Drawing, Painting? I’m a 404….

Courtesy of The Musee d'Orsay

Drawing? Painting? Nope, my brain’s default code on this one is 404. There’s a communication breakdown in my circuitry that renders two (usually) fairly capable hands quite useless when it comes to producing an image either from imagination, memory or even (horror) a copy.

Drummed out of Art lessons at school and denied the opportunity of taking an ‘O’ level in the subject — the school’s examination stats would have been lowered to unimaginable levels by my doubtless abysmal performance in this one subject — this lack of artistic ability gives me a very basic starting point for my appreciation of art.

Over the years I’ve become increasingly passionate about art while accruing some knowledge about art history. While by no means an expert, my wider appreciation has grown to embrace topics including iconography and allegory. But — stripped back to basics I’m still confounded, deeply admiring and frankly envious of the talents of some of our great artists, not least because I wouldn’t have a clue where to start.

Two of my favourite artists are Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. Seurat developed the technique known as pointillism, in which dots of pure colour are applied to create the image (and which embraces Chevreul’s theory on the simultaneous contrast of colours), leaving me giddy with admiration. Signac also adopted this style and his depictions of Mediterranean scenes are among those I return to time and again. His painting ‘Women At A Well’ shimmers with the particular luminosity of the Mediterranean light; whenever I visit Paris’ Musée d’Orsay I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

So against this background of my own artistic inabilities versus the technical brilliance of some of my most revered painters, follow me if you will to the Musée d’Orsay where the Impressionist galleries have been re-hung, with the Post- and Neo-impressionist artworks in a gallery of their own.

I was lucky enough to be there last week and thrilled to discover some new (to me) works by Signac hanging in the new gallery. After spending a considerable amount of time in rapt concentration — and saving my favourite until last — I crossed the gallery to my hallowed ‘Women At A Well’.

Standing in front of it was an American mother with her two daughters, the elder of whom wore that telling expression of ennui entirely familiar to anyone who has raised, or had dealings with teenagers. Ignoring her mother’s input, the girl turned away from the painting and with all the supercilious arrogance that only an adolescent can muster said “ it’s just a load of dots” (her emphasis on the word ‘dots’ telling any casual listener all they needed to know). The partially-jokey advice for teenagers to ‘leave home now while they still know everything’ contains a healthy dose of realism (practical considerations aside).

In the space of a moment I was ricocheted backwards in time to an adolescent snarling ball of hormones (was that really me?) then forwards again to my passionate-about-art older self. My momentary outrage at the blasphemy was quickly countered. 404? Happens to us all at some time.

This article was published in The Sussex Newspaper online on April 26th 2012.

© Barbara Hopkins


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