Look at Odilon Redon’s use of tone, find further works by the artist and discuss the atmospheric potential of tone.
I’m very pleased to look more closely at an aspect of Odilon Redon’s work, as he has been my favourite artist for a long time. His atmospheric use of tone is evident in many of his works, lithographs, pastels and charcoal drawings alike. For the purposes of this research project I will focus solely on his charcoal drawings.
In this first image, Two Trees, c. 1875, on close inspection it is clear that Redon employed many mark making techniques to produce a sense of dark, hidden recesses and lighter, tonally textured natural elements. As well as highly technically adept use of line marks to define the bark of the trees and the grass blades in the foreground, Redon has used dots over three quarters of the image to both add texture and depth and also encourage a sense of atmosphere. This is achieved because the dots and spots give the image an almost dream-like feel and makes me think of pixies or fairies flitting around in the forest. Although Redon’s work was often representational, it was more often than not also based in the supernatural. The work is clearly accurately describing ‘two trees’, but Redon achieves a mystical atmosphere through his varied and expressive use of tone.
In the first image above, The Cube, 1880, and the second, Martyr, or Head in a Dish, or Saint John, 1877, Redon’s fascination with and exploration of both darkness and the occult can clearly be seen. Through his use of tone in The Cube the viewer can imagine that the cube is both suspended in the depths of space and on closer inspection there is possibly the outline of a face that the cube, with the eye on top, is somehow part of. Redon has used close-together lines and cross-hatching as well as very dark areas of shading to create varied tones and an accurate although obviously imagined scene in Martyr. One can imagine him re-applying layers and layers of deeply impressed charcoal lines to achieve such a depth of dark tone in both the top half of the background and the dish. The overall effect is somehow a still, eerie atmosphere.
Finally, in The Drowning, 1884, above, Redon employs long sweeping lines emanating from the depth of the darkly shaded sun, or possibly moon, against rubbed away areas of cloud shapes above long horizontal lines depicting the sea. The drowning head of a figure is only hinted at in the right of the foreground with feint, lightly applied marks. The latter adds weight to the viewers imagining of how it might feel to find or even be that drowned figure.