Pattern Makers: Building The Maze

Whether a spider’s web or the striated rhythms in the bark on a tree, we find and satiate ourselves with patterns in nature. We replicate them, we deconstruct them,  and we discover them in our works from rugs and blankets to jewelry and ceramics to paintings. The wonder of painting can be found in how we discover patterns within patterns like diving into a 3 way mirror.  Even our gestures and materials suggest new patterns.

In art we discover how intended patterns reveal suggestive accidental patterns, how positive shapes reveal negative shapes. In the early 1600s artists of the Mughal empire plotted out their small works making flattened shapes of flora and fauna They allowed the negative adjacent space to create rhythmic designs echoing the intended shapes of the  flora and fauna. The image ran from symbolic content to  decorative surface.

Example 1 provides an example. Notice the negative shapes and their rhyming with the positive shapes. Notice that animals and flora share postures and scale sizes as well as the negative shapes. The image is a flattened map of interweaving forms which flips in our brain to become a dance of animals, flora and interlocking forms.

example 1.nov14,24,mughal painting, early 1600s_edited-1

While painting I realize how indebted I am to the decorative schema of the Mughal artists, or  the decorations on the sides of ancient craters or Native American ceramic patterns.  In making a painting If find this intertwining of  vegetable forms with rhythmic abstract patterns can be coaxed into an illusion which refers back to the multicultural history of decorative patterns. I find the  chaotic patterns of interlaced flora in a meadow offers an opportunity for beginning a painting with patterns. Here is  a subject which has one foot in illusionism and one in flat patterns. Example 2 presents a photograph of a November meadow alongside my initial painting.  The painting aims at  building both patterns and ambiguous information.  Example 3 presents the painting after further development. Example 4 is another version of the same image but, stretched into a vertical  (oil on paper). This was a demonstration piece from the Art of the Carolinas this month.

example 2. photo and first painting.nov14,24,step one with photo

example 3. more developed version.nov14,24 step two18x18, november meadow

example 4. vertical study of the same.nov14,24,demo at AOC, oil on paper november meadow

The image  still wanted greater design simplicity, more motion (vitality), and a more singularly coherent design. I began again in oil on anodized aluminum, 24×24.  The sensation of leaves attracted toward the ground plane with a vertical sense of motion served as motivation. Example 5. presents the first step before  greater edge clarification and then later edge obfuscation as seen in example 6.

example 5. step onenov14,24,step one abstracting november,24x24

example 6. step twonov14,24,step two, abstracting november,24x24

Each version offers its own different set of negative/positive relationships. Blurring them was my strategy to unify the surface.

In the next sequence I begin with a recent painting that has failed to stir me, an oil on brushed gold anodized aluminum 48×48, example 7.   Example 8 presents the next step (step one) which was to cover and reveal parts of example 7 as I superimposed another natural patterned image.  Example 9 presents step two. It’s as far as I gone to date ( as of today).  My process is to blur and reveal, then repeat. I find rhyming flora shapes in the interstitial spaces as well as the definitive spaces (leaf shapes).  Even the larger light area above is meant as a mirrored counterpoint to the darker blue area below. Macro and micro shapes  look for correlates in negative and positive shapes.

example 7.I begin with this painting.nov14,24,water, Translucent Sunlight, oil on anodized brushed gold aluminum,48x48_edited-4

example 8.step two, covering the old and revealing parts.nov14,24,water, step two,48x48

example 9. image to date:nov14,24,water, step three,48x48

Finally, I noticed the Mughal painting relied on curves and circular forms to carry a harmonic rhythm through the painting. When I tried to find a similar circular set of rhythms I found I was  brought back to trying another  water circle painting but now with a greater awareness of the Mughal precedent.  For me this meant I would try to have layers of interlocking shapes, some with broken horizontal intentions and some with  broken circular intentions.

example 10. Water Circles Abstracted.nov14,24,water circles and sunlightIV,oil on anodized brushed gold aluminum,30x30_edited-2


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The Point of View

After seeing Brunelleschi’s perspective demonstration inside the Duomo of Florence with a mirror and a painting, Alberti was hooked.  Florentines in the early 1400s celebrated Brunelleschi’s perspective illusion. He made paintings into accurate echoes of reality and they were dazzled. He won the coveted contract to build the dome for Florence’s Duomo.  Artists had a new tool and they would learn to use it or retire.

Alberti was first to publish the step-by-step process of creating a linear perspective illusion. You can find it in his book “On Painting”(Della Pittura) from 1436. He began as any urban Renaissance Italian would, with the piazza, that broad swath of pavement marking the center of town.  Life in the piazza defined Italian culture. At last artists had a mathematical system for making illusory space, for making the piazza look real.

