Tag Archives: Modern Art

The Alchemic Nature of Painting

The Park West Gallery collection features unique paintings and limited-edition artwork by artist Peter Nixon. With artwork ranging from figurative to still life, combining both representational and abstract elements, the artist is extremely well received by collectors the world over.

AN ESSAY BY PETER NIXON • Written exclusively for Park West Gallery

I OCCASIONALLY WONDER whether I am in danger of becoming an artistic relic.

In these post modern times, when all of art history is available to artists as an influence and inspiration, my inclination is to look backwards to the Old Masters for insight. Not that I have any desire to imitate the Old Masters, I am a creature of the 21st Century and the themes in my work reflect that, but I am drawn to them in the same way I am drawn to good food and wine. My senses strike a chord with something in their work that my appetite craves. To stretch the food analogy further I am compelled to add these spicy elements to the mental soup in my head ready to be stirred and ladled onto a fresh canvas.

Eugène Delacroix, the 17th century French artist said, “what inspires artists’ work is not new ideas but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is not enough!” So when I look at an Old Master painting it may suggest an avenue to pursue that is at a tangent to its subject.

The composer Arnold Schoenberg said that an artist should not cut himself from the art of the past but should take it and assimilate it with his own work. I believe it is important for an artist to continue the timeline stretching from the past and maintain and develop the traditional skills of drawing and painting as there is still much in them to explore.

What I love about the Old Masters and what makes me continue to make reference to them in my work is primarily their richness of colour, chiaroscuro and particularly their theatricality – paintings such as Rembrandts and Titians which make my heart soar when I see them in the National Gallery in London.

Paintings should be an event – something visually splendid whose colour ranges from the brightest whites through sumptuous tones to the darkest black. The world presented as vividly as the imagination can conjure.

Modern art can seem cold and forbidding and too concerned with psychological introspection and answering its own rhetorical questions. The beauty of Classical art is that it celebrates the human condition and touches us at a level we can easily recognize. It is as equally well thought out as modern art, some would say more so, but presents beauty as mysterious without being obscure.

Art makes great demands on its devotees. It is extraordinary to think of the amount of human effort that has been put to the service of art just over the last 800 years; surprising for a practice that Oscar Wilde said was entirely useless. An amazing record of toil and tears, divine madness, aspiration and disappointment, but even so, something compelled all those artists to return again and again to their canvases.

Personally, I answered a spark that was ignited by a Leonardo drawing I saw when I was nine and I responded to some mysterious spell in that picture that has driven me to paint ever since.

The alchemic nature of painting is reflected in its mystifying language: sfumato, chiaroscuro, verdaccio, tryptich, alla prima, impasto and also the opulence of its materials: Ultramarine blue extracted from lapis lazuli, Vermilion red from sulphur and mercury, and Indian yellow from the urine of cows fed on mangos. It is pure sensuality and it is the tactility of these materials and the wonder of manipulating them that distinguish painting from video or Conceptual art.

In the recent past there was a belief that academic study – drawing from the model – was hostile to creativity. What a crock, and what a feeble excuse for navel-gazing and butt-scratching. Painting is not dead, as some would have us believe. The younger generation is just too lazy or scared to wake it up.

Modern masters such as Matisse, Picasso, Dali, De Kooning, Rauschenberg, Bacon, were all formed by the same academic skills that benefited Leonardo and Michelangelo. Art is Darwinian by nature and develops in increments; one person’s achievements building a further storey in the edifice. It is naïve and arrogant to believe that all of this collective experience gained over such a long period can be ripped up and discarded in the incessant contemporary pursuit of novelty.

Inspiration does not come without application and hard work. An artist needs to be continually alert to the world around him and should be like a magpie, acquiring images that catch his attention and adapting and absorbing them into his work. As Louis Pasteur said, “fortune favours the prepared mind.”

