28 February 2017

A Day of Rain

"I am not in front of nature, I am inside it."
("Je ne suis pas devant la nature, je suis dedans.")
- Pierre Tal-Coat, (translation JL)

Rain trickling down an invisible window in white rivulets intensifies the green world on the other side, or so it appears.   Among abstractions in art - and almost anything can become an abstraction if you look at it from a certain angle - the French called their version Tachism for its lyrical qualities and to distinguish it from the crudely testosterone- and alcohol-drenched productions of the American Abstract Expressionist painters.
Tal-Coat (1905-1985), born Pierre-Louis Jacob in Finistere, (the end of the land) the westernmost part of the French mainland, was a self-taught artist who worked in a pottery factory in Quimper.  It was only when he was obliged to go to Paris for his military service that he found a group of supportive fellow artists for the first time and absorbed the dominant cubist style.  Tal-Coat's portrait of Gertrude Stein won a prize in 1935.

Everything changed when he encountered the antique Chinese landscape paintings from the Song Dynasty (900-1279).   Here, centuries before landscape emerged from the background of religious and court paining in Europe, was a fully developed genre that used the technqiues of the brush to express human emotions.  Under its influence,  Tal-Coat  turned from portraying nature through visual perception  to using paint to record his immediate emotional responses to nature's ephemera, foam breaking on a rock, raining running down a hillside.   In contrast to the unrelenting pessimism of Samuel Beckett, who saw nothing but negations in the artist's later work, I am reminded of some lines  from The Outermost House, the naturalist Henry Beston's bestseller  first published in 1928.   "The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach."
In 1961 Tal-Coat moved to a building at a Carthusian monastery in Normandy where he worked and lived  quietly until his death.

Tal-Coat - Jour de pluie (Day of Rain), 1965, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Quimper.


Hels said...

My theory is that many painters and poets were depressives who didn't help themselves by drinking too much. I suspect that relentlessly grey days and constant, drizzling rain tapped even further into their depressive moods.

Jane said...

Hels, interesting thoughts. It does stand out at this distance that the general euphoria that followed the end of WWII dissipated rather quickly into a gloom of cold war, certainly in the U.S. My mother used to say that anyone who had nice thoughts about the 1950s should be sentenced to go back and live through them in real time! As for Tal-Coat, I think his view of natural phenomena like rain was more holistic than symbolic.

Rouchswalwe said...

O, Jane ... I love that quote! Here we've had immense thunderstorms for a few days (and nights), so this post speaks to me.

Jane said...

Rouchswalwe,don't you think the artist described how it looks perfectly?
Some rain and even more sun here in upstate New York this February!

Rouchswalwe said...

Yes, yes I do!

Jane said...

Me, too!