This quote by D.B. Harrop expresses the way in which moments and fragments across time gives meaning to one’s self: a concept that, too, seems to resonate with both Claude Monet and Hester Van Dapperen. The artists appear to allude to the physical representation of transience through their artwork by portraying the significances of still moments in a world of constant change. Whilst Monet, in early maturity, deliberately focused on man-made landscapes, looking at the contemporaneity of the scenes around him, Hester Van Dapperen took interest in painting persons in motion on a background of modern life. Although upon first viewing the two artists’ work, one may think they have that have little in common due to the stark contrast in subject matter: natural landscapes versus the metropolitan life, the way in which they present the constant evolution of motion, movement and time remains true for both. Through viewing compositions by Monet, it becomes apparent that he became increasingly preoccupied with raw nature in his works by the 1880s – particularly in the pictorial possibilities of foliage, flowers, waves, and rocks, by looking at the ways in which the effects of light altered the atmosphere that surrounded him. Interestingly, it would appear that lighting, and its capricious nature, became a main concern within Monet’s artwork, as he explored how physical objects in his scenes were subordinated to an ever-changing presence of coloured air which surrounded them and brought them life. In contrast, Hester Van Dapperen finds inspiration in the urban environment of the metropolitan area. Her paintings are often composed upon a transparent carrier, most combined with textile insertions – presenting her works in concepts with a clear idea: the human in motion. In order to explore the ways in which both Monet and Hester Van Dapperen physically illustrate impermanence and brevity within their artwork, I will look at different compositions; not only referencing to the artists intentions and techniques presented, but also critics opinions and thoughts – giving me a greater insight into how transience is successfully portrayed.
Exploring the ways in which Monet presents transience in his work:
In 1883 Monet moved to Giverny, a village in the region of Normandy in northern France, where he lived until his death. There, on the grounds of his property, he created a water garden ‘for the purpose of cultivating aquatic plants’, over which he built an arched bridge in a Japanese style. Once the garden had fully grown and matured, the painter undertook 17 views of the motif under differing light conditions in attempt to capture the how the landscape morphs and transitions into itself. Surrounded by luxuriant foliage, the bridge is seen here from the pond itself, among an artful arrangement of reeds and willow leaves. It would seem that Monet gradually moved away from concern with individual elements within a scene, and the relationships between them, to concentrate on its overall effect; whereas his earlier techniques served to differentiate particular elements. Hence, in later works such as this bridge painting, viewers can see his subject matter became absorbed into a closely integrated system – translating the lights and air of the visible into colour on canvas.
Example 1: Water Lilies (late 1890s)
The Nymphéas cycle is a part of Monet’s water landscape group that he started working on in the late 1890s. Interestingly, the word nymphéa originates from the Greek word numphé (meaning nymph) which is derived from the Classical myth that references to the birth of the flower to a nymph who was dying of love for Hercules, which later became known as the infamous “water lily”.
It is obvious as to what Monet was trying to achieve when he describes his ambitions for the project: “Imagine a circular room, whose walls are entirely filled by a horizon of water spotted with these plants. Walls of transparency – sometimes green, sometimes verging on mauve. The silence and calm of the water reflecting the flowering display; the tones are vague, deliciously nuanced, as delicate as a dream.”
It seems that Monet experiments with atmospheric nuances by choosing to alter light effects which veiled the local colours of the objects in order to impose an overall unity on them – and this can clearly be seen in his Water Lily composition.
