Doc, Grumpy, Dopey and Cézanne
Saturday, 24th January 2004
Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary
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arrived early at the local high school, which gives me a few minutes
to sketch the trees - cypresses, weeping willow, birches, amongst
others - around the caretaker's bungalow before Wendy, our producer
arrives. This is just the type of composition I need for the forest
around the dwarfs' cottage for our production of Snow White.
I sketch the bare trees as if they were in leaf and the Leyland
cypresses as if they were tall pines. I could of course have imagined
this scene but it's difficult, when you're making things up, to
get the randomness that you get in real life. Not that this is
entirely random: the group of three cypresses has been artfully
planted but that will serve to balance the house, stage right, and
provide an element of structure in what could be a rambling, woolly
a step ladder, I roughly paint the outlines of the trees in dark
green using a long-handled brush that I use at home for decorating
and painting garden furniture. Rita (who plays 'that darn cat' in
this particular version of Snow White) follows me, energetically
blending greens and yellows for the foliage and picking out the
branches in brown.
Paint on Canvas
It's such a pleasure for me, as a natural history illustrator who
normally works alone, to:
It's surprising how these simply painted trees can take on their
own character. The bush I paint to the right of the group of 'pines'
ends up with such a thick, solid trunk so that it looks like the
sort of bonsai tree a sumo wrestler would grow, or (in a crude way)
like one of those stage trees that you might get in a Giotto fresco.
But I don't worry about this 'mistake' (as I would if I was painting
a real landscape); it's a tree that makes me smile.
'The top of that larch in the top right has ended up looking like
the head of a bear!'
'We could say the dwarves grew it that way!' suggests Rita.
find myself thinking of Cézanne not
because we're going for a post-impressionist style, not
because we're trying to create 'artwork', but because the pleasure
of working in paint on canvas reminds me of the pleasure that comes
over in Cézanne's work.
We're working with a limited range of emulsion paints and that
gives a chunky, semi-cubist look to some of the foliage.
You can look and look at Cézanne's paintings - and you should
- and you can read and read about his life and you can learn what
the critics think about his role in art history but, for me, it's
the experience of working with paint, brush and canvas that brings
me near to feeling what he felt.
No wonder he looks as could be the eighth dwarf; to me he seems
to me to have a twinkle in his eye, a touch of earthy magic about
him; he shares with the dwarves a deep identification with nature.
Like them he's become almost a part of the landscape. Cézanne
could look at a tree, a mountain or even himself and see the underlying
structure of nature.
I drew Cézanne direct from his portrait in the Musée
d'Orsay a few years ago . . . hoping a little of that magic would
rub off on me!
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