Geometry Speaks

Picture a room.  Before you are three walls, a floor and a ceiling.   A window, a mirror or an open door are also present.   Remember, a sky can substitute for the ceiling. These are the bones of multitudes of great paintings.  From Diego Velazquez’s Fable of Arachne and Las Meninas (example 1) to Canaletto’s visions of Venice (example 2), the artist begins by building the space. The space is composed of trapezoids complying with the principles of linear perspective, conceptual mapping or a combination of the two. They frame the theme. They provide the context for discovering a story, a meaning.

Example 1, Velazquez, Las Meninas,

Example 2, Canaletto, St Marks Piazza,

In the 18th century Canaletto and other artists like Piranesi experimented with more complex verisions of the  trapezoidal  space. They called them invenzioni or capricci.  Example 3 presents one of Canaletto’s  inventions.  Notice how he runs counterpoint diagonals (diagrammed in red) to the perspective receding lines (in green).  As in  “Las Meninas” we escape through a light door on the left.

Example 3. Canaletto, Capriccio,

Early European depictions of events like the last supper often resulted in  rooms  which were carefully appointed but,  the space did not credilby recede. Example 4 presents an illustration from Chaucer of a Pilgrims at a table. The table cannot accommodate all the pilgrims so it it tilts and  floats  above the floor and flattens against the picture plane. This conceptual way of mapping information in within the room (space) will be revised by Cubists like George Bracque (example 5).

Example 4.  Illustration from Chaucer,1484,

Example 5. Georges Braque,

Cezanne,Bracque and Picasso inspired others to reconstruct space with multiple points of view and, using  vision and memory as  dynamic experiences. ( see example 6)

Example 6, L. Meidner, Cubist work, 1913,

Quickly, Abstract artists Like Popova and other Russian Constructivists would simplify and reduce  the geometry of the picture plane.  Velazquez’s trapezoidal room was deconstructed and reassembled  with an eye to creating dynamic space, color and form relationships.  The renaissance idea of “story”  that had motivated the construction of the room was expunged by modernists ( example 7).

Example 7, L. Popova, abstract planes and shapes,

The  “story”  returned to the space by the mid 20th century but, artists maintained their interest in recombining and constructing spaces. Artists began to discover visual experiences in photography and paint that naturally reconstructed and defined conceptual space as can be seen in my photo in example 8.  This image is not altered in any way from the way the camera discovered it.

Example 8, Photo of street reflections through barred window,

Twentieth century artists continued to explore he use of the room as Velazquez had done. The 20th century space could still folllow principles of linear perspective, still rely on an emotional narritive just as Vermeer had done but, the arrangement of forms  became more distilled and abstract in feeling. Consider example 9 by Edward Hopper.  See how he still creates credible perspective for a room, a stage just as  Velazquez or Vermeer had done.

Example 9, Edward Hopper,

I diagrammed  “las Meninas” (example 10) ;  notice the  diagonals  using linear perspective.  Also the luminous portals of  mirror, window,  and the door. The other portal or  missing wall is where you, the beholder are standing.  Just as in the Canalettos, the absent wall is an escape for the audience .  It’s felt in every television sitcom  or  stage drama.

Example 10, Las Meninas diagrammed,

Just as so many other artists like John Singer Sargent,   I borrowed  from “Las Meninas” and “The Fable of Arachne”  to construct my New York City street paintings.  In  example 11 you see how I built a glass ceiling over the  Street.  I expanded the sources of  illumination.  Example 12 provides a diagram which correlates to  the classical model.

Example 11, Atrium Glass,

Example 12, Atrium glass diagrammed,

Just as Canaletto toyed with the arrangement of the room so did I in example 13.  Additionally, like Canalettto I introduced diagonal counterpoint to the linear perspective lines of the room.  You can refer back to this in  Example 3.

Example 13, Madison and 57th, current state,

I can apply the  Velazquez/Canaletto’s  space making strategy to landscape if  I depart from the rigid linear perspective  construction of the room and make the space more elastic .  Van Gogh makes a similar discovery as he undulates and curves the rigid geometry of linear perspective to suit  a natural landscape shaped by agriculture and natural topography (example14).  Van Gogh maintains the receding lines converging into the distance  but now, our walls and flooring are biomorphic not architectonic.  By becoming more and more elastic with the principles of linear perspective in building the floor of the space and allowing it to meander into a luminous distance  an artist can still borrow from the tradition but, take greater liberties with rhythm and  distance as see in my examples  15 through 16.

