Luminous Flowers

The 1600’s saw an explosion of still lifes in the Netherlands. Their ships were returning with cargo from the far East, India, China, Japan. Filled with exotica, porcelain, shells, and plants, these merchant ships not only brought foreign treasures but, wealth to the merchant class. Their acquisitive appetites included still lifes with exotic flowers, flowers from every season tucked into a single bouquet.  Their enthusiasm for new optical devices like the camera obscura, the telescope, and the microscope also gave them a craving for scrupulous scientific observation. Their still lifes reflected this attitude. Example 1 presents a festoon of fruits and flowers painted in 1660 by the Jan Davidsz de Heem.

example 1. de Heem fruits and flowers.
july15,20,dutch,jan davidsz de Heem,1660,festoon of fruits and flowers, oil on canvas_edited-1

A century later in 1755 Jean Simeon Chardin considers the same subject but, recasts it more humbly with a new, soft unifying light across an ordinary shelf. He has moved from a multiplicity of singly described flowers to a unified expression more casually composed.

example 2. Chardin flowers, vase and shelf.
july15,20,chardin,Jean simeon chardin, 1755, oil on canvas_edited-1

Speeding through time we arrive in 1869 to find the still lifes of  Henri Fantin Latour, friend of Whistler and Manet.  His still lifes have brighter atmospheres and the casual feeling of an encounter with a domestic environment decorated with flowers and fruit. The painting, “Betrothal Still life”  heavy with symbolism offers sexual allusions through cherries, strawberries and wine along with a plucked  white virginal rose.

example 3. Fantin’s still life.

july15,20,french,henri fantin latour,betrothal still life,1866_edited-1

This floral still life tradition gets turned inside out and completely reconsidered in the work of Cezanne. Here painted flowers and  painted wall and tabletop all merge onto one flat surface.  This is no longer only about illusion. Here is painting which synthesizes our parallax vision, our  sense of touch, the history of still lifes, and the self-awareness of difference between paint and illusion. The vase is solid, the flowers are thick and substantial like the walls and even the darks of the shadows.

example 4. Cezanne’s flowers.
july15,20,cezanne,flowers in an olive jar, around1880_edited-2

Next is my take on a floral displays. I wandered through Portland, Oregon’s rose test gardens looking for luminous explosions of color framed within  simple compositions. The luminosity appears most strongly when the subject is backlit giving the flowers a corona of light penetrating their thin petals. Example 5 is my original unedited photograph. I drew a fuchsia circle around the area of the photograph which would be cropped and manipulated in example 6.  Example 6 shows the effect of amplified color and horizontal blurring. Example 7 shows the original image to be over-painted.  A the substrate it offers colorful textures. And, I like its palette.  Example 8 presents step one of the painting process, the lay-in.  Example 89 presents the painting in its present state. Here, I exaggerated the feeling of light devouring edges of the flowers and merging with the background. I exaggerated dark/light and complementary color contrasts. I sustained some of the photograph’s blurring effects but, reined them in along selected edges. The composition relies on a vertical serpentine form.

example 5. original photo with area to be cropped out.
july15,20,photo one, the original in rose test gardens_edited-1

example 6. manipulated cropped photo.
july15,20,2nd photo, rose test garden2_edited-2

example 7. painting to be over-painted.
july15,20,Floating On Reflections, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36 perimeter, 28x28 image area

example 8. Step one of the painting.
july15,20,step one, painting of roses

example 9. The latest step in the painting.
july15,20,Sunlight and Shadows, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-2

I want to invite you to join me in Sun Valley Idaho at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts (ask for Sarah Kolash at 208 726 9491 ext 121 or The dates are Thursday -Sunday October 1-4, 2015 with a maximum of 12 students; $675. Check out the Arts Center at


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Side By Side, Color and Shape

When French artists like Manet and  Cezanne first saw Japanese woodblock prints in the mid 1800’s their minds were set ablaze with new ideas. Cutting, inking and printing a woodblock forced artists like Hiroshige and Hokusai to make pictures using flat shapes. Seeing these shapes as planes of luminous reflectance  changed the way Cezanne thought about biological vision as well designing pictures. He realized he could arrange an assembly of flat colored shapes and suggest solid forms.

Example 1 presents a Hiroshige woodblock. His simple flat shapes are capable of oscillating between an identity of illusionary space and subject vs. simple flattened shapes organized into a dynamic composition. Example 2 presents Cezanne’s expression of a similar approach but, with a concentration on both linear perspective and simultaneous color contrasts. Cezanne’s shapes also oscillate between their representational role and their identity as flat shapes of reflecting color.

example 1. Hiroshige woodblock.

example 2. Cezanne’s view toward Mt St Victoire.

Japanese woodblocks changed the direction of modern art. They continued to excite and influence the work of later mid-20th century artists like Richard Diebenkorn as he explored flat colored shapes capable of suggesting subjects, atmosphere and space while almost simultaneously presenting simply flat color  forms  on a flat surface. Example three demonstrates Diebenkorn’s use of flat shapes to express linear perspective, color contrasts and a simplified, coherent composition.

example 3. Diebenkorn’s 1962 painting.

