Monday, May 4, 2015

Mysteries of Painting: Can a Painting have Rhythm?

Sometimes what draws me to an interesting work of art isn't the color, or the subject, but the way it's been organized.
It's beat. The way it moves.

This painting by Duchamp flows across the canvas.  
How did he capture this sensation?

Marcel Duchamp - "Nude Descending a Staircase (No2)", 1912

Duchamp created a repetition of shapes and lines, and our eyes read this as movement. 
His painting reminds me of the way waves move with their own rhythm. 

Watching how water moves is one way to consider the difference between rhythm and pattern.  Like pattern, rhythm is the result of repetition.

But pattern stands still.

Rhythm is all about movement.

Paul Signac, Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890
Thinking of rhythm versus pattern, I visualize two dancers, each demonstrating a simple box step. The beginner moves his feet in the classic pattern over and over again. Unconnected to the music, he is making a pattern in place. 

The experienced dancer takes those same steps, marries them to the music, and moves around the dance floor, creating something entirely different from those box steps.

Rhythm in painting can be understood in the same way.
It's when pattern wakes up and starts going somewhere.

I really admire this painting by Jose Clemente Orozco.
 It's a masterful use of rhythm.

 Painted in 1931 it's titled Zapatistas.  
The repeating forms move strongly, unstoppably forward. 
 I think it's brilliant because Orozco has organized this work in way that supports the painting's story and its composition!

Do you have any favorites where its all about the rhythm?


  1. This is almost as good as having a dialogue with you. Thanks for sharing

  2. Fascinating, Suzanne! I'm very fond of watercolors, and I love how this medium moves and flows. Rhythm created using watercolor seems very spontaneous. Cheers