Recently, I could possibly be accused of excess Tweeting and blogging about the work of John Singer Sargent. There’s a reason for my enthusiasm: well several reasons, actually. Firstly, his drawing skills were second to none, and anyone who knows me is well aware that I’m always banging on about the need for drawing skills to aid creativity.
Secondly, he was immensely versatile, showing equal ability with oil, watercolour, charcoal, small studies to huge canvases, society portraits to complex landscapes.
Thirdly, his work has influenced mine. Some years ago I was privileged to see the Sargent exhibition at the Tate. One work –The Hermit (Il Solitario) – was easy to overlook, and I’d already walked past it twice when I decided I really ought to see all the works in the exhibition, not just the obvious pieces. Mindblowing! Here was the work that showed how a subject related to its environment. Here was an artist exploring the unity between human, animal and landscape and the play of light, the texture, the gesture of paint. I loved the way Sargent used tone to emphasize or reduce the impact of a line, how he limited the range of colours to unify the different elements and how a single brushstroke could convey so much.
Needless to say, I started to experiment with the ideas within my own work. The relationship between wildlife and habitat is a central theme in much of my work, and Sargent helped me to translate my thoughts in to paintings.
Here’s a detail from Sika Encounter, which uses the change in tone to emphasize or reduce impact within the painting. Not that I was trying to copy Sargent’s work, but I was utilising his concepts. You can see the whole piece on my website, along with Little Crake, Passing Through, and Flightless Steamer Duck, all of which explore the species’ relationship with their habitat. Here’s the link: http://www.jackiegarner.co.uk/online-wildlife-art-gallery_acrylics.htm.
So we can and should learn from others’ work, particularly the work of past artists. In the words of Op Art supremo Bridget Riley, “Look at the great painters… they’ve seen more clearly, experienced more deeply and are more explicit. Weaker artists are confused. Read the best, look at the best.”
Can’t think of better artistic advice!