Walking along the Rue de Rivoli at Hotel de Ville, and heading toward the Quai along the Seine, I see red. Lots of red.
“Do I see red, am I wanton like the clochard on the metro platform at Hotel de Ville, in a stupor, seeing through red
Crossing the Seine at the Pont des Arts behind the Louvre, an enormous banner, so large that it consumed the
façade of the Institut de France, stared at me. All 150 square feet of it proclaimed in red “Le Rythme et La Ligne” – an
exhibition commemorating Henri Matisse.
Matisse and his reds were everywhere in 1987. Living in Paris, I ventured out nearly every weekend to visit a
museum or take in an exhibit, and yet, after two years I had not really been exposed to Matisse. I did not know much
about his printmaking, drawings, or collage. I did not know that he loved red so much for his paintings.
“Where I got the color red – to be sure, I just don’t know,” Matisse once remarked. “I find that all these things… only
become what they are to me when I see them together with the color red.” (Made in reference to his painting, L’Atelier
Rouge… The Red Studio.)
The use of red for Matisse had a mystic quality. It marked his feelings about a subject as opposed to being a part of
his palette in visually defining a scene.
Today, I can’t seem to get enough of those reds. Cadmium red – light or dark. Red oxide to magenta. I see red
everywhere. It is a color that seems to influence my wife’s palette.
Several years ago when Brenda came back to our gallery one hot summer afternoon after painting on, yes, French
Road here in Leelanau County, Michigan, the entire canvas over three feet wide shouted out, “Red!”
Moody French Road, acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 18″
I asked naively, “So when are you going to finish this painting?” not knowing that Brenda sometimes feels completion with just reds.
Reds to Brenda, just as they were for Matisse, can be symbolic or mystical.
“I don’t know why I use red… I just use it. It is a signal for me, no matter its value, whether it is an intense deep red, light and bright, or softened. The full body of cadmiums – from the orange tones to magenta, speak with boldness and meaning. I can see them. And then sometimes, if a barn is red, well, I make it red.”
In the French Road corridor, Brenda saw reds. Was it the hot summer day? Was is purposeful? Does is matter? It captured her. It worked.
Farm Bear Awake is another painting that is richly made up of only reds.
Said Brenda of this painting, “Why should I disturb a gathering of colors when they fully reveal my passion for the scene before me?”
Farm Bear Awake is a farmscape even though the sky is not blue and the grass is not green. For Brenda, being there on location is the beginning and ending of this painting, and how it was delivered.
“Getting caught up in those reds – almost monochromatically approached – drives a deeper thinking in my work… delivering beyond what I see, ” she explained.
Farm Bear Awake, acrylic on canvas, 19 3/8″ x 11″
Another painting journey took Brenda to the Crystal River near Glen Arbor, where she painted its winding marsh in all reds, although this time, she returned for other sessions to build on the reds to create undertones, texture and depth.
Looking back at Crystal River Marsh, Brenda created the unique shapes of the trees along the river’s bank and the
“Tiffany Lamp” forms in the foreground in red. Then, she filled them in with other colors. Her maximum comfort using
reds pushed her spontaneity and emotions. The reds drove her engine of expressiveness.
Winding Crystal Marsh – two part, acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 16 and 18″ x 16″
Several years ago when we traveled with our girls to France and Provence, Brenda’s reds became her security blanket.
She had never painted in France, and her reds symbolized a confidence that she searched for as she ventured into unknown perspectives and light.
When you look at the entire body of work from this painting pilgrimage, Brenda’s use of a full spectrum of red seems to act as the catalyst for tying this collection together.
During our stay in Provence, and on the third birthday of our youngest daughter, Brenda painted out back of the small home where we stayed. This painting, Derriere Clos de Lourmarin, features an array of reds amidst many types of brushwork and forms.
In this painting, red marks the large stones of the garden wall in the foreground. It appears as linear brushwork and in larger mass to define the row of trees along both sides of the field, and selectively in the sky to suggest the intensity of Provence’s light.
Derriere Clos de Lourmarin, acrylic on arches paper, 23″ x 30″
Brenda believes that the reds in a cumulative sense transform her France paintings into a true body of work.
Looking back to 1987 in Paris, that red banner promoting the Matisse exhibit still flashes in my mind. Now, when I see
red, it stirs my curiosity and makes me think less literally and with metaphor about life. It tells my mind to explore
something new, and to handle life’s encounters with a subtle confidence.
Sharnowski Road Farm – masked, acrylic on arches paper, 20″ x 29 1/2″
Still and pristine just before blossoms
with perfection in form and color
strong strokes of red overtake.
To view more paintings by artist Brenda J. Clark, please visit the gallery website at www.brendajclark.com.