Influenced by Stained Glass & Cloisonne

By the 15th century stained glass artists like Antonio da Pisa experimented with lighter colors in glass with complex patterns (example 1).  They wanted more light to illuminate church interiors.  Earlier Mosaic artists had used reflective ceramics and polished semi-precious stones to cast reflected light. Even in smaller objects like reliquaries and ornamented book covers artists used reflective materials in intricate patterns to give the sensation that the object radiated its own light (example 2).  Here, the 11th Century book cover has the inscription, LUX MUNDI, meaning light of the world.  The choice of the reflective materials supported the theme of giving light.

Example 1. St Barnabas window, Florence, 1441,oct1624stained-glassantonio-da-pisa-artist-for-st-marnabas-window-1441-florence

Example 2. LUX MUNDI, 11th century,oct1624lux-mundi-11th-centurybook-cover-of-aribert

Since antiquity, artists had used the pictorial arrangements of enamels, semi-precious stones, polished gold and silver to create radiant effects (example 3). The cloisonné example from 625 CE from Suffolk,  England has been restored to reveal its original luster and colored patterns.

Example 3. Cloisonné Purse Cover, 625,oct1624cloisonnegold-enamel-english620-ce-purse-cover-suffolk

Traditions stretching back thousands of years across Europe and the Middle East demonstrate varieties of vine and serpent curling, interwoven patterns  creating complex opportunities to place bright bits of stone, mosaic, glass, and jewels in strategically designed interstitial spaces.  This pattern building extended to functional ceramics, fabrics, and carvings. Contemporary artists like El Anatsui of Ghana extended and re-imagined these traditions using the found detritus of bottle caps, copper wire and tin cans (example 4).

Example 4. El Anatsui, metal curtain assemblage with drapery like folds,oct1624el-anatsuighana-metal-capscans-copper-wire-full-view

Other artists used these techniques and patterning ideas in painting and photography. Earlier in the 20th century Georgia O’Keeffe arranged designs in paintings which reminded her of quilt patterns from childhood. In example 5 you see how she places the spots of blue sky between lyrical branches as if she were working in stained glass.

Example 5. Georgia O’Keeffe, Spring Tree,oct1624okeeffe-spring-tree-no-1

In the mid 20th century Nicolas de Stael excised the standard floral information in this Flower still-life (example 6) and placed jewel-like colors along the edges of the forms treating the piece as if he were making abstract jewelry.

Example 6. Nicolas de Stael, Flowers,oct1624french1963nicolas-de-staelflowers

Example 7 presents my nature photograph with heightened colors. The arrangement of patterns of gemlike colors surrounding a luminous center is taken from principles of jewelry design.

Example 7, photograph,oct1624autumn-forest-reflections_edited-1-and-stonebridge-vertical-view-alt2

Borrowing principles of the flat pattern repetitions of wallpaper I began the flower painting in example 8. The limited colors, the flattened tonal effects and the mark-making were all designed to give an impression flowers in stylized repetition.  In Example 9 I added more atmospheric effects by blending and blurring edges.  I retained the cloisonné idea of high-contrast jewelry patterns at this stage.  The later blurring suggests motion and atmosphere while the patterning of flora behind the flowers suggests the intertwining patterns found in decorative jewelry, carpets, and other ornamented materials. Example 10 offers another example of using cloisonné patterns with sharp, isolated, color contrasts.

Example 8. Step one, floral patterns,oct1624flowersstep-two-nybg

Example 9, Step two of floral patterns, present state,oct1624flowersnybg-conservatory-pinks-oil-on-enameled-laminated-alum24x24

Example 10.  Berlin Garden, revised since the last blog post, 24×48,oct1624flowers-berlin-roses-oil-on-enameled-laminated-alum-24x48-oct24

The next work is presented in two steps again. The first step (example 11) demonstrates the beginning of a scene along one of Milwaukee’s Canals with its variety of grass plantings and rows of bridges. The second step (example12) demonstrates how I invested threads of color in overlapping patterns suggestive of jewel like effects in the grasses before the bridges.

Example 11. Step one, Bridges and Grasses,oct1624milwaukee-bridgesstepone

Example 12, Step two, present state, Bridges and Grasses,oct1624milwaukee-bridges-step-three

The principle behind the patterns of the counterpoint rectangles which you saw in the previous stained-glass window example, the jeweled book cover, and El Anatsui’s  metal curtain were reworked and re-imagined in my last example #13. Here is a shoreline and sea grass landscape constructed with an eye to the abstract patterns described above.  Rectilinear shapes subdivide and cross the surface acting as a unifying matrix for the colors and textures.

Example 13. Shoreline Matrix, oil on enameled laminated aluminum,oct1624shorelines-sparkle-patterns-oil-on-laminated-enameled-alum-36x36alt

This November I have a series of workshops at Jerry’s Art of the Carolinas in Raleigh Durham, N.C.  from Friday November 11 through Sunday November 13th.   The Friday workshop, 9 am to 4 pm, “Painting Reflections in Glass, Water and Other Surfaces”. The Saturday workshop is also 9am to 4 pm “New Trends: Merging Paint the Digital Photography”. The Sunday workshop, 9 am to 4 pm “Abstracting Nature, from Meadows to Flora”.  To register call: 800 827 8478 ext 156. These

The three different workshops are described on this website under classes and workshops.

