Bonnard Country

Excerpts from Journal Notes 1961/62.

I keep cutting the umbilical cord, again and again. Impressionism was atmospheric and I'm working in density, not modeling in color like the old boys did. That kind of dispersion that blends in the eye for a kind of harmonic fusion.

I've been using a color stroke that tries for discernment at three feet as well as walk-on distance. For a clarity and distinction without blending in the eye. No large masses tilting with each other. My masses are density without heavy texture. That would get in the way of what I want to do.

I'm concerned, not worried, were this will lead. I don't want to crawl back into Monet. Al [Landry] says that the only painter I invoke is Bonnard. If so, to me, this is homage to him. Right now, it seems, I have to stay away from Pollock. I don't think this is a problem-there are only surface aspects. Still this thing of ripening.

There really is no end to learning about color. Always the surprise of something new happening. For me, full color, medium value range seems best. Though I've tried to go light and dark in value that seems not to possess the inner light quality I want. But in medium range I can have light and dark accent providing I keep the chromatic response moving. Strange, because this isn't really discernable at a distance but when omitted monotony becomes rampant. In dark values, I suppose, glazing can create inner light. But with dire spatial results-neon-like, too premeditated. And on the light scale we simply lack pigments. Outside of yellow, there aren't available light valued pigments; add white and you get an inevitable bleached sense. Though ever so often I've used what I call Kickers. Sort of shocks to highlight the space manipulation I want. That avoids the loss of form the Impressionists ran afoul of. Allows me to obtain clearer strong statements.

Extreme cleanliness in application is imperative for me because dirt takes on an undesirable space characteristics. Like an unwanted illusionist recession, even a real space illusion.

Today I jumped off into "Bonnard Country" and though I may be growing my own crop of nature it's truly a pleasure to be in a landscape vein. Yet despite my method and experimentation "Bonnard Country" has a classic feel. Maybe due to compositional developments; the painting's entered from center; you're dropped into the core of an environment. The periphery of the canvas becomes an expanding horizon that's growing or groping out onto itself. Interesting about working on large square canvases (72" X 72"), they appear smaller in surface than they actually are.

I'm still at the under-painting. This is deliberate; it prevents solidification, that premature hardening of pictorial arteries. Of course, at this stage of the game they tend to look fetching and it's easy to see grounds for the Abstract Expressionist trap of insufficient involvement. Maybe an explanation of why color is so important to me, the high degree of involvement necessary to deploy it.

"Bonnard Country" is beginning to take on a warm-hot look, the saturation of sun and light I've strived for. But on the way it's losing some of Bonnard's flavor, a sweetness and joy de vivre. The painting's becoming more me. Really drier in feel, less natural, more organic. Well I had no direct emulation in mind. And since my color is no longer intuitive, it will lose the hot house atmosphere.

There are discoveries all the time. Something to do with optics. Like to make two colors work, I need to place a third in-between. To bridge the gap. Optics again? Possibly indicates that color is vibratory, not harmony, when in a duo-relationship. Maybe a triad is necessary in a so called pure color relationship. Little more than a hunch, but nevertheless it does change the dimensionality of color radically. It also creates the kind of inner light I seek.

There's a difficult passage, just right of center. It's been bugging me. The color was wrong. It didn't flow right. Only now is it beginning to glow. But now the blacks are all wrong-flat and insistent. If black's not a color it disassociates. Fine when used in other circumstances, but not here. I'm constantly running up against pigment limitations. This painting, "Bonnard Country" utilizes at least two new developments in pigments; the quinacridones, in the red family and a later day Hansa Yellow. To me they sing. And without that song the painting doesn't sing. They provide the brightness and clarity I want. With these pigments I'm using a variety of vehicles. My main reason for the variation is viscosity and speed of drying. I like a bodied vehicle. Specifically, I can use them with dry pigment directly on the palette. I'm leaning toward this more and more. Gives me better control, a lower refractive index, and also better color densities. And reduces the labor of grinding pigments that aren't available in tubes. The result is about the same. Though some bases have a better gloss retention, I'm seriously thinking of standardizing this.

By now I am trying every trick, glazes and all, to attain the appearance I want. I'm trying to bring the left mid-center section in line with the rest of that side. Too choppy before but I was reluctant to touch it. Had to wait for more development.

In a way I may be crawling a bit back to Bonnard.. He said something to the effect of spoiling intensities, just a bit, in order to enhance brilliance and true color. To some degree I've resorted to this in the white value range. But maybe optics is at the root of this, coupled with pigment behavior. I have a huge collection of pigments that have made things possible for me in paint that would otherwise probably be unattainable.

I guess I'd call myself a color expressionist. But while I grope my way ahead I seem to creep into a corner. I've less and less to do with the prevalent avant-garde. And that bothers me somewhat, it raises doubts and fears. But color is such a fantastically inexhaustible rich vein.

No breathers, no rest. I step back and it seems that so little has happened. Not true of course, but it is discouraging. And the mind's eye doesn't seem to have anything to do with the process. I have a vague idea what things should look and feel like. Sort of a hunch or a guess that maintains itself and heightens as I progress. As though the idea, the hunch, is a generality that becomes an entity in the process of exploration. I work with trial and error. Like that 'graying off' problem yesterday, this is also a temporary phase. Today I'm going over that same area with evermore increasing intensities. It's how I learn to see, I guess, suppressing areas till I can cope with them. The only reason I don't fluff, cheat, gloss over or hoke-it, is that I don't know an easier method than this. There is simply no substitute way.

Yesterday, I got in some real solid painting. Unless a second look reveals the contrary, the end of "Bonnard Country" is finally in view. Only three months late...


Copyright (c) 2003-2015 by John Aach and Doris Aach