I will show you Alberti’s system in examples 1 through 3.  First imagine you are looking through an imaginary window or at a mirror in a frame that is reflecting the image of a piazza. Rays of light  bounce off the mirror into your eyes in straight lines just as they would bounce off  the area out your window (example 1). Mirrors were a revered tool of artists. Note that you have selected only a few rays and  you have spaced them evenly along the bottom of the picture plane (mirror, window). In example 2 we connect the points along the bottom of the picture plane to a central vanishing point, the center of our focus.  In example 3 we draw parallel lines from where the green light rays intersect the side of the picture plane. We have just made the pavement of the piazza recede in space. If you turn the image sideways you can see where to place receding columns or windows or doors.

example 1. Light Rays evenly spaced.
nov14,10,step1,perspective pavement

example 2. Converging lines to the central vanishing point.
nov14,10,step2, perspective pavement

example 3. Making the Piazza appear to recede.
nov14,10,step3 perspective pavement

In the 1400s this system was scrupulously applied. Example 4 by Pinturicchio demonstrates how Alberti’s piazza grid made a persuasive illusion.  Later da Vinci would expose its limitations and develop additional perspective systems including atmospheric perspective, foveal perspective, curvilinear perspective and color perspective.

example 4. Pinturicchio from 1490s.
nov14,10,Pinturicchio,late 1400s,alt_edited-1

In my examples I applied Alberti’s piazza perspective system to a street scene with an exceptionally low point of view. The camera was placed an inch above the wet street.  Max Dunlop provided this unique point of view and I provided the painted interpretation you see in my step-by-step examples. Step one, (example 5) presents the paint (ultramarine blue and iron oxide) brushed and squeegeed over  silver anodized aluminum. Example 6 demonstrates when you rotate the image you can see the perspective system continues to create illusory space with the same principles. Example 7 presents a more enhanced version with color, a greater variety of marks, an application of color recession and an application atmospheric recession to build a stronger spatial illusion.

example 5. Step one.
Nov14,10,lowview,step a1, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum24x24_edited-1

example 6.Step one rotated.
Nov14,10,lowview,step 1, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum24x24

example 7.Step 2 with color.

Alberti’s perspective system works with natural scenes too.  Example 9 demonstrates  zigzagging foam shapes moving back toward a common vanishing point on the sight line. Note the receding cresting waves get closer together as they approach the horizon.  Example 8 presents the first step in which a unified atmosphere is laid down with a dark foreground.

example 8. step one.
nov14,10,ocean skies,step1

example 9. Wave and sea foam recession.

nov14,10,ocean skies,step2

Finally, I return to the streets of Florence. In example 10 observe how the figure’s shadows assume the role of receding lines to the common vanishing point which is also the central light source. This image was painted on brushed gold anodized aluminum, which is revealed in the example.

Example 10.
nov14,10,Florence streets

Here’s my final appeal for my  “Paint the City with New Techniques and Materials” workshop at Art of the Carolinas this Sunday November 16th,2014 (  or  800 827 8478 ext 156).  Friday I will be demonstrating at the Charvin display on the main floor.  Stop by and say hello.

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Perspective With A Twist

Leaves, fronds, and stems like to twist, twirl and bend toward us, away from us, and with us. That can be a problem when designing a painting because our brain usually conceives ( ideates objects) from the side view not, the foreshortened view. We are either stumped or try to awkwardly fit our all conceptual information about a leaf, a hand, a fold of drapery, a corner of a building into a foreshortened view and the information won’t plausibly fit. There’s too much of it. Here are keys to diagramming foreshortened flora.

First, here is an example (oil on anodized white aluminum 24×24) using foreshortening with drawing, with color, and with scale ( proportional size reduction over distance ), and with overlapping forms. My first example shows you how I initially draw into the paint with my finger, a rag and a squeegee. It’s one method in which I can play with the subject (example 1).  Example 2 represents the second step with the image.  Example 3 diagrams how you can foreshorten leaves and fronds.

1. step one.nov14,3,step one

2. step two.nov14,3,step two forest, randalls october meadow,24x24_edited-1

3. diagrams of foreshortening process.nov14,3,flora foreshortening diagrams

Using schematic diagrams can help visualize foreshortened views. In the diagram above I begin with #1 a vertical frond then show you how to diagram (#2) a twist or twirl to the frond. You can do this by turning your brush or squeegee as you move across the paint. 3# demonstrates how to achieve foreshortening. I indicate the underside with a gray broken line.  #6 shows more bending and double twirling.  #8 demonstrates backward or reversed foreshortening and  #9 presents twirling and lipping which reveals the underside as it blocks a view of the top side of the frond.  Below them I demonstrate a progression of  foreshortening with a diagrammed leaf. The last image  shows a simultaneous foreshortened top and underside view of the leaf.

Next, consider two point perspective. The first example is my driveway toward sunset. the  shadows stretch far across the lane (example 4). I have diagrammed in red the shadows as they converge toward their solar light source, vanishing point “right”.  The blue-green orthogonals recede and converge toward the other vanishing point, “left”.  Parallel lines converge to the same vanishing point.  In example 5 you see a horizontally squeezed view of the corner of Macy’s at Herald Square in Manhattan. Here the diagrammed the orthogonals  converge again to opposite vanishing points. The right flank of Macy’s  converges right  and the left flank converges left as indicated by the red linear arrows.  Both vanishing points are on the eye level or sight line as I held the camera to my eye while snapping the shot.

