The Talisman

7:00 AM

Paul Sérusier, The Talisman, 1888

"Nature merely supplies us with inert materials. A human mind alone can arrange them in such a way that, through them, it can express its feelings and its thoughts and by means of correspondences. That is how we arrive at style, the ultimate aim of all art." - GalleryIntel

A soft breeze tickles your cheeks and you feel the sun shining down on your skin from the massive open sky, infusing everything it touches with a comforting, warm energy. The pond is calm today, but the trees seem to glow green and vibrant in the perfect summer air. You admire the reflection of nature on the water, like a perfect mirror image, rippling slightly. A feeling of expansive joy bubbles up from your core. You're at peace with world around you, in nature, as it. Sérusier has left you here, feeling pleasant and enthusiastic, drawn in by the energetic colors and abstract beauty of the isolation in nature. That's the power of the playful landscape: the inspiration of feeling and the experimentation with medium in a meaningful way.

Sérusier, a dedicated apprentice under Gauguin and Bernard, often employs intense color to convey feeling. He painted this during his time in the Pont-Aven School, an artists' commune in Brittany, France. This particular work is painted in a Post-Impressionistic style called cloisonnism, characterized by its two dimensional appearance with big blocks of vibrant color. Talisman was painted under the close tutelage of Gauguin one afternoon in 1888. He said to Sérusier that day, "How do you see these trees? They are yellow. Well, then, put down yellow. And that shadow is rather blue. So render it with pure ultramarine. Those red leaves. Use vermilion."  This landscape does not just represent the visual aspect of this intimate place, but uses color and brush strokes to evoke the feeling of being there as well. The specific location expressed in this painting means far less than the style, technique, color, and feeling of the work. 

In Brettell's Modern Art, this painting falls under a chapter labeled Anti-Iconography. Brettell uses this work as an argument that some artists painted intentionally banal subjects of no particular meaning with no commentary and no reason in order to focus on the physical painting of the work and the feeling it evokes in the reader. While this is partially true, the more I discover about this particular landscape, the more Brettell seems false in his analysis of this painting. This small oil on wood was a revelation for a man like Sérusier, and in fact he brought it back to Paris and it became the central piece that spurred the Nabi movement. For a painting with allegedly no social stance and no meaning in its subject, it sure did make a massive cultural statement. 

Although the exact location that makes up the subject of this work might be normal or unimportant, the work itself cannot be considered anything other than revolutionary. Whether or not this painting speaks to you, it is undeniably powerful in its revolutionary style and in the strength with which it conveys its feeling. To call any part of this meaningless would be a ridiculous assertion. The Talisman's beauty is in its freedom of interpretation and in its ability to mean something different to everyone that sees it. Some take a glance and walk on by while others see it and take it as inspiration for a collection of art prophets. It's all just proof that, in the incredibly complex world of art, a landscape is never just a landscape: it is the million things it represents and its nature to influence all that see it.

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