Ancient Vessels

Returning to ancient sources offers opportunities for re-invention and discovery. The enigmatic imagery and classical forms of ancient civilizations tantalize with their indecipherable mysteries.  Borrowing two thousand year old shapes and merging them with contemporary landscape images took art history in a new direction for me.

Visiting museums I collect images of urns, bowls, plates and other antiques.  I found many of these ancient forms in New York’s Metropolitan Museum.  My first image which is a less modeled form (example 2) begins with a 2200 year old Chinese vessel (example 1).  I superimpose photos of flora from a nearby nature preserve. Next I scratched, deleted and patterned the painting surface but, kept the rough form of the Chinese vessel.

Example 1. Ancient Chinese vessel,

Example 2. Painting referring to the vessel for a base design,

Photographing 2500 year old Greek urns, amphora, and craters gave me a repertoire of forms for re-invention.  The painting in example 7 begins with a terracotta jar from the Meidias painter from 410 BCE (example 3). I then layered a photo of a forest’s understory onto the terracotta jar (example 4).  For me, finding imagery which suited the vessel shape is a compelling part of the process.  There were many mismatches before the image you see.  Next, I looked for a painting which could serve as an appropriate substrate for my new layered image (example 5). Example 6 presents the image before applying light-modeling effects. Example 7 is the image with highlights and blended light modeling.

Example 3. Terracotta jar, Greek, 410 BCE,

Example 4.  Same jar with layered flora imagery,

Example 5. Under-painting to offer additional layers,

Example 6. Painting without many light modeling effects.

Example 7. Painting in present state, 24×24, oil on dibond,

In London’s Victoria and Albert Museum I found an arresting vase (example 8). I thought it needed trimming. I removed the two top side-florets to simplify the form. I applied strong complementary color contrast for the neck against the colors in the lower meadow.  The cerulean neck colors  were re-introduced as glowing reflected lights for the sides of the vessel as you can see in example 9.

Example 8. Vase in Victoria and Albert museum,

Example 9. My painting using the vase form, oil on dibond, 24×24,

In 1876 the renowned ceramicist, Josiah Wedgewood created a complex vase with swans ornamenting its top and supporting its bottom. It rests in the Metropolitan Museum.  I pruned the swans away to preserve the classical form (example 10). I shortened the form to fit into a square format. I considered how the marbling effects of foamy wave patterns might animate the surface of the Wedgwood vase. I also considered how to give a feeling of deep space across the upper area of the vase.  The result are my wave patterns swimming on the transfigured Wedgewood form (example 11).

Example 9.  Reduced and Pruned Wedgewood vase,

Example 10. My wave-vase painting, oil on dibond aluminum, 24×24,

Until June 17 please visit an exhibition of my paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203 318 0616.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques” At the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860 231 8019 to register or visit their website at westhartfordart.org  go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description.

Nicole’s Art Gallery, in Raleigh Durham, NC. will host me for a 3-Day workshop, Monday – Wednesday, June 26-28. My workshop is “Painting with the Masters, Old and New Techniques with David Dunlop”.  Call 919 838 8580 or register online by visiting Nicolesartgallery.com

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The Cat’s Tail, and Other Abstractions

In early childhood we learn to attach words to pictures. In later adulthood we continue to conceive of images through schematic pictographs whether we are photographing, sketching, doodling or painting.  Examining how we begin and advance this process allows me to introduce you to two watercolors by my 3 year old granddaughter, Iris and then, to followthe process through into adult abstraction.

Knowing Iris was coming to visit I purchased glitter pens, a set of watercolors, varieties of paper,  a booklet of stickers, and a collection of colored markers.  While water-coloring Iris proposed a few subjects. They occurred  to her as she painted.  She said she enjoyed mixing colors which she layered in a quasi circle. As she examined her circle she recognized an opportunity for a picture. By adding a wide brownish strip she re-identified her form as a tree.  Feeling newly confident in her tree making skills and wishing to further mix colors she constructed two more tree pictographs (example 1).  Remember her intention to picture followed her initial shape and coloring. The tree did not come first. It came last.  Here is a clear example of looking into the paint and following the paint as recommended by Picasso.