4. diagram of 2 point perspective, drivewaynov14,343 cedar november1_edited-2

5.diagram 0f 2 point perspective overlay of Macy’snov14,3,Macys at halloween_edited-3

J.M.W.Turner held the chair for Perspective for the Royal Academy in London in the first half of the 19th century.  He used many forms for suggesting space in painting. In this evocative atmospheric perspective example, a painting about to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York,  Turner uses obscuring semi-opaque glazes as well as linear perspective to develop a feeling of deep space. His motif here is Florence, Italy.  We look down upon the river and the city.  To insure the river which churns with bright sunlit mist lays flat  Turner moves a bridge across a critical point in the river. This crossbar of a triple arched bridge helps to hold the river down into the landscape and prevents  us from feeling that the river is going uphill. He also uses linear perspective in the form of the long white building on the left.  The roof line and foundation line converge slightly below the horizon in another subtle manipulation to keep the river in its level bed, to aim the viewer not only back but into the painting. Turner accelerates the compression of the window spacing in the building. He constructed  it using the same two point perspective I demonstrated in example 4 above ( the Macy’s shot).  Turner also uses graduated semi-opaque layered glazes to build atmospheric distance; this is a topic I will save for later (example 5. full image, example 6. detail).  Contact Sotheby’s if you wish to put a bid on this painting. Have lots of available credit.

5. Turner, full image.nov14,3,turner at sothebys_edited-3

6. Turner detail with closeup view of bridge.nov14,3,turner at sothebys detail1_edited-1

Here is my last chance to invite you to my skies workshop on Saturday November 8, 2014 at Silvermine School of Art at 203 966 6668 ext2. I still have another week to remind you about my Sunday workshop on Cityscapes at  Art of the Carolinas on November 16, 2014 in Raliegh-Durham, N.C. 800-827-8478 ext 156.


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River Fast, Mountain High

Hiking with painting gear, easels, boards, and supplies challenges muscles and bones.  The subject must be promising to encourage painters to take to the trail.  And the trail needs to be short.  New Hampshire’s White Mountains offer  plein air painters opportunities from precipitous rocky cliffs, broad reflective lakes, looming mountains, to intimate streams. This September I held a workshop in those mountains. I was lucky. My artists took risks with their tools and motifs.  Here are  examples of their adventures in paint.

I begin a workshop day with a demonstration and consideration of how  artists have historically approached the subject. I encourage simplification of design, distillation of an idea, experimentation with materials and paint-handling, personal expression and references to art history whether from long ago  or contemporary works.  My first example at Crawford Notch references the stone textures and waterfall  imagery of Courbet but, without a palette knife. My first workshop artist, (example 2 by Debbie Goodman) reacts to the same motif but, she uses a palette knife. Cindi Mullins (example 3) also approaches the rocks and falls but, from a more intimate perspective. Her oil paint is thin and wet which gives a luminance and texture suggestive of a monotype. This study of Cindi’s represents only her first step in the process.

1. my quick oil demo:oct14,27 crawford flume, oil on paper_edited-1

2. Deborah Goodman’s palette knife study:oct 14,27,debbie, palette knife oil_edited-1

3. Cindi Mullins’ initial close-up in oil:cindi,flume cascade,crawford notch,oil

My second example is a watercolor of the basin in Franconia Notch State Park. The watercolor has layered glazes of color, scratching out and opaque notes ( example 4). While wandering with our gear and cameras down the basin trail the artists fanned out finding secluded vignettes. Janine Robertson invoked the spirit of 19th century Hudson River artists with both her composition and palette. She pushed their coloring to more dramatic levels. I begin with photo of one of her views down the stream so that you may appreciate how much re-interpretation Janine applies to her painting. She re-makes the location as her own (example 5 is photo, example 6 painting on easel).

4. my quick watercolor demo:oct27,14 franconia notch,basin , watercolor_edited-2

5.Janine’s location photo:janine,basin site_edited-1

6.Janine Robertson’s vision in paint:janine robertson in basin, oil on anodized aluminum_edited-1

Following up the stream I found Debra McClave and Kathryn Poch. Here are two artists employing expressive gestures, a clean and deliberate feeling for abstraction through reduction, solid designs, and expressive color. Here is Debra’s painting on the easel with her palette mounted in front and her motif in the distance on the upper right (example 7).  Kathryn Poch paints nearby. She has two slightly altered views of the same humble falls.  Her distilled expressions, like Debra’s, are packed with energy and motion which is amplified by the strong and uninhibited strokes. Kathryn uses both brushes and squeegees to create a generous feeling  of a moving cascade. She titles example 8 “Fast and Furious” suggesting  her emotive ambitions (examples 8 and 9 by K.Poch). These works are 12×12 on white anodized aluminum.