Preceding Diebenkorn in 20th century abstraction was Hans Hoffman.  In example 4, Hoffman only uses abstract shapes and forms.  The simple shapes act to flatten the picture plane, the overlapping forms give it dimension and, the juxtaposition of contrasting color and analogous colors push and pull the space of the picture in and out. Unlike the Diebenkorn or the Cezanne we cannot be sure of the figure/ground relationships, a tantalizing ambiguity.

example 4.Hans Hoffman.
july15,13,art history,20th cent, hans hoffman,alt_edited-1

Ten years after Diebenkorn had painted his  work (example 3), Romare Bearden constructs example 5. Here is a collage of flat shapes composed like the Japanese woodblocks. However, Bearden crowds the space of the picture. We feel the side-by-side cut outs press toward the viewer.  Collaging offers a perfect opportunity for side by side contrasts of shapes and colors.

example 5. Romare Bearden.
july15,13,Romare Bearden, Empress f of the Blues, 1974, pencil collage,

I began my painting example without an initial program of using a side-by-side structure but, as you will see, I moved in that direction as my painting progressed.  Example 6, step one presents the original blurry photograph. Initially, I intended the painting to be about blurred motion. Example 7, step two demonstrates how I began the painting. I blurred large areas of ultramarine blue over an older city painting. By example 8, step three,  I recognized a new direction for constructing the painting. I began to separate the areas into more discreet shapes. By example 9, step four, I moved closer to Diebenkorn’s and Cezanne’s ideas of flattened shapes,  high keyed color and high contrast. I built these shapes from the outside (i.e. negative shapes described positive shapes). In example 9  I further exaggerated not only the discreet edges of shapes but, their value and color contrasts as well.  The painting has the graphic look of  a high contrast image with simple flattened shapes organized within a unitary design

example 6. the deliberately blurred photo.
july15,13,shorelines,fire island davis park_edited-4

example 7.step one, the lay-in.

example 8.step two,  the migration to autonomous shapes.

example 9. step three, the more graphic stage.
July15,13,shorelines, Beach Highlights, oil on anodized aluminum36x36_edited-1

Graphic order and color contrast can be subverted by blurring edges. The blurred edges generate a feeling of motion and shimmer especially, when using complementary colors. The blurring edges of a simple design also help to unify the feeling of the painting. In example 10. Pierre Bonnard demonstrated this effect in 1911 with his street view to the water in St. Tropez. His shapes are still graphic and his composition relies on  vertical rectangles framing rectangles. In examples 11 and 12 I moved from a more hard-edged image toward uncertain edges to coax more unity, simplicity, and atmosphere into my painting.

example 10, Bonnard, St Tropez, 1911.
july15,13,pierre bonnard, 1911, st tropez_edited-1

example 11. step one, sharper edges, clearer shapes.
july15,13,step one,leaves pierce reflections, 24x24

example 12 step two, blurring atmosphere degrades edges.
july15,13,leaves pierce reflections, oilon anodized aluminum, 24x24_edited-1

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Picturing The Cosmos

We want to know where we are.  So, we picture our universe and our place in it. When we do we invariably use the circle, the square and the triangle. We have pictured our cosmos  for millennia. In the area of Germany 4000 years ago we made a cosmic map of copper and gold ( example 1). It’s a circle. From Hildegard Von Bingen we have a celestial picture of the Earth and its seasons in 1210 (example 2). For Hildegard, Earth was the center of the universe. The Sun revolved around the earth as demonstrated by the fire red ring surrounding earth. Notice that Hildegard’s cosmos is framed within a rectangle like a Persian carpet.

example 1. 4000 BCE, Sky Disc.
june15,22,sky disc,copper and gold, 2000bce german_edited-1

example 2.Hildegard’s celestial map of seasons.
june15,22,seasons of earth,hildegard,1210_edited-2

The same geocentric universe was described a couple of centuries later by Giovanni di Paolo with his image of God creating the Cosmos, a series of concentric circles with earth at the center. Water is indicated by blue-green circles and, at the center is yellow-brown earth.  The red circle of fire denotes  the path of the sun. Finally, there is the deep blue of the dome of heaven, the celestial circle of sky (example 3). Always there is the circle. Using the same symbolic rings of color I have digitally created  a cosmic map of Rome (example 4) with the organic garden growing earth represented at the center by an expanding tree.   And, oceans from Europe we see the Aztecs with their celestial calendar and representation of the cosmos, another series of concentric circles with triangles and squares (example 5).

example 3. Di Paolo’s Creation of the Universe.
june15,22, giovanni di paolo, cosmic map and expulsion of adamandeve

example 4. My altered-photo cosmic image of Rome.
june15,22,rome from borghese park3_edited-1

example 5.Aztec Celestial Calendar, 1479.
june15,22,aztec calendar,1479,12ft diameter_edited-2