Example 1.  Watercolor tree forms by Iris.

Later she decided to print her name vertically within the image. She began with the first letter and then climbed vertically to make the forms symbolizing her name. She created each letter from the bottom-up.

Example 2 presents Iris’s cat. The Iris again begins with a circular form made from circular strokes then, Iris recognizes an ideogram.  In the case of example 2 she recognized the beginnings of a face in her circle.  All faces whether animal or human begin as circles and have the same components: eyes and mouth.  What differentiates them depends upon the foremost characteristic that Iris perceives for her motif for example, Iris only needed to add ears and whiskers to transform a potential person into a cat.  For Iris, cats and people are the same except that cats begin (like people) as a circle to which later cat-whisker and ear shapes are added. Finally, like  the tree, Iris adds a dark stripe which she calls a tail.  This addition certifies the image as a completed cat!

Example 2.  Watercolor cat by Iris.

I proceed in a manner like Iris.  Except, I begin with a broader menu of schema.  I too like mixing colors. I lay-in a schematic foundation or, I borrow a pre-existing one by over-painting an older image. With example 3 I begin with a photo which I deliberately blurred and a substrate. Example 3 is the older image substrate.

Example 3. Substrate for later abstracted meadow flowers.

Next, I cover the substrate image with varieties of vertical smears which run in counterpoint to the more horizontal marks of the substrate.  I want to show you how I previously experimented with this subject.  Example 4 presents a small incomplete studio demonstration of the subject.  Example 5 presents an alternate exploration of similar subject matter on brushed gold laminated aluminum, 24×24.

Example 4, Quick unfinished studio demonstration of techniques.

Example 5. Related image on brushed gold laminated aluminum.

One of the photos I referred to is example 6. The photo was altered to present a color-boosted  and cropped image. In example 7 I abstracted my meadow flowers by vertically blurring the color shapes. They cling tentatively to any sense of legibility in step 3, example 7.  Further changes are introduced in example 8.

Example  6. The  altered photo.

Example  7. Step 2, blurred image.

Example  8. Step 3, blurred image with a few articulated modifications to improve mental anchorage through greater legibility and edge enhancements.

Examples 9 and 10 present the substrate and its subsequent overlaying image.  The final image also began with vertical blurring and selected deletions  revealing snippets of the substrate.  Like Iris I referred to my foundation schema (leaf, branch and petal forms and, leaf, branch, petal and sky coded colors).  I used other learned art historical principles like overlapping, open-closed forms, and shifting focal edges. Like Iris, I looked at the paint and let it suggest a direction for me.

Example 9. The older image serving as a substrate.

Example 10. Image of Abstracted Dogwoods in their present state.

For the next few weeks I have an exhibition of my paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203-318-0616.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques” at the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860-231- 8019 to register or visit their website at westhartfordart.org (go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description).

Nicole’s Art Gallery, in Raleigh Durham, NC. will host me for a  3-Day workshop, Monday – Wednesday, June 26-28. My workshop is “Painting with the Masters, Old and New Techniques with David Dunlop.”  Call 919-838-8580 or register online by visiting Nicolesartgallery.com.

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David’s Living Art Award from Silvermine and Gallery Opening

Last weekend David was honored with a Living Art Award from Silvermine Arts Center in CT, where he has taught for many years.  He was honored along with Legacy Award recipient Ann Weiner and Guild of Artists Award recipients Alberta Cifolelli and Bonnie Woit.  Congratulations to everyone!

The benefit celebrates “preeminent thought leaders in art education who have reached thousands through their teaching, philanthropy and lectures, and whose lifelong educational efforts exemplify a dedication to living art.”

