Paintings By An Introvert
From my very first paintings, my work has almost always included people which is kind of strange because I am a major introvert. You would think I would paint lonely buildings and solitary people like Edward Hopper, but I prefer more happiness and activity in my paintings, plus I like the challenge of painting the human form.
I feel that people add life and interest to my work. The shape and orientation of the human body depicts energy and emotions, even without clear facial expressions. And the combination of the figure's movement and body language contribute a story to a landscape that would otherwise be static.
My Favorite Things
So when I travel I'm always on the lookout for people to photograph, especially people in groups who are interacting. It doesn't take much, maybe a glance or a tilt of the head to say that one person is listening to the other.
I do have favorite things I like to include in a painting. I look for people in motion; walking, running, or on a bike. I love hats, interesting bags, suitcases, and anything red. I especially like scooters, motorcycles, and people walking dogs. I do sometimes show people with cellphones, because they are ubiquitous. But cellphone use tends to be an isolating activity, so I am judicious about including them in my paintings.
I tend to avoid painting facial expressions. This is because I want to keep the face as simple as possible to make the people more generic and maintain the focus on the overall story.
I like the interplay of figures in their urban environment. I find myself wondering; do they live there or are they visiting? What are they thinking? How are they experiencing the city? I find that having figures in a painting encourages the viewer to imagine themselves there and experience the scene more fully.
I enjoy the challenge of capturing people in my photographs and using them to enliven my paintings, and I continue to look for ways to tell interesting stories in beautiful cityscapes.
Thanks for reading! What are your favorite cities that I should visit next?
She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and then in 1865 she convinced her family to send her to Paris. There she took private lessons from academic painters since women were not allowed to study at the School of Fine Arts. Although her European art education was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war, she was later able to live in Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Holland and study the works of European masters, as well as learn from local experts. She eventually settled in Paris, where her work was regularly shown at the Salon.
The American Impressionist
In 1877 Edgar Degas asked her to join the group of independent artists that were later to be know as the Impressionists. She exhibited in four of their eight exhibitions.
Cassatt was influenced by all the avante guard artists, especially by Degas, who would become a mentor. However she developed her own style and subject matter, painting scenes that related to the world of upperclass women of her era; tending to children, socializing, reading, and going to parks, cafes, plays, and the opera.
I am especially drawn to the work of Mary Cassatt because of her insightful paintings of people. She was a master in both pastel and oil. Her canvases show a mass of loose brushwork that convey a sense of movement and life, but at the same time her figures seem both solid and three dementional.
Mary Cassatt never married and had no offspring, but she clearly had an understanding of the special bond between mothers and their children, which became a specialty for her. These portraits are tender and warm, depicting intimate everyday moments without sentimentality.
In the late 1800's Japanese woodblock prints became available and were very popular for their artistic merit and their novelty. In 1890 after seeing an exhibition of Japanese prints, Cassatt began to work on a series of etchings and aquatints that have a distinctly Japanese feel. She experimented with designs that cropped and flattened the subject, creating dynamic compositions with interesting negative space. (Negative space is the shape created by the subject against a background.)
Another reason I admire Mary Cassatt's work is her use of bold, painterly brushstrokes and varying patterns and textures that support the figures in her paintings. In the painting above the textured upholstery contrasts with the girl's frilly dress, the smooth carpet, and the plaid sash and socks, while the shapes of the chairs move the viewer's eye around the painting.
In this painting I love the soft enigmatic features of the women as well as the beautifully rendered silver tea service. The texture of the wall, chair, and chair fabric all support the strong figures and convey the feeling of a comfortable bourgeois household.
A Trailblazing Artist
Mary Cassatt was a master painter in a time when it was extremely difficult for a woman to be educated in art, be financially successfully as an artist, and receive acclaim for her work. The fact that she was able to do all three is a testament to her determination, drive, and vision.
You can read more of this "My Favorite Artists" blog series here: John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Joaquín Sorolla, Fairfield Porter, Tim Horn, David Hockney.
Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your comments.