Example 14, Van Gogh, expressive geometry,

Example 15 presents a structured city landscape which I used as a substrate for the image in example 16.   I vertically flipped example 15  before painting example 16 over it. I would harvest parts of the substrate with later deletions in my overlayer.  Example 17’s diagramming demonstrates  how I used the standard  linear perspective to develop a stable floor and also  introduced a serpentine meandering space.  My paint application was deliberately noisy with many competing vertical and horizontal marks and shapes to add to the sense of nature’s commotion.

Example 15, City Landscape as substrate after vertical flip,

Example 16, Shorelines with expressive geometry,

Example 17, Shorelines with geometry diagrammed,

I invite you to join me on for my opening reception at the White Gallery on October 8th, 5-7 PM .  My exhibit, “David Dunlop paints the northwest corner” runs from October 7th through November 26, 2016.  The White Gallery is in Lakeville, Ct. at 342 Main Street,


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Sky Shapes

When Dutch landscape painters designed their skies to unify their compositions they began with geometry.  Using softened arcs, triangles and trailing serpentine forms they built coherent theatrical tableaus.  Earlier in the 16th and 17th centuries El Greco and Venetians like Titian and Giorgione had experimented with distorted and exaggerated sky shapes to inflate the dramatic allure of the work.

My first example is El Greco’s view of his adopted home, Toledo, Spain. Quickly you see how his landscape’s undulating trees and rhythmic buildings conspire with  dancing gothic clouds to build a moving, unified effect. Artists would rediscover El Greco in the mid 19th Century probably through the visit of Manet to Spain.  His expressive exaggerations seem to have influenced Van Gogh with his twisting celestial forms (example 2).

Example 1. El Greco’s View of Toledo,

Example 2. Van Gogh, Starry Night,

After re-examining the arching motions of El Greco’s Toledo I found I could apply his movements to a painting of marsh grasses (examples 3 and 4). Example 3 presents my first step, before the addition of atmospheric glazing above and darker glazes below (seen in example 4).  Notice  I reconstructed a romantic era sky in example 5 and, how my sky borrows the idea of an arching composition.

Example 3. Step one of my “Intimate Assembly” marsh grass.

Example 4 .Step two, after glazing.

Example 5.  My Arching Sky in 19th century French Romantic Tradition,

By 1840 artists like George Michel were modifying the 17th century Dutch model. In example 5 see how he built a dark, serpentine set of connected clouds. Relying on perspective foreshortening as well as back lighting and atmospheric perspective, Michel built a deep and dynamic space (example 5).

Example 6. George Michel in 1840,

I began another sky and field landscape using the slow scooping foreground of Michel’s. I created a pattern of receding fields to augment the feeling of space generated by the sky.   The painting is at a preliminary stage. I hope to show you its evolution later. For now, you can see my first steps in examples 7 and 8.

Example 7, Initial lay-in of color,

Example 8, the painting at present, an interim state.




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Scrambled But Legible

When instructing a plein air class I anticipate where students will have a problem and I think I know why.  They will make rivers and lakes appear to be going uphill. They will iconize trees, rocks and other subjects. Trees will be rounded and smoothed; rocks and clouds will look like rounded potatoes.

They don’t realize that most of our image of reality is constructed within the brain. Six times more of our image of the world is constructed in our brain than comes from our eyes. We mostly build our picture of reality from within.

When we look at a lake we are conscious of a large area of water. Even though our perspective on the lake may reveal only a narrow sliver we still believe we see broader swath of water because we know it is there.  We trust the information from our mapping sense more than from our direct visual senses. This dissonance between mapping and seeing is a principle source of frustration for student artists. They recognize their picture isn’t right but, they can’t correct it because they believe more in the image made by their mapping brains than their biological vision. We map with our brains more than we see with our eyes.

We construct an image of the world by searching for edge information. We find information along edges and not as much from in the areas within the edges. We look along edges and along areas of high contrast where we feel the sensation of an edge.  We fill in information within edges. We fill in information with the brain’s memory and expectation. I borrowed an example (I think I found it in Susan Weinschenk’s 100 THINGS EVERY DESIGNER NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT PEOPLE) which illustrates our dependency on edges as well as our ability to fill in information.  Example 1 provides only the first and last letters of polysyllabic words and scrambles the interior letters. Observe that you are still able to fairly easily read the text.  When the artist realizes this is how we see and, they can rely on the beholder to fill in areas then, the more successful the artist becomes.

