Inspiration: Georges Seurat

August 11, 2008 at 8:27 pm 2 comments

I’ve been meaning to write about the artists who inspire me. Given my Pointillism-derived style, it’s only fitting that I begin with Georges Seurat, the inventor of Pointillism.

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.

Georges Seurat - A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte - 1884

Georges Seurat - A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte - 1884

Georges Seurat - Bathers at Asnieres, 1883-1884

Georges Seurat - Bathers at Asnieres, 1883-1884

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.

Georges Seurat - La Parade (detail)

Georges Seurat - La Parade (detail)

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.

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Entry filed under: Artists, Inspiration, Painting, Pointillism.

Chalk “Merced Riverbank” painting

2 Comments

  • 1. rhiannonmc  |  August 12, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Enjoyed reading this post. Will have a closer look next time I see something by Seurat.

  • 2. Adeaner  |  August 12, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    I’m with YOU ! . . . totally agree with your sentiments.
    I think your work is important and hope you get the recognition you deserve.
    Keep on keeping on. . . .


Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

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Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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