The Best Part of Painting?

Clouds Moving, 1999-2009, oil painting on canvas, 31 1/4 x 37 1/2, by Bernard Chaet.
Clouds Moving, 1999-2009, oil painting on canvas,
31 1/4 x 37 1/2, by Bernard Chaet.

It’s the materiality—or, for many, that’s at least part of it. The buttery rich feel of oil paint moving across the surface can be a siren song for a painter. Bernard Chaet, a notable artist and Yale University professor, took a keen interest in the physicality of oil painting throughout his career. His book An Artist’s Notebook: Techniques and Materials continues to have relevance for readers today, with its clear and concise explanations of various tools and processes. In his own work Chaet allowed sensory experience to guide his hand, creating oil paintings that seem to be both about the journey and experience of painting as well as destinations in themselves.

Burnt Sienna Sky, 1999-2006, by Bernard Chaet, oil painting on canvas, 30 x 37.75.
Burnt Sienna Sky, 1999-2006, by Bernard Chaet,
oil painting on canvas, 30 x 37.75.

In Burnt Sienna Sky, there is a heightened level of texture and mutability on the surface of the canvas. The upper-right section and foreground display white and yellow daubs of paint that are crusty and ridged. They stand in sharp contrast to the smooth and slick surrounding areas where the paint has been thinned out and spread on. The variety of brushstrokes—some visible and some not, some short and concise while others are winding and uneven—conveys the freedom the painter felt as he worked. Maybe that is why the painting is appealing—it is pleasurable to just sit and let the eye roam in, out, and over the painting’s textures and colors.

First Light, 1990-2003, by Bernard Chaet, oil painting on canvas, 20 x 30.
First Light, 1990-2003, by Bernard Chaet, oil painting on canvas, 20 x 30.

More than allowing viewers to meander on a visual journey, Chaet creates paintings that may be ostensibly about particular places, but they aren’t dedicated to depicting identifiable landmarks and masses. Instead, the works are more about the strong sensory responses that a given location can evoke. The expressions of atmosphere in an oil painting such as First Light presumably shows a sun rising just before the night’s fog burns off. The first indication of the warmth of morning isn’t in the sun itself, but its reflection on the land and water, where bright colors contrast with the murky masses flanking the reflection.

Chaet had a style and approach that was all his own, but his interest in materiality, color, and the senses resonate with artists working in all mediums at any stage of their careers. It’s all about visual exploration and self-expression and all I can say is yes, please!

I’m also saying “yes, please” to the North Light Shop’s Overstock Sale, going on right now with great prices on several of my favorite resources including The Language of Energy in Art and Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth. Both of these inspire me every time I open them. Get them for yourself if you are looking for the same sense of renewal and passion in your art! Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

2 thoughts on “The Best Part of Painting?

  1. Hey! Pushing paint around! That’s a lot about what painting is all about. And, the appreciation of paint having been pushed around is a lot of what art appreciation is all about.

    There is no reason for us to make art much more complicated than that.
    Paul

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