David’s exciting exhibition, Travels in Light, opens at Susan Powell Fine Art this Friday, May 19th,  from 5-8:00pm.   David will also give a demonstration/lecture  at 3-4:00pm the next day, May 20th.
Susan Powell Fine Art  
679 Boston Post Road
Madison, CT 06443
T: 203-318-0616, susanpowellfineart@gmail.com

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Blog Post Notification Test

Hello, Everyone!  Sadly, many of you have not been receiving an email notification when David posts a new blog.   As you may know, this occurred because our old server was bought by a new company and something stopped working when they moved our website to their new server.  We have been trying to fix this and we are also moving to a new server.  We hope that this may provide a temporary fix.  Thank you for your patience!

Please let us know if you are receiving multiple notifications.

Warm regards,
Connie Simmons

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Spring from History

Our brains have acquired models for spring; for art in spring, for gardens in spring, for poetry in spring. When making pictures these models have plasticity. If you are well versed in art history, you may fuse your knowledge with a personal experience.  We see everything through moment to moment unconscious simulation of the world by our brain; its generates unconscious activity like the translation of air compression waves into meaningful language or music.  Conscious construction of an image can be rarer. When I discover a visual pattern alongside a road I am drawn to it because of its resonance with past experience. My brain has found a correlating images.

Example 1 is a painting of fallen flower petals. I found them in a shape suggesting a traditional European 18th century landscape design. The petals seemed to loosely follow a serpentine pattern like a river or road.  The fronds of grass behaved as trees in a Hudson River painting and, like the Albrecht Durer watercolor I presented in last week’s blogpost. I had discovered new plasticity for an art historical design.

When making an image I merge many different design sources such as in example 2, a Qing Dynasty painting with iris fronds reminding me of my bending grasses. In fact,  I am reminded of varieties of Chinese and Japanese flower paintings which helped to model my bending grasses in example 1. They were not the only source but, subtly and subconsciously contributed.

Example 1.  Painting of fallen flower petals,

Example 2.  Qing Dynasty Iris painting, 1701,

John Singer Sargent’s poppies  (example 3) with its dark backdrop and advancing bright notes and contemporary artist, Joseph Raffael’s garden after the rain (example 4) with its darkened backdrop and blurred verticals  are two examples of paintings whose influence insinuated  itself  into my example 6.  Many other paintings did as well but, these two illustrate how we collect images and project variations.  We do this in every aspect of our lives from cooking to parenting to painting.

Example  3. Sargent’s poppies,

Example 4. Joseph Raffael’s garden,

Our brain sits in our sculls creating simulations of reality for us based on past experience and small doses of sensory input. Its job is to create simulations and make predictions for our behavior like when and what brush to lift and how to move it. It lives in a feedback loop waiting for further inputs so it can make new predictions. Some of us do not gather as much sensory input and instead just make judgements or predictions without much observation.  For more on this subject I suggest “How Emotions are Made, The Secret Life of the Brain” by neuro-researcher, Lisa Feldman Barrett.

To get to example 10 I first clicked a photograph which resonated with other art historical precedents (example 5).  I began my first step, example 6 by simplifying a design with large dark shapes arranged loosely over faux brushed-gold dibond aluminum.  My second step, example 7 reveals a pattern of leaf and flower shapes excised by my squeegee. They refer to variations of archetypal flora.  My third step tried fine tuning my observations with the painting (example 8).  This step led me astray.  Now, I saw that my rock shapes on the right were inharmonious and feebly credible (example 8). I change them in this last step, example 9.

Example  5. Initial photograph,

Example 6. Initial lay-in of shapes, step one,

Example 7, step two, excision of flora patterns,

Example 8, Step three, fine tuning and a wrong turn,
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Example 9, step four, amending step 3,

The last example (example 10) uses complementary colors arranged in dancing verticals and horizontal shapes. Here the flower petals push horizontally against the green falling verticals. Our brain has assigned the category of “petals” to the color coded pink shapes and, “Leaves” to the color coded green shapes.

Example 10, recently revised painting of Pink Petals and Green Verticals,

On May 19th there will be an opening reception, 5-8 PM, for an exhibition of my paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203 318 0616.  The next evening, Saturday May 20th, at 4 PM I will be giving a free painting demonstration in the gallery’s garden.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques” At the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860 231 8019 to register or visit their website at westhartfordart.org  go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description.