Example 1, Scrambled but legible,

Here is an example of a distant battle scene by Velazquez (example 2). Observe   in the distance we think we see a battle. But, when allowed to look closely at the marks between the pikes in a detailed close-up (example 3) we find that Velazquez relied on our ability to fill in the distant information.

Example 2, Velazquez, Surrender at Breda, full image,
aug29,16,Velazquez, surrender at Breda,1634

Example 3, Velazquez, detail from Surrender at Breda.
aug16,29,velazquez, battle at breda, surrender, 1634s, detail

In my final examples I too rely upon the viewer to fill in the information within larger shapes.  In my example 4, you see what appears to be a beach scene. The scene is more legible at a distance when we can easily fill in more information.  Example 5 and 6 present steps one and two of the same image. The first step (example 5) presents a blurry image defined by an arc of darkness in the upper left.  The second step (example 6) presents the image after an application of visual noise within the arc shape. Here we find information within information. Our initial perception is one of contained chaos but, as we look for more edge information within we develop more plausible flora hypotheses.

Example 4. Abstracted beach, Running Hot to Cool.
aug16,29,beaches, running hot and cool, oilon anodized aluminum, 24x48

Example 5, Step one of the Dark Arcs.
aug16,29, meadow curve step one

Example 6, Step two of the Dark Arcs with more visual noise and invitation to fill in.
aug16,29,meadow,curve of wildflowers, oil on anodized aluminum, 24x24

Let me welcome you to a new semester of registration for classes at the Silvermine School of Art, 203 966 6668 ext2.  I hope some of you will join me there. I also can announce my three days of workshops at Jerry’s’ Artaramas at their I will have three different workshops beginning on Friday November 11 through Sunday November13.

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Intervals: Rhyming Patterns

We enjoy seeing complex patterns transform.  Our brains evolved to take interest and pleasure in this process whether we find it in paintings or music or math or architecture.  For example, by 1614 Dutch artists like Jacob Pynas (example 1) built their pictures with such obvious rhyming patterns that they seem heavy handed by current standards.   Let’s return to Pynas’s studio and see how he applied rhyming shapes in sequences that helped build deep space in his landscapes.   Observe how his picture staggers rhyming shapes in receding regular intervals.  Example two’s diagram outlining should help you locate repeating shapes whether they were clouds or trees.  The repeating gumdrop tree clusters were packed rhyming groups along the edges of the rhyming curved hillsides.

Example 1.  Jacob Pynas landscape, 1614.
aug16,15,dutch,1615,jacob symonsz pynas, landscape,

Example 2. Jacob Pynas landscape diagrammed.
aug16,15,dutch,1615,jacob symonsz pynas, landscape,diagrammed,

See how the sequence of tidal pools creates another interlinking chain of rhymes. They diminish in scale and increase in brightness in this painting which I have recently revised adding more luminosity and atmospheric perspective (example 3). I took this same design and stretched it horizontally to find more counterpoint directional opportunities within the image (example 4).

Example 3. Barn Island painting with added luminance and atmosphere.
aug16,15,marsh, barn island labyrinth, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum, 48x48 alt

Example 4. Barn Island painting reconstructed as a horizontal with more bravura brushwork.
aug16,15,marsh, barn island labyrinth and wide horizon, oil on galvanized steel, 36x58

If you were to take Pynas’ painting seen in example 1 and reverse it as if seen in a mirror you would discover similar design motifs to my painting in example 6.  Pynas’ framing, curving dark trees were substituted with talk curving leaves or fronds and, his repetitive curving hillsides were replaced with the stacked crossing curves of long leaves.  Even my central pond sits under a curved form echoing gently repeating arched leaf shapes.  Notice how the painting appeared without its later blue tones and atmospheric overlay in example 5.

Example 5. Step one, my painting with Pynas design reversals.
aug16,15,step one, pond

Example 6. Step two, my painting after adding atmosphere and darkening interstitial spaces.
aug16,15,forest and pondlife, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24

Sequenced rhyming shapes can create space using rectilinear shapes as well as biomorphic shapes. In example 7 observe how Lucas Cranach in 1545 (almost century before Pynas’ painting) uses the trapezoid shape of a pool to extend space. Here the subject is intentionally risqué.  Older women willingly enter a pool which gives them back their youthful form. As they emerge from the pool they join noblemen at banquet and couple-up for libidinous activity in bushes and tents.

