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Still Life?

Giorgio Morandi – Still Life Blue


“I am essentially a painter of the kind of still life composition that communicates a sense of tranquillity and privacy, moods which I have always valued above all else.” – Giorgio Morandi.




Still life #24, 1963 by Tom Wesselmann


“The challenge for an artist is always to find your own way of doing something.” Tom Wesselmann (pop artist)




Adelheid Dietrich 


Once upon an time artists were regarded as skilled craftspeople. The purpose of their work was to glorify God and other religious subject matter. The Renaissance changed all that and in Protestant Europe, in the Netherlands in particular, painters had to find new wealthy patrons.

Some artists, like Vermeer, painted beautiful domestic scenes and other painted lush and abundant still lives. In a time before photography, the still life painting was a status symbol. A way of preserving one’s riches in a visual medium.  Long after those flowers had wilted and died, the painting was still on the wall of the patron’s house.

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with still life painting. I think I associate the painting of still lives with the art I did at school. I suppose it’s because I like the outdoors as a subject as well as lots of natural light.  Here are a few examples from long ago. The first two on the left are done in oil pastels and the fruit with bottle was done in acrylic paint.

I have usually only painted still lives when I have been stuck indoors because of bad weather or winter darkness. It has been very gloomy and wet here lately, So I have been playing around with still lives as a subject matter but I have been dissatisfied with the composition of the pieces I did.

I eventually decided that my view point was too high up. Maybe the problem was that I didn’t know what I wanted from these paintings. Giorgio Morandi was interested in the relationship between the objects in his paintings. Tom Wesselmann’s pop art evoked the wealth of the USA consumer society and drew on the language of advertising.

I liked the utilitarian plainness of the enamel plate, cup and the white tea pot but my objects looked a bit lost on the table. In the end, I decided that my canvas was too big and the viewer wasn’t connected to the objects in the paintings. I needed to be closer and lower down. So I have now come down in scale and view point and toned down the colour, a lot. I ditched the fruit.

It seems to have done the trick. I feel closer to what I am painting. I find that whites against white background are surprisingly interesting (this is coming from  someone who loves bright colours). I like the clarity and simplicity. Painting like this is very challenging for me. You have to be very precise and there’s no where to hide. So perhaps I am coming round to Morandi’s “sense of tranquility” after all!

Bottle and Milk Jug

Milk Jug and Green Bottle