The Art of the Pochade, Color and Immediacy

Landscape painting by Judith Reeve in a pochade box

The beginning of November is a period of time when I paint mostly pochades. The leaves have just fallen from the trees and the weather is fickle – rain one day , sun the next. These circumstances make it difficult to begin a larger piece. But these smaller pieces also give me an opportunity to do what I love best, experiment. I have been painting pochades since I attended the Lyme Academy. In fact, my first 6″ X 8″ box was made by an artist friend of mine and it is still the one I primarily use.

What I love about painting in the smaller format is it allows one to block-in the composition quickly and  see the whole easily, as an entire unit. When one blocks-in a larger image, it takes time, and your mind needs to hold onto the memory of that most evocative moment, the reason why you found this image exciting and dynamic. But the pochade is like taking that same intense moment and getting it on the canvas before its dynamic immediacy is lost. The moment is still vitally alive in the very application of the paint. It also gives one the opportunity to try to capture more elusive things.

Last week we had a really heavy frost in the early morning followed by a warm sun rising in the east. I went out to paint just above Fremont Center where there is a cornfield to the west. One can see the mountains in the distance and a copse of trees at the far edge of the field. When I arrived, I set up quickly and got to work. I was totally freezing but I knew my window of opportunity to paint the frost would be brief. The far trees were beautiful in the orange-yellow rays of the sun and the foreground was a beautiful cool blue/ blue-green frost. As I sat there, the sun began to travel toward me along the field and I could hear the frost sizzling up as it approached. Just amazing! 20 minutes later, it was all gone. This is an example of really living in that dynamic flow between execution and the elusive moment.

I feel the pochade as an art form, can stand on its own for this very reason. I have found from experience that I am more apt to apply color and brush stroke more freely, almost unconsciously. There is no time to think as I apply the paint. I need to depend on my intuitive feeling for color and form. I like to surprise myself and allow these experiments to stand on their own as statements of color and brevity.

In fact, I have even considering as of late, to title them differently. Let them stand, not as a rendering of a specific place, even though they are, but allow the mind of the viewer to venture into them in a new way.  This is something Whistler did with his titles like Nocturne in Gray and Blue. But I was thinking more in terms of Walt Whitman who composed his poetry like a ballad or song. I also liked the fact that in French songe is a word for a song but also a kind of reverie or dream. And that is how I would like the pochades to stand. As a statement on the edge of being spoken and dreamed simultaneously.

On November 20th I am opening a holiday exhibit of pochade paintings only here on Attentive Equations. I would like you to share in these brief but dynamic moments of experience and joy. Please invite friends and family through social media to see and hear these ‘songes’.

My Fancy

Walt Whitman by Thomas Eakins

In Robert Creeley’s essay, Reflections on Whitman in Age, he reflects on Walt Whitman’s poem, “Good-Bye My Fancy”. It is particularly the word “fancy” and Whitman’s meaning of the word that Creeley muses on. “It’s a great word in itself, the contraction of fantasy: “c.1325, ‘illusory appearance,’ from O. Fr. fantasie, from L. phantasie, from Gk. phantasia ” appearance, image, perception, imagination,’from phantazesthai ‘ picture to oneself,’ from phantos ‘visible,’ from phainesthai ‘appear,’ in late Gk. ‘ to imagine, have visions,’ related to phaos, phos ‘ light.’ Sense of whimsical notion, illusion’ pre-1400, followed by that of ‘ imagination,’ which is first attested 1539. Sense of day-dream based on desires is from 1926, as is to fantasize…” (Creeley,”On Earth“,2006,p.65)

How the meaning of the word has changed over time. It begins as a part of one’s perceptions- filled with one’s own power to bring something into reality, into the light of day and progressively degenerates to a mere day- dream of one’s own desires. I am particularly attracted to the idea of phantazesthai– ‘to picture to one’s self.’ Taking a feeling or an intuition or a perception about the world and presenting it back to one’s self and allowing it to stand as an image before one’s self as in a mirror- to see if we recognize it- is powerful. Does its new, visible form stand as the perennial symbol of that hidden perception? Has this image, gaining material substance, come to light with a sense of accuracy and authenticity?  This interaction between an interior perception or feeling is an essential element of the creative life.

The Sufi writer, Ibn al-‘Arabi, speaks about the objective reality of the imaginal world. The imaginal world exist as an isthmus between two mirror images. One residing within the world. The other, existing beyond our present perceptions which can only be glimpsed at when one has either died or in a dream or reverie. This place of reverie brings one to the isthmus where one can look both ways, to the visible and to the hidden. The area between the two is where insight resides manifesting itself through images that have their own independent life. Through its sense of mirror image, what is internal finds its identification in an outward source, reflecting it back to one’s self. This is at the heart of ‘imagination‘.

Only through the process of  ‘picturing it to one’s self ‘ is the perception retained and given a body, an image, that can further be reflected upon by one’s self and others. The artist’s real struggle lies in this. Creeley concludes his thoughts on Whitman’s ‘fancy’ by stating that the poets job is to give an idea a body, a body that calls the present and reflections of the past together in a reverie of the moment. Memory is key- for it calls forth the impression with renewed intensity before one’s eyes. Whitman’s ‘fancy’ reveals a deeper power of mind than we care to admit about our ‘imaginings’. Creeley reveals, that “‘reality’ is the given imago mundi, the fantasy into which one is born. It’s where thought and sense find a way of meeting…” (Ibid, p.65)