What Sorolla whispered to me.
Joaquin Sorolla whispered some truths to me during a recent visit to his home studio-museum in Madrid, Spain. I would like to share these truths with you.
Have you ever been taught something only to find out it was false or self-serving?
Whether you are on a self-guided journey as I am or you attended a well-known school of art, it’s nice to know the principles you’ve been learning are valid. I have been so very fortunate to learn a great deal from one particularly great teacher. I have also attended many workshops and the same core teachings have been expressed from all sources. While some artists find more importance in one principle or another, the basics are mostly the same. Each artist uses those basics to create their unique style. It’s funny how many times we need to hear it before we take it to heart.
While visiting Sorolla’s home and studio, these three ideas were reiterated in a powerful way in my mental library:
1: Paint With Your Whole Body
Quick, deliberate strokes made with complete confidence read with an energetic vibrancy that transforms a rendered image into a work of art. I was ever so self-conscious as I found myself holding an imaginary brush and imitating the gestures required to make certain strokes that were so obviously fired with passion. Sorolla knew his drawing sensibilities were strong, so he was able to place the marks just where he intended them to fall.
2: Light Does Not Come Only From White
Juxtaposed colors and temperatures vibrate with light. Hard and soft edges along with “lost and found” edges create form. This is one of the concepts my mentor, Lou Maestas, has pounded into my head. I totally understand, in theory. My challenge is seeing which two complementary colors the light is reflecting in a given area. I am not sure if this is the artist’s interpretation, a result of the surrounding local color, or my poor squinting skills. To see Sorolla’s works up close, then to stand back and observe the overall effect of juxtaposed complementary color, and to hear Henri’s words in my subconscious, I can recognize that luminosity is found in color not white.
What a treat to see how effective this technique can be. The white of Cotilde Garcia del Castillo’s dress with its high key mixes of pinks and greens next to blues and oranges reads as nothing but white.
3: There is No Need to Paint to full Completion
Once the story is told, is it really necessary to say more?
We all know that person- they start a story with so much enthusiasm you can’t help but be drawn in, then they embellish it with a backstory and you’re even more intrigued, but then there is a backstory to the backstory and an association that needs explanation by means of another association, and soon you are no longer listening but wondering, “will the ever stop talking?”
Many of Sorolla’s works -in fact, two of my favorite- were not painted to completion. I had to hear it on the audio guide before I even noticed that his wife’s face is basically still in the “mud face” stage in “Mi mujer y Mis Hijos.” There are parts of the child’s hand that are little more than a placement sketch. There are sections inside the focal point area that are incomplete. I was so drawn into the scene that the lack of these details was lost on me.
WHILE IT WASN’T COMPLETE, IT WAS FINISHED
Each child’s individual characteristics and personality were expressed. The oldest poised and confident, the obvious leader. The middle child pushing to be seen and heard. The younger girl is also checking to see that they are all together. The baby, a free-spirit, unencumbered by things like clothes. All followed by a devoted and beautiful mother.
When we settled into our hotel room later that afternoon, I did some research on Jaquin Sorolla y Bastide, specifically his painting methods and theories.
One very interesting observation is about value choices in his paintings. Sorolla kept at least two full steps between value changes of the shadows and the passages of light. That insight gives me something to ponder and to strive for.
I found this article particularly fascinating study of Sorolla’s techniques and methods:
Was it A Crazy Choice?
It’s kind of crazy to think I chose one painter’s individual museum over seeing the world famous Museo de Prado on my visit to Madrid. I did so because I love Sorolla’s work, particularly his loose and expressive strokes, accurate rendering, and, of course, treatment of the light. The ability to capture light evades most artists, even though it is commonly our ultimate goal. What better way to break down the elusive task than to study from the master himself?