7.Debra McClave, painting, easel and motif:debra falls_edited-1

8.Kathryn Poch, Fast and Furious:oct14,27, kathryn poch,FastandFurious,oil

9. Kathryn Poch, Mountain Flume:oct14,27, kathryn poch,mountain flume, oil 12x12

Another artist, Bob Lenz, found a note of private mystery and subtle stillness along the stream as he worked in oil on example 10.  He uses rich red browns to complement blue greens.

example 10. Bob Lenz:bob lenz painting_edited-1

Debra McClave begins (usually advisable for all artists) with a drawn sketch to help her construct an arresting design.  Example 11 shows Debra looking onto Ammonoosuc Falls, her motif. Example 12 presents her sketch alongside her painting.

11.Debra McClave’s motif:debra falls, ammonoosuc_edited-1

12. Debra McClave sketch and oil painting.debra falls, ammonoosuc oil and sketch

12a.a closer view of Debra’s oil:debra falls, ammonoosuc oil_edited-1

Painting and hiking can take a toll. Artists require rest and meditation between bursts of creative effort.   The darkened pool and dramatically lit forest have just inspired a flurry of photographs by these artists now invoking another visit by the muse of the mountains (example 13).

13.Invoking the Muse. group shot

The artists in this blogpost represent only a few of the extraordinary artists with me in New Hampshire. They have kindly sent me images for this posting. If I can persuade others then, you will see more.

I  again invite you to my one-day  “Painting Skies” workshop on November 8, 2014 at Silvermine School of Art ( or call 203 966 6668) and, to invite you to attend my one day Paint-the-city workshop on November 16 at Jerry’s Art of the Carolinas ( contact:  or call 800 827 8478 ext 156).


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Come Away From The Window

In the 1436 Alberti described how linear perspective could turn paintings into views out a window. Within a hundred years the novelty of  persuasive linear perspective in developing deep space became insufficient for artists.  Da Vinci observed atmospheric perspective, curvilinear perspective, diminishing edge acuity over distance, color perspective, the effects of blurred edges which gave the viewer a truer feeling of  volume  to objects. He was not alone.  Later artists like Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, and Peter Paul Rubens all wanted a more dynamic feeling of space than a linear perspective arrangement of space out a window.

But the window was not a concept to be pitched away. These artists continued to include it in their work but, they wanted more.  They had seen the bas relief sculptures on Roman sarcophagi and on Trajan’s Column. Those figures moved forward toward the viewer while the space behind retreated. They had seen Ghiberti’s baptistry doors in Florence from 1425 (example 1). They saw how his bronze panels created space that receded in the distance with linear perspective and also, how he created figures that moved  toward the viewer like the Roman relief sculptures. You see how they even extend beyond their frame.  Artists wanted to do this in paint.

example 1. Ghiberti’s Door Panel.oct14,20,ghiberti, domenichino, 1425, east baptistry doors, florence_edited-2

Carracci paints the “Penitent Magdalen In The Landscape” on copper in 1598 (example 2). He preserves the idea of distant space framed by trees (the window) and then he places the dubiously penitent Magdalen almost in our laps.  Rubens will do the same with his 1606 painting of St. Gregory on the steps. Behind Gregory and crew is an arched window with a distant landscape. Notice that Gregory’s hand is severely foreshortened as it reaches out of the picture and comes toward the viewer as do the heel and  elbow of the armored figure ascending the steps (example 3).

example 2. Carracci’s Magdalen.oct14,20,carracci, annibale, 1598, penitent magdalen_edited-1

example 3. Rubens’s St. Gregory.oct14,20,rubens,1606

I too have been thinking about the separation of distant space in a picture from  forward space,  the space that comes to the viewer. I thought about the forward space sliding under the viewer’s feet. My first example is a collaborative work with the artist Max Dunlop. The geometry, contrasting colors and contrasting values all collude to both push space  back toward the light and thrust space forward. Observe the color shift from forward cool blues toward  receding reds, oranges and yellow whites.  This inverse of recessive color theory helps push the two areas apart (example 4).

example 4. Collaborative painting.oct14,20,max and davidcollaboration, City Light, oil on aluminum,48x48_edited-1

The next example progresses through three steps.  After laying in basic transparent colors in front and opaque lights in back (example 5,step 1) I continue to explore how to make the space stretch backward and forward with brushwork and a squeegee.  I construct a matrix of over-lapping receding and advancing shapes (example 6, step 2).  In example 7, step 3, I borrow the atmospheric perspective tools of Da Vinci and, I use the obfuscating properties of reflection to layer and develop the  space in the foreground.  I place larger, sharper  edges on objects in the foreground and then again in the distant background. They are separated by a  blurred transitional middle ground. This is an  unorthodox solution. Usually edge acuity diminishes over distance.  In this way I have created two semi-autonomous areas, near and far.