Example 7. Lucas Cranach, Pool of Youth, 1545.
aug16,15,cranach, lucas, 1545, pool of yourth and its libindinous results

Like Cranach I used the trapezoid shape to direct you into deep space as you see in example 9.  Example 8 represents my first step, laying in the basic structures with their reliance on flawed rhyming shapes extending into the distance.  In  example 9, step two, notice the added atmosphere, the added layering of more geometric shapes and color.  The foreground received a deepening shadow color of translucent phthalo cyan as well as a series of rhyming geometric shapes running in counterpoint to the shapes beneath them.

Example 8. Step one, “West Side Stories, Multivalence” blocking in the structure.
aug16,15,west side stories, multivalence,step one, oil on anodized aluminum,48x48

Example 9. Step two, after adding glazing, atmosphere, and overlapping patterns.
aug16,15,west side stories, multivalence, oil on anodized aluminum, 48x48

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Above, Below, Forward and Back

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


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Beach Abstraction

While shoreline painting has engaged our imagination as early as Dutch painters of the 1600s, since the 19th century artists have proceeded to aggressively abstract the elements of beach life. Turner and Constable’s shoreline images veered toward abstraction under the guise of painting weather and atmospheric effects. By the age of the Impressionists we find beach life dissolved and smudged to be colorful suggested forms fracturing in the shore’s bright sunlight. And, by the mid twentieth century San Francisco Bay area artists like David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud used beach life as a source for abstract expressionism.

Consider these three examples by Richard Diebenkorn.  Example 1 presents a girl on the beach. Example 2 offers a small quick oil study (only 7”x11”) of beach landscape forms with beach objects, umbrellas. Example 3 presents an example of Diebenkorn’s future direction as he flattens and abstracts the beach landscape.

Example 1. Diebenkorn, girl on beach.
aug16,1,diebenkorn,richard,girl on the beach 1957

Example 2. Diebenkorn, small oil sketch.
aug16,1,diebenkorn, richard, beach with umbrellas, 7x11, 1958

Example 3. Deibenkorn, beach landscape.
aug16,1,diebenkorn,richardseawall,1957,oil on canvas,20x26

Wayne Thiebaud later moved toward a bold “pop” style but, began as more of an expressionist as you see in example 4 with “Beach Boys”. His later work appears as a merger of “pop” with expressionist gestures and innovations on traditional landscape design from China as well as Europe.

Example 4. Theibaud, Beach Boys.
aug16,1,thiebaud,wayne,Beach Boys 1959

In an effort to distill qualities of beach life I borrowed the standard seascape model (outlined and discussed in earlier blog posts) which relies on a strong horizon  riding above a series of soft converging diagonals as you see in examples 5,6,and 7.  Principally, I repeatedly abstracted the elements of beach life with its umbrellas, figures, and beach recliners. I merged them into a rhythmic stream of shapes which receded from a foreground into distance along the horizon. I deliberately impaired legibility through blurring and blending shapes into greater uncertainty as I continued my experiments with beach life abstraction. You may follow this process in examples 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Example 9 represents my bid to suggest the atmospheric dissolution of forms.

Example 5 is an oil sketch on paper which reverses the design of example 6 and strips out much of the color variety. Example 7 uses a design similar to example 5 but has a darkened horizon to build higher contrasts and a more mysterious atmosphere. While example 8 is a more determined effort to undermine overt legibility and enhance a feeling of lateral windswept motion.

Example 5. Oil sketch on paper.
aug16,1, beach sketch on paper

Example 6. Oil on dibond aluminum, 24×48, Sun and Shade.
aug16,1,beach life,Sun and Shade, oil on linen,24x48

Example 7. Oil on dibond aluminum, 24×48, Beach Lounge.
aug16,1,beach lounge, oil on anodized aluminum24x48

Example 8. Oil on dibond aluminum, 12×18, Lateral Motion,
aug16,1,beach life, lateral motion, oil on anodized aluminum,12x18

Example 9. Oil on dibond aluminum,18×18, Beach Atmosphere,
aug16,1,beach atmosphere,24x24


