I went to the Legion of Honor in San Francisco last week and saw the Pierre Bonnard show. I was so excited to visit all of his color again! I had seen his work in Washington DC when I was in my early twenties. And I felt my world was enlarged and enlivened by his color, his intimate interiors, and his soft application – almost patting – of paint on canvas.
I had mixed feelings about this show though. This time I wanted more. I thought that maybe the trouble had to do with being older now and that I’ve already been wowed, already absorbed the amazing painter he was, processed him, and let him bubble through me as an artist. Or maybe its simply that I wanted to see more space in his work – more light moving around the interiors, or the fields, or trees. Perhaps the grouping of paintings in this show didn’t include the ones with deeper space? I certainly didn’t wish for anything when I saw his work back in my twenties.
Maybe, though, I want too much. Perhaps it’s enough to have almost everything in a work of art. His lovely, quirky self-portrait as a boxer with both hands up at the ready is such an honest painting of human nature. How brave to show himself that way! His blazing yellow-ochre bather – did I ever remember such color? How could I question the physical bulk of all of that intense bright yellow? The curiosity of a cold purple pant leg in front of a warm red deep space under the table where a Brother Bernheim-Jeune sat; those colors defy space but they’re so peculiarly beautiful.
Isn’t it enough to be real? And isn’t it ok to be simply beautiful? To fall into one’s passion with a fullness that makes everything else disappear, at least for a little while? Bonnard’s paintings are just that: stunning in their color, melancholy and humorous in their quirky gestures, brave in their compositions and focus. OK, so he didn’t go in for describing light on the cat the way I might. Maybe I could let go of looking for that, and simply connect with his strengths. He sure painted his life with a stunning, humble truthfulness. Why ask for more?
I will carry this into my studio, and my life, with great thanks.