Jacob van Ruisdael (b.1628) was the self-conscious starting point for my painting Leave Them Alone. In 2015 I felt compelled to appropriate and transmute part of Pieter Bruegel’s 1568 painting into van Ruisdael’s 1647 motif in order to draw a parallel between their contexts and ours. Bruegel protested the 16th century political persecution by placing six blind men in predictable postures. Van Ruisdael a century later lamented the dramatic physical alteration of the 17th century Dutch landscape by juxtaposing a rogue natural world against a changing physical environment.
Leave Them Alone embraces both protest and lament but goes further. The intersected highway guardrail suggests a failed Modernity and further exacerbates the off-kilter movement of the six figures. Times have changed; our contemporary context is more urgent. The oncoming storm may be construed equally as prairie fire or as something more apocalyptic. Behind it all lies a transcendent glory yet to be perceived and prized.
Provenance of the Painting
The idea of transmuting and incorporating part of Bruegel’s masterpiece into a Van Ruisdael motif came as I mused on the article in the NYT Magazine “The Surreal Fine-Art Spectacle in Laguna Beach.”
“The pageant is a bizarre annual spectacle that has existed for more than 80 years. During that time, it has come to serve as an unlikely bulwark against the dissipation of classical art: a place where the old masterpieces are literally brought to life.” – Sam Anderson NYT magazine September 12, 2014
This rethinking of another artist’s work is a common practice among painters, which viewers of the immediate will look for. Artists comment on artists in graduated degrees. They incorporate, quote, distort, fragment or transmute motifs – both representational and formal aspects. Their references may be conscious or unconscious, mimetic or polemic. In any case they are constant in art. The best interpretation of a work of art is another work or art. It is through this internalization of previous artist’s work that artists discover their own sightings though they may appear to be completely spontaneous in their own work.
From my viewpoint art is most compelling and innovative where it is the most iconoclastic in its declaration of intent as well as execution of commentary on another artist’s work. My most persuasive guidance for this argument comes from the work completed by Dali that can be perceived as annotative studies of Ingres. Likewise Picasso’s work can large be viewed as meditations of Velasquez. Similarly Albrecht Dürer’s re-articulation of Flemish artists; the mutations of Piero della Francesca surfaces and spatial meditations in Cezanne’s work; Manet‘s examination of Goya and Monet of Turner. All these are unmatched in their remarkably keen insights.
While Van Ruisdael’s motif and Bruegel’s blind men were the starting points for this work, there came a point of departure where I included the guard rail in order to address the failure of Modernity.