Nicole’s Art Gallery, in Raleigh Durham, NC. will host me for a  3-Day workshop, Monday – Wednesday, June 26-28. My workshop is “Painting with the Masters, Old and New Techniques with David Dunlop”.  Call 919 838 8580 or register online by visiting Nicolesartgallery.com

 

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Models For Gardens

For thousands of years we have cultured symbols for picturing flora. We still borrow the same stem imagery, the same schema for our fabrics, dining plates, wall coverings and quick sketches. We can trace how these models of flora are passed through time and culture and then, modified for new applications.  For instance, consider example one.  Here is a late 15th century tapestry from the southern Netherlands. These floral patterns are not alien to us. Subconsciously, I find myself reusing them in my own landscape imagery.

We all rely on inherited models and schema for making any image, or anything else from beer recipes to houses. We modify those models. Their presence in our minds constricts our menu of the infinitely possible because, they are the menu. At best we can make modifications to this menu (to the schema) by reconciling careful observations with these inherited models.

Example 1. Netherlands Millefleurs Tapestry, 1490s.

In all of the following examples you will see how artists have tried to modify standard and repetitious forms into a coherent impassioned design. We begin with two artists who recently worked with me in a workshop at the Ponte Vedre Cultural Center in Florida.  One artist, Paul Gala, built an arresting image from overlapping, vivid, bending, striated flora forms (example 2). He works in oil on dibond-like aluminum. I also work on this same material.

Example 2. Paul Gala’s abstracted flora pattern.

Working on the same material, Kathryn Poch painted example 3 en plein air. We were sitting amidst a forest of Saw Palmetto and Live Oak.  Using overlapping receding patterns for the fans of the Palmetto, Kathryn aggregates these forms in linear and atmospheric perspective to give a feeling of luminous space and, a semi-abstracted vision of a saw palmetto glade. Here, we see her work on location.

Example 3. Kathryn Poch Saw Palmetto Glade; painting on location.

In pursuing my own work I relied not only on historical pictographic flora patterns but, on individual historical examples as well.  For scale I have always enjoyed Albrecht Durer’s intimate watercolor of a section of turf.  For a variety of reasons, I suspect he used either a concave lens or a camera obscura in the development of this image (example 4)

Example 4. Albrecht Durer watercolor, contemporaneous with example 1.

Like Monet and many others, I found myself attracted to the same motif at different seasons.  I began with a winter’s view of a “subtle stream” (example 5) as an oil on brushed-silver dibond-like aluminum. Next, I returned to see how this micro-zone appeared on May 1st.  Example 5 presents the earlier winter version. Example 6 presents the May 1st version.

Example 5. Winter’s “Subtle Stream”, oil on brushed silver.

Example 6. Spring, same location, oil on brushed gold, 24×24.

Continuing with Durer’s micro-zone theme I turned to our rock garden with its early blooming Vinca.  Note how I reprise some of the same floral shapes found in both the Albrecht Durer and the Dutch tapestry.

Example 7. Step one, the lay-in

Example 8. Step two, after initial squeegee work to reveal flora shapes.

Example 9. Step three, the image in its present state.

On May 19th there will be an opening reception, 5-8 PM, for an exhibition of my paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203 318 0616.  The next evening, Saturday May 20th, at 4 PM I will be giving a free painting demonstration in the gallery’s garden.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques”  At the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860 231 8019 to register or visit their website at westhartfordart.org  go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description.

Nicole’s Art Gallery, in Raleigh Durham, NC. will host me for a  3-Day workshop, Monday – Wednesday, June 26-28. My workshop is “Painting with the Masters, Old and New Techniques with David Dunlop” .  Call 919 838 8580 or register online by visiting Nicolesartgallery.com

 

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Abstracting The City

We have varieties of tools to begin abstracting a forest, a city street, a stream, a still-life, a nude.  Tools like brayers or squeegees can pry us away from dogmatic representation.  Photo software can provide freedom to improvise with images without the cost of paint and expensive substrates.  I like to use all of these methods.  When strolling through New York, Paris, London or Berlin I carry a camera and ipad.  I stumble across unexpected visual events and find myself interrogating them.  Initially I look for a novel point of view. I can later build other novel points of view using photo software with cloning, layering and other strategies.