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Design Foundations: The Hourglass

So much ambiguity can be packed into the phrase “hourglass figure”.  This shape proved  useful when unifying elements of a  picture into a single frame. The roots of the hourglass extend at least into the 1300s in Europe but, its use as a foundation design form go much further back to ancient Egypt as seen in the pictograph for twisted flax, the letter  “H”. The hourglass can shape can be found in other related forms like the “X” and “S” shapes.  The X, I, S and O are as old as picture letters come.  Ancient Greeks used the X as the mark of the Khi or Chi . . . . In some renderings one bar of the X is straight while the other is S shaped . The “S” can trace its roots to different Hieroglyphic letter shapes, all snake forms.  I have assembled a set of pictographs in example 1. They include a rectangle known to us as the trapezoid, a form descended from Greek geometers which appears as a foreshortened rectangle when placed within another square. The X and The S may similarly be foreshortened when used  as a unifying device in pictures.

Example 1. Diagrams of ancient and foreshortened shapes.
july16,18,diagramm of hourglass,chi,trapezoid

Here are examples across time and cultures of artists using the hourglass figure in a variety of mutations as a unifying structural device in their work.  Notice how the X shape and curvilinear shape of the hourglass merge in different images. Notice how they are distorted but, still serve their unifying function and observe how they are foreshortened to heighten the sensation of space within the pictures.

Example 2 shows a 15th century (Cima da Conegliano, 1460) example of the foreshortened S or serpentine form which is slightly compounded with the hourglass design. Example 3, painted by Lucas Cranach in 1537 presents an obvious use of the  X/hourglass. Later examples demonstrate the elasticity of the form such as the Ming Dynasty painting by Liu Yuanqi in 1601 (example 4). Chinese artists often relied upon the serpent or dragon shape with its loops to unify an image as well as present a metaphor to the viewer. Observe its shared characteristics with the hieroglyph of the twisted flax.  I have overlayed diagrams using lines of aquamarine or fuchsia superimposed on these images to illustrate their design structure.

Example 1.  Cima da Conegliano 1460 with the diagramming.
july16,18,cima da conegliano,1460

Example 2. Lucas Cranach in 1537 with my diagram.
july16,18,lucas cranach,1537

Example 3.Liu Yuanqi in 1601 with my diagramming.
july16,a8,liu Yuanqi,Ming dynasty,1601

We have long considered the hourglass shape as a flattering form for the human figure both for men and women though today we principally apply the term as flattering for women.  In 1587 Veronese uses framing elements such as a boy’s arm and opposing drapery to give Jesus a more hourglass form. (See example 4).

Example 4. Veronese with my diagram revealing hourglass form.
july16,18,veronese,Jesus ,1587

Using stacked ovals in a loose combination of the serpentine and the hourglass is a painting by John Singer Sargent early from the 20th century.  I did not include my diagramming here so that you might discover the pattern independently. (See example 5). His models are posed in costumes from Sargent’s own collection.

Example 5. John Singer Sargent.
july16,18,john singer sargent, friends in costume,undiagrammed

The following examples are my work in which I applied the hourglass/s/x  design.  These examples are presented with and without superimposed diagrams. The first of these examples are with urban subject matter and therefore, more rectilinear. They offered an opportunity to use the foreshortened effect of the trapezoid shape which is then inverted to give the effect of a foreshortened X (see examples 6 and 7).

Example 6. Mixed media image,36×36, railyard with diagram.
july16,18,mixed media,city rails, 36x36,diagrammed

Example 6a. Image without diagramming.
july16,18,mixed media,city rails, 36x36

Example 7. Oil on PVC panel, 48×48 with diagram.
july16,18,city,Southbound Broadway, oil on pvc,48x48,diagrmammed

Example 7a, image without diagramming.
july16,18,city,Southbound Broadway, oil on pvc,48x48

The final example offers more curvilinear and biomorphic forms. These are closer to the feeling of the hourglass but, with elasticity. Observe the Barn Island image references a foreshortened version of the “twisted flax” hieroglyph.  (See examples 8 and 9)

Example 8, Barn Island, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum, 48×48 with diagram.
july16,18,Shorelines, Departing Tide, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,48x48,diagrammed

Example 8a, image without diagramming.
july16,18,Shorelines, Departing Tide, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,48x48






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Design with Diagonal Counterpoint