example 5. step 1.oct14,20,step1, autumn in devils den

example 6. step 2.oct14,20,step2,autumn in devils den

example 7. step 3.oct14,20,step3,water,autumn in devils  den, oi on brushed silver anodized aluminum,30x30_edited-1

My last example (example 8) begins with a bright opaque distance that is clearly separate from the more color saturated, textured, enumerated and reflective foreground.  In the language of photographers, “The background has been deliberately blown out”.  There is opaque brightness  in the distance and intimate, proximate, translucence in the foreground.

example 8. Transparent Autumn, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,48×48.oct14,20,transparent autumn,oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,48x48

Again, I want to invite you to Jerry’s Artarama’s Art of The Carolinas where I am teaching two workshops, one on Saturday, November 15 on new materials and one on Sunday, November 16 on painting city scapes. Contact Jerry’s 800-827-8478 ext 156 or, I  also have a Painting Skies one day workshop at the Silvermine Art Center in New Canaan, Ct. on Saturday November 8. For the skies workshop call 203 966 6668 ext 2.


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Perspective Like A Rubber Band

In any single glance lots of photons touch our eyes but our brain makes sense out of only  relatively few of them. How we make sense; how we make our guesses is the question for artists. Tools like linear perspective  give us a way to suggest believable or sensible space.  Because we believe in the effects linear perspective we can distort those effects and sustain our viewer’s willingness to make guesses.  Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn are two artists who stretched the credibility of linear perspective and  stretched believable space in painting.

Today Photoshop and camera technology allow us to elasticize forms and principles like linear perspective ever further as we continue to stretch our ability to find new definitions for painting, particularly landscape painting. Because artists like Diebenkorn and Thiebaud were so conversant with the vocabulary of linear perspective they were able to enjoy its manipulation. My first example is from 1959 by Richard Diebenkorn. He has take color exaggeration, spacial simplification, and perspective foreshortening to greater abstract lengths than others. He is still following a tradition of exaggeration and distortion. We can see this in Van Gogh’s landscapes. 25 years later Wayne Thiebaud continues mutating linear perspective and foreshortening as you see in example 2.

example 1. Diebenkorn’s.
oct,14,18,diebenkorn,richard,1959 landscape_edited-1

example 2. Thiebaud’s.

I take their examples and try exaggerating first through photography then paint. I visited a saltwater marshland in Connecticut,  Barn Island.  I returned to my computer and began to overlay and stack  imagery I found there to see if new ideas might emerge. I  recognized the parallels to Thiebaud and Diebenkorn.  Examples 1, 2 and 3 present the initial photographs. Example 4 presents the stacked and layered combination of some of those photographs. This combined image is confusing but generative of new ideas.

example 3. undistorted marshland photo before horizontal compression.
oct14,18,barn island5_edited-2

example 4. marshland photo 2.
oct14,18,barn island1_edited-4

example 5. marshland photo 3
.oct14,18,barn island4a_edited-1

Example  6. stacked merger of two photos.
oct14,18,barn island11_edited-2

Next I have three examples of how I began to merge the photographic ideas with paintings. In each example I added the distant tidal pools from example 5 to the top of a foreground of examples 1 and 2. (resulting in examples 7 and 8). Our brain’s penchant for uniting and explaining disparate visions allows us to see  elastic but, imaginatively plausible pictures. Diebenkorn’s and Thiebaud’s precedents have expanded our sense of plausibility for exaggerated for paintings.

example 7. marshland painting1.
oct14,18,barn island marshland2

example 8. marshland painting 2.
oct14,18,barn islandmarxhland1, oil on aluminum18x18

Finally, elasticity in my interpretation of the marshland continues in both paint and photoshop. Example 9 presents the same photo information but, seriously reconfigured and mutated courtesy of Photoshop. This completely abstracted example again offers new potentialities for painting which I intend to persue.

example 9. Further abstraction of marshland.
oct14,18,abstracting barn island, photo

Again, let me extend my invitation to you to come to my next lecture at the Silvermine Art Center in New Canaan, Connecticut at 4:30 PM on Sunday Oct 19, 2014. Go to or call 203 966 6668 ext 2 for more information.

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Inside Out

Since Ancient Antiquity artists have used the window as a device to frame, deepen, and design their pictures. The window constrains our view. We don’t scan; we only take in the single point perspective of a the window’s small vista. This is how painting windows began. They were a small porthole onto a larger space. They presented the idea of  limitless external space vs. the confined space of the interior room.  The window took the form of the Roman arch as well as squares and triangles. Da Vinci recognized the value of a window as you see here in his Madonna with a carnation (example 1). The Windows are where we relax our attention and imagine the world beyond.  Later the window would eventually take over the picture.

example 1. Da Vinci’s Madonna with Carnation sept14,6,da vinci, carnation madonna 1490_edited-1