Curiosity did not kill the cat; it sharpened his claws and got him the cream. There is no finer example of this rabid acquisitiveness than Picasso, about whom Roland Penrose said, “he could take your energy during dinner and use it to paint all night.” Picasso said, “I do not seek, I find,” and was an artist whose insatiable curiosity inspired fear in other artists. In fact those artisans who shared the Bateau Lavoir studios in Paris with him at the turn of the 20th Century locked their doors in fear that he would adopt elements from their work and tellingly go away and do them better.

The artist also has to have the ability to transform all these accumulated ideas into a cohesive form; a good idea can be spoilt if the finished artwork is not well crafted. It takes a lot of looking and contemplating and painting practice to formulate a style that is not rigid and can be built upon. If an artist can transfer these feelings to the viewer by some visual osmosis; to beguile the eye and induce contemplation then he has succeeded in slowing time and casting a spell, thereby bringing a spiritual element into art and the impression of a vivid moment captured and delivered with what Francis Bacon called, “the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance.”

Someone once said that art is like the lotus flower; its roots stand in the mud and its head in the colourful and rarefied atmosphere of ideas. It is this mixture of the earthy and the ethereal that gives painting its charge, its physical impact. The artist; both an alchemist and a shaman takes base materials; minerals and petroleum products, the very dust of the earth, and transforms them by a strange magic into visual gold.

Peter Nixon. Bathers I. 2007. Park West Gallery.


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Art Institute of Chicago Launches Pathfinder, New Virtual Gallery Tour

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — Today the Art Institute of Chicago launched Pathfinder, the museum’s new interactive floor plan and virtual gallery tour system on its website. The first art museum in the world to dynamically combine its floor plan with fully up-to-date high-definition and panoramic views of its galleries, the Art Institute now offers web surfers and visitors planning a trip to the museum a completely unique experience of the galleries.

Art Institute of Chicago, Pathfinder

Pathfinder features not only the interactive floor plan, which is part of the wayfinding system installed throughout the museum for the opening of the Modern Wing, but also the ability to zoom in and out of the panoramic views for closer looks at works of art, direct links to the available catalog information for individual works, and Spanish-language prompts and on-screen navigation tools.

The initial launch of Pathfinder includes views of nearly a third of the museum’s permanent collection galleries, with images of the remaining galleries to be added throughout the year.

Read the full article at artdaily.org >>


Did you know? Anyone can visit Park West’s 63,000 square foot museum-quality gallery without ever stepping foot out the door! See extensive footage of the stunning Park West Collection of fine art as you stroll through  23 exhibition rooms in just minutes. Take the Park West Gallery virtual tour www.parkwestgallery.com/tour/video.aspx.

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Henri Matisse and Modern Art on the French Riviera

André Derain. Portrait of Henri Matisse. circa 1905. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – The Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Henri Matisse and Modern Art on the French Riviera. The winding stretch of Mediterranean coastline extending from Marseilles to Menton — known as the French Riviera — has inspired numerous artists since becoming a tourist resort in the 1860s.

Henri Matisse (1869–1954) moved there in 1917, attracted by the area’s scenic beauty and radiant light. Matisse settled in Nice, the center of artistic and intellectual life in the south of France, until the end of his life. What is referred to as his “Nice period” consists primarily of the works he completed in the 1920s, when he painted richly decorated hotel interiors, suffused with light and inhabited by languorous odalisques.

The dazzling optical effects of the sun-drenched coastline encouraged other artists — such as Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Raoul Dufy (1877–1953), and Chaim Soutine (1894–1943) — to move there in search of light and color. Including 42 paintings and sculptures from the Museum’s collection and local private collections, this installation celebrates the French Riviera’s mythic allure for modern artists.

Henri Matisse and Modern Art on the French Riviera is on currently on view now until October 25, 2009.

[Source: philamuseum.org]


“Henri Matisse and Modern Art on the French Riviera” highlights artists whose quest for light and color brought them to the Mediterranean coastline. What locales do you find most inspiring?