Quiet is apparent when it is broken through contrast, whether by cries, squeals, or thunder.  Contrast through counterpoint is a foundation of design from music to gardens to paintings. Visually we attend to arrangements with counterpoint  found in opposing patterns.  Opposing diagonals have long been a part of the painter’s  tool box.  The application of opposing diagonals comports with art historical models or schema.  Artists try variations of standard models just as chefs try variations on recipes. Consider example 1, a painting by the American Impressionist Theodore Robinson in 1890 and then compare its diagonal patterns with those in a contemporary work by Ed Ruscha, example 2.  Ruscha’s work is more abstracted but, the design principles are constant.  Now consider the letter “Sigma” as represented in ancient Phoenician and Greek Ionian alphabets where it looks more like a sharpened capital M turned on its side. This fundamental letter-shape gets reconstituted as an organizing shape for paintings as you see in the following examples.

Example 1. Theodore Robinson painting.

Example 2. Ed Ruscha painting.
july16,11,contemporary,ruscha ed, standard2

You can find this organizing shape throughout art history. Example 3 presents a work by the earlier 19th century romantic painter, Delacroix. His diagonals move  in similar ways to both Robinson’s and Ruscha’s works.

Example 3. Delacroix painting.

In examples 4 and 5 compare the diagrammed paintings of the Ruscha and the Delacroix .  See how Ruscha distills and  inverts  Delacroix’s counterpoint-diagonal model.  Innovative Ruscha placed the eye-level horizon below the picture plane, i.e. below the visible picture.

Example 4. Diagrammed Delacroix.

Example 5. Diagrammed Ruscha.
july16,11,contemporary,ruscha ed, standard

In my two painting examples I present superimposed diagrams to emphasize how the design’s diagonals were arranged. In example 6 I stacked a series of chevron shapes and moved their respective vertices slightly off the centers. Example 7 presents the image without the diagramming.

Example 6. Diagrammed image.
july16,11,audubon near sharon,36x36,2

Example 7. Image without diagram.
july16,11,audubon near sharon,36x36

In example 8 I organize the upper distant section using a hub-and-spoke design which relies upon a common area of convergence for the diagonals. The larger, lower and darker area is united by a soft, arcing triangle directing itself toward the upper section. Example 9 presents this image without diagrams.

Example 7. Diagrammed image.
july16,11,lke of the isles 28x28,2

Example 8. Image without diagram.
july16,11,lke of the isles 28x28


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Berlin Spotting

Reflected images offer possibilities for layered images and building visual metaphors. Walking through Berlin with my family which included three artists, son Max Dunlop, his wife Natalie Kiefer, as well as Rebecca and our infant granddaughter Frida, I discovered serendipitous layered reflected metaphors.

Linear Perspective was first practiced in the Plazas of Italy in the 1400s. Borrowing that subject but layering those principles in Berlin’s plazas in the following examples 1, 2, 3 and 4. Observe how the advancing bull image reverses the motion of the linear perspective in example3.

Example 1. Perspective with Reflections along Unter der Linden,
july16,4,near brandenberg gate, Unter den Linden

Example 2. A bull painting caught amidst reflections,
july16,4,raging bull

Example 3. The reflected layered bull painting inserted into example 1.
july16,4near brandenberg gate1a

Example 4. Perspective with Mixed Diagonals at Potsdam Plaza.
july16,4,potsdam platz3a

Taking an image of Rembrandt’s (example 5) and then layering it with a window reflection image found by looking into an antiquarian shop (example 6) results in example 7.  The reflected arch way performs the same framing function as the original framing arch in Rembrant’s image.

Example 5, Rembrandt, preaching John The Baptist (in the Gemaldegalerie).
july16,4,rembrandt, john Baptist Preaching,1635,canvas on panel

Example 6. Window shop with reflections (Gedamenmarkt).

Example 7. The aggregated image of examples 5 and 6.
july16,4,rembrandt and antiquarian shop window2a

Reflected imagery can wobble on glass as you see in example 8 (Humbolt University platz). Or, I used the contrary directional signals found on a window along Unter der Linden seen in example 9. Max called this an example of my version of the family photo album.

Example 8,  glass wobble tightened within the rectilinear mullions.
july16,4,near brandenberg gate11

Example 9, Family photo shot.
july16,4near brandenberg gate6

The serendiptous nature of strolling through a city like Berlin alllows for jarring or pleasing visual discoveries. Examples 10 and 11 provide evidence of each.