Looking back to ancient Babylonia I find  triangular cuneiform letters on a circular tablet (example 6) describing the universal math of geometry long before Euclid and Pythagoras. Here are triangles, squares and circles. These are the shapes our mind generates when organizing space-time. These are the automatic shapes we choose to organize our maps and our pictures. They are fundamental to how we perceive.  Consider the cupola in Beijing from  the mid 1400s (example 7). Here are squares turned to diamonds framing circles. Whether viewing Tibetan mandalas or Hopi prayer circles we rely upon the foundation shapes of the circle, square, and triangle.

example 6. Ancient Babylonian Cuneiform Theorem.
june15,22,Pythagoras theorem,maybe not, Babylonian cuneiform geometry, alt_edited-2

example 7. Chinese cupola from Hua Chu ssu in Beijing.
june15,22,chinese,cupola of the ju lai tien of chih hua ssu at Beijing, mid1400s_edited-1

I found the swirling spirals of galaxies reappeared in the concentric rings of water circles (example 8). Mandelbrot’s fractal geometry tells us there is a mathematic tissue connecting these forms.  In example 8  I freely gesture with elliptical circles letting them distort,  bend, and blur. I swirled the symbolic colors for water and fire  around one another.

example 8. My Water Circles and Reflections, oil and mixed media.
june15,22,water circles of reflections, oil on paper, mixed media,13x13_edited-1

For European artists, mediaeval and Renaissance, there was the dome of heaven, an arch of deep blue  which fit with the structure of their ecclesiastic architecture, architecture inherited from  ancient Rome.  As I borrowed the form of the heavenly arch I also  borrowed ( as did so many other artists) characters like angels who inhabited that heavenly blue space.  The symbolic meaning of an angel  was useful to poets, architects and painters.  I recycled this idea in my mixed media work “The Triumph of Art” which I introduced in my last blogpost.  Here I will show you the evolution of that image. I started with my semi-abstracted painting of the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum in NYC  (example 9). I borrowed my angel from a church in Rome (example 10). I enhanced her celestial blueness. I merged the two images together to create a variety of new images (examples 11 and 12).

example 9. my painting of the Met Interior.
june15,22,met museum chromatic scales, oil on anodized aluminum,48x48_edited-1

example 10. Sculpture of Angel with enhanced bluing.
june15,22,met museum assembled component,rome_edited-1

example 11. Angel and Met Painting merged 1.
june15,22,mixed media,triumph of art II, oil on paper,19x13_edited-1

example 12. Angel and Met painting merged 2.
june15,22,mixed media,triumph of art III, oil on paper,13x13_edited-1

I don’t want to ignore the cosmological architecture of  triangles, curves, and squares nor the math of linear perspective (a Renaissance system invented to help visually describe the philosophical order of the universe, that everything has a respective location and an appearance which correlates to that location.)  Recall the Chinese cupola in example in example 8.

Kandinsky too, seeks spiritual meaning in the cultural inheritance of  cosmic color and ideal cosmic forms (Socrates). He uses circles and triangles to create his metaphysical abstractions ( example 13). I tried to create a metaphysical unity using the same fundamental shapes but, rather than point my triangles down as Kandinsky did I point them in multi-directions. Principally, the design works as a triangle pointing up.   I borrowed the language of architecture from trestles and bridges on the St. Louis waterfront ( examples 14 and 15).

example 13. Kandinsky abstraction.
june15,22,kandinsky, wassily, 1921a_edited-2

example 14. Trestles and Bridges 1, an oil.
june15,22, bridges and trestles 1,24x24

example 15. Trestles and Bridges 2, an oil.
june15,16, bridges and trestles 2_edited-1

I invite you to an exhibition of my new works opening on Thursday July 2nd at the Attic Gallery in Portland, Oregon.  The Attic gallery is at 206 SW 1st Avenue. I hope I will see you there on the evening of this first Thursday in July.   Telephone at  503 228 7830 or, .



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Photography, Montage, and Paint

We use the materials at hand whether we are cooks, artists or musicians. Recombining or redefining the role of accessible materials can deliver delicious surprises or a confused disasters. With the superabundance of reproductions and photographs artists naturally sorted, cut, and rearranged them.  For Surrealists like Max Ernst this resulted in absurdist collages with curious visual metaphors. For cubists like Picasso and Bracque this resulted in a new flexibility for two dimensional images with reconstituted and re-imagined uses for  linear perspective. Collaged and excised parts of pictures were recast with perspective distortions in works like Juan Gris 1915 still life. We feel the edges of his table cloth or  newspaper as cutouts rearranged in a unified triangular design (example 1). Example 1a shows how I use the idea of cut-out forms with multiple and flattened perspectives in a painting of the interior of New York’s Metropolitan museum.

example 1, Juan Gris,
June15,15,juan Gris,still life with checked table cloth 1915_edited-3

example 1a, my painting of Met Interior,36×36,
june15,15,Layered Columns of Light V, NYC Met Museum, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-1

