Tag Archives: clouds

Thomas Fransioli – Rain in Charleston

16 Jun

Thomas Fransioli (American, 1906 – 1997), Rain in Charleston, 1951

I had never heard of the American painter Thomas Fransioli until one day a few weeks ago, by serendipity, I stumbled upon his painting “Rain in Charleston” from 1951 and I was immediately captivated by its cold, sleek style and hints of magical realism. Fransioli was born in 1907 in Seattle, Washington and studied architecture at the University of Pennysilvania. In 1930 he got his degree and for a while worked as an architect, making plans for the exhibition rooms in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The Second World War interrupted his career in architecture and he served in the Pacific Theatre from 1943 to 1946. After the war he took up painting and settled in Boston, Massachausets.

His love of archicture pervades his painterly work, for his oeuvre consists almost entirely out of townscapes, street scenes and buildings. Fransioli showed little to no interest in portraying people and they are almost never seen in his paintings. The style of his paintings shows a love of structure and precision, a longing for order in the midst of a chaotic world. This makes me think of something that Oskar Schlemmer, a German artist associated with the Bauhaus school, said: “If today’s arts love the machine, technology and organization, if they aspire to precision and reject anything vague and dreamy, this implies an instinctive repudiation of chaos and a longing to find the form appropriate to our times.”

Fransioli’s painting “Rain in Charleston”, with its sleek, structured appearance, the sharp and algular, boldly outlined buildings, and its impersonal mood shows a distinct influence of the Precisionism. After all, the painting shows a street devoid of people, another characteristic of the aforementioned art movement. Precisionism was a distinctly American and distinctly modern art movement which first appeared in the early twentieth century in the paintings of Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler and others. The favoured motives of Precisionist painters were the objects tied exclusively to the modern world; tall buildings, urban landscapes, industrial architecture and factories. In the late 1940s, Fransioli was asked to paint townscapes for the magazine covers of the Collier’s Magazine and so it happened that, on his travels, he was passing through Charleston on one occassion and made some sketches, one of which he would later use as a basis for this painting.

Painting “Rain in Charleston” shows a street scene, more specifically a view of the Laurens Street in Charleston, on a rainy day. The main motifs in the scene are buildings, street, streetlight and trees, and a dark, gloomy sky looming over the town in threatening way. Each building – grey, white, red, blue – looks solitary and is standing separate and alone from the other buildings. Fransioli choses strong and dark colours to set the mood of the painting; a gloomy mood, tingled with strangeness and melancholy. Fransioli usually avoids portraying people in his paintings, but even when he does paint them, like here we see a man standing on the doorstep of his house and a person with an umbrella down the street, they are so small and insignificant that their presence is not strong enough to break the strange, desolate overall mood. Even when it comes to painting nature, such as trees, it is bare and desolate. The contrast between the gloomy, dark sky in the left part of the sky and the light sky in the right part of the sky is beautifully painted.

The combination of the dark clouds and the wet street and pavements really makes this painting atmospheric. One can almost feel how it would be to step into the puddle in the street; it is so realistically and vividly depicted, and almost mirrorlike. I have seen other paintings of towns that Fransioli painted, but I think this one is the best because it is so atmospheric and the rain is definitely something interesting to capture in art. The painting simultaneously appears very realistic and yet very strange because the buildings and the street are painted in a precise, realistic manner but the overall mood of the painting is a desolate, strange one. A rainy street with no people, or a very few unnoticable people, is like a dark dream. In this regard, Fransioli combines the precise and cold style of Precisionism with the Italian Metaphysical style of painting or Magic Realism, the example of which is Giorgio de Chirico and his lonely, melancholy scenes of empty squares and towns.

John Corbet – The Tower

29 Jul

“All was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.”

(Jane Eyre)

John Corbet, The Tower, 2020, watercolour

John Corbet is one of my favourite contemporary artists; I enjoyed seeing his style develop throughout the years and I am always curious to see what wonderful and dreamy watercolours and pastels his brush and his imagination will give birth to. I already wrote about his Renoir inspired watercolour here. One of his most recent works called “The Tower” was a love at first sight for me. It’s hard to explain what particular element of the watercolour appeals to me so much because I love all of it; first of all, it’s easy to seduce me with watercolours, then I just love the colours; hushed and melancholy shades of purple, greys and blues, like a cloudy sky just moments before a rainstorm. The scene excites my imagination and the mystery compels me to further gaze at the painting. A pale young girl is seen running over the moors, her purple dress, like a fragrant and large violet petal, swamps the lower part of the paper, flowing like a deep purple river, widening down from her slender waist.