Example 1 provides a sample of how I combine and layer multiple points of view taken with my camera. I was walking down Lexington Avenue in midtown NYC. I let my eye wander and noticed how I enjoyed looking down both the length of the avenue as well as the intersecting side streets. I snapped many versions of each from stationary and other points of view.

Example 1. The combination photo.

Example 2. Oil, 36×36 on dibond aluminum in reaction to the photo.

The abstraction process has historically begun with a sketch or within a painting. The artist determines to simplify, reduce, or reorganize an existing painting’s design structure.  When I began example 3 I was intrigued with the space extending beneath a series of bridges. As I worked on the piece I considered how one looks at a horizontal image. We change vanishing points as our eyeball pivots and refocuses. Our eyes do this at least 4x per second. I decided to let the image reveal this process of horizontal scanning with refocusing. The result is example 4, an abstraction from example 3.

Example 3. Bridges, oil on dibond aluminum, 24×48.

Example  4. Bridges, modified.

Another example of working out reorganizing ideas within a painting can be seen in example 5.  By example 5 the image had already undergone a variety of reorganizations.  Here I superimposed an inverted version the standard map of two point linear perspective onto the front of the building wedge. It made little sense to me. I proceeded to simplify the design and arrived at example 6.

Example 5.  An earlier step in testing designs.
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Example 6. The painting as it exists today, 36×36.

Example 7 follows the same process as example 6 and example 1. I began with an abstracted photo montage trying to incorporate disparate points of view from a single geographic position.

Example 7. The original layered photo before compression into a square.

Example 8. Step two, an intermediate stage.

Example 9. Step three, present state of the painting, 36×36.

Abstraction encourages the artist to accept and use the plasticity of his subject or motif. I felt the urge to round the corners of the architecture because it invested the image with more motion, more fluidity.  Example 10 presents the design ideas expressed above but, now with greater elasticity in the architectural forms.

Example 10. Present state of “Rounding Corners”, 36×36.

Let me invite you to a couple of upcoming events.  I will be speaking at the Westport Arts Center on, “The Science of Expression: Art and Design” on Saturday, April 29 from 2:30 to 4 PM. This is a fundraising event for the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County. Tickets are $20 for members and $25 for non-members and, available at http://dunlopbenefit.eventbrite.com

On May 19th there will be an opening reception, 5-8 PM, for an exhibition of my paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203 318 0616.  The next evening, Saturday May 20th, at 4 PM I will be giving a free painting demonstration in the gallery’s garden.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques”  At the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860 231 8019 to register or visit their website at westhartfordart.org  go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description.

Later in June, the 26th through 28th I will be conducting a three day workshop at Nicole Kennedy’s Gallery and Studio in Raleigh Durham, N.C. “ Painting with The Masters, Old and New Techniques”, call 919 838 850 to register  and visit nicolesartgallery.com for the workshop’s description.

 

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Deliberate Confusion

Organizing chaotic territory is a joy of art.  Arranging notes into a pattern packed with surprises sustains the attention of the artist as well as the audience.  Finding a visual field which threatens to dissolve into chaos offers a delicious challenge. Every visual field gives infinite opportunities for organizing using our knowledge foundation.

Neurology professor, Antonio Damasio points out; we begin with a process of knowing born out of wordless story telling (i.e. story telling with pictures). We then ask questions on the basis of our acquired knowledge. We can’t do otherwise.  We feel a breeze on our face and question what we know about breezes and faces. We had to create a knowledge base before we could recognize the touch of a breeze or even recognize our face and its connection to the breeze.