Example 10. Naked Steel, Tattoo parlor window,
july16,4,friederichshain,naked steel

Example 11. Flower garden while approaching Berliner Dome.
july16,4,berliner dome walking to2

If you would like to join me painting and photographing Euro city places then join me in Spain.  We  have just one spot open for the September trip to Spain. For details see the workshop section at


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Deep Space in The Shallows

Moving across a fabric of space offers a different challenge than moving directly into infinite space.

In 1837 artists still took the grand Italian tour to sites designated as artistically worthy.  Most of these sites were in the Roman Compagna.  From Turner to Corot to Degas to Americans like Sanford Gifford and George Inness they all made the artists’ pilgrimage to paint the ancient landscape of Rome.  They borrowed the designs of Claude and Poussin. They also borrowed their palette with its reliance on burnt sienna (an iron oxide).

These artists began with oil sketches on small boards.  Example 1 provides a typical sample. It’s the landscape of Rome (approx. 9”x20”) by Gourlier in 1837. Corot had painted here a decade earlier. Notice the dark threshold curving up along the left to frame the distance. Notice the complementary pale violets and yellows as well as the darkened transparent red oxide. I borrowed from this model when painting the marshlands near Newburyport, Massachusetts. Gourlier’s substrate was canvas while mine is a brushed silver, laminated, enameled aluminum.  I used a similar 1:2 height to width ratio but, my image is larger at 24×48”.  I began with a photograph which I manipulated in Photoshop (example 2).  I reversed the photo, altered the values and colors, and stretched it horizontally to fit my 1:2 ratio.

Example 1. Gourlier of 1837,
june16,13,Paul Dominque Gourlier,1837Aqua Acetosa,9x20 approx

Gourlier’s design pushed the space deeper by using diminishing scale, color and values. Compare the distant forms with the near forms.

Example 2. My initial photograph of the marshlands,
june16,13,step a,plum island initial photo before being reversed

Later in the 19th Century in 1878 Sanford Gifford would adopt the same 1:2 format. His subject, like mine, was shoreline marshes. His palette continued to rely on the same one presented by Gourlier except that Gifford’s was brighter (example 3).  Because I wish to exploit the reflective nature of the brushed silver surface I sacrifice Gifford’s a whiter substrate in favor of faux brushed silver for its mirror-like properties.  Example 4 presents an earlier stage in the painting’s development while example 5 presents the painting in its present state.  I treated the arrangement of mounds of marsh grass as Gourlier had arranged his landmasses and shadows, to build a deep space across a shallow plane.

Example 3. Gifford’s Marshes of the Hudson,
june16,13,Marshes along the Hudson, sanford gifford

Example 4. Step one of my Marshlands,
june16,13,step one,plum island marshlands

Example 5. Step two of my Marshlands.
june16,13,step two,plum island,24x48,oil on brushed silver laminated oil enameled aluminum,

Marsh land space can be expressed along many different lines. As an alternative I used atmospheric perspective or the sudden shift from sharp focused edges to blurred territory which also gives a feeling of depth but, without arranging a plane of receding shapes. For example consider my painting in example 6. Here there is no burnt sienna, no vast horizontal plane just an abbreviated one in front and, no arrangement of shapes diminishing in scale toward the horizon.  Here the grasses are arranged vertically as opposed to the earlier examples’ horizontal bundles. And yet, we can still feel space across the shallows and in the misty distance.

Example 6,   Marsh, Mist, and Meadow, oil on canvas,
june16,13,marsh,meadow,mist, oil on canvas,46x48

I want to invite you to visit the last week of my exhibition at Susan Powell Fine Art, 679 Boston Post Road in Madison, Connecticut; tel 203 318 0616.

I also extend my invitation to you to my workshop in Sun Valley, Idaho at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.  This workshop begins next Monday June 19th. See my website’s: classes and workshops for description and contact information.

Finally, I extend an invitation to you to register beginning this Wednesday for my Summer Tuesday painting classes at the Silvermine Center for the Arts in New Canaan, Connecticut.   Tuesday mornings I will teach plein air painting in a variety of convenient shaded locations and, later on Tuesday afternoons I teach my Investigations into Landscape Painting indoors in Silvermine’s studio.  If interested please contact the Silvermine School of Art at 203 966 6668 ext. 12.

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