The Other Nicolai Fechin

Nicolai Fechin’s figurative works are so influential that one rarely considers his prowess in other genres. The landscape and still life paintings are masterpieces in their own right; his palette knife technique is both brutal and superb. His orchestration of color sets the stage with analogous surrounds highlighting the lead singer.

His painting philosophy and color theory is very unique and is best described in his own words.

An artist has to deal with only three basic colors: red, blue, yellow (all the rest are combinations of these fundamental colors). Everyone knows this, but few pay attention to the fact. Thus the first step for the artist to learn to see these primary colors and to distinguish them separately one from the other.”

“To avoid murky results, it is necessary to learn how to use the three basic colors and to apply them, layer upon layer, in such a way that the underlying color shows through the next application. For instance, one can use blue paint, apply over it some red in such a manner that the blue and the red are seen simultaneously and thus produce the impression of a violet vibration. If, in the same careful manner, one puts upon his first combination a yellow color, a complete harmonization is reached – the colors are not mixed, but built one upon the other, retaining the full intensity of their vibrations.”

“The artist must never forget that he is dealing with the entire canvas, and not with any one section of it. Regardless of what he sets out to paint, the problem remains one and the same. With his own creative originality, he must fill in his canvas and make of it an organic whole. There must not be any particularly favored spot in the painting…”

“…the construction of form remains fundamental – of any form, be it natural or imaginary. The principle of construction remains the same, whatever the form. So the artist should begin by studying the construction of form.”

“As soon as an original idea is formed – what the artist wants to portray and by what concrete means – he must begin to structure, to organize. A method for learning the creation of “form” lies in the creation process itself. In my opinion, creation of form cannot be based on distribution of light and shadow alone, as light is constantly changing and it is only an impression of form, but not form itself.”

“The more consummate his technique, the easier the artist will find it to free himself from all dependence upon a subject. What he uses to fill his canvas with is not so vital. What is vital is how he does it. It is sad if an artist becomes a slave to the object he seeks to portray. The portrayed object must serve as nothing more than an excuse to fill a canvas. Only when the subject passes through the filter of his creative faculty does his work acquire value for an artist…”

The appearance of a truly new idea in art is always valuable, but only when it aims at fulfilling itself in an accomplished piece of work.”

“… a high degree of expertise in technique has always had, and always will have, a predominant place in art. The subject, in itself, has value only according to the mode of the day. Tomorrow it will be superseded by a new fashion or fad. With the passing of time, the subject loses much of its meaning. But the fine execution of that subject retains its value…”

“No one can teach you how to paint and how to draw except you yourself. You cannot learn how to paint by watching a well-trained master painting, until you yourself, have learned how to paint with some understanding first. Only by the path of much practice and experience can mature results be reached.”

“My way of drawing and painting can be taught only through direct visual perception and it is almost impossible to describe it. An attitude toward painting and a few technical fundamentals can be discussed, however – but always with a warning not to take my observations in an overly literal or rigidly set manner…”

“Also for myself, I do not like to use medium. This dissolves the paints too much. The pigments mix up together, do not retain their individual distinctness and thus again lose much of their fresh intensity.”

Nicolai used Schmincke Mussini oil paints which contain Dammar Resin and a combination of five drying oil binders which spreads beautifully without diluting the pigments with additional mediums. Fechin often squeezed his paint out on paper towels to absorb oil.

  • Lead or Zinc White
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Vandyke Brown
  • Rose Madder
  • Emerald Green
  • Mineral (Maganese) Violet
  • Permanent Rose
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Ivory Black

A major take a way here is that Fechin rarely mixed colors together, instead he relied on Chevreul’s theory of Simultaneous Contrast. In laymen’s terms he did not mix Red, Yellow and Blue he layered them allowing the bottom layers to show though.

Leave a Reply