Roy Perkinson talks about Degas


This is another in a series of occasional blog posts, where we've asked a member artist to talk briefly about an artist who's profoundly influenced their work.

One of my favorite pictures:
pastel/monotype by Edgar Degascollection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In the autumn of 1890, Edgar Degas accompanied his friend, the sculptor Bartholomé on a trip from Paris to the Côte d’Or and back, passing through the Burgundy region of France. Bartholomé drove the two-passenger carriage, and Degas was free to watch the landscape go by, although the artists never stopped to paint pictures. En route, they stayed at the home of another friend, Georges Jeanniot, who happened to have a printing press. Using the press, Degas began what eventually would be a series of some 300 landscapes, executed from memory, using a technique he had been using since the 1870s – monotype. A very painterly technique, monotype involves applying ink or oil paint to a metal surface (like an etching plate) to create an image. Degas put a piece of paper on top of the painted plate and both the paper and the plate passed through the press to transfer the image to the paper. This process yields only one strong image (hence “monotype”), but the plate can be printed on a second and even a third piece of paper, producing progressively weaker results. Degas enjoyed applying pastel on top of these printed images, reinterpreting each – whether only one, two or three of them – using a variant color scheme to achieve pictures that can be remarkably different from each other.

One of my favorite examples among these pastel/monotype combinations is this landscape, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A moderately dark, gray-green ink defines the underlying composition, and delineates the cliffs in the foreground, the landscape and river in the middle ground, and the hills in the distance. A rusty red ink was brushed over the sky area. Then, on top of this printed image, Degas applied touches of blue in the sky, various greens in the middle ground to suggest trees and a landscape on either side of the river, and numerous passages of pinks and burnt orange on the cliffs.

For reasons of preservation, this amazing picture may not be on view in the galleries of the MFA, but you can make an appointment to see it (as well as other works on paper that aren’t on view) by contacting Patrick Murphy (pmurphy@mfa.org), who is in charge of the Morse Study Room for Prints, Drawings and Photographs. It’s worth the trip!

-Roy Perkinson

And now a bit about Roy Perkinson...

Roy grew up in Texas, so it is not surprising that many of his pictures try to convey a sense of open spaces -- even when working in Massachusetts, where he has lived for many years, or in France, Italy or Great Britain --  and often include attention to the sky, with its various moods and atmospherics. He primarily works in oil, with its great range of textural and coloristic possibilities, but also in pastel, graphite and watercolor. His work has been shown throughout New England, and is included in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as in numerous private collections from California to Europe. FInd out more at perkinsonpaintings.com