Countless artists experimented with the role of the window. It  framed the sitter in portraits and promised adventure, harvest, serenity, abundance, religious experience, and it demonstrated authority and  property ownership. Turner explored other forms of the window. He used Porticos, Colonnades, and ruins as framing windows for his divided worlds of inside/outside. In example 2 is a watercolor sketch in which Turner uses an arch in Venice as a window onto a sunlit external world.  In the mid 20th century Diebenkorn was thoroughly aware of the window theme. He had admired Cezanne’s, Picasso’s, Braque’s, Bonnard’s and Matisse’s window paintings. Like his mentors his windows followed the format of modern residential  architecture of a square vs. an arch (example 3).

example 2. Turner’s watercolor sept14,6,turner, venice,view from atrium on the piazza, wc, brown paper, 1833_edited-2

example 3. Diebenkorn’s Window sept14,6,Diebenkorn,Window,1967_edited-4

You can use the framing power of the window and infer a window structure in  a landscape. In example 4   I used the arched window form  but, subtly. Trees act as a framing archway creating a window within the window of the picture.

example 4. Landscape with arch window insinuated sept14,6,stonebridge October Light, oil on aluminum,18x18_edited-1

Windows were historically set deep within the picture as a square of  light surrounded by a larger dark square (the traditional interior) .  In example 5 I have a Times Square painting with a series of squares within squares (see upper left quadrant of  the painting).

example 5. Times Square, oil sept14,6,city, Crossing Sunlight, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

Continuing with the modernist move toward reduction and abstraction, I began work on two window images. These examples represent early stages for these works. I aim to sustain the idea of  a squared window.  I also aim to show the interconnection between interior and exterior as  more fluid and blurred  as I  blend  inside and outside space  ( examples 6 and 7).

example 6, living room window sept14,6, living room window, oil

example 7. porch window sept14,6,October window, oil

I invite you to join me for my lecture on “Art and Science” at 4:30 PM on Sunday, October 19, 2014 , $12. at the Silvermine Art Center in New Canaan, Ct. Contact 203 966 6668 ext 2 or for more information. I also invite you to join me in November 15th and 16th for two different workshops at  Art of The Carolinas in Raleigh Durham, N.C.   First is  “the New Merger, Painting and Photo Collage” and second  is ” Paint the City with new Techniques and Materials”. Register for the workshops at or call 800 827 8478 ext 156.


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Romantic Notes Part II

Romanticism revealed its true colors when it was most operatic. Painters enjoyed turning even their small works into operatic stage sets. The German poet Schiller had written a poem about a solitary walk in nature. Friedrich used this theme to give us an emblematic romantic painting (example 1). Delacroix would borrow the compositional form of Friedrich’s stacked triangles in his later works.  Delacroix’s difference was in his coloring and gestures (example 2).  Friedrich pursued Romantic narrative themes but, Delacroix  added liberated color and gesture for his generation.  His notes on color and gesture would later incubate Impressionism.

When my collaborating partner Max Dunlop and I worked on a recent series we began  with an Alpine image reminiscent of Friedrich’s Alpine painting.  Max and His Munich raised wife, Natalie,(also a painter) had hiked through Austria’s Alps discovering roots of Romanticism with their cameras. Max and I exaggerated the verticality of the trees, the road and the mountains. Our foreground would work like Delacroix’s with a sharper focus than the blurred background (example 3).

example 1. Caspar David Friedrich sept14,29,caspar david friedrich, shillers poetic inspiration, the walk

example 2. Eugene Delacroix sept14,29,delacroix, eugene

example 3. Collaborative painting by Max and David sept14,29collaboration,max and david dunlop,Austrian Alps

I continued to pursue the theme of  the romantic mountain with a misty distance borrowing images from photos  along Ireland’s Ring of Kerry. Again, You can see how I  used the triangular rock/mountain forms and set them against a misty distance. The sharper the foreground the greater the feeling of contrast  and space against the blurred distance. See examples 4 and 5. Both are painted in oil on brushed gold anodized aluminum. Each  are 24×24″.

example 4. Atlantic Mist painting 1sept14,29,atlantic mystery 2

example 5. Atlantic Mist painting 2 sept14,29,atlantic mystery 1, oil on brushed gold anodized aluminum,24x24

At the time, Delacroix had begun to uniquely exaggerate complementary color effects because, he had read and interviewed Michel Chevreul on his seminal work on simultaneous and successive contrast which had been published in France in 1839.  He made his own observations on these  contrast principles while painting in North Africa (Tangiers).  When his color ideas were coupled to his bravura gestures the effect confounded French Academicians. They were shocked by this new freedom.

