In 1573 the Inquisition in Venice called for the artist Paolo Veronese to come forth to explain his painting, then called The Last Supper. It seemed the Inquisitors were upset by the addition of dogs, cats, jesters, and Germans to the holy scene. In his own defense, the artist said two very important and revealing things: "We painters use the same license that is permitted to poets and jesters," and "...the picture, being large, to my mind requires many figures." We see in those comments the twin devils of artistic production: creative imagination and the practicalities of the situation. Ultimately, the court and the artist made a deal. The painting could keep its many figures, but the name was changed to The Feast in the House of Levi.
Ah yes, October is the autumn, chilly breezes, and time for self reflection or as I see it, standing before the grand inquisitors of the mind. This year I missed a whole season of one of my favorite activities, painting en plein air. Instead I was involved in book publishing and in preparing work for a show now on exhibit at the Cultural Office of the Pike's Peak Region. In March I had gotten a request to talk with the director, Angela Seals, about participating in their program that shows the work of four artists each year for a period of about 3 months each. I, of course, happily said yes and immediately mapped out an idea of something seasonal, starting with spring flowers (small pieces for the office) and larger ones for the other three seasons to be placed on the 25 foot wall in the main office. The theme would relate to music. I called the show Sonata (redefined) and exchanged the musical for the painted: four movements, four seasons, four tempos, four moods in watercolor and pastels.
The first movement, Andante: Spring Flowers, was done by mid-June, and I must say the florals were fun to do. I like drawing, and pastel pencils afford me that ability, along with being able to blend colors in a painterly fashion. It is only now as I stand before my mental "inquisitors" that I see how my attempts at reality drift off into fantasy, as each of these, as well as the others presented in the show, have been given personality traits. The flame orange in the lily has the same "Here I am. What are you going to do about?" attitude of a ride in a Ferrari with the top down and the wind blowing through the petals. Orchid is a surprise in the mists of the rain forest. Hidden among the leaves, it is full of the beauty of the unusual and the allure of the strangely fascinating - an enigma wrapped in a mystery: "Orchid, why do you look the way you look?" As opposed to the flagrant nature of the other two, the amaryllis is soft and caressable. It comes in a group of three, as if to bring along its own moral support. While its form is quite well defined, it's delicate beauty says, "Look, but don't touch." Oh, how the mind plays games as different colored backgrounds develop, because, of course, just like Veronese, it is important to add a few things to develop the idea. Here I would say that the license I took veered toward the poetic side like Veronese's poets and jesters.
FEAR, LOATHING, AND LANDSCAPE: THE 25 FOOT WALL
Summer's Cooling Waters Autumn Colors #2 Blue Winter
Then came the main office and the 25 ft. wall. Well, this was not the first time Colorado faced me with a 25 ft. wall. In 2017, when I was chosen to show in two of the libraries here in Colorado Springs, I was asked in October if I could show work in December. I said sure, thinking of placing lovely little watercolors in one of the cozy little libraries like Cheyenne Mountain, where, in fact, I did show those small pieces in March of 2018. My December dreams were dashed when I was presented with a huge wall in an events room on the second floor of Library 21 C. I did not panic, for I had still with me some large watercolor on canvas pieces from a show I had in Zug, Switzerland (2013), during my years living in Europe. So I fearlessly knew I could handle it.
This time, however, though I was told that I could show older work, I said no. I will do something new, especially for this venue. That is where the plein air piece above, October, comes in. I imagined it as a triptych, each piece being on a 36" wide canvas. Three side by side would take up 108". With another piece that wide on either side plus space between the groups of paintings, 300 inches or 25 ft. would be handled. Thus, bravely I proceeded into the summer, though in the back of my mind, the inquisitors reminded me that I had not done big watercolor on canvas pieces in about ten years! Terror! However, I forged ahead, bought canvases, set up my dining room as a studio, as the dining table was the only flat surface I had big enough to accommodate a 36" x 48" canvas, and in August my initial fear subsided into general anxiety as the painting began.
My painting watercolor on canvas groove returned from somewhere in Switzerland, and as I looked at October, my model, a big cloud went in on my canvas, followed by burnt siena and ochre mountains, more that one since the canvas was considerably wider than my little watercolor original. Then deep violet mountains were made with carbazole violet, straight from the tube for the deep shadows and spread by brush for veils of violet mists. This was fronted by Colorado red rock formations. The land was full of colors and of course, water. Painting water is my spiritual equivalent of a rain dance. If it is painted, we will always have it.
It all flowed on so nicely over a period of a few days. Then I looked back at October to realize that Veronese must have taken over. Though there were no dogs, cats, jesters or Germans, this was not the painting I had intended. This was en route to a different destination. My "Autumn Colors" painting was not about the foliage any more; the colors were in the mountains! This vision also did not want to be a triptych, as I could never get the third panel to work. This is where the loathing comes in, when in the middle of the night one asks oneself, "What have you done?"
Fortunately, having freedom to choose the art meant I could bring out two other works in watercolor, which were also done on rather unique surfaces and with themes adaptable to the seasonal ones in my sonata. Watercolor on crinkled Japanese rice paper opens up another dimension in terms of texture and abstraction. So around 4:00 a.m. one morning, I decided to put Autumn Forest and Forest of the Night into the mix. The difference in size changes the visual flow on the wall almost like the flow of notes on sheet music.
Maybe Veronese's comment on what size requires was at play, for these two pieces added up to 34 inches and were a good replacement for that 36 inch triptych panel that did not work. But how would it look on the wall?
Well, it seems that Veronese did not let me down. Poetic license and finding ways to accommodate size seemed to have worked out well. The reception was lovely, and I got lots of nice compliments on the work.
Soon November will be here. Who knows where that will lead? One thing for sure is that painting can take one down many an unplanned path but always in an interesting direction.
My thanks to my contacts at the Cultural Office of the Pike's Peak Region, Angela, Kate, and Jonathan for being so accommodating. Sonata (redefined) is on view at the Cultural Office from October 2nd to December 15th, 2023 at 121 S. Tejon, Suite #111
For digital prints or framed prints of the paintings, see vernellestudio.com/copper-2023
For my latest writing endeavor, here is the QR code for Temple in the Sand, the Memoirs of a Pharaoh on amazon.com
© Marjorie Vernelle 2023