The capabilities of photography unfolded like a belching cornucopia in the 20th century. And artists harvested this  abundance and repurposed it.   Well acquainted with the traditions of cubism, David Hockney  and Chuck Close drop their paint brushes and pick up the Polaroid Camera. Chuck Close reconnects the brush to the photograph with his gridded patterns recalling historic methods of artists mapping out their paintings in grids to enlarge  their camera obscura drawings. Hockney reconsidered the multiple points of view of the cubists as well as our own biological, stereo vision in his photo mosaics (example 2, Multiple points of view of Celia’s children with a Polaroid camera,1982).

example 2. David Hockney photo mosaic.
june15,15,david hockney,Celias children, albert and george clark

I begin with a black and white cropped photo of Times Square (example 3).  Next, I  made two copies of the photo, each 13×19. One copy was a colorized version the other was black and white.  I sliced the two images, like a pizza into triangular wedges. Following cubist precedents I reassembled slices of the two versions into a single image. The resulting collage, a rhythmic ensemble, generated a rise-and-fall pattern (example 4). Next, I painted another version in oil on white anodized aluminum. The previous rhythms of the collage in example 4 are now laid horizontally onto the streets where they blur together as they recede  following  linear perspective principles.

example 3. the photograph,
june15,15,broad avenues, b and w_edited-3

example 4. two photos, sliced and recombined.
june15,15,,borad avenues,times square collage and clones_edited-4

example 5. painted version, musical rhythms on the street.
june15,15,broad avenues,oil on anodized aluminum, 18x24

Let’s now manipulate photos and paint in other directions. I started with a photo of a shoreline marsh from Hammonasset State Park in Connecticut (example 6). This photo was color enhanced and horizontally stretched. Next,  I divided the photo into quarters and inserted another set of photos into the center of the image  (example 7).  Example 8 presents the unstretched version while example 9 represents the stretched version which was inserted into the assembled image. The lower middle image represents an excised portion of another marsh picture.

This image was printed in 13×19 tiles which were assembled together then varnished with an acrylic polymer gloss varnish and finally, over-painted with oil.  The over-painting covered most of the photo montage. This over-painting was manipulated by brushes and squeegee excisions. Some oil colors were semi-transparent revealing hints of the photographic information below (example 10.)

example 6. the photo.

example 7. the montage of the photo pieces.
june15,15,shorelines 2 assembled,26x51_edited-2

example 8. unstretched upper-middle photo.
june15,15,shorelines collage,unstretched,upper middle2_edited-2

example 9. stretched upper-middle photo as used.
june15,15,shorelines collage,upper middle2_edited-2

example 10. photo montage over-painted with oils.
june15,15,Shorelines, Assemblage,horizontal, Mixed media, 52x26_edited-2

Another alternative is to consider using paintings and photos together at the conceptual stage rather than painting over the photomontage. Example 11 represents such an image.  Here a painting is fused together with photographs. The photos are heavily manipulated in Photoshop. Example 12 shows the painting, an abstracted interior from  New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Example 13 presents the right end panel. Part of this  image was reversed and reused as the left end panel. Example 14 presents the reversed version of the right end panel but, with a different color palette.

example 11. Photo/Painting photo montage of interior of Met Museum.
june15,15,met museum re assembled2,52x26_edited-3

example 12.Middle section panel, painting.
june15,15,met museum painting_edited-2

example 13. Right end panel, photo.
june15,15,met museum re assembled2,left panel_edited-2

example 14. Left end panel (right end version reversed) with alternate palette.
june15,15,met museum re assembled2,left panel,reversed image_edited-2

Try not to get caught in the pyrotechnics of  layers and collaging. A simple image is often more potent. Example 15 presents a montage of a variety of Museum images. Example 16 presents the edited and distilled version. I prefer the simpler, less complicated image.

example 15. Initial horizontal montage.
june15,15,met museum assembled, horizontal extended 1_edited-2

example 16. Simplified squared version.
june15,15,met museum assembled 1_edited-2


If I take the figure with the raised laurel wreath,  superimpose her onto a painting of the interior of the Met Museum, and  convert this newly compounded image to black and white I discover a new narrative. This  layering of images  (example 16a) suggests a new title, “The Triumph of Art”.

example 16a. The Triumph of Art, painting and photo.
June15,15,met museum triumph of art, oil on anodized aluminum,48x48_edited-4

When considering your image’s possibilities remember to distill and reduce. Remember the unifying power of a simple design, one which relies on triangles or circles as a cohering force. As an example of the circle’s unifying power I offer example 17. The image began as a bucolic horizontal landscape which transformed into a sphere, into an island floating in the sky using Photoshop tools. I may decide to further obscure the photographic information by painting over some of this image.  After all, I can always print another version of the photo information.  The painted version is singular and unique.

example 17. Photo, Island in the Sky.
june15,15,island in the sky,1 19x26_edited-2

I have two upcoming workshops. One, a plein-air workshop in Toronto at the end of this month (See my website for a description, Campion Art, telephone 647-338-3991). The other will be in mid July in Raleigh-Durham, NC. This is a 3 day studio workshop (LANDSCAPE PAINTING FOR THE AGES WITH DAVID DUNLOP) sponsored by Jerry’s Artarama, contact or call her: 919-878 6782, ext 140 or, go to   This workshop runs from July16-18, 9 am to 4 pm.  You can take one day for $150. 2 days for $280 or 3 days for $405.