In consideration of autumn, I recently wandered through meadows snapping patches  and fields of wild flora. Returning to my studio I considered the stacked triangle compositions of Friedrich and Delacroix. I also considered the loose and free gestures of Delacroix as well as his complementary color effects.  I began to build a painting with three horizontal bands, each rising in a soft triangle ( example 6). I next superimposed patches of brighter color (white and blue-lavender). Their aggregated shapes also assumed a soft, rising triangular form ( example 7).   I then introduced a dense flurry of gestures using  6″ and 8″ squeegees. The squeegee gestures were both suggestive of the chaos of a web of flora as well as clear evidence of the gestural touch of the human hand as Delacroix had done with his brushes (example 8.)

example 6, step one sept14,29autumn meadow step1

example 7. step two sept14,29autumn meadow step2

example 8. step three sept14,29autumn meadow step 3

Finally, I again tried Delacroix’s sharp focus gestures against a blurred focus distance with a horizontal format. In the previous example #8 I used opaque whites because, I was working on a brushed gold anodized aluminum surface.  In this last example I did not add white to the foreground, I just deleted color with my squeegee which revealed the white enameled anodized aluminum surface.

example 9. horizontal meadow sept14,29,randalls farm autumn,12x18

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Romantic Notes

Early in the 1800s artists, writers, musicians responded to a new theme, Romanticism. Here was an opportunity for exaggeration filtered through a personal point of view. Here was a chance to be theatrical using the idea of one perceiving mind, vulnerable and alone before awesome nature. The question for these artists was how to contrast the power and expanse of nature against the solitary artist. Early in the century Caspar David Friedrich determined to show this Romantic idea in paintings that today feel like  backdrops for melodramatic stage sets. But, he also discovered the beauty of solitude as an inspired condition when set in a  vast nature natural setting.

Friedrich maintained the conventions of  the historical landscape form especially, as he found it in Dutch landscape Painters of the 1600s.  He  amplified the experience. This would be the course for Romanticism for the next century through expressionism.

Friedrich appears too literal when compared to our contemporary preference for understatement, irony and cynicism.  But his romantic spirit survives. It survives most obviously in our pop culture’s movies and music. It also survives more subtly in our paintings. Example 1 is  Friedrich’s 1832 landscape. Note the solitary, small boat tucked at the rear the river’s meanderings.  The palette is not jubilant. The marks are carefully and soberly plotted but, the feeling of space is vast and liberating. Example 2 is another of Friedrich’s. Here is a solitary monk below an immense sky. The year is 1809. If we leapfrog ahead 100 years we see the contemporary painter Gayle Stott Lowry’s handsome work which resides in the North Carolina Museum of Art ( example 3).  I think her inspiration  came from a visit to Ireland’s Ring of Kerry.  I recently found the same Romantic landscape there. And, I found  that Friedrich’s landscape forms as well as his themes were useful to organize this setting.( photo in examples 4 and 5).

example 1. Caspar David Friedrich 1832sept14,22,friedrich, caspar david_edited-1

example 2. Friedrich 1809,sept22,14,friedrich,caspar david, 1830s_edited-1

example 3. Gayle Stott Lowry 2006sept22,14,contemporary, gayle stott lowry, 2006, oil and wax_edited-1

example 4. Ring of Kerry photo 1sept22,14,kerry penisula,ptg, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24

example 5. Ring of Kerry photo 2sept22,14, kerry penisula, low tide

This Romantic Irish location at the edge of Europe urged me to make my reply to Friedrich and Lowry. The painting was based from the photo in example 4, as you can see. The composition has been used by many including Friedrich and Lowry with the left and right wings of the painting gently inclining asymmetrically toward the center. I exaggerated the distance by applying a diffused opacity over the distant area and, applying more specificity to the edges of information in the foreground. The foreground also is darkened  with higher contrasts than the distance. Example 6 represents my first step in the painting. Example 9 represents the painting as it now appears, a work on 3mm anodized aluminum, 24×24.

The compositions as well as the Romanticism of  Friedrich’s landscapes reach subliminally across time and geography. Example 10 is a work by artist Janine Robertson who painted with me recently in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

example 6. step onesept22,14,kerry penisula, ptg, step 1_edited-1

example 7. step twosept22,14,Atlantic Mist, revised, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-2

example 8. painting from White Mountains by Janine Robertson, a 5 x7″ work on copper.sept22,14,janine robertson, oil on copper, Crawford notch

Romanticism spread its influence across the 19th century and across the continents. The idea of the enchanted forest which descended from ancient Druidic and Celtic cultures enjoyed a revival in Romantic 19th century landscapes from the Hudson River painters to the Barbizon tonalists. George Inness used theatrical romantic ideas in his paintings.  Here again was a solitary figure at the edge of a dark woodland but, hope is sustained by the reflected sunlight in both the background and highlighted tree trunks ( example11). The composition is Claudian but, Inness has begun to distill the image into an atmosphere, a poetic and melancholy atmosphere of  contrasted darks and lights .

