When Inspiration takes a creative curve

Left: "Woman with a coffee pot" by Paul Cézanne is the artwork used to create new works for an exhibition scheduled in January. Right:  "Contrairement à Cézanne" (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2017, Thurmont, MD.  Model:  Gazelle Powers; Hair/Makeup: Gazelle Powers; Concept: Rebecca LaChance;  Stylist: Rebecca LaChance

Left: "Woman with a coffee pot" by Paul Cézanne is the artwork used to create new works for an exhibition scheduled in January. Right:  "Contrairement à Cézanne" (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2017, Thurmont, MD.  Model:  Gazelle Powers; Hair/Makeup: Gazelle Powers; Concept: Rebecca LaChance;  Stylist: Rebecca LaChance

The Inspiration

About 18 months ago, I pondered the questions, "What could artists create if they were inspired by a master painting? What if there were an exhibit of the inspired works?" 

I perused my personal library of artists' collections; I wanted something different than "Girl with a pearl earring" which has been redone to death. (Oh, and don't forget the version titled "Cat with a pearl earring." Yes...it is exactly what you just pictured in your mind.) I stumbled across Cézanne's "Woman with a coffee pot." 

"Woman" is not one of Cézanne's most well-known paintings, even though she hangs in the Louvre.  However, in terms of art history, she is quite important as the painting incorporates nearly all of Cézanne's movements away from the impressionists.

The Thinking Process

My immediate response was to recreate the painting except I would use a young woman of color, in modern clothing and setting.  I wanted a woman who was softer and more open. I met with Gazelle Powers, who was excited about the project. We planned the costume; Gazelle actually sewed a modern blue pants suit to match the dress in the painting. I painted doors and wallpapered a poly board to match Cézanne's background.

I parsed and reparsed the painting. I analyzed and reanalyzed the painting.  Mere days before our scheduled photo session, the thought struck me to "do a Cézanne."  What if I did everything the exact opposite of Cézanne's painting? What if I moved away from Cézanne?

  • Where he emphasized vertical lines, I would emphasize horizontal lines.
  • Where he built squares, I would use curves.
  • Where he used bold color, I would use near-monotones.
  • Where he used sharp, hard focus, I would use soft, blurred focus.
  • Where he used stiffness, I would use soft, movable curves.
  • Where he used multiple perspectives, I would use only one.
  • Where he built structures, I would leave a void.
  • The only elements that remained the same were the direction of light, the coffee pot with a cup, and the woman.

The Outcome

We carried out the original session as planned. Gazelle used her consummate movements to bring the woman to life.  Emotions could be seen and felt. Then we "did a Cézanne." 

In the end, despite our previous planning and work, I felt our first versions were too derivative. The second version felt more creative, more challenging.  It felt almost daring!

I have had the opportunity to see a few of the other creations inspired by "Woman." I've seen the submissions of an abstract painter, a whimsical illustrationist (think Beatrix Potter books), a watercolorist and an oil painter.  This is going to be a thought-provoking exhibition.

The Exhibition

Inspired by the Masters - Cézanne will open Saturday, January 6, 2018, at the Artist Angle in Frederick, MD.   Works by seventeen selected artists will be presented.  Selected artists include a potter, dressmaker, an iconic watercolorist, two photographers, a sculptor, abstract painter, oil painter and more.         

Activities will include a coffee pairing (5 coffees paired with 5 paintings) sponsored by Gravel & Grind.

The cultural photographer, Adam Marelli will speak Thursday evening, January 11, 2018.  ($25 entry fee. Seating is limited.) Adam is:

  • a painter, sculptor, cultural photographer and
  • well-regarded teacher about art and composition,
  • well-known in international circles for his traveling workshops,
  • a frequent speaker at BHphotovideo events. His last talk was streamed live to over 10,000 viewers,
  • the person I visit for annual portfolio reviews.

Adam has also worked with the city of Matera, Italy to document their historic cave dwellings as a UNESCO Heritage Site.

The exhibition will run for 6 weeks. During that 6 weeks, patrons will have the opportunity to place silent bids for their favorite artworks from the exhibition.

It's an exciting time to be an artist!  See you at the exhibition!

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Have you ever "done a Cezanne?"  I love to hear your experiences. You can comment here, on the Facebook Page or drop me an email.

And please feel free to share with your friends and colleagues.  Need a reason to be out and about?  The exhibition will be the perfect excuse.