I have an exhibition of my work at the White Gallery in Lakeville, Ct at 342 Main Street.  Friday through Sunday 11-5 PM. 860 435-1029.

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Perceptual illusions can present tantalizing ambiguities in painting. By the mid-20th century, as neuroscience and psychology began merging Richard Gregory identified and explained some of these illusions.  For example, Gregory proposed three different pattern-recognition illusions. One illusion is based on an alternating  Gestalt figure-ground relationship; that is, an object and the space beside it change roles.  Another illusion: the sensation of depth changes within an area.  And a third Gregory illusion:  An object changing into a different type of object. This is the familiar: one second you see a rabbit, the next you see a duck.

Cubists like Braque and Picasso experimented with the object-space and depth change illusions.  M.C. Escher is celebrated for demonstrating all three illusions. Here in example 1 you see George Braque’s cubist painting. Observe how the walls of buildings seamlessly become areas of space. Observe how the space becomes deep and infinite and then shallow and smoky as it re-attaches to architecture of becomes self-evident paint on the surface of the canvas.

Example 1. George Braque,oct1617l-estaquebygeorgesbraque

Example 2 presents the work of the early expressionist Egon Schiele whose painting of a village has areas of ghostly pale monochromatic architecture and other areas of solid warm color.  Observe how the areas of warm color occupy space differently than the paler more monochromatic areas. Notice the trees’ reflections (upper right) are stripped of color creating an arresting analogy for the relationship between the warmly colored buildings and the paler ones. The black water areas are not painted with horizontal strokes to encourage the shape to appear flat like a river.  As a result we see the mottled black areas as a flat painted surface or also as indication of  water (i.e. alternating identities within the same shape).

Example 2. Egon Schiele,oct1617schieleegonkrumauisland-town1915black-crayongouache-and-oil

Example three illustrates how an area that behaves like positive shapes can reverse its role and become a background of negative shapes. Watch as the white lines and black lines alternate in their roles.

Example 3. Alternating Foreground and background illustration.oct1617figure-ground-alternating

Another illusion (example 4) demonstrates how context can determine a sense of scale even though the shapes do not change. This is called the Titchener illusion. The circle surrounded by larger circles is the same measurable size as the circle surrounded by smaller circles.  But, the two circles do not feel as though they are the same size.  We determine scale by comparison just as comparing determines our sense of texture, touch, and color and all other observable phenomena.

Example 4. The Titchener Illusion,oct1617titchener-illusion-confuses-the-brains-image-but-not-the-brains-sense-of-touch

I exploit these illusions to create ambiguities of identity and space in my work. Example 5 presents an example.  The fabric of the interweaving flora is broken by little interstitial space shapes.  In the lower are of the painting they are ultramarine blue. In the upper region they are lighter, both light pink and light blue.  These little light shapes can behave as allusions to space or, they the can float like pieces of lapis lazuli on the surface of the painting. They alternate their identity as space or substance.   Furthermore, because select Flora shapes are the same size and form as the background shapes they enhance the sensation of shapes alternating between being an object (flora) or space. Example 6 is a detail from the painting.

Example 5.  Flora with space or Cloisonné effects.oct1617shorelinescloissone-oil-on-laminated-enameled-aluminum36x36

Example 6. A detail from image 5.oct1617shoreline-cloisonne-detailoil-on-enameled-laminated-aluminum36sx36

In November I have a series of workshops at Jerry’s Art of the Carolinas in Raleigh Durham, N.C.  from Friday November 11 through Sunday November 13th.   The Friday workshop, 9 am to 4 pm, “Painting Reflections in Glass, Water and Other Surfaces”. The Saturday workshop is also 9am to 4 pm “New Trends: Merging Paint the Digital Photography”. The Sunday workshop, 9 am to 4 pm “Abstracting Nature, from Meadows to Flora”.  To register call: 800 827 8478 ext 156. These

The three different workshops are described on this website under classes and workshops.

I have an exhibition of my work at the White Gallery in Lakeville, Ct at 342 Main Street.  Friday through Sunday 11-5 PM. 860 435-1029.



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Interrogating Flowers

By the 1600s painting flowers was a common custom for artists from China to Holland. Our exploration begins here with carefully observed flowers represented not only as a theme in painting but also as a motif on china, silver, tapestries and clothing. Their arrangement on table tops, silk, canvas, and porcelain was carefully choreographed (example 1). Contemporary artists continue reinvent the subject.

Example 1. Dutch tablecloth, 1660.oct16111660-flora-tablecloth

By the 17th century the European standard of the posed bouquet had swept through artist’s studios (example 2),

Example 2.   French, Anne Valleyer Coster, 18th century oil,oct1611french-anne-valleyer-costeroil-floral

Posed flowers in water-glasses, vases, rustic pots, across counters, desktops, and cropped in their gardens continued to thrive whether mimicked or abstracted in varieties of  media.  Across the 20th century with super luminaries like Richard Diebenkorn (example 3) or contemporary watercolorists like Joseph Rafael (example 4) or contemporary oil painters like Ben Aronson (example 5) who follows in  the new traditions of Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud.

