for intricate studies of leaves alone opens up a vast area of color and composition that, for some unknown reason, is seldom touched by "autumn artists." Autumn Hawthorn Berries (above), by Ann Mortimer demonstrates the fact that watercolors are an ideal medium for this much-neglected branch of Autumn art. My own contribution to this genre, Final Nesting Place (bottom), is acrylic on Masonite trimmed in such a manner as to "break the frame." The painting is based upon a photo from a chance encounter in our backyard. Originally the painting featured actual dry oak leaves attached in a Postmodern manner to the surface. It's for sale but the buyer will have to supply their own fall foliage.
Autumn art is at its best when it's used as a setting for other content rather than a threadbare decorative motif.
Even some of the most famous painters from the past have fallen prey to the beauty inherent in this time of the year. Above I've chosen the work of Claude Monet (French) and his Autumn At Argenteuil, Autumn Afterglow by John Atkinson Grimshaw (English), and Marlborough Street, Boston, by Childe Hassam (American) as an international representation of what great artists can do with Autumn landscapes without diving into the shallow pool of stereotypical convention. Though the "leaf motif" may be somewhat overwhelming and the subject a bit "Rockwellian," the contemporary painter, Randy Van Beek with his Autumn-Leaves (below), stops short of cornball cliché.

Autumn Leaves, Randy Van Beek
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer,
1905, Gustav klimt
It's likely that few artists ever contemplate an Autumn portrait, or if they have, few would be up to the task of painting one. Although the Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt might find the whole idea of an Autumn portrait a bit far-fetched, even amusing, his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (right), from 1905, seems to me to fall into that category. The colors, with their gold leaf base are certainly fall-like. Even his abstract shapes suggest those of leaves all but enveloping his wealthy client. Klimt seems to be suggesting Autumn without falling back on the obligatory leafy landscape. The paint-ing, stolen by the Nazis during the war, sold for $88-million in 2006. They buyer was Op-rah Winfrey.

Autumn Dragon, Ethan Aldridge
There are two other areas of Autumn art people seldom consider, one being fantasy art, such as Autumn Dragon (above), by Ethan Aldridge. Though some might consider Aldridge's art as illustration rather than fine art, it's a dichotomy with which I've never been comfortable. What difference does it make if the art is done for publication or a painting which may (if it's popular) be reproduced using some type of print mechanization?  The other type is Autumn figures. That question never arises with regard to the Czech painter Alphonse Mucha's Four Seasons (below), from 1896. Even though his works (he did several permutations on the "four season" theme) have been reproduced in some quantity both during and after his lifetime (1860-1939), his Art Nouveau figures are among the finest to be found in that style.

Four Seasons, 1896, Alphonse Mucha. The Autumn figure is enlarged.
The error so many painters of Autumn landscape make is in lavishing too much attention and detail upon leaves, trees, and fees (what sells), forgetting that such items make a far better background for their work than as their primary emphasis. Heidi Malott's Soybeans Ready for Harvest (below), is simplicity underscored. Her loose, Impressionist handling of the paint, along with her intricate cloud studies, create a strong beginning. Yet they leave the viewer yearning for some point of interest upon which to focus, even though the work is a welcome relief from what so often is "too much of a good thing."

Soybeans Ready for Harvest, Heidi Malott
Copyright, Jim Lane
Final Nesting Place, 2000, Jim Lane


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