Conversations with Alfred Bricher and John Constable
Alfred Bricher, Sea and Rocks Near Newport, Indiana University Art Museum
I was wandering through images of paintings and stumbled across two old and dear friends- the two paintings by other artists that first inspired me to make copies in oil.
Back in 1970 I entered the MFA Program in Painting at Indiana University with no idea what kind of art I wanted to make. My paintings often were going several different directions at once, starting with straight observation, bouncing into expressionism and hitting a few surreal notes. But I had the good fortune to almost immediately fall in love with the large exhibition of 19th century landscape paintings the IU Art Museum had staged.
One of the artists in the show was Alfred Bricher (Am. 1837 - 1908). I was allowed to set up my paints and make a copy directly from his original painting above. Making copies was something I had read about that used to be part of every artist's training, but it was new to me. I found the process was like falling into a long conversation with the artist, with him gently pointing the way as I examined his thinking.
Copying a painting in oil is slow going but it allowed me time to fall into his world on a deeper level than I'd anticipated. For example his large hillside of rocks at the left proved far more simple and geometric than I'd first realized.
John Constable, A Cottage in a Corn Field
About the same time I bought a little paperback of John Constable (British, 1776 -1837) landscapes from the campus bookstore. My favorite plate was the oil above. Back in my student apartment at night I worked up a careful oil copy of it as well.
What I love about this Constable is the way he created such a flowing movement from the far distant curving clouds to the cottage roof and surrounding field, and finally into the distinctly differently colored foreground. I remember specifically how making this copy got me thinking about layering my pigments, building up complexly rich forms like the trunk and branches lying on top of the expanse of "foliage" color the artist had applied first.
Philip Koch, Fall at Lake Lemon, oil on canvas, 1971
My painting above was done on location right after I made these two copies. And I remember thinking at the time how I could feel my way of seeing had started to change from listening so closely to what those two old painters had to say.