When we drive down a road we know where we must look; ahead.  We don’t let our vision wander and fall out of focus. The result would be as catastrophic as falling asleep at the wheel. And, we know how to question the visual signs lining up ahead of us. For example, we quickly and subconsciously conclude that a small bright rectangle in front is another car.

When unprompted by a specific task like driving or shopping for groceries or looking for our keys we find ourselves responding to unsolicited prompts like noises or anomalous movements.

In the woods or a marshland we categorize the visual environment based on previous our knowledge. If we stop to examine even a macro environment we try to identify and categorize our field of view. It’s difficult to appreciate how much we don’t see or, how artificial and disconnected from nature is our process of categorizing. As an artist I like to select, like Albrecht Durer, a piece of turf  or a small patch of nature’s chaos and then see how I might reorganize it using conventions from my art historical knowledge.  This process of self-observation improves the process of discovery.

My first example demonstrates how the artist Andy Goldsworthy approaches reorganizing nature within his knowledge foundation.  In example one he arranges an elm branch into a traditional serpentine shape and isolates this shape with colored elm leaves found within this environment.  He draws attention to his pictograph residing within the chaos of nature.

Example 1. Andy Goldsworthy, photo.

Daniel Chard organizes his experience of a moving stream into a similar serpentine shape with a conventional horizon (example 2).

Example 2. Daniel Chard silkscreened image based on a painting.

As I wandered across a small woodland stream I placed my camera inches above the water to make the space feel larger and, to allow me to see from an unfamiliar point of view. The stream here is only inches wide (example 3).  My reordering followed the same conventional knowledge as Goldsworthy and Chard.  I also used the serpentine form.  And, like Chard I used a conventional horizon but, placed it higher my composition allowing the dark foreground to consume more of the image area which has the effect of making the distant meadow and sky feel brighter by contrast (example 4). I used organizing principles such as diagonal counterpoint, perspective of diminishing scale, color recession, overlapping, atmospheric occlusion, contoured planes, and common fate.

Example 3. Photo of macro environment.

Example 4. Reorganized macro environment with oil paint on brushed silver dibond aluminum.

To stimulate my impulse for reordering space I took two different photos of leaves in space and combined (layered) them (example 5). The resulting image was more confused than if I had used an image without layering. This new enriched chaos gave me more opportunities for reorganizing. I looked into this visual chaos and found a cruciform pattern with more lateral than vertical motion. The image also presented the lateral area as nearer (larger scale) than the vertical area. The area of intersection was another delectable confusion for me. The resulting painted image appears in sequential steps from example 6 to example 7.

Example 5. Layered (combined) photo of leaves in air.

Example 6. Step one, of oil painting “Suspended in a Breeze.”

Example 7. Step two, of “Suspended in a Breeze,” present state.

I look forward to seeing students of my Tuesday classes tomorrow on March 28th. This is a make-up class for an earlier snow closing.

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Evolution of Rocks and Waves

Early in the 19th Century English artists like Turner, Bonington and Constable focused on the shore, its vicissitudes of weather, its reflective sunlight, its human drama.  By the late 19th century Americans like Winslow Homer had simplified their designs to emphasize brush strokes, exaggerated dramatic forms, motion and contrast. The new emphasis on simplification of design and expressive forms became a cornerstone for early 20th century modernists like Marsden Hartley, John Marin and Walt Kuhn (example 1).

Their legacy of expressive simplicity influenced landscape/seascape painters throughout the approaching 20th century. Walt Kuhn’s example still shows residual effects of earlier Impressionism in 1912.  Impressionist jottings would succumb to the bravura gestures of the modern expressionists. By mid century artists like Fairfield Porter and Rockwell Kent not only simplified their compositions but, stylized them as well (example 2).

Example 1. Walt Kuhn, 1912, at Ogunquit, Maine, oil.

Example 2. Fairfield Porter, 1962, also Maine shore, acrylic.

Other mid century artists like Charles Burchfield merged stylization or mannered patterns with a personal vocabulary of marks. His personal vocabulary was adopted and modified as an intimate painting strategy by later shoreline artists like Brita Holmquist (example 3).