In the 20th century I can revisit the “Into the Woods” experience with my work (example 12) which sustains Inness’s effort  at evocation of enchanted nature through distillation and simplification.  There is just shadow in the darkness. We supply the idea of  details. Example 13 is the photo I used to begin my painting.  Example 14 was a pre-existing painting which I painted over to make the painting you see in example 12.  Notice how I incorporated aspects of the earlier painting and aspects of the photo into the new work.

example 11. George Inness paintingsept22,14,george inness, forest , n c mus of art_edited-1

example 12. “Into the Woods”, current version of my paintingsept22,14,Afternoon Mystery,formerly barn island, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

example 13. Original photographsept22,14,Into the woods, oil on anodized aluminum, 24x24

example 14. Original painting which was over-paintedsept14,22,oil on anodized aluminum, step one,Barn Island_edited-1

By the 1890’s artists like George Inness were dramatically reducing the quantity of narrative and detail in their work. This distillation process would prove to be a method of modernism and abstraction in  the coming 20th century.  Earlier Corot had tried simplification in the mid 1800’s.  Corot’s  ideas and compositions would be borrowed  and modified by others like Inness, just as Corot had done. Example 15 shows a landscape of Corot’s with a copse of trees on the right and a shallow body of water in the foreground. Example 16 shows how Inness aggregates the trees into a single mass on the right, removes the litter and the boat, and returns the  water to the foreground. The entire image is deliberately obscured to heighten our feeling of atmosphere, unity, and luminosity.

example 15. Corot’s boat, pond and meadowsept22,14,corot, row boat_edited-2

example 16. Inness’ pond & meadow painting.sept22,14,Inness_edited-2

While Inness had pursued simplification through an ambiguous atmosphere others like  John H. Twachtman would do the same but, they would also try simplification through palette and design. This idea had come to Europe through Japanese woodblock artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige.  While in France and testing the new ideas of pictorial simplification Twachtman also tried the simplified shapes of the Japanese artists. A result of this work can be seen in example 17.  Artists like me would later (a century later) find inspiration in Twachtman’s synthesis of Japanese and Romantic Impressionist ideas.  I enjoyed his harmony of a simpler softer palette. I enjoyed the simplification of background information into a luminous amalgamated mass.  And, I enjoyed discovering sharp edges hovering before that softer background.  In fact, they set off  the blurred background.  In examples 18 and 19 I borrow the Romantic ideas of deep and unpopulated space as well as the subject and brush vocabulary of Twachtman.

example 17. Painting by John Twachtman, sept22,14,Twachtman Exhibition_edited-1

example 18. painting by me,24×24sept22,14,Luminous Translucence, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

example 19. painting by me, 24×24sept22,14,Randalls Pond East, oil on anodized brushed silver aluminum,24x24_edited-1



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Collaboration presents challenges to pride, identity and self-scrutiny. Collaboration reveals  our habits, predilections, taste preferences, and personal limitations.  Confronted with a process which denies the illusion of personal control we open to discoveries which are inaccessible  when we work alone.

My recent collaborator was artist, Max Dunlop. We are practiced at collaboration but, we still find surrendering to the work and will of another simultaneously frustrates and liberates our imagination.

As I work on a painting which I know I will surrender to another artist to complete I become liberated to experiment without regard to a final product’s purpose and effects.   I am free to swim in any direction. As I receive a work from Max which already has a direction, an identity, and ambition I try to discover this new work and interact with it rather than superimpose my will on his piece. I try to follow this gift of a new direction, of a different point of view.  I am free to interact with qualities which are not mine.  This inherited image offers me a chance to expand, to add to my vocabulary.  Here is a perceptual challenge.  Can I work with what’s in front of me instead of what I wanted  or expected?  Can I  invest my imagination in a work which is out of my scope but, accessible to my imagination and touch. Can I carry it further?

In collaboration I have found two treasures. One is the unencumbered beginning with its freedom to go anywhere because, I am not responsible for the conclusion. I cannot and will not finish it. I must let it go to another artist. The second is the gift is discovering another point of view, another quality of touch, another vision.  In the second case I must react rather than freely generate. Reacting demands looking, compassion, attention, contemplation if the collaboration is to proceed as the a unity of two rather than the triumph of one.

Below are examples illustrating the process of our most recent collaborations. They include imagery from my recent trip to Ireland.  Max’s images include images from his neighborhood (Ridgewood/Bushwick), industrial sections  of Queens, New York , and Austria.

The examples are presented in sets of two. Each set first shows the work as it began just as it was passed from the originating artist to the finishing artist (step one of each collaboration). The second image in each set presents the final artist’s efforts ( step two of each collaboration).

Example 1. Beginning by Max, Dingle Peninsula,24×24dingle Peninsula, max dunlop begins, 24x24

Example 2. Step 2,same painting, by Me, Dingle Peninsula,24×24Dingle Peninsula, david dunlop finish, max and david,24x24_edited-2

Example 2. Beginning by David, Queens Industrial,24×24queens industrial, david dunlop begins, 24x24

Example 2. Step 2,same painting,Finish by Max,Queens Industrialqueens industrial,max dunlop finishes, max and david,2424

Example 3.Beginning by Max,Bushwick Underpass,24×24bushwick underpass, max begins,24x24

Example 3.step 2(same Painting),finish by David,Bushwick Underpassbushwick underpass, david finishes, max and david 24x24

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