The Masters’ Thread: How Jan Jansz. Treck Inspires Carlos Madrid

By Carlos Madrid, Artist
January 23, 2017 2:50 pm Last Updated: February 2, 2017 12:30 pm

In this column, “The Masters’ Thread” (ept.ms/mastersthread), artists share their thoughts about how one master’s piece inspires their current work.

I draw inspiration from the great tradition of the old Flemish masters. I have been constantly studying their compositional solutions, their palette, and the great drama that they created with the relationship between light and shadow.

Among the Flemish masters whose work I admire is Jan Jansz. Treck (circa 1606–1652). He was a Dutch master born in the city of Amsterdam. He devoted himself exclusively to still-life paintings, bringing many innovations to that tradition. Treck’s paintings are a development of the style of the pioneering Haarlem still-life painters Pieter Claesz (circa 1597–1660) and Willem Claesz. Heda (circa 1594–1682).

I could have chosen many of the Flemish masters’ works to explain the “thread” that exists between their work and mine. But this particular piece, “Still Life with a Pewter Flagon and Two Ming Bowls” by Treck, speaks to me particularly strongly because of its elegant composition, the restricted palette, and the beautiful play between shadows and light. The distribution of the objects is exquisite, and I love the variety of textures that he achieved, and yet the eye is not overwhelmed by too much.

“Still Life with a Pewter Flagon and Two Ming Bowls,” 1651, by Jan Jansz. Treck (circa 1606–1652). Oil on canvas, 30 by 25 inches. (The National Gallery, London)

The delicate porcelain pieces play in perfect harmony with the lovely white drapery bringing the viewer into the picture so that one can begin to explore and discover the rest of the objects displayed one by one. In contrast to that, the silver metal dishes upon which the porcelain rests in the foreground serves as a connection to that beautiful dark metal kettle; in turn we see the reflection of the white drapery upon that object.

In this way, Treck is playing with the viewer on many different levels, by allowing the eye to constantly travel in all directions inside the painting. Then we have that tall glass in the background, which completes all the elements that he had in mind in order to make a superb, cohesive piece of art. And last but not least are the colors that he chose for the table top and for the background.

His solution is at once visually powerful and extremely elegant.

That is what I strive for in my own paintings. I mostly work by intuition and never do preliminary sketches or studies. I usually see an image in my mind and make a small notation before I put it on a canvas.

For me, creating a composition is like a game of chess. I move the objects constantly until suddenly I find what speaks to me. The image has to be powerful yet elegant and very direct, to the point where I feel I have accomplished what I set out to achieve. It can take me a couple of days, or even longer, to decide on a composition.

I am fortunate to have found the teachers who were able to transmit to me the necessary techniques I need to create my own images and yet be able to give them a contemporary meaning. One piece that I painted, “Petals,” I believe, contains many of the elements that I admire in Treck’s work.

"Petals," by Carlos Madrid. Oil on linen, 36 inches by 24 inches. (Courtesy of Carlos Madrid)
“Petals,” 2005, by Carlos Madrid. Oil on linen, 36 inches by 24 inches. (Robert Essel)

Following the ancient tradition of storytelling, using images and materials such as oils, charcoal, and graphite, my goal as an artist is to emulate and recreate the timeless craftsmanship and content I find in the work of the great masters. These are attributes that I have admired since early childhood in my native Peru.

Only by the careful study of nature can life shine in a work of art. Through the craft of painting and drawing, I find my connection to the world.
— Carlos Madrid

Photograph of Carlos Madrid. (Courtesy of Carlos Madrid)

Line, form, color, and composition, and their interaction upon matter, are the elements that I use to transmit to the viewer the moments of silence and beauty that I experience when engaged with my work. The drama between light and shadow gives life to my subjects and infuses them with a reality of their own.

The images artists create are like mirrors. They reflect who we are. I hope that my paintings and drawings reflect my intention to share a special moment with my audience.

Carlos Madrid was born in the Andes Mountains of Peru in 1950. He has lived in Israel, Italy, Austria, and Norway, and has traveled extensively. He settled in New York City, where he works in his studio.