The Landscape Still Life

Still life is usually painted in the studio, under controlled light. Delacroix did some open air still life, and probably other people, but mostly it's an indoor sport.

 Not one of Delacroix's more famous pieces, or even one of his best, but has always had a kind of wild charm. A series of objects more suited to Chardin than the Romantics, but instead of chiaroscuro, painted in plein aire light.

Not one of Delacroix's more famous pieces, or even one of his best, but has always had a kind of wild charm. A series of objects more suited to Chardin than the Romantics, but instead of chiaroscuro, painted in plein aire light.

But once upon a time I was out in my truck hunting for landscape motifs, and blundered into a series of manmade objects which caught my eye, a bunch of nondescript objects lying by a barn in Batavia, Ohio. Most of them I couldn't even name. Nor did I, as I have been taught, rethink their arrangement in abstract terms, and then move them around to suit my fancy. This was a Found Arrangement, and it didn't want any alterations from me.

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Exactly what I found so charming is hard to put into words, although the preponderance of the three primary colors certainly was a factor. The blue tube — I have no idea what it actually was — had a brilliant highlight I admired. The block of wood's side plane was lit up by reflected light from the ground, although this can't be seen from the photograph. I don't know. I just dug it.

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It was certainly worth a 16x20" canvas, and I just happened to have one such canvas in my truck. I went at it, although the three primary color notion was lost when I began scribbling in a green for the dying grass.

I loved placing the setup off to the side. I loved the rhythm of the objects, which I did my best not to screw around with. It just seemed peaceful, and pleasing, and in its own humble fashion, profound.

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I generally do better work if I've taken the time to scribble the whole scene in pencil, which I did do here. Hardly a drawing to win a beauty contest, but it captured the melody of the scene, and gave me an idea of what I was trying to accomplish. This sketch was done before the above lay-in.

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On the second and final day I restated everything, bringing the drawing into a little better focus. And I added the reflected light to the side planes of the wood block, and some in the interior surface of the blue cylinder.

The red object is a spool around which heavy cable gets wound.

Good luck trying to sell something like this, although it does what a good small picture should do: it's a simple, peaceful arrangement of shapes, a little 16x20" oasis of logic and clarity which really ought to be hanging in the home of someone who thrives on clearheaded thinking, and love. Which is exactly what happened. Currently it hangs on the wall in the home of my son Dylan Bell.