Re-approaching Subject Matter

Ben in the Clouds
Ben in the Clouds

“One cannot step into the same river twice.” This quote by Saint Augustine leaves much to meditate on. Although he was referring to the passage of time and its constant progression, I often think of it in reference to re-approaching the same subject matter. An artist needs to have the ability to see all things for the “first” time.This is relatively easy when one travels, but it is important to have that similar vision toward what immediately surrounds you. One has to allow the subject to tell a new story each time one approaches it.

The first time you see a landscape or a figure there are things that immediately present themselves and one sees fresh. The next time may be quite different. What at first appeared one way has taken a new direction. One is taken down a path that one could not initially perceive. I find that subjects I enjoy re-approaching present deeper themes that resonate with some intuitive part of myself and it is only by constantly seeing it again that I come to know that theme more intimately.

There are times when I find a model or a landscape that can easily transform into new themes.  These times reflect the artists interior journey. Such subjects contain within themselves that illusive part of nature that is seeking material form – always tempting the artist to pursue it, to try another road.

I find I can no longer paint still lifes. The attraction is no longer there primarily because I find them static. I am more interested in things that are more fleeting and temporary – the change of seasons, the light of a particular day, people and their expression of soul, the emotions , the classical beauty of the figure. These things sum up the fragility of all things in nature bound to more enduring qualities.

Re-approaching many subjects one begins to see the over-arching themes, the connection between all things. When one paints things again and again one defines the landmarks, the map of these things. The artist acts as a cartographer of a hidden world. Lately, my interest has been on the child and the creative and imaginative genius that lies within. I am fascinated by their energy and creative spirit. They are inherently imaginative and express perfect freedom in a world that is not yet divided. A perfect unity of beauty and integrity of being- all comes naturally.There is a certainty in a child that is profound yet fleeting. A day will come when all of this may change as they adapt to the realities of the world. I feel I am compelled to paint it now, this fleeting state, because there will be no other chance to revisit it.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

0 thoughts on “Re-approaching Subject Matter”

  1. What a fantastic painting! I had to run and get a magnifying glass to get a closer look.The painting just pulled me in. The way you captured the expression is sublime, so subtle. Looking at his eyes that seem to be imagining or conjuring transports me to a place of wonder. It is hard to describe, something like the infinite possibilities of imagination. His face is beautifully handled and I love the sky and clouds. The whole painting is masterfully done. Bravo Judith! You do “capture things that are fleeting and temporary” and make them your own. And with what seem to me the most difficult subjects.

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