As one looks upon the composition, the lines and contours of the painting create a sensation of continuity and constant flow; perhaps due to the integrated curves that blend seamlessly into one another. This, in combination with the lack of harsh edges created, adds to the concept of transience as the fluent transition of shapes, light and colour convey the very essence of endless being. There appears to be no geometricity between the shapes formed on canvas, but rather a sense of irregularity; making complete usage of all space available whilst in-keeping with the randomness of life, highlighting its only true regulator: time. Even the form of the painting, with its tone and 2D perspective creates the illusion of transience as the colours blend and run into one another; much like the light and dark creates highlights and shadows, generating a contrast which gives the painting a greater sense of change and dimension. The visual texture and patterning, too, seems to represent the intended substance; the curves and swirls echoing the smoothness of water whilst the straighter lines and dashes replicate the texture of water grass and reeds. Compositionally, there is a definite repetition of lines, shapes and tones which creates a motif directly referencing to the lapse of moments and inevitable interconnect of nature and time. However, much of Monet’s focus within his compositions falls upon colour use and how it can capture elements that surround him. In “Water Lilies”, the piece is dominated by cooler tones such as blues, greens and purples, reflecting the natural habitat that flourishes around the water, yet, there is a subtle inclusion of warmer tones such as yellow and red that define flowers upon the waters surface; creating a mood of serenity and tranquillity. Despite the array of colours present in Monet’s work, the saturation and pigmentation of them is not particularly high; stressing the concept of transience, as the evolution of colour in the natural world (taking dawn till dusk as an example) occurs at a negligible yet constant rate. Monet said in 1891: “For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but its surroundings bring it to life – the air and the light…’ holding true to the paintings in which he produced, as the colours, texture and movement within the pieces becomes unified to bring his artwork to life.
Example 2: Continuation of Water Lily series – same position, different times of the day
As part of Monet’s “Water Lily” series, he took the same point of perspective and painted art different times of the day to capture the transience of the surrounding environment. It can be seen in the two pieces of work to the right, that whilst the composition proporation and shapings remain identical, the colours displayed in both create a different overlayed effect to the paintings.
As can be seen in both compositions, the lines and shapes generated are almost identical; the only exception being the slight change in position regarding the water lilies, implying the natural forces such as wind and air implact Monet’s artwork. It would appear the tones, too, contrast eachother heavily. Whilst the first painting displays higher levels of tonal variation due to the time in which it was painted (peak daylight), the second reveals a more graduated transition; for at sunset the lighting is weaker upon the Earth’s surface, thus, making the patterning within the composition change due to the time difference. Although areas of the first painting exemplify circular markings and brush strokes, there is an absence of similar motifs in the second, again, presenting the ways in which Monet explored the ways of transience through different stylisation. Perhaps one of the most obvious difference between the two compositions is, indeed, the colour schemes. In the first piece of work, the colour scheme remains very muted and cool, giving a sense of a monotonous palette, whilst the second work includes much warmer tones which appear to focalise upon the reflection of the water’s surface. The alternation in colour and patterning seem to forge a completely new, unexplored perspective of a discovered, if not old environment; illustrating the ways in which Monet expresses transience within his artwork.
Perhaps, the fact that Monet was part of a group of artists who, for the first time, could use tubes of manufactured oil paint aided his allowance in capturing transience in nature, for the easy transportation and quick use meant much of his time could be speant upon catching the nature around him. The critic Monsieur Gillet described Monet’s “L’Étang des Nymphéas” as “stunning paintings free of border and form, like a wordless canticle… where without benefit of structure, without embellishment, story, fable or allegory, bodiless and faceless, and with only the powers of color, this is pure lyricism, an outpouring, a human heart open and innocent, a song of emotion.” It seems to directly reference with the idea that Monet’s lack of structure and borders channels his theme of transience and embodies breifness in physical form.
Exploring the ways in which Hester Van Dapperen presents transience in her work:
Hester Van Dapperen seems to work upon a concept which binds both transparency and transience together. Her paintings often have a subliminal contemporary social message which is revealed to the spectator through the materials in which she chooses to use. It would seem that Hester works in concepts, with a clear idea, the human in motion. She also wants to make the importance of the used material visible, such as with the transparent paintings in layers. Van Dapperen said herself: “In my paintings I am fascinated by the human in motion. I often work for years with a concept; in which new nuances arise. The role of the material used is also important: My favourite carrier is transparent. It creates an effect of fragility, depth and shadows. I like to use textile additions like patchwork, holes, cuts and sutures, embroidery, or mother of Pearl buttons. The use of pigments. By making paint with pigments, the tone can be surprisingly deeper, more shiny or matt. As I was a fashion designer before being a contemporary artist, many of my paintings have traces of fashion and textile additions “. Hence it would appear that whilst Monet used the nature that surrounded him as inspiration to explore the idea of transience, Hester Van Dapperen uses the mundane human life as a canvas for her exploration of transience.
