New Year, New Possibilities: Through the Eyes of Kees van Dongen

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!  

A note about the post below: You will notice that this was written a few weeks ago. Balancing my writing with the other responsibilities that make up life in general is proving to be a challenge. Sadly, life-in-general wins out more often than not. I am working on making this a much less frequent occurrence as we move through the year so fear not, dear readers and faithful friends, you are not forgotten – I am simply not as super-human as I imagine myself to be.  Thank you all so much for your continued readership in spite of my long absence. Your faithfulness is truly inspiring.

New Year, New Possibilities: Through the Eyes of Kees van Dongen

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Maria by Kees van Dongen

It is very difficult to paint as light and bright as nature. It is so easy to dirty the painting. So we used pure colors, sometimes brutal in their intensity.” – Kees van Dongen, February 8, 1960 article in Life Magazine.

As we near the end of January in this new year of 2017, I return to you after a long hiatus – full of hope, full of excitement, full of possibilities. My time away from you has been filled with challenges of various sorts and the subsequent soul-searching required in order to come out of them a better person. What one inevitably feels at the end of a struggle from which one has reigned victorious is a sense of strength and of infinite possibilities stretching beyond the horizon.

In honor of this new birth in this New Year, Art Life Connection focuses on artists and those pursuing creative expression whose birthdays fall on the specific posting date at hand. I thought this would be a wonderful way to celebrate, learn about, and learn from a wide variety of people around the world and throughout the ages whose art can connect us with life through their creative endeavors and visions of the world around them.

Today, 26 January, is the birthday of Dutch artist Kees van Dongen, a major player in the Fauvist movement of 1904 – 1908. Mr. van Dongen, like his friends and fellow artists of the time, felt constrained by current and prevailing schools of thought in art, in contrast to the increasing freedom of the times (1890’s – 1920’s), so he and his friends broke out of their creative jail, following their instincts as to how to capture their vision on the canvas. As the quote above by Mr. van Dongen reveals, the painting techniques taught to artists at that time were dark, weighty, and imposing. These characteristics revealed themselves on the canvases. What Mr. van Dongen and his fellow artists craved was to breathe life into their works, infuse them with vibrancy yet to be expressed. They found their answer, their release in the use of color – rich, vivid, often violent color.

Change is hard for those who are comfortable in their surroundings, for those who have closed their eyes to their gradually decaying environment in an effort to preserve the familiar and the security that familiarity brings. Change creates fear at the realization that one cannot stop the change, therefore the loss of one’s safe, familiar haven. With this fear comes criticism and obstinacy, a lashing out at those leading the charge for change.

As pioneers exploring new territory, Mr. van Dongen and his colleagues met with negative criticism and obstacles, harsh judgment and closed-mindedness. Yet, as all true pioneers do, Mr. van Dongen and his fellow artists paid no heed to the criticisms and opinions of those who could not see through their eyes. They painted their vision in the manner they deemed best, most beneficial to the conveyance thereof.

The vision of the Fauvists was one of hope and possibilities, of light and a life full of joy in the ordinary things that fill one’s days, of the beauty of nature and the vibrancy of life. They painted landscapes using as pure a color as possible. Looking beyond the obvious flat green of a tree in spring or a brown wheat field in autumn, those of the Fauvist school of thought painted the underlying blue of the leaves on a tree, or the flaming red that characterized the hair of a sitter for a portrait, or the purple of the mountains at sunset.

The object of this approach to painting was to open one’s eyes to the world and its beauty, to the depth and range of colors found in everything, to open one’s mind to possibilities beyond the narrow confines of a mind conditioned to think a certain way. Van Dongen’s figures have the same characteristic deep, wide eyes suggesting the subject is taking it all in in wonder; it suggests a sense of hopefulness and adventure; an open-mindedness and intelligence; freedom and life.

“We were always intoxicated with color, with words that speak of color, and with the sun that makes colors live.” – Andre Derain

As I move through this new year lain at my feet, I turn my face towards the sun in search of a life full of living colors and a world full of possibilities.


Published by Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Writer. Ponderer. Liver-of-Life. Lover of coffee.

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