Maurice Utrillo, Place du Tertre, oil on cardboard. Tate Britain, C1910–11
Peter Hart, copy after Utrillo’s Place du Tertre. Oil on Canvas
The word ‘copying’, as used in the title, does not best describe my undertaking. A copy suggests a facsimile, something so like the original that it might be passed off as a forgery. And such a process – unless aimed at learning something quite specific – would I think be both pointless and tedious. So what have I been doing with ‘my Utrillo’? I think primarily I have been trying to make something new (or different), while not departing radically from the original (reproduction). So that, after following the graphic aspect of Utrillo’s painting with as much veracity as I could, I then decided to make some considerable changes to the colours. I say ‘decided’, but it would be much truer to say that the colour changes simply came about during the process of painting. I did follow Utrillo in using emerald green for the patisserie frontage, but in the buildings to the right of that I’ve introduced some quite radical changes – especially in the rectangle of bright red and the triangle of blues beneath the roof. This central area then set the tone for the whole picture, the brightness of which makes Utrillo’s painting look comparatively monochromatic. But again, it was not my intention to bring about such a result, and it is one of those mysteries of painting that its final form can never be foreseen or preconceived. (In this, it’s like writing a letter: you cannot know exactly what you are going to say until you are actually writing it.)
|Tonal Sketching in|
Making this copy after Utrillo’s Place du Tertre has actually changed the way I see it. I have known the picture in reproduction for decades, and it is the colours that have always attracted me: the emerald greens, the earth browns, the yellow ochres, and the pale pinks – these and the configurations of the building’s frontages. But now I seem to have made something more solid than this, and I cannot quite recover my original vision of the painting. I have no regrets about this. The process has been one of enrichment; and if one work inspires another, that can only be for the good (and I make no pretentions in saying this).
A note on technique
‘Technique’ is another of those tricky words. Some artists develop a ‘technique’ and then apply it to everything they do: a deadening process. Because in truth there is no invariable way of doing anything in painting. No one brush stroke should inevitably be followed by another exactly the same. Difference is the nature of the visual world, and ‘sameness’ is the death of painting.
In this painting I did use something I’ve never used before – which is a painting knife. This is not a palate knife – the primary use of which is to mix colours on the palate – but what might be defined as a very small and very delicate trowel, unlike the brush it cannot be used for drawing, but is excellent for providing variety of colour and texture to flat surfaces. Provided that is that it is not resorted to across the picture plane: so becoming a lazy ‘device’, ruinous to the painting as becoming immediately obvious to the eye.
As a painter I am left–handed, but I realised without thinking that I was using the painting knife with my right hand: the hand that I use for all tools, and have in the past used for plaster skimming. In the detail shown below, the use of the painting knife can be seen particularly in the windows of the patisserie and the restaurant, and on the wall to the right.
|Detail. The photograph is over–yellowed due to the electric light|