I had been painting a long while before I spent that decisive summer in Monet’s garden. That was when Monet spoke to me. I think his spirit was always with me, but that is where he made himself known to me. And it was an epiphany. My paintings took on a new life.
I walked on his Japanese bridge and painted on his Japanese bridge and then, I went beyond it. I have always liked impressionism, but now it has become part of me. It is an expression of my soul. Late Monet carried forward with my emotional brushwork and my heart.
This presence is always with me. I love color. I see color everywhere. I am drawn to a specific spot for some indefinable reason. I set up my canvas and paints. And look and look and look. Something catches my eye. I load up my palette. Pick up a brush, holding it as a conductor would hold his baton, and begin.
At that point, I don’t speak to the canvas; instead the canvas speaks to me. Whose voice is that telling me what to put where? Has Monet’s psyche merged with mine? My feet are barefoot feeling the grass; I smell the flowers in front of me. I am transported. I paint but lose the concept of time. Fast, faster, passionately painting, furiously painting. I cannot get the colors down fast enough. Then suddenly I need air. I stop and stand back. The séance is over. I have returned to the present. I think Monet is looking down from above, smiling." -Susan Marx
Susan Marx wrote this passage on a painting trip to Giverny. Her first experience there was so transformational for her, she has returned several times since, each time being more transformational than the next.
Her most recent trip this past May was perhaps her most inspirational and prolific.. affecting her in ways mere words cannot express. She painted on Monet's bridge, but her work traveled beyond it.
On her first trips, Susan used a smaller format for her work. This time, her canvases are larger, 30" x 24", so the forms have more room to move and her brush is larger. She paints in acrylics, so that she can paint color against color quickly, not needing to wait for the paint to dry.
So it is through her words, photographs and her paintings, we will try to relay that experience for her.
As told by Susan Marx about her recent trip to France:
We were a group of 7 painters (plus some non painter spouses). Caroline Nuckholls is the Owner/Director of Art Colony Giverny. She is a painter who arranged the group (and gave instruction to those who wanted; I, of course, did not take instruction and did my own thing. I met her before when I painted in Giverny in 2008. Caroline arranged with the Monet Foundation, for the privilege of letting her artists paint in Monet's Garden before the tourists go in at 8:30am, when the gardeners work, and after the tourists leave at 5pm, every day except Saturday and Sunday. The Garden is open 7 days a week. And there are many tourists, individuals and busloads from all over the world. On a nice day, it is wall-to-wall people enjoying Monet's garden and water lily pond. The experience of painting in the garden with no one around, except for a few gardeners, is unbelievable. It is quiet, except for a cuckoo bird and frogs. Time to see the garden and nature in all its glory; time to commune with Monet directly. I often chose to paint from the Japanese bridge, where Monet also painted. Looking at the lily pond, I can place most of his paintings that I am so familiar with. Yes, there really are some red water lilies near the reflection of the willow tree.
One of the greatest compliments ever paid to me was by one of the gardeners (who see many painters painting here). He said "The Garden of Monsieur Monet, painted in the style of Susan."
It was difficult to choose where to put my easel. There were paintings to be painted everywhere I looked. Most often I chose to either paint the bridge (which is now emerald green, but which was white in most of Monet's paintings). Or the view of the pond and the reflection of the plants and trees, topped by water lilies.
What excites me most visually about this place is that you see three perspectives at the same time: the view across the pond from side to side; the view of the pond into the distance; PLUS the view up and down, with reflections into the water.
Just as Monet eliminated the horizon line, I did the same in my paintings of the pond to concentrate on the relation of one shape to another. And when I was on the bridge, which to my great luck had wisteria in bloom, I felt as if I was almost communicating with him. At least, I was seeing what he did, but painting with my own eyes.
During the day we painted in other spots in Giverny and in the town of Vetheuil, where Monet lived before he moved to Giverny. In Vetheuil, we went to see the house where Monet lived, and above it, the house with the turret, in which the painter Joan Mitchell (my other 'muse'), a second generation American Abstract Expressionist lived... years later. Then we crossed the river in a boat to paint the view of Vetheuil from Lavacourt.
Bottom left, the view of the Vetheuil from Lavacourt.
Right, Susan's painting: 'Vetheuil from Lavacourt', acrylic on canvas painting by Susan Marx.
On Saturday we went to the colorful weekly market in the nearby city of Vernon.