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Gardens Under Investigation

While still-lifes with flowers may have begun with Caravaggio in the 16th century, the history of garden imagery goes back thousands of years. Eden, Arcadia, Hyperion, Shangri La are all idyllic garden states. We seek them in art. We aspire to live in them. Whether In the wild or in a courtyard we find microcosmic garden idylls. Rambling through the Stonebridge Nature Preserve I found small natural vignettes, little vistas framed by trees, sky and meadow.  I took photos. If I wanted more flora in my vista then, I subtracted sky. The higher the horizon, the more the meadow.

After reviewing my photos and returning to my studio I recalled other artists whose ramblings resulted in similar compositions. My examples here are by Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Lucien Freud. All used high horizons, triangular dependent compositions, and unified patterns suggesting foliage.  Example 4 demonstrates simplified diagrams of their compositions. Their use of triangles are obvious. Van Gogh uses linear perspective as he stacks horizontals in progressively thinner bands. Cezanne’s interest in reflective planes guides his patchwork of brushstrokes and, we see Lucien Freud’s interest in a scrupulous observation of textures and forms following a unified pattern of micro saccades.

example 1. Van Gogh’s Flowering Garden,1888.
june15,8,van gogh,1888,flowering garden,36x28_edited-1

example 2.Cezanne’s forested hillside (Chateau Noir),1904.
june15,8,cezanne,1904,chateau noir,_edited-1

example 3. Lucien Freud’s Painter’s Garden,2003.
june15,8,Freud,lucien, painters garden,2003,24x18_edited-2

example 4. Compositional diagrams.
june15,8,van gogh,cezanne,freud

Like Van Gogh I began with a design using horizontal bands.  first is  the widest and closest band, then I stack thinner bands  on top.  I insinuated a subtle triangular design into the arrangement by relying on a  vertical stem of bright phlox to  serve as the apex of the triangle. I slightly tilted the horizon and placed a reverse-angled pale shape on that horizon.  To trace the history of my composition see example 5.  Notice  two triangles forming a foreshortened square. The design implies three of a square’s  four corners  (three reside outside the picture plane). The apex corner is occupied by  the wild phlox.  Sketch No.4  shows  a stack of arcs in the foreground, each slightly varied as well as the arrangement of lights and darks. Example 6 shows my palette. For tools  I used a 6″ squeegee,  8″ flat brush, 4″ flat brush, 3″ flat brush and three 1″ flat brushes (flats are soft, like watercolor wash brushes).

example. 5. my compositional sketches.
june15,8,diagrams for meadow,wild phlox

example 6. my palette.

I planned to over-paint an older snow scene, an oil on linen which I inverted. You can still see it as I begin to lay-in color with an 8″ flat in example 7 ( step 1). In example 8 (step two) I blended the lay-in and brightened the sky area. In example 9 (step 3) I began deleting paint with my squeegee applying gestures suggestive of leaves.   I applied dark patches to surround my light shapes in example 10 (step 5). The darks recede in space, the lights advance as leaf matter. Furthermore, I applied saturated yellows in the upper meadow to help pop the pink of the phlox and heighten contrast with the rest of the painting. The dark touches also create other subtle light shapes by default (wherever I don’t place dark we see flora). Example 11 (step 6) is as far as I have gone. Here, I overlaid the image with more squeegee gestures. Overlapping forms always generates a stronger sense of space. I reinvigorated the pinks for more snap and pop.

example 7. step one, the lay-in over the inverted snow-scape.
june15,8,step one, lay in over inverted snowscene

example 8. step two, blending for unity an atmosphere.
june15,8,step two,full layin

example 9. step three, gestural squeegee deletions suggesting flora.
june15,8,step three, original squeegee work

example 10. step four, inserting darks and deep yellows.
june15,8,step four,application of darks and opaque pink n whites

example 11. step far, image to date after additional squeegee overlays and brightened pinks.
june15,8, step five,meadow,Wild  Phlox, oil on linen,18x18_edited-1

I  invite you to join me painting on Tuesdays at The Silvermine School of Art ( or call 203 966 6668,ext 2 to register for classes). In the morning I will paint on bucolic and varied locations (easy access and shaded, if hot or rainy we meet indoors). The afternoon the class is completely indoors. It  continues with investigations in all forms of landscape from cities to rural life to beaches from representational to abstract. Classes will begin after the July 4th weekend.