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Cézanne to Picasso – MoMA Highlights 9 Exceptional European Paintings

Paul Cézanne. Still Life with Fruit Dish. 1879-80. picasso reservoir

NEW YORK, NY / MoMA.orgCézanne to Picasso: Paintings from the David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection is an intimate installation that highlights a group of nine exceptional early modern European paintings that have been promised over the years to The Museum of Modern Art by David and Peggy Rockefeller.

Thematically, the ensemble provides a small survey of portraiture, landscape, and still-life painting during the early period of modern art. Featuring superb examples of Post-Impressionist, Fauvist, and Cubist painting, ranging from Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Fruit Dish (1879–80, detail shown above on left) to Pablo Picasso’s The Reservoir, Horta de Ebro (summer 1909, detail shown above on right), this presentation of the early flowering of modern art celebrates the Rockefellers’ longstanding generosity to the Museum.

Cézanne to Picasso is currently on view until August 31, 2009.


“Cézanne to Picasso” highlights modern art movements including Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism — which art movements do you prefer?

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“Some Say They See Poetry In My Paintings”

“Originality depends only on the character of the drawing and the vision peculiar to each artist.” — Georges Seurat

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

George Seurat – born December 2, 1859 in Paris, France – was only 26 years old when he completed the masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (shown above). The landmark painting initiated the Modern Art movement known as Neo-Impressionism, which relied on a technique of breaking color into its most basic elements. The artist applied paint in very small dabs, dots, and dashes which from a distance translate into the larger regions of color and form.

Seurat’s signature style continues to influence contemporary painters like Park West Gallery artist, Fanch Ledan. In Interior with Seurat (shown below), Fanch has decorated a wall of interior space with Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

Interior with Seurat by Fanch Ledan

Learn More about Park West Artists and their influences 


A Personal Tribute to Marcel Mouly (1918-2008)

Excerpted from an essay by Park West Gallery’s Director, Morris Shapiro

I was with Marcel Mouly in Paris last November 2007 at a favorite restaurant of Marcel’s a few blocks from Arts Litho, the atelier where Marcel worked creating his lithographs for so many years.

And although an air of optimism abounded as we all took in how great he looked and seemed, the inevitable understanding that this might be the last time any of us would see him again shrouded us all.

Marcel Mouly (L) and Morris Shapiro (R)

The photograph shown here is no doubt one of the last taken of him as he died just a few weeks later. As I look at it, it fills me with conflicting feelings and emotions. In it I see a smiling me, all optimism and posing for the camera and although I am aware that I have more yesterdays than tomorrows in my own life’s story, I am still looking forward to many more years of the richness that life has to offer.

In Marcel, I see the face of a man who has already confronted his inevitable destiny. He looks frail and wan, and although he was obviously not feeling well, he soldiered on that evening, laughing, telling stories, drinking his beloved scotch, and showing all of us so unfailingly, that no matter what lies ahead for us, we must grasp every moment of life fully and embrace the time we are given as an irreplaceable gift.

That night as we sat together at dinner I noticed the fresh paint on his hands and under his nails. I told him of how I had just returned from visiting Marseille and how we went to Cezanne’s studio in Aix en Provence. There in that little room, Cezanne had created some of the most influential paintings in the history of modern art. There, I touched the table where he laid out his still life props, the table that occupies so many of those paintings I have contemplated in museums and books. I touched the box of paints that lies next to his easel, the box of paints from which so much of modern art has sprung.

As I told Marcel of this and he sensed my excitement, I saw his eyes light up and I glimpsed a spark of that same passion in him as a younger man. He smiled and shook his fist and put it down on the table and said, “Ah Cezanne…he was ‘The Rock.'”

As we all got up to leave that night, we one by one hugged him and told him we’d be coming back for his 90th birthday party in February. But this was not to be.

Instead we all have our memories of that night together, and of course, his art.

Rest in peace, Marcel. You will always be ‘The Rock’ for me.

Marcel Mouly with Picasso, May 1953