Recently, I decided to “refix” “Pont des Arts.” My first idea of this painting happened in 1986 when, on the way to India, we stopped in Paris. Inspired by Kenneth Clark’s belief that the view from this bridge across water to the Pont Neuf was the “most beautiful in the world,” I collected sketches & photos which, once arrived in New Delhi, I attempted to assemble on canvas. The effort was mighty; the results were mediocre and were eventually swept under the bed. In 1992 I tried again. I had re-visited the site, gathered more materials, so many that the new painting was quite large. Unfortunately its composition remained a problem. Apparently I wanted to paint more than a beautiful view. How to add figures to this space and then how to enclose them in the space? I looked around at Claude (who cared so little about figures he farmed them out to lesser painters), at Poussin (whose strangely inhabited space contains all those figures at angles to each other) and Cezanne (where Bathers have extraordinary freedom to reside on earth, water and air). Finally, I fenced the figures in with a bent railing made to function like a ledge for still life in a Chardin painting. As a result the painting’s twisted, curved space ended abruptly, merging into shadowy end points which did not truly contain its content while its foreground was isolated from its background.
Pont des Arts version 1, oil on canvas, 46 x 72 inches, copyright 1997
But I was unwilling to consign this 46”x72” canvas to the company of dust balls: I declared it “done.” The word, however, failed to change reality: framed, even shown once in public, “Pont des Arts” brought me little satisfaction and remained secluded next to my bed where its problems confronted me morning & night. The green woman with the apple in the foreground occupied inadequate space without conviction. She needed to go, but what then? About three years ago, a dog was found, one which could move into middle ground towards the cyclist, supporting her rolling path across the canvas. I charcoaled him on top of the unsatisfactory lady. By February this year when I finally brought a paint-loaded palette into the bedroom, the charcoal had mostly worn off but the dog finally struggled into existence. Then the two guys on either side of the canine presence needed readjustments. A struggle ensued, longer & more extensive than expected, but the woman was eliminated, the dog installed, the male figures redressed, the railing repainted. At the top above, “Pont des Arts,” newly “fixed,” though still short of “transfixed.”
POSTSCRIPT: February 29, 2012: Throughout the fixation process, my husband read aloud to me from, “A Fairly Honorable Defeat,” a novel (1970) in which Iris Murdoch explores various manifestations of good and evil, fiction and truth. The plot includes a number of dramatic intrigues and its pages turned quickly as we hurried to see how they resolved. It also makes some use of the uncanny: dreams, foreshadowings, coincidences . Bizarrely and very much to my surprise it ends as the protagonist, who has traveled from London to Paris, crosses “the iron footbridge” connecting the Louvre to the left bank of the Seine. This bridge is of course, the Pont des Arts. The character in question had been a manipulative fellow, a power seeker, a tool whereby his creator could explore her imperial ability to place humans in situations which create drama and reveal character. Somehow it came to pass that we reached the conclusion of the book just as the latest version of “Pont des Arts” was ready to sign. As Murdoch’s Julius King walks across the water he is said to reflect, “Painting may not be the greatest of the arts … but perhaps it gives the purest and most intense pleasure.” For all its invincible flaws “Pont des Arts” has been some fun and is a fairly worthwhile defeat.
2 Responses to “Fixed, Refixed, But Probably Not Transfixed & Perhaps The Better For It”
June 2, 2012 at 11:06 pm The “comments” below are anent the June blog, “Fixed, Refixed, …,” which refers to the changes resulting in “Pont des Arts.” Geoff’s poem parodies Stevens’ “Aneccdote of the Jar” (1919): “I placed a jar in Tennessee,/ And round it was upon a hill./ It made the slovenly wilderness/ Surround that hill.// The wilderness rose up to it./ And sprawled around, no longer wild./ The jar was round upon the ground/ And tall and of a port in air.// It took dominion everywhere./ the jar was gray and bare./ It did not give of bird or bush,/ Like nothing else in Tennessee.” That reference makes Sue’s to Stevens’ “Description is revelation” especially pretinent. Thanks again, Geoff.
July 5, 2012 at 1:24 am
June 2, 2012 at 8:21 pm
You placed a dog between two men,
Where before a woman with an apple sat,
It helped the inadequate canvass
Support the rolling girl.
The space cleared around it,
And welcomed it in.
Instead of the deceiving Eve, a dog,
With a ball played on the Pont des Arts.
It took dominion over care,
The dog was with fur in place of hair.
It did not forgive the cycling girl,
Nor blame her for the forsaken world.