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Expressive Geometry

As soon as artists learned to use linear perspective they questioned its relationship to visual experience.  Da Vinci observed technical failings. He observed the hard edges prescribed by linear perspective flattened the feeling of volume on shapes. Italian mannerists following the late exaggerations of Michelangelo began distorting and curving their figural linear perspective arrangements. El Greco discovered more emotionally charged space when he exaggerated perspective. By the end of the 19th century Van Gogh had invested linear perspective with undulating rhythms (example 1) . A few decades later as we approached world war I Egon Schiele tried compressing space and borrowing aspects of  linear perspective as he painted a village which appears  flattened as through a telephoto lens (example 2).  From Red Grooms to Julie Mehretu Today contemporary artists try other odd distortions and layerings  of linear perspective.

example 1. Van Gogh Village.
june15,1,van gogh,1890 near auvers, loved thatched roofs_edited-1

example 2. Egon Schiele Village.
june15,18,schiele,Egon, oil, village_edited-2

I chose midtown Manhattan to receive my perspective distortions. Through layers of animated gestures which  loosely  linear perspective I built a fabric of colored atmosphere, urban luminosity, and textured geometry. I began with paintings which conformed more closely to clear principles of linear perspective. Next, I  superimposed layers of  painterly gestures which were less  faithful to linear perspective. These gestures overlap and collide but, still collude to suggest a geometric illusion of space.   In example 3. I begin with an 18×18 (which I painted during our latest hour-long program on color and design  which you can see on this website). Examples 4 and 5 are two later interpretations of  example  3.  Example 4 is also 18×18 while example 5 is 24×24″. Example 4 uses a set of diagonals on the street which all converge to the same central vanishing point as the buildings. Example 5 slows your entry into the painting by pointing the set of street diagonals toward a vanishing point on the left while the buildings converge to a point on the center right. The effect generates a zig zag motion. The colors in the examples 4 and 5 are not confined to edges of the buildings but, blur like an atmosphere.

example 3. 1st city vortex painting.
june15,1,city vortex,step one,18x18

example 4. 2nd city vortex painting.
june15,1,city vortex,2nd version 18x18

example 5. 3rd city vortex painting.
june15,1,city vortex,3rd version,24x24

My next examples all demonstrate my efforts at freeing gestures from explicit shapes. I evoke energy and activity through layers of gesture. I also decrease the quantity of light in relation to the quantity of dark within the paintings. I perceived they were too equal in the amount of light and dark.  This inhibited drama and motion.

In example 6, you see a painting of the interior of the Met Museum’s great hall. The color is anemic when compared with step two ( example 7).  The values and colors demanded more contrast and the light to dark ratio needed to be expanded.

example 6. Met Museum interior step 1.
june15,1,met museum, choromatic scales,step1, oil on anodized aluminum,48x48_edited-2

example 7. Met Museum interior step 2.
june15,1,met museum chromatic scales, oil on anodized aluminum,48x48_edited-1

Example 8 has an unfortunate repetitive rhythm of light and dark verticals. Example 9 addresses this failing. Additionally, the movement toward a vortex of light encased in dark becomes a more emphatic intention in example 9.

example 8. Times Square Vortex step 1.
june15,1,times square vortex,step one,48x48

example 9. Times Square Vortex step 2.
june15,1,times square vortex,step two,48x48

If I wanted to express a family dwarfed by the luminous vertical immensity of a city then my first attempt in example 10 falls short. In the subsequent example 11 the scale of the city’s looming electric energy becomes more persuasive as the balance between light and dark changes and, as more bravura gestures are introduced.  Example 10 is a 13×13 study, Example 11 presents the follow-up 48×48.

example 10, the 13×13″ study.
june15,1,city,Family Matters, oil and mixed media on 140 lb arches,13x13_edited-1

example 11, the 48×48″.
june15,1,city,family journey, step two,oil on anodized aluminum,48x48_edited-1

If I wanted to convey layered congestion in architecture and traffic then example 12 (step one) fails to deliver a persuasive argument. Example 13, step two, presents more confusion, ambiguity, color, angular tension and energy. Example 13 represents the effect of layering gestural geometry over a clearer compositional rendition of the same image.

example 12. step one, too clear.
june15,1,west side stories,step one, 36x36

example 13, step two, more expressive geometry, more ambiguity.
june15,1,west side stories,step two,36x36

This week CCNS opens  its 53rd annual art sale fundraiser on June 4th-7th at 4 Trolley place in Rowayton, CT.  As this year’s featured artist I invite you to come. 40% of your purchase price is tax deductible. I have more than 40 paintings on view and sale. You may preorder tickets at for Thursday evening. Thursday (7-10PM) and Friday(6-10PM) offers live music as well. Saturday( 4-8PM)and Sunday(1-4PM) no tickets are needed.

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A Blanket of Texture For Historic Design

Seascapes have a long history and rely on a few  fundamental compositions with lots of variations. Among these inherited models one of the basics is the seascape with an extended triangular landmass on the horizon with  counterpoint clouds coming  from an opposing angle. Here are a few examples ( 1,2 and 3). I  reversed all these images to show their relationship to my composition. This foundation model has been applied to landscapes, abstractions, cityscapes and still lifes.  Example 4 presents  Gustav Klimt using a distilled and modified version of the form. Today I use modified version in a river scene.  See how I borrow from the traditional model and innovators like Klimt and apply my own variations. I also added  layers of complexity to the contrasting surface directions.

example 1. 1878,Luigi,Loire.
may15,25,Luigi,1878, Loire valley,reversed

example 2. late 19th cent. A.T.Bricher.
may15,25,bricher, alfred thompson bricher,quiet seascape_edited-1

example 3. 1878, Antoine Guillemet
may15,25,Antoine Guillemet,1878(Barbizonstyle)oilCavados

example 4. composition as modified and distilled by Klimt.
may15,25,klimt, gustav, morning by the pond, 1899_edited-2

