Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Bonnard: working in batch and creative process

Working creatively in batch seems an oxymoron, because we associate traditional artistic creativity with originality and uniqueness. Art history tells us otherwise.

Andy Warhol’s methods took to the extreme the idea of working in batch, or in his case, on the production line model. He would have photographs endlessly screen printed on canvas by his assistants. It is not for nothing that he nicknamed his workshop “The Factory”.

Even before him, you can find examples of artists taking advantage of the working in batch method. Pierre Bonnard, the French Nabis painter, used to paint on pieces of unstretched canvas juxtaposed on the wall, in rows and near each other. He would work on eight or ten paintings at the same time, mixing one colour and applying it onto the canvasses in progress, on the wall. You can read a full account of Bonnard’s method illustrated by some photographs of the artist at work on the website of the New-York MoMA.

I can see several advantages to Bonnard’s working method:
  • By working on several paintings at the same time, using the same colours, he built a cohesive body of works, even when the subjects were different.

  • The tapestry of paintings on the wall would act as a mood board and keep him inspired. It is difficult to quantify the crossed influence between the works, but it must have happened.

  • Economical use of the paint: More than often, you squeeze too much paint on the palette. It is more practical to mix larger quantities of paint in order to make sure you don’t run out in the middle of a session. Bonnard could minimize the amount of paint wasted by using the mixed paint on several canvasses at the same time.

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