One can just feel the Gothic mood of the watercolour, the mystery and suspense, shining through in dark colours and objects that seemed to serves as symbols open to interpretation, for example the looming yellowish tower on the hill; it can symbolise the captivity, a bird cage for the young maiden, or a protection from the harsh realities symbolised by the darkness and gloom of the strange moors and meadows she found herself in, it can be a prison and a safe haven, depends on what you wish you see. Its erect shape and unbreakable strength could also bring to mind other things, in a Freudian way. Also, the motif of a tower instantly brought to mind the painting “Vejez” by a female Spanish-Mexican Surreliast painter Remedios Varo. In the painting, a pink tower is shown to be full of cracks and starting to be overgrown by ivy, and it certainly has a lot of character despite being an object.

Without a doubt, there is a secret connection between the innocent Gothic maiden and the stern face vaguely yet convincingly appearing in the grey cloud. I will imagine it is her strict guardian watching over her, in spirit, even when he is not near her in flesh. “When I’m not there, in spirit I’ll be there”, to quote Depeche Mode’s song “Disease”. Her eyes are turned upwards; she can sense his gaze upon her and she knows there is no way to escape, no matter how fast or far she ran over the meadows and moors, she knows that her guardian transcends both time and space. The girl’s hair dancing in the melody of the wind and the raspberry pink ribbons on her sleeves form a repeating pattern and add to the scene’s drama and a whirlwind of intensity.

Remedios Varo, Vejez, 1948

The stern face in the cloud and the round rosy-cheeked face of the maiden in a violet-gown brought to mind the mystical connection between Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester when they both, at the same moment, around midnight, heard each other’s voices and cries, coming from kilometers afar, more through the power of mind than physically through space:

All the house was still; for I believe all, except St. John and myself, were now retired to rest. The one candle was dying out: the room was full of moonlight. My heart beat fast and thick: I heard its throb. Suddenly it stood still to an inexpressible feeling that thrilled it through, and passed at once to my head and extremities. The feeling was not like an electric shock, but it was quite as sharp, as strange, as startling: it acted on my senses as if their utmost activity hitherto had been but torpor, from which they were now summoned and forced to wake. They rose expectant: eye and ear waited while the flesh quivered on my bones.

“What have you heard? What do you see?” asked St. John. I saw nothing, but I heard a voice somewhere cry —

“Jane! Jane! Jane!” — nothing more.

“O God! what is it?” I gasped.

I might have said, “Where is it?” for it did not seem in the room — nor in the house — nor in the garden; it did not come out of the air — nor from under the earth — nor from overhead. I had heard it — where, or whence, for ever impossible to know! And it was the voice of a human being — a known, loved, well-remembered voice — that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently.

“I am coming!” I cried. “Wait for me! Oh, I will come!” I flew to the door and looked into the passage: it was dark. I ran out into the garden: it was void.

“Where are you?” I exclaimed.

The hills beyond Marsh Glen sent the answer faintly back — “Where are you?” I listened. The wind sighed low in the firs: all was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.

Jane Eyre (2011): In spirit, I believe we must have met.

And here is what Mr Rochester tells Jane later on, when they meet again:

As I exclaimed ‘Jane! Jane! Jane!’ a voice- I cannot tell whence the voice came, but I know whose voice it was- replied, ‘I am coming: wait for me;’ and a moment after, went whispering on the wind the words- ‘Where are you?’ “I’ll tell you, if I can, the idea, the picture these words opened to my mind: yet it is difficult to express what I want to express. Ferndean is buried, as you see, in a heavy wood, where sound falls dull, and dies unreverberating. ‘Where are you?’ seemed spoken amongst mountains; for I heard a hill-sent echo repeat the words. Cooler and fresher at the moment the gale seemed to visit my brow: I could have deemed that in some wild, lone scene, I and Jane were meeting. In spirit, I believe we must have met. You no doubt were, at that hour, in unconscious sleep, Jane: perhaps your soul wandered from its cell to comfort mine; for those were your accents- as certain as I live- they were yours!” Reader, it was on Monday night- near midnight- that I too had received the mysterious summons: those were the very words by which I replied to it.