Example 1: Out of Town by Hester Van Dapperen
The composition on the next page shows an Oil painting composed on top of white linen. There is a row of fashion models, walking the ‘grand finale’, but instead of walking on the catwalk, the models are walking out of the town.
Viewer onlooking this piece of art can instantly see how the tone of this piece is very different to that of Monet, as it uses light and dark to form a sense of motion and movement rather than extensive colour use. It seems to interlink with the lines created within the piece as they are definite, fluid and integrated, combining the idea of continuous time with the harsh nature of urbanisation and city life. Interestingly, the colour follows a monochrome theme, focusing upon greys, whites and blacks to depict the “grand finale” instead of colour, perhaps criticizing the false pretences that fashion promotes within society.
Whilst this painting only uses acrylic paint to create texture upon canvas, a transparency is created through the way in which the paint is applied, adding a sense of true vision and clarity. Interestingly, there is an article that discusses the “Instances of the Transport”, by which it states the ‘transparency encourages the visibility of the creative itinerary’ – and thought to be one of the ‘heaviest statements of modern art’ by connecting the work to its raw material origin. This would seem to apply to Hester Van Dapperen’s work, as the transparent illusionary not only connects her work to typical urban materials such as glass, but it also ties in with the association of transience. Here, the figures seem to be endowed with transparency: being able to ‘interpenetrate without optical destruction of eachother’, again referencing to the idea surrounding time and motion.
The art piece doesn’t seem to have any patterning or symmetry within; suggesting that the much like the urban routine, life constantly changes. Whilst by first appearance work created by Monet seems very different from Van Dapperen, the meaning behind both artists remain the same. For, whilst Monet uses lots of colour to create his visions alongside curved strokes and impressionist values, he, much like Dapperen illustrates the brief nature of moments and time. Whilst Monet uses the natural landscape and light to portray the everchanging world, Hester Van Dapperen uses the sudden modernisation that has come as a result of industrialisation to express the explicit change the world and seen, and is to further expect.
Example 2: Walking Figures with Shadows by Hester Van Dapperen
This is a double layered transparent painting displaying “Walking figures with shadows” which is framed by hardwood – created with the Acrylic paint on Soft (Yarn, Cotton, Fabric) and Wood. This art piece by Dapperen is much simpler than the first studied. Similarly to the first work studied, the painting has a lack of tone and colour – being totally composed of black, grey and white; perhaps portraying the anonymity of interactions within urban areas. It is questionable as to whether Dapperen is attempting to convey how people become so absorbed in their own routine, that the faces and lives of those that surround them fade into nothingness – just a mere blur. This is further exemplified through the lack of facial identity detailed within the art work, perhaps allowing viewers to place themselves within the “shadows” of the “walking figure”, or maybe implying the brevity of being.
There is a heavy use of negative spacing, placing figures and outlines against a white background, emphasising the shadows created by the bodies whilst simultaneously highlighting the sheer space and nothingness that surrounds our lives. The overall effect of this is provocative, and makes viewers question the meaning behind her art. Do the shadows hint at time – and the way by which the positioning of the sun constantly changes patterning’s and shadows of ourselves, or does it have a much more literal link to the given name, depicting us as mere passing figures walking through the expanse of time and life?
Van Dapperen appears to work in layers (particularly in this piece) as she combines acrylic, wood, yarn, cotton and fabric to create layers and complexity amongst simplistic looking lines and patterning – again creating an illusion of transparency and opaqueness. Whilst ‘Out of town’ explores a rather art defined transparency, this work seems to reference to political transparency which connotes ‘free publicity, access to information, clarity of process, democracy of decision making..’, perhaps delivering a hidden social message regarding freedom of movement both through voice and bodily action. There seems to be little difference between transience and transparency, for both explore a sense of impermanence, as well as a sense of not being completely present; shown through the sheer nature of materials used in Dapperen’s work, as well as her meaning behind the motion portrayed.