I will begin with my photograph which I composed with the traditional seascape model in mind but, like Klimt, I used a high horizon (example 5). Next, I constructed a series of sketches (example 6). Sketch 1 demonstrates the fundamental composition with its declining triangle on the horizon and its rising triangular beach area. The arrow indicates the movement of the water surface into the picture. Because I have no counterbalancing cloud shape to juxtapose against the horizon’s triangle I must place an arresting element at the upper right of the horizon. I used a semicircular form.  Klimt used a small set of trees. I added to the complexity by placing a vertical stripe (trees and their reflection) down the center of the image to create more tension and disguise the traditional model (sketch 2). Sketch 3 indicates light and dark patterns. Sketch 4 demonstrates the contrasting texture patterns of the vertical trees, the horizontal water and the chaotic multidirectional textures of the beach/shore area.

Example 5. my photograph, converted to a high contrast black-and-white to show its relationship to the sketches in example 6.
may15,25,norwalk river trail may_edited-1

example 6.sketch 1, basic design; sketch 2, counterpoint pattern overlaying design; sketch 3, Lights and darks; sketch 4, orientation of surface textures
may15,25,sketches for river bend

Examples 6, 7, and 8  illustrate the step-by-step progress of the image from its initial lay-in with color and big shapes through its gradual development of surface textures. The surface is brushed silver anodized aluminum, 24″x24″. The medium is refined linseed oil (no turp, no varnish). The palette consists of azure blue, ultramarine blue, Carmine red lake, titanium white, lemon yellow, and Gamboge yellow. I used watercolor flat wash brushes varying from 1″ to 8″.  I  started with the 8″ and progressed to using the 2″and 1″ versions when working up the varieties of surface textures.

example 6. step 1, the lay-in.
may15,25,river bend step2

example 7.step 2, sequence of textures
may15,25,riverbend step three

example 8. step 3, the image at present
may15,25,river bend reflections, step4, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum, 24x24_edited-1

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TOMORROW 1pm EDT – David Dunlop’s Studio Workshop 2 – Design and Color

2015-05-22 03.24.41 pm

2015-05-22 03.35.14 pm 2015-05-22 03.35.32 pm

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Texture and Design, Weak vs Strong

Cezanne looked for planes of reflectance. His challenge was to unite biological vision with art history. Art history gave him a library of subjects and designs, models for  composing pictures. The process of vision provoked more questions and proved to be more difficult to penetrate and apply in painting. The history of design reaches far  past Cezanne’s hero Poussin into our universal history of  letters and pictographs. That history extends into the nature of perception.

Use of compositional models like the “S” or serpentine form and the “V”  form and the height of the horizon can be traced through art history. These models can also be universally applied to any visual field waiting for pictorial organization. In example 1 Cezanne has used the Serpentine design which culminates in a soft inverted “V”, Mt St Victoire. He applies complementary colors and contrasting values within simplified shapes. He has one horizontal area of blue laying on the left  below the Mountain and above the serpentine road. His composition reflects  reconstituted and distilled Poussin designs. In this blogpost I will demonstrate how to use these principles to design better photographs and better paintings.

example 1. Cezanne’s landscape.may15,18, paul cezanne,landscape, mt st victoire1878-80

In the following examples I present photos which offer weaker or stronger design. I will use Cezanne’s landscape as our model. In example 2, I have a photo of marshlands from Rye, New York. This photo has Cezanne’s high horizon and the flat area of blue on the left. It has a incline rising from lower left  to the right.  As a result of the design the image appears to slide out of its frame. It tilts without interruption. It wants an effective serpentine design. This image is a poor candidate for painting without redesign. Example 3 has its reeds laying in an ascending “V” shape which gives the picture too much vertical thrust. The triangular design keeps us within the frame but, it too misses an effective serpentine design. Example 4 presents a the composition again but, with a clear serpentine design wending its way toward the horizon. The organization of the reeds presents a tactile texturing opportunity to enliven the serpentine design. This is the preferred design for a painting.  Example 5 demonstrates the serpentine form.

example 2. tilting and unbalanced marshlands.may15,18,photo 3, horizontal flawed,rye marshlands9_edited-2

example 3. too much vertical movement in the marshlands.may15,18,photo 2,flawed with too much rise,rye marshlands11_edited-2

example 4. the preferred marshlands with serpentine design.may15,18,photo1, preferred swirl, rye marshlands10_edited-2

example 5. serpentine shape illustrated.may15,18,photo1, preferred swirl, rye marshlands10_edited-3

If I use the  image without the pronounced texture of the reeds the image loses much of its motion as well as its tactile appeal (see example 6).

example 6. image with insufficient reinforcing texture.may15.18, photo flawed by lack of texture and direction,rye marshlands13_edited-3