In the same way, we know the face in the cloud cannot be real but we can imagine what powerful bonds connects their spirits that the girl can feel his gaze upon her even when she is out on the meadow.

You can visit the artist’s page here.

J.M.W. Turner and John Constable’s Approach to Landscapes

15 Oct

The importance of landscape painting changed under the influence of the Romantic movement in the late 18th century, and great artists took the job of elevating this genre of painting to new dimensions as their life goal. Tradition was both an obstacle and help. Two English artists of Romanticism approached this problem differently, though equally interesting and inspirational for generations to follow, those were J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.

Peace - Burial at Sea exhibited 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851Peace – Burial at Sea – J.M.W. Turner, 1842

Turner was a successful artists whose paintings often caused sensation on the Royal Academy. His ambition in life was to reach, if not surpass, the glory of Claude Lorraine’s landscapes. When he died, Turner left all his paintings, drawings and sketches to the English nation, under one condition – that his painting Dido building Carthage (1815) is always exhibited next to the paintings of Claude Lorrain. His comparison is a bit unfair; while the world of Lorrain’s paintings is a world of dreams, undisturbed serenity and simplicity, Turner’s painting, which also reflect fantastical worlds bathed in gold lightness and shining with beauty, radiate not serenity but motion and excitement, his worlds are not those of simple harmonies but of astonishing grandeur. Turner deliberately painted with an aim to captive and amaze the viewer, and his landscape of turbulent seas, storms and fires imply the romantic sumptuousness of nature.

If we take a look at Turner’s painting above ‘Burial at Sea’ the sense of excitement and movement is evident, and limited amount of colours – black, yellow, white and blue were quite enough for Turner to create this dynamic rapture. Objects in Turner’s art are usually shapeless, but as Stephane Mallarme said “To define is to kill. To suggest is to create.” Turner’s sea scenes of boats, storms and waves are here to fulfill the needs of our imagination, not to teach us about boats and boat equipment. Turner’s paintings always portray an emotion.

1838. Ovid Banished from Rome - J.M.W. TurnerOvid Banished from Rome – J.M.W. Turner, 1838

Tradition was always a burden for Constable. It’s not that he lacked the admiration for old masters, but he simply wanted to paint what he saw in front of him, not what Claude Lorrain saw centuries ago. To Constable ideas weren’t of much importance, all that mattered was the truth. Fashionable landscape painters of the time admired painters such as Lorrain and invented a whole set of techniques which allowed them to easily create such works for their bourgeois customers. The formula was simple: a tree in the foreground as a contrast to the vast nature scene in the background, soft brownish and golden shades in the foreground, and the background was suppose to turn pale from blue to white shades. Constable despised all those tricks. And really, where are all those imitation of imitations of landscapes, while Constable remains an important painter of his generation.

It is said that a friend objected to Constable for not using the usual soft ‘violin’ brown shades in the foreground of his paintings, to which Constable replied by taking a violin outdoors and comparing its soft brown shade to the radiant green colour of the grass; the real colour instead of the conventional shades of brown that the audience was accustomed to. But Constable didn’t want to shock the audience, he simply wanted to paint what he saw. Green grass, such a ‘radical move’. His perhaps best known painting ‘The Hay Wain’ shows exactly what Constable wanted to achieve: paint nature with honesty and simplicity by refusing to paint landscapes more impressive than nature itself.

1821. John Constable - The Hay WainJohn Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821

Breaking with tradition left the landscape artists with two paths embodied in Turner and Constable. Painters could either become ‘poets’ in painting in search of wild, touching and dramatic effects, or, they could hold onto the real motif and explore it with all their persistence and honesty. Another representative of the first group is my darling Caspar David Friedrich and his poetic, melancholic scenes of forests at night or lovers by the shore. Camille Corot is a good example of the second path: he studied nature attentively and infused his painting with honesty, that way influencing the development of Realism in France.

Which path is more appealing to you? I know some art historians think that the second path achieved something of long-lasting value, but I support the first path because romanticised nature in art appeals to me more.