In that moment when a pale red-orange flirts with the silhouette of a dark horizon and across the curtain of sky cerulean blue slowly deepens into ultramarine we experience the twilight zone. We can only see red where sufficient light remains on the horizon’s edge. When light is dim our eyes cannot discern yellow and reds. We find those colors with our cones packed in the center of our vision. When light is dim our rods go to work where vision is less able to focus on the periphery. Our peripheral vision sees in gray-black values in diminished light with traces of blue depending on light levels.
Twilight sees the sky fade to darker blue-black as well as the silhouetted landscape. The darkness provides mystery because of our vision’s limitations. As diurnal animals we distrust the dark. We are vulnerable in the dark and our imagination can provide menacing scenarios to keep us alert. It’s the best time to tell a ghost story or film a thriller. Twilight provides a stage-set for the melancholy longing for daylight past.
The dark can be fractured and pierced by artificial light and re-gifted with color. Our first experience of mitigating the threat of the dark came with our use of fire then later with our use of electric light. The warming light of headlamps on the highway clears a path through the dark but, leaves dark mystery in at our side and in the distance.
Electric light offers a haven for adventure under the robe of darkness. This artificial light is the source of allure for city nightlife from New York to Las Vegas, from Paris to Hong Kong.
Example 1 finds me riding along a twilight highway. Taking shots from my windshield into the path of my headlights I found myself retracing the steps of an ancient torchbearer clearing the darkness. I decided to explore this idea in paint where I could amplify the feeling of motion on the highway as well as the role of the torchbearer wading into the night, into the twilight zone (examples 2 and 3).
Art history has other examples of artists finding melancholy, finding the pensive meditation of twilight. In the 20th century Edward Hopper became famous with his melancholy visions (examples 3, 4 and 5). Earlier, artists used the theatrical passing of the light to similar theatrical effect. In the mid 1600s Adrian Van De Velde liked to routinely study and capture animals in darkened landscapes. In example 6 Adrian selected either a late or early time of day when the silhouetted landscape was dark but the sky presented a graduated light. A pool of light falls across the dark suggesting a stray final beam of sunlight. I borrowed this formula of the pool of warm light in the shadows in my earlier twilight examples. James Whistler painted at the edge of evening as well. His paintings of the Basilico and Piazza San Marco in Venice inspired others like Arthur Melville in the 1890’s with his watercolor and gouache (example 8). Again we find the artificial golden light of the piazza vs. the dark blue of the evening.
Lastly, here is my invitation to you to join me and Max Dunlop for our collaborative artworks show at the Watershed Gallery opening on Saturday, January 31 at 6:30-8:30 PM at 23 Governor Street in Ridgefield, Ct. On Sunday at the Watershed Gallery at 2 PM Max and I will give a collaborative talk on our experiences and process of collaborative painting. Here’s another example of our collaborative landscape painting.