Friday, January 4, 2013

Cezanne- A Life, by Alex Danchev- book review

As an artist I am often leery of biographies of artists as they tend to glamorize the more salacious aspects of an artists life.-This did not- perhaps because Cezanne was more monk-like in his dedication to his art. I learned a great deal about his extraordinary work methods- his insistence, in trooping out day after day painting and experiencing his landscapes. This is contrary to much current practice of landscape copiers- I can't even call them painters, who snap photos and retire to the studio to finish them up. I was teaching a figurative workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona- a place of breathtaking vistas when I passed a 'landscape class'. The student were all inside, a rather dreary room ,lined up on long tables, while the instructor showed them how to copy the small pictures taped next to their canvasses. The sun was sparkling out side- it was one of the most pathetic sights I had ever seen.If you are going to paint a landscape- go outside and experience it for God's sake! No wonder he changed the way we see landscapes- he actually experienced them. We are afraid to allow our experience to change the photographic mindset we have of landscapes that we so often end up with calendar art.
Cezanne was one with his landscapes. He felt them and it it extraordinarily evident in the originality of his painting of them- they are not mere renderings. 

He painted his apples and portraits with the same intense scrutiny, strangely he painted his nudes from his head or old school drawings. He was a slow and deliberate painter- taking much time between each stroke or dab. This is so unlike Hollywood's version of the painter slashing away at his canvas with mad inspiration. The last time I slashed madly at a canvas with mad inspiration, it ended up in the landfill. Cezanne was contemplative- before it became de riguer in his approach to his work. He really considered every brush stroke- unlike the arrogance of many contemporary painters, who say, if I slap it on a canvas it MUST be important because I am important!

There are some wonderful descriptions of his methodology and the artist materials he used. Danchev describes the colors and pigment Cezanne used- useful to any painter. I would have loved a bit more of that.

The only quibble I have with this book is a lay person trying to get inside a head of a painter- Danchev did a fair job, but I wish art writers or critics would like Adam Gopnik take drawing lessons from Jacob Collins just to see what a struggle it is to learn how to draw. Maybe then we would have better art critics and biographers who are more in tune with their subjects. Here is my post describing that subject:;postID=5493590543516105708

All in all it is a wonderful book and a good read. It leads to a greater appreciation and understanding of the enormous impact Cezanne had on art. The prints are tiny and it should not be bought for that. It will impel you to go to a museum to see them. I love the painting of his wife in the red chair- It is at the Boston Museum Of Fine Arts- near me so I can see it easily

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