Next, Examples 7 and 8 each demonstrate the use of same design template as in the photos above. Here, in place of the reeds the serpentine shape is water( light) meandering back to the same high horizon. In example 7 the distant wedge shape on the horizon ( my Mt St Victoire) declines toward the end of the serpentine shape.  In example 8 the wedge shape declines in the opposite direction.

example 7. Serpentine of water with horizon wedge declining to the left.may15,18,photo with water swirl in lieu of reeds,rye marshlands2_edited-1

example 8 . Serpentine of water with wedge declining to the right.may15,18,photo with waterway swirl,rye marshlands6_edited-3

The next examples ( examples 9, 10 and 11) show my step-by-step process of building the painting with reedy textures, variegated color and complementary color contrasts which further animate the feeling of moving contours. The Serpentine pattern has been exaggerated in the painting as have the colors.  This design refers back the Cezanne and Poussin.

example 9. step one, finding the composition and the flow of the textures.may15,18,marshlands step2

example 10. step two, unitary fragmenting and coloring the flow of the textures.may15,18,marshlands step3

example 11. step three, the painting in its present form.may15,18,marshlands step4, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1




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Action Figures

When a culture wants pictographic information or symbolic images then stability and clarity matter most. As soon as artists  (classic Greek artists were first) wished to describe the action and reaction between characters  then,  instability becomes a goal.  Eventually instability couples with uncertainty (ambiguity) for a new effect because, together they evoke greater motion and a broader range of interpretations. The evolution evoke motion and active interaction between  characters was slow to develop.  After the fall of Rome, Gombrich notes that art resumed its symbolic function until the Renaissance rediscovers persuasive, natural, dramatic interaction.

As the Renaissance unfolded into the Baroque, artists like Caravaggio continued their interest in  instability as an enlivening force in painting. His figures interact as they  gesture, turn, and lean (see example 1). By the 1700’s  the Rococo influence in Venice had liberated artists like Francesco Guardi to experiment with loose bravura paint gestures to describe his figures. His brushwork suggests movement (see example 2).

Example 1. Caravaggio.may15,11,persian,iran, battle of pashan begins mid 1500s,watercolor,ink gold and silver on paper, two artists,abd al vahhab and muzaffar ali

Example 2. detail from a F. Guardi painting.may15,11, guardi, francesco, mid 1700s

In Persia artists pursued the narrative power of instability in the 16th century while working on small images in watercolor, ink, gold and silver on paper.  Example 3 is  a detail from  “The Battle of Pashan Begins” by Abd al-Vahhab and Muzafar ‘Ali .  Later European modernists would see these works as they searched other cultures for inspiration. In this early 20th century painting by Andre Derain notice how the palette, graphic shapes, and interaction of the figures  share  dramatic action and  interdependent instability as in the Persian painting (example 4).

example 3. Persian mid 1500smay15,11, persian,iran mid 1500s battle of pashar begins watercolor ink gold and silver on paper, abd al vahhab and muzaffar ali

example 4. Derain 1908may15,11,andre derain

As I try to evoke figures in motion I look to sources like the Persians, or Guardi, or Derain. The following examples are step-by-step demonstrations of how I  balance stability and instability and, clarity and ambiguity within a painting. Example 5 uses linear perspective principles as well as composition precedents set by Cubists like G. Bracques. Example 6 presents step two of the same image. In this image you see  how  I have strengthened linear perspective in the foreground which helps ground the shadow sweeping across the bottom of the image. I also simplified the tone and color of the figures on the right.  Earlier they were too confused to be effectively suggestive.

example 5. step one, Times Squaremay15,11,times square, Multiplicity, oil on aluminum,36x36_edited-2

example 6. step two, Times Squaremay15,11,times square,multiplicity,oil on aluminum, 36x36_edited-2

In examples 7 and 8 I again look for a balance between instability and stability and, between clarity and ambiguity. In step one (example 7)  the secondary figures are too blurred and awkward to solicit our sustained attention. The central street level area is too ambiguous or confused to attract us. In step two (example 8) I have introduced new figures to the central area. They appear to be interacting. On the left side  the figures have become more legible but, still uncertain. They are grouped to suggest  modes of interaction. The large forward blurred figures continue to move the action into the painting.

example 7. step one of Caught in RainMay15,11,city,Caught In Rain, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-2

example 8. step two  of Caught in Rainmay15,11,city,Caught In Rain, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36,rerevised_edited-3

My last image  presents a horizontal array of images. They move in and across the painting. Classically, horizontal friezes of figures were often depicted on sarcophagi or on triumphal arches. The action figures moved left to right. Here, I have the figures lined up horizontally but their motion indicates  a movement to and from the viewer. The central protagonist moves into the image ( example 9)

example 9. Horizontal Arraymay15,11,gct,tall lady, oil on steel, 30x48

I invite you to visit an exhibition of my paintings which includes a couple of the examples you’ve  seen here. The opening reception is this Friday, May 15,2015 at the Susan Powell Gallery in Madison, Connecticut from 5 to 8:30 PM. The Show runs until June 15.  The Gallery’s address  is  679 Boston Post Road in Madison,Ct. 203 318 0616.

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