June 26, 2008

Artist's Landscape: the small details, Revisited

Today, the Garden of my mind is fertile with so many wonderful ideas and thoughts it is almost overwhelming. It is a day of quiet reflection. Today's blog is a repost, from almost a year ago. I am finding that I am thinking about almost exactly the same things today, but my surroundings and landscape have changed, so I am seeing these thoughts again from a different perspective.
"Europe After the Rain", by Max Ernst 1942

Orignial Post from July 28, 2007

Ok, I have moved along a bit from Dali, although I can't promise he won't pop up again...he always seems to. I have also moved along in my que at Netflix, where I recently found the art history documentaries. Last night I watched one about surrealist artist Max Ernst. I was familiar with his work a bit but did not know the full range or any of his personal history. It was quite amazing, and it made me think of many things.

First, I will backtrack to yesterday. As I mentioned, I had to take the drive to get my clay and glazes. I took the ride alone this time, and doing so always makes me think. As I drive, I pass through some of the most industrial areas of Detroit and downriver. The sights always effect me. So I have been thinking about landscape. I think about great painters throughout history and the landscapes they painted. Sometimes the landscape of their home is directly linked with the images they painted throughout their lives. Think of Dali, O'Keefe, Monet and I immediately see in my mind's eye the place of their home, reflected through their lifetime of painting.

But I have never lived in such picturesque settings. I grew up in suburbia and the landscape was somewhat sterile. Manicured lawns and controlled flowerbeds. And to travel any distance from home, near or onto Detroit, it was the industrial landscape that I experienced. Of course, there are some beautiful parts of Michigan, but honesty, I have not really spent a lot of time in them. Scenes like the picture above, which I found on Flickr, are pretty much the vision of my local landscape. And to travel around the Detroit area during the day, there is much haze, decay, and abandonment. Yes, that can have its own beauty, but what if one is drawn more to natural beauty, and not urban beauty?

Totem and Taboo, 1941 by Max Ernst

Back to my documentary...Max Ernst seems to have experienced a similar thing. He made art during both WW1 and WW2 in Germany and Europe, where the landscape around him was crumbling and exploding from the wars. So the natural beauty he longed for was not available in the vast landscape that he walked through. He began to focus on the minute details of his surroundings. The natural patterns in the wood planks of his floorboards drew him in, and he needed to investigate.

Frottage Technique, I think this is a picture of Max Ernst demonstrating

Apparently Ernst had a fear of the blank canvas, artist's block, where it was difficult to put that first stroke down on the clean white canvas. So he began to develop techniques that would get him over that initial mark, and into the process of painting. He developed one technique, called frottage, which is a charcoal or pencil rubbing of a surface to get an image, for example...using a wooden floorboard.

Les moeurs des feuilles (The Habit of Leaves) by Max Ernst from Histoire Naturelle 1926

This technique, and others like it, became a crucial part of Ernst's process. He was able to connect to nature in the smallest details, by working directly with the natural grain of wood, leaf patterns, and other natural elements with the frottage technique.

La Forêt pétrifiée, (1929) by Max Ernst

Using these techniques, he was able to explore the landscape around him, just in a different way than painting a picturesque panorama of the seashore or rolling fields that he saw with his naked eye. Working with physical elements of his surroundings opened up his mind to paint the landscape in his mind, an emotional landscape.

The Forest (La Forêt), 1927-1928 by Max Ernst

I am unsure what all this interest in early 20th century paining has to do with me and my beads. I do not paint, and have no interest or intention in painting, or in other "fine art" pursuits. But I think these things relate to me and my inner vision, perhaps. Learning about the creative processes and visions of other artists really helps me define my own vision.


  1. It's really interesting, this idea of the fear of a blank canvas--really, sometimes that first splash of ink is much more difficult than all those that follow. Totally thought-provoking.

  2. it is really difficult, and something that many creative people face. The fear of taking that first step, painting the first stroke, typing the first word...

    that is what is fascinating about the surrealist techniques, they work to over come that fear through randomness. I am fascinated by these thoughts.