Still Lifes With Patterned Backdrops

Earthly Delight (watercolor, 22×30) by Nava Grunfeld

La Nature Morte has nothing to do with Nava Grunfeld’s ecstatic still lifes, where time is blissfully suspended.
The still life tradition—to present abundance at the moment before it decays—has no place here. Like Henri Matisse and Édouard Vuillard, who loved patterns, Grunfeld plays with decorative motifs derived from Turkish tiles, African and French textiles, Oaxaca embroidery and Talavera pottery she finds in her travels.

Like another artist she admires, Pierre Bonnard, she employs a bird’s-eye view; seen from above, all the elements of a still life are flat and schematic. Working in watercolor or acrylic, she lets the light emanate from the white of the paper or canvas, and her choice of a restricted palette for her inital underpainting simplifies forms and defines tones. As a result, red, blue and yellow become shapes of light.

Pattern After Pattern
She starts by arranging the still life objects—fruits, bowls, textiles—on the floor, so she can look down on them and photograph different arrangements. She works from life, from photographs or from both. The bird’s-eye view makes the objects appear schematic and abstract. Seeing the objects as pattern and variation on pattern is integral to her work.

In addition to the patterns that the bowls, fruit, flowers and the like create through repetition, she loves depicting the extrinsic patterns that ceramics and tapestries present.

This love of pattern, she says, comes from her childhood: the influence of Arabic cultures—for instance, from Morocco, Turkey and Iran—which converged in Israel, and later in New York City, where Latin and African music were added to the mix. Finally, and maybe most profoundly, her love of pattern derives from Modernist painters like Bonnard and Matisse.

The July/August 2010 Issue of The Artist’s Magazine

Click here for a peek at the table of contents for the July/August issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Click here to learn about the digital download of the July/August issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Maureen Bloomfield is editor of The Artist’s Magazine.

Nava Grunfeld has a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and a master’s degree in art education from Smith College. Among the many publications that have featured her work are Watercolor Artist, The Artist’s Magazine and Splash 8: The Best in Watercolor (North Light Books, 2006). Her most recent book, Nava Grunfeld: Saturated Watercolor, will be published this June. She lives lakeside in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts and teaches workshops in the U.S. and Mexico. For further information, visit


You may also like these articles: