Monday, October 20, 2008

Postcard from Provence
(Julian Merrow-Smith)

Julian Merrow-Smith
Back in 2005 I found myself writing an arts oriented blog; partly because I enjoyed writing it, and partly because in the process I was discovering terrific artists I wouldn’t have sought out or encountered otherwise.

One of them was Duane Keiser, who had originated the “painting a day” blog concept; painting daily postcard-size paintings, mostly still life, and posting them to a blog called A Painting a Day. At the time, it was a novel idea.

I then discovered Julian Merrow-Smith, who was pursuing a similar process; but much to my delight, was painting not only the intimate still life subjects that lend themselves most readily to that discipline, but also beautiful small landscapes of the Provence countryside. He was posting these to his aptly named blog, Postcard from Provence.

I wrote articles on both artists; and in the subsequent years I watched the painting-a-day blog phenomenon grow from two to hundreds of daily painting blogs; many of them named for variations on “a painting a day” or “postcard from wherever”.

Over that time I’ve written articles on many of the best daily painters, as well as hundreds of other artists and topics, but I find myself coming back to Merrow-Smith’s site more frequently than the others.

Julian Merrow-SmithI’ve tried to pin down why, exactly. Merrow-Smith is an excellent painter, but the potential subject matter of Lines and Colors encompasses a wide range of visual art, and virtually all of art history, so it’s not like I would favor him over Sargent or Vermeer.

For someone who has been to Provence just enough to respond to images of the area with a wistful desire to return, there was an element of personal identification and visual pleasure in his interpretations of the Provence landscape; and perhaps a projection into the imagined life of a painter in the rural French countryside, evoked by his simple but intensely observed still life subjects; but there was something else that kept me checking back more frequently than to most other sites.

I knew that I particularly enjoyed looking back through his archives, noticing the sequence of his subjects, how long he would pursue a series of still life subjects, then move to landscape, interject a striking portrait, and then return to still life and then back to landscape.

Within each avenue of subject matter there were fascinating smaller cycles of variation in approach, in the type of still life, or composition and choice of landscape; each with recurring themes, like his wonderful shadow-crossed rural French roads or his shimmering views of the Rhone.

In thinking about it, and looking back over his work, I finally realized that what makes his paintings particularly compelling for me is that they represent a story.

There’s a narrative here, a chronology of artistic discovery, perseverance, discipline, economic survival, and the ongoing effort to continue to grow and learn as an artist. Postcard from Provence represents several years of the living of an artist’s life, encapsulated in a series of small paintings, each one of which seems to be a penetratingly direct and honest observation of what the artist encountered as he met his daily joining of brush and paint.

Merrow-Smith has just reached something of a landmark, posting his 1,000th Postcard painting, a beautiful still life that seems to sum up the rich contrasts of value, color and texture that have marked his study of the simple and small (image at top), followed by his 1,001st, a landscape without land, the crown of a lime tree, bright against the Provence sky, not far from the door of his home (image at left, top). I’ve added a few more of my favorites, including two portraits; the one on the left is a self-portrait.

You’ll find his archives can be viewed chronologically by month, sorted by subject; or, if you’d like to see the thumbnails of all 1,001 paintings, viewed by full archive, which gives you an overview and sense of the story that I’ve found so expressive.

The process of writing my (almost) daily blog posts has taught me a few things about creative discipline, and also; after many fallow years, inspired me to take up painting again. And there I find my other fascination with Merrow-Smith’s process and progress — as a terrific example for painters, and other artists, of how to pursue art as a daily practice.

Addendum: The other portrait shown is of Merrow-Smith’s wife, cellist Ruth Phillips. (See this post’s comments.) I wondered if that might be the case, but wasn’t certain.

Katherine Tyrrell has a nice post about his 1,000th Postcard painting, including past comments on several of his pieces and an interesting interview with him about his work and his daily painting process. (See my post about Katherine Tyrrell.)

Also, there is a nice article about Merrow-Smith and his 1,000th Postcard in The Guardian.

11 thoughts on “Postcard from Provence
(Julian Merrow-Smith)

  1. Takeyce Walter

    Excellent post, Charlie. Julian is brilliant, and his paintings show just that. I especially love his landscapes, and the genius work – “Night Portrait”. He’s very inspiring with his recent accomplishment of posting his 1000th painting!

  2. Jo Ann Scanlon

    What a nice article about Julian and his work. I look forward to the e’s every day. Love la belle France and think he is a blessing—

  3. ruth

    lovely piece, charley. you may be interested to know that the woman on the right of the self portrait is his wife (me!). thank you for all your generosity.

  4. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks, Ruth.

    I had wondered about that, and it’s nice to know, though I picked the portraits because I found them compelling as portraits.

    I was also delighted to find out about your blog, which I wasn’t aware of before.

    Other readers may want to check out, meanwhile, here in France…, which gives a nice informal point of view of the artist/musician couple making their life in Southern France, and Ruth Phillips’ web site.

  5. jennifer

    How lovely to know who the lady in the portrait is Ruth. I wondered.
    I very much love the generosity of Julian in sending his postcards.
    If I ever travel it will be there. I have come to love the place.

  6. Mick McGinty

    Charley,
    I agree with everything you have mentioned as to why you like Julian’s work, but for me it’s the generous use of paint and the ability of not trying to hide the fact that it’s paint that you are looking at, not a leaf or a branch, but a juicy glob of paint, that looks exactly like a branch or a leaf, but is described through the energy of a brushstroke. He does this in these amazing small landscapes and without missing a beat he can represent a persons face in the same technique.
    I’ve been on his mailing list for a couple of years now and there hasn’t been a single painting that hasn’t stopped me for the moment to admire, and wonder, how did he do that?

  7. Linda Wissler

    Charley,
    I am an American Artist living in France for the last 5 years. I moved here to paint the landscape which I fell in love with the first time I saw a Van Gogh or a Cezanne. I came upon Julian’s sight 2 years ago and a day doesn’t go by that I am not enthralled with his simple poetry of paint on canvas. I have enjoyed the day to day diary of his life on canvas. Through his paintings I smell the earth after the rain, feel the sun upon his fields, taste the fruit and hear the wind through the pines. He is amazing and I look forward to more daily inspiration. Thank you Julian

  8. Judy Corney

    I’ve commented before, but I’ll say again that your painting is the first thing I open each day, and I do feel I know you some-what! Your paintings are a journal of your life, shared with all. Thanks, and I hope to buy one some day.

  9. Mona Diane Conner

    Julian was the very first daily painter I heard of through an article in the New York Times in February 2006. Since then I have found great inspiration through Julian, Mick McGinty, Duane Keiser, Karin Jurick, and many, many others now doing stunning work through their blogs. But Julian was the first daily painter to inspire me, and his paintings still enter my mailbox daily. This year I am late in just getting started in all this fun myself, and France and Provence were also on my visit list. Thanks for everything Julian!

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