Above, Below, Forward and Back

posted in: Painting | 3

Making a painting in Renaissance Italy or Spain required merging theology with the artist’s vision. Enlightened artists like Da Vinci or El Greco tried to merge their observations of nature, their inclination to experiment, and their innovative designs and with their client’s concerns and theological requirements of the church.  Their observations and innovations still inform artists’ efforts today.

Working in Verrocchio’s studio Da Vinci experimented with more natural landscapes laying behind the painting’s  religious subject as well as, other observed natural phenomena like the subdued appearance of objects submerged in water . In example one, you see a product from Verrocchio’s workshop in which Da Vinci naturalized the distant landscape effects.  Notice that we have a strong feeling of what’s above and below the water as well as what’s in the foreground (the theme) what’s in the background (the great feeling of natural distance).  A century later, working in Toledo, Spain, El Greco designs paintings with a sense of what’s up and down as well as evoking a feeling for an infinite distance behind a vivid figurative foreground.  With El Greco we experience a dynamic “above, below, forward and back”.   In Example 2, The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception from 1610, notice in the background the city of Toledo as observed by El Greco.  See how he creates a feeling of deep and credible contemporary space behind the historic figures ascending to the light.

Example 1.  Baptism of Jesus by John from Verrocchio’s workshop,
aug16,8, baptism of Jesus by John,Verrochio&Leonardoscan0001

Example  2, El Greco’s Virgin,
aug16,8,el greco, virgin of the immaculate conception,1610

Relying on El Greco’s ascending serpentine designs orchestrated with turning figures and, the translucence found in the Verrocchio workshop painting, I created a series of paintings which give the viewer a feeling of “above, below, forward and back.”   My objects swim across their surface in patterns reminiscent of El Greco’s figurative arrangements.  My borrowing is not unusual here. Cezanne and Picasso both credited El Greco with building unified flowing figurative patterns and both borrowed from his work.

Here is the design process and how it evokes sensations of above and below a surface while simultaneously moving from front to back.  I begin with step 1 (example 3) of my painting “Crossing Reflections”.    In example 4 you see this image has been over-painted and then rediscovered in parts.  In example 5 you see I have added subtle submerged material which amplifies the feeling of above and below the surface.   I also designed a stronger   turning set of movements toward the upper distance.  You may wish to refer back to the submerged rocks in the Verrocchio workshop painting.

Example 3. Step one of “Crossing Reflections”,
aug16,8,step 1,crossing reflections, oil on aluminum,36x36

Example  4. Step two of “Crossing Reflections”,
aug16,8,step2a,crossing reflections without submerged

Example  5. Step three of “Crossing Reflections “with submerged rocks.
aug16,8,step 3,Crossing Reflections,oil on aluminum,36x36

In examples 6 and 7 of the painting “Shallow Stream” notice in step one we don’t experience as much distance as when the image is overpainted in step 2.  Step two also presents objects subtly and slightly below the surface.  Again, I employ a serpentine design movement crisscrossing the surface toward a luminous distance. Recall El Greco’s ascent toward a territory of glowing light.

Example 6. Step one of “Shallow Stream”,
aug16,8,step 1, shallow stream, oil on aluminum,36x36

Example 7.Step two of “Shallow Stream”,
aug16,8,stpe two,shallow stream,oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

The final examples begin with an older 36×48” painting on anodized aluminum. This image also wrestled with motion and submerged translucence.  Step one (example 8) presents the original image before being over-painted .   Example 9 presents the second step.  Here the original image has been covered then parts are rediscovered to help construct a new image.  Example 10 presents the third step.  Here the image has another layer of objects placed beneath the surface to reinforce the feeling of water as well as a sensation of above and below.  The entire surface design meanders back toward a more luminous horizon.

Example 8. Step one, original image.
aug16,8,step1,wandering reflections,36x48 oil onanodized aluminum

Example 9. Step two, after over-painting and rediscovery,
aug16,8,wandering reflections a

Example 10. Step three, after addition of submerged matter.
aug16,8,wandering reflections b


3 Responses

  1. I love ex. 5 and 7 especially. Great art, David.

  2. A beautifully progressed sequence. Much appreciated.

  3. I especially love example 10. The leaves look as if they’re submerged at least a foot below the surface! Beautiful work.

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