Example 3. Brita Holmquist, also Maine coast, 1989, oil.

I found a different shoreline motif on a walk along Connecticut’s shore on a quiet gray day. A photo of that experience is here in example 4.  Two years later I returned to a set of these colorless photos and decided to reinvest them with vivid color contrast. I used the chromatic contrast of Ultramarine blue vs. bright yellows and oranges. I also horizontally compressed the image into a square in Photoshop.  My first effort borrows the expressive and simplified gesturing of early 20th century modernists.  I used a palette knife to convey a visceral feeling of gesture (example 5). This work was a small experiment, 12×12”. I then stepped up the scale to 24×24 (example 6) to 36×36 (example 7). In scaling up the image I tried recomposing and reversing the image as you see in the examples. I stopped work on the 36×36 to write this blogpost.

Example 4. Original photo.

Example 5. Preliminary palette knife study,12×12.

Example 6.  Later image without a palette knife but, with brushes, fingers, and squeegees.24×24.

Example 7.  the 36×36 image, a reversed composition in its present state.

Using a quieter shoreline theme I found an evening beach with long blue shadows looking out onto a quiet North Atlantic. The angular rocks are gone and replaced with soft contours and languid tidal streams. The vista is looks out to the upper right while the design converges to the upper left (example 8).

Example 8, Soft and quiet shore, oil.

My last example 10, uses an older Claudian composition with a dark wall of rock framing the left side.  Claude and later Turner placed classical architectural forms there overlooking a harbor with a view to a luminous horizon (example 9). Example 10 represents the blocking-in of the image. Example 11 presents the image in its present state. I again rely upon simultaneous color contrasts as well as dramatic scale shifts to gather the viewer’s attention.

Example 9. Turner watercolor of Venice with classical framing wall on the left.

Example 10. Step one, the blocking-in.

Example 11. Step two, Present state of the painting.

 

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Search For Water

Hints require guessing. Guessing is a game and purpose of art. In painting we forever try to find something, some mental anchorage. In the late 19th century we learned to make the guessing the central theme of painting.   The artist invited the beholder on a journey of discovery. The process of discovery usurped the old role of discovering something. Formerly discovery led to an answer.

By the late 19th century artists reveled in camouflaging the object of discovery to the extent that looking and questing took priority over finding something.  This new criteria affected both abstract and representational painters. Here are two examples from late 20th century watercolorists. Each one immersed the beholder in a surfeit of shapes and colors to help them realize a sensation of looking. This experience of looking was still tethered to recognition, but, barely. Their images had more in common with how vision aggregates individual phenomena into a recognizable idea vs. being able to name and identify a subject.

Each of these next two artists selected water as their motif because, water can diffuse information and pull us away from the drive to identify.  We simply settle back to enjoy the cascade of forms, textures, and colors as they present themselves in the cacophonous context of the nature.

Example 1. Bill Nichols, 1982, watercolor, “Log over Bradley Creek”, 19×27.

Example 2. George Harkin, 1983, watercolor, “September Gathering”, 40×60.

What follows are three images which invite you to look at color, shape and texture as you examine these excerpted bits of nature. They are assemblages of shapes and reflectance patterns that invite easy guessing but, follow-up with the question of how does the dense pattern of colored shapes make this sensation possible?

Example 3. First step using decalcomania, “Intimate River.”

Example 4. Second step, further vibrations of shape and color, “Intimate River.”

Example 5 presents another watery surface with another high horizon. The confused areas of paint aggregate to suggest a logical place but, their overlapping arrangement suggests otherwise.

Example 5. “Uncertain Shoreline”, oil on dibond.

Example 6 relies on fragmented shapes aggregated by similarities, shapes and proximity. The quick read is easier here but, after reading the image the beholder is invited to consider how the compiled color shapes were composed and, how that process of composition proceeded. This is because the image is built of small shapes laid side by side not by directly outlining mimicked shapes. This process can be explained by my title, “The Search for Sky in Water among Cattails.”

Example 6.  “The Search for Sky among Cattails”, oil on dibond.

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