Mastering form with color. All the stern self-knowledge, the risk-taking and awareness, of the early work is assumed by these sometimes childlike pictures.
To Myself: Notes on Life, Art, and Artists, by Odilon Redon. New York: George Braziller Inc. 154 pp. $16.95. Odilon Redon: Pastels, Introduction and commentary by Roseline Bacou; translated by Beatrice Rehl. New York: George Braziller Inc. 190 pp. $65.
``To Myself'' is a gathering of personal notes and journals kept by the artist Odilon Redon for more than 60 years. To those who know Redon by his late flower pastels - they made his name at the Armory Show in 1913, and they remain his best-known works - ``To Myself'' may come as a surprise. Redon was a good critic, of other artists, of music, and best of all of his own interior life.
The vibrancy of those seemingly off-the-cuff flower arrangements apparently is rooted in severe discipline. Born in 1840, Redon lived through several revolutions in society and art, but not much influenced him outside his own development.
One of the items dated 1913 in ``To Myself'' suggests his indifference: ``I see in a window a book with the title `Social Art.' It is disgusting. I open it nevertheless, and I see: Socialization of beauty, and I close it.'' The simplicity of this note does not hide Redon's proud independence, it reveals it.
Redon's pride, his capacity for isolated work, stems from the fact that his childhood, and many a summer of his adult life, were spent on a heath-covered estate in the province of Gironde. It used to be ocean bed. Odilon spent hours dreaming and sketching; his lifelong fidelity to natural forms took root in that hard, sandy soil.
Odilon learned his craft under a series of master artists. His first successes were in lithography; the polarized combination of stone and ink gratified his sense of discipline. He composed several albums of strange black and white pictures combining natural and dream forms. One famous one shows a man's head with cactus spines sitting in a pot. He illustrated Baudelaire and Poe, and sometimes wrote his own captions.