We visited Les Andelys, but, it was raining, so we could not paint. A very picturesque city with huge limestone cliffs. I have painted there before when I was on prior painting trips to Giverny in 2006 and 2008. I look at the paintings I painted then, and the work I painted this year and I am amazed at how I have grown as a painter.
More color, freer brushwork, stronger design...
On those trips, it was not possible to walk the Seine, as Monet used to do in the very early morning hours, to see the islands with their reflection in the river. But this time, I was able to walk to the Seine to see where he worked. You can see what he took from nature and what he decided not to take and what he decided to add from his own mind. Plus, we were able to sail on a replica of Monet's boat, from which he dropped anchor and painted.
With a guidebook in hand that marked where Monet painted his paintings, I walked to the spot where poplars in "Bend in the Epte" was painted.
One could reach the Seine in a ten minute walk from their backyard. It was not possible to get there in 2006 or 2008 because the fields and the road to get to the Seine were private property. They now belong to the town.
It is my belief that Monet built the Japanese bridge so that he could paint from the bridge. At least, in my opinion. It is the one spot where one can see the entire garden as in his famous Water Lilies paintings. That is why I painted from the bridge whenever I could. (sometimes other painters got there first). This pond is long (like a kidney bean) One gets the best view from the bridge.
Joan Mitchell (Susan's other 'muse'), purchased the house on top of the hill with the pointed roof years after Monet lived there.
ABOUT SUSAN MARX
Why am I a plein air painter? I think I have always been attracted to the light, the color, and the air outside. When I paint outside, the painting, the process and the result are more intense.
I always knew I wanted to be a painter. I have been painting since I was four. And I was always drawn to painting outside. I studied painting at Boston University where I received a BFA in painting, and when we had still life arrangements set up to paint in the studio, I would often turn my easel to the window to paint the Charles River instead.
I first attended a seminar in France in 2006, ‘Art Study Giverny', led by the late artist, Gale Bennett, where we painted in Monet’s Garden on Mondays when the garden was open to gardeners and painters and on other days of the week after the tourists left at 5 pm. During the day we painted in other places in town and in other neighboring cities in Normandy where Monet had painted. That experience was a changing point in my artistic career. I feel like I inherited part of Monet’s soul! And I have returned to spend time in Monet's garden several times since.
There is something about standing barefoot on the grass looking at and smelling what is in front of you. I often joke that the inspiration starts from my feet and then works itself up to my brain. I smell the colors of nature before I paint them. The act of painting is experiential, and I want to convey the emotions I experience while being out of doors, seeing the light and color and smelling the air on the finished canvas.
My art comes from my radical amazement at the visual world around me, and my need to turn that visual experience into paint. Nature is my starting point, but not my end result.
I observe nature very carefully and respond spontaneously to what I see and feel. I think of painting as drawing in color, relating warm colors and cool colors with each expressive paint-filled brushstroke. It’s my personal handwriting.
I call myself a modern Abstract Impressionist. I paint outside, en plein air, which lets me truly experience and feel the landscape I am painting. Working with acrylics allows me to record my color impressions quickly, with immediacy. I am abstract in that my goal is not to reproduce what is in front of me, but to turn nature into something of my own: my vision, my paint-filled brushstrokes, my emotions. I don’t paint flowers to paint flowers. I paint flowers to paint color.
Timbered Houses in Rouen
Susan is represented by Agora Gallery and Ashok Jain Gallery in NYC and by Veranda Fine Art Gallery in Fair Haven, NJ.
For more information, or to purchase her work, call or visit any of her galleries:
AGORA GALLERY 530 West 25th Street, NYCHours: 11am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday; 212.226.4151
ASHOK JAIN GALLERY 58 Hester Street, NYCHours: Wed-Sun: 12-6pm or by appointment. 212.969.9660
The Veranda Fine Art Gallery
763 River Rd., Fair Haven, NJ 07704
Both Agora Gallery and Ashok Jain Gallery have Marx's paintings listed for sale on Amazon.com.
Marx's paintings may also be purchased through her listings on Agora's gallery website: Susan Marx on ArtMine.
Susan Marx will be in a show at Agora Gallery entitled Divergent Realities
Exhibition Dates: October 9 - October 29, 2015
Opening Reception: Thursday, October 15, 2015, 6-8pm
Credits: photographs by Susan Marx.
Painting Above Left: Flowers in Blue, 30" x 24", acrylic on canvas
Bottom Left: Floral Abstract, 30" x 24" , acrylic on canvas