I have been captivated by impressionist paintings since my first encounter with them at age 13. Foremost is the use of color. Color in the hands of Monet is enchanting. Lately, as I’ve looked at more paintings and taken the time to read more about the artists and their works, a second aspect is becoming more noticeable and important—motion.
Critics reviewing the first Impressionist exhibitions were merciless. The paintings were criticized for their use of color and lack of classical structure and were considered immature and unfinished. However, when I look at the brush strokes and the softness in edges and faces, I see movement. Motion blur makes photographs soft, and in severe cases, indistinct boundaries blend into one another. When I look at a painting by Monet and see the soft edges, I imagine people and things moving slightly too fast for the artist to capture. What the critics saw as immature, indistinct, and unfinished, I see as action, life, motion, and activity— the artist barely being able to capture the moment. Under Renoir’s brush, in fields of flowers, I see the subtle movement of wind in foliage, blurring the image, admixing colors. Finally, there is light.
Colors can be dull or vibrant; light determines which prevails. Monet’s Cathedral at Rouen series is shimmering light in solid form. As if a mist is rising and moving, with the light pointing out its favorite droplets. This blend of color, light, and implied motion, has influenced my life far beyond the notion of “pretty paintings.” For me, no room is inviting and comforting without light and bold splashes of color. I need beiges, whites, and tans with blues and greens and vibrant yellows, magentas, and lavenders–not all at once, but always, some of a few.
Looking at my garden six seasons in, I see impressionist influences in my choices— yellow, magenta, indigo, red, lavender, an orange flourish or two. Early morning and late afternoon sun provide the warm light needed to bring out the colors, a gentle breeze the motion. Those mornings and evenings resonate so profoundly.
It was my brother, after hearing me drone on about how much I liked impressionists, who observed, “You made your yard like one of those paintings!” I realized, immediately, he was correct. And I was shocked that I had failed to make the connection. Unwittingly, I’ve created a painting I can step into.
Now, I’m left to wonder—have I spent so much time and effort selecting colors, foliage, and deciding placements mainly to get rid of an ugly lawn, or was something deeper and more insistent occurring? Has my idea of beauty and vitality and joy been so tied to those paintings witnessed at age thirteen that unconsciously I seek to recreate them wherever I happen to be? Who knows? But of this I am certain: when I pick up a camera and look out over those flowers, I am happy–I’m painting.