Inspiration: Georges Seurat
First, let me be clear. I did not set out to follow in Seurat’s footsteps. I had no idea I’d end up painting with anything like a Pointillist style. There were other artists, not Pointillists, whose styles I tried to emulate (without much success, may I add). I’ll post more about them later.
That said, it is true that I’d always been intrigued by Seurat’s ideas. To be honest, I don’t love his finished paintings, but I found his ideas about “optical mixing” fascinating.
In my high school art class (I think it was my junior year) we were assigned a Pointillism project. I had more fun with this one project than just about anything else in my four years of high school art classes. We were all using oil pastel sticks, and for a couple of weeks the tap-tap-tap sound of everyone busily making dots filled the room. Sometimes we’d all get synchronized, and the thunderous sound of our coordinated TAP-TAP-TAP must have rung up and down the hall.
Many years later, I took up the paintbrush and began experimenting. As I mentioned, I actually tried to emulate some other artists. I learned many valuable lessons from the experimentation, but the results weren’t particularly pleasing. And then, while messing around, I started painting with dots of paint rather than blended brushstrokes.
This was my “aha” moment. As soon as I saw the dots, I knew that this was how I wanted to paint.
But enough about me, let’s get back to Seurat. Because anyone painting with dots owes a huge debt to Georges Seurat.
His most famous painting is the 10-foot-wide “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte- 1884” (or, more correctly, “Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte – 1884”). This masterpiece of Pointillism took him 2 years to complete, and hangs in the Art Institute in Chicago. I was fortunate enough to get to see it a number of years ago, back when I lived in Chicago.
Frankly, I find Seurat’s paintings a bit stiff and pale. The technique is fascinating to look at close up, but I find the formal compositions dull. The surface, from a distance, looks soft and fuzzy. Soft and fuzzy isn’t really my cup of tea.
But the technique! Oh, my, it’s breathtaking. You get up close to one of his paintings and there are all of these little DOTS! They’re not necessarily little round circles, most of them are actually little oblong hatchmarks, slanting this way and that. Busy! And all the colors, layered over each other, is mind boggling. As you can see, I find his paintings much more fun up close than from a distance.
There’s some similarity between this zoomed-in detail of one of Seurat’s paintings and my paintings, isn’t there? You could say that I ended up painting like a blown-up Seurat, with big dots. After all, this is the part of Seurat’s work that I find most fascinating.
Still, I don’t like the way the white shows through between his dots. I prefer to tone my canvases a solid color (red, almost always) before applying my dots. This is a big difference between my approach and Seurat’s. The white behind his dots tends to make the overall effect “pastel”. This was not the effect I wanted, as you’ll see when you read about a very different artist who influenced me: Paul Powis.