Monday, July 11, 2011

How Seurat, Signac & Pointillism Influenced My New Painting

File:A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884.jpg
"Sunday at La Grande Jatte" by George Seurat

Have you ever seen "La Grande Jatte" at the Chicago Art Institute and imagined the exhilarating experience of stepping right into the enormous canvas full of beautifully dabbed paint? 

George Seurat's Magnum Opus showcases his developments in color theory, which broke free from the contemporary trend of Impressionism to establish a new branch of Art: Neo-Impressionism. Intent on developing an incontestable system that approached color from a scientific standpoint, Seurat named this style "chromoluminarism" and then settled on the term "Divisionism."

By painting individual dots of pure color directly next to each other, the viewer was to optically blend these colors into a fuller, more vibrant, range of tones. Paul Signac, another practitioner of this method, was actually the painter that adopted the term "Pointillism," by which this style is known today.

"The Papal Palace at Avignon" by Paul Signac

The optical theories behind Pointillism aren't conclusive, but I believe this style does create a "vibration" of color. Critics of Seurat argue that he pushed the science of color so far, it caused him to lose the emotion that color brings to an image. 

I think his staunch use of precise dots added to this cold reception of his work.  I personally prefer Signac's small, consistent brushstrokes of color, which highlight the physical beauty of the paint itself, and add a feeling of movement to his imagery.

File:Georges Seurat - Les Poseuses.jpg
"Les Poseuses" by Georges Seurat

Seurat inspired many artists to explore this new theory of painting.  Paul Signac, Henri-Edmond Cross, Vincent Van Gogh, Maximilien Luce, and Camille Pissarro all adopted this style into their work, even if it was only briefly. 

The drawback of Pointillism proved to be the difficulty in developing a strong personal style; therefore, many artists eventually abandoned it.  However, the breakthrough in unleashing the pure optical force of color laid the groundwork for many future art movements. 

Ever since I viewed "Le Grande Jatte" years (dare I say decades?) ago, I have been impressed by the work of George Seurat. However, any attempts at "Pointillism" have not fared well in my work. Recently when I travelled to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and viewed "The Seashore" by Jean Metzinger, I found a renewed inspiration for this style. Compelled by this beautiful piece, I began to research and work on a new painting of my own...

"Apilco No.2" oil on canvas panel

This is one painting in a series of still lifes I am doing with Apilco porcelain.  I don't think I will complete any more in this style, as it completely up-ended my normal process of painting, and forced me to paint in entirely one layer. 

However, this piece will affect the rest of my paintings.  I will be much more willing to put highly pigmented colors in the shadows, and leave beautifully loose, gestural brushstrokes to stand with equal importance to the image as a whole. 

Color is everything to me, and yet I cannot forget the unique quality of the material itself.  This style perfectly blends both my love for oil paint and my love for the innumerable hues they can mix on my palette.

What do you think? Is Pointillism primitive, provocative or promising?

How do you react when you stand in front of a piece painted in this style?  Have you tried to replicate it but lost yourself in the tedious procedures of applying dots? 

I'd love to hear you share your thoughts!


  1. First let me say that I know NOTHING about painting so the following opinion is that of an untrained person.

    That aside, I think the style feels primitive to me but not in an unpleasant way. I also think there is definitely promise. I love your painting so if that is all the style ever does is inspire other artists I have to think that's worth a great deal.

  2. I love this style and love the loose stroe and hot and cold color combos next to each other! I could look at them for hours and sort of feel like Suerat is almost super modern in an 1920's sort of way if that makes sense!

  3. Kate, I love your thoughts about Pointillism! I agree, if the style does nothing more than inspire other artists to think more about color and paint application, then it has contributed a great deal to Art!

    Patty- I agree! Seurat still feels very modern, because many artists have built upon his discoveries; yet, it was so long ago that his work is worth studying again. Also, with such great improvement in our own photographic and resolution/graphics technology, modern society can appreciate what artists did to make bold, bright colorful images so long ago!

    Thanks for your kind comments, ladies!

  4. I have seen La Grande Jatte and others and love them. Pointillism has always been appealing to me because I love how it takes color and site down to their essence - a dot. In an age of computers and new computer art, his approach to color and space seems even more forward thinking than it did then. I saw an artist paint a "pixelation" piece the other day.

    Your piece is beautiful - I love the blues. The broader "points" and subject matter combined remind me a bit of the mini tiles and mosaics. Love it.

    And no, I don't find it primitive. I find is quite sophisticated, really. To paint a bunch of dots that creates the effect of Sunday at the park so much that people feel they are walking into it? That is amazing.

  5. This idea of breaking down a scene and representing with small dots is the basis of all computer graphics technology. I'm sure the pointalists had no idea what they started! Chuck Close is another one of my favorites.

    Your color choices are wonderful. I love the touches of red in combination with oranges, golds and blues. My living room follows this color scheme exactly so of course I think it's brilliant!

  6. I have done little painting in my lifetime - most of it while in high school and at the time i was as you are completely smitten with oil paint. And for the same reason - mixing of colors and the possibilities playing endlessly in the wet paint offered.

    Pointallism - isn't it the idea behind some collages - using tiny bits of paper to create a larger image? People respond to this art form to be sure.

    Your painting is just wonderful. And isn't it amazing how stepping outside of our "box" to play helps us to grow and see differently.

    Love the colors you used - and you used them so well. Really, you should be very proud of this effort.
    Thank you so much for sharing.


Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to join in the conversation!