Example 3. Richard Diebenkorn, Poppies,oct1611diebenkornrichardpoppies

Example 4. Joseph Raffael, watercolor, Après Le Pluie,oct1611raffael-josephwc-apres-le-pluie-garden-roses

Example 5. Ben Aronson, oil on panel, Tulips in Bloom,oct1611ben-aronsontulips-in-bloom-oil-on-panel

Even the most serious and celebrated figure painter, Lucien Freud, found painting  his garden irresistible (example 6). His thickly textured paint found the tactile attraction of earth and garden a complementary subject.  Here was an artist who likes to drill down into his subject whether figure for flora.

Example 6. Lucien Freud, painter’s garden,oct1611freudlucien-painters-garden200324x18_edited-4

As you have seen, the artists tailored floral subjects to their medium and methods. Contemporary photographers too, have found new forms for reconstituting flowers and layering them into their imagery (see example 7, Emilie Belin).

Example 7. Emilie Belin, photograph, Christmas Roses.oct1611contemporaryvalery-belinborn1962christmas-rosesphotograph

Earlier this year I blogged on my explorations with flowers painted in oil over enameled, laminated aluminum (April 18, 2016 blog post).  I featured example 8.

Example 8. Dunlop, Flora, Sunlight and Shadows.april1618florasunlight-and-shadows-alt-oilon-anodized-aluminum36x36

Casually strolling with my family in Berlin ( Rebecca, Max, Natalie, and granddaughter, Frida) I found new floral opportunities. I tried reversing the focus. I pulled the background into focus and blurred the foreground subject. The resulting painting is example 9.

Example 9. Dunlop, horizontal garden,oct1611flora-june-berlin-oil-on-enameled-laminated-aluminum24x48

Wandering along local roads I often find attractive moments with flowers.  Example 10 silhouettes a rose against the sky in an effort monumentalize the subject.  Example 12 resulted from photographing under the glass roofed NY Botanical Garden. I excised the evidence of windows in my pursuit of a dense display of leafy and petal-like  gestures.  First, my Photoshopped and multilayered photograph which served as my point of departure (example 11) then, the subsequent painting (example 12).

Example 10.  Skyborn Rose,oct1611florachestnut-hill-rose-oil-on-enameled-laminated-aluminum24x24

Example 11.  Photograph as altered and multi-layered,oct1611bronx-botanical-roses5ab

Example 12.  The painting, “Greenhouse Effect”,oct1611flora-greenhouse-effect-oil-on-enameled-laminated-aluminum36x36

I invite you to join me in upcoming events:

“The Psychology of Art and Design” is a lecture I will be giving at the Silvermine Art Center in New Canaan, Ct. on Sunday, October 16th at 4:30 PM.   How do we make, view and market art?  What are the subliminal forces that direct our intentions determine our responses?

In November I have a series of workshops at Jerry’s Art of the Carolinas in Raleigh Durham, N.C.  from Friday November 11 through Sunday November 13th.   The Friday workshop, 9am to 4 pm, “Painting Reflections in Glass, Water and Other Surfaces”. The Saturday workshop is also 9am to 4 pm “New Trends: Merging Paint the Digital Photography”. The Sunday workshop, 9 am to 4 pm “Abstracting Nature, from Meadows to Flora”.  To register call: 800 827 8478 ext 156. These three different workshops are described on this website under classes and workshops.

I have an exhibition of my work at the White Gallery in Lakeville, Ct at 342 Main Street.  Friday through Sunday 11-5 PM. 860 435-1029.







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Harmonizing Noise and Mayhem

Static and hiss can interfere with clear reception of a radio signal. If we want to listen to that signal we attend more closely.  Our attention becomes heightened.  If we dine in a cacophonous room, we focus with more intensity on our partner’s conversation.  We select out the information from the surrounding noise.  We participate with pictures in the same way.  As with language we begin by recognizing patterns and conventions. We are ready to finish one another’s sentences.  In painting, once we recognize a convention we easily move on unless there is obscuring static which requires us to elevate our attention.  When we elevate our attention we apply our imagination to hypothesizing what we think we see. We fill in the gaps of uncertainty created by noise with what we think should be present.

Artists have long employed visual noise and mayhem as a screen obliging our imagination to make plausible hypotheses.  Puzzling out an image offers a satisfying challenge because; we can and will hypothesize a solution.  There is no right or wrong, true or false, only our guess.  Visual noise and mayhem create a field of ambiguity which invites the beholder to make a guess, even to make multiple guesses.

The chiaroscuro of Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt depend on our guess that darkness represents space.  The fuzzy edges and bleeding complementary color patterns of Bonnard have us guessing not only about the nature of the space but, the nature of the illumination and the variable color reflectance of surfaces (example 1).  With his squeegees and blurred brushwork Gerhard Richter regenerates some of the surface patterns and textures as surrealists like Max Ernst.  We see these patterns as vaguely familiar and their underlying references to landscape conventions compel us to look and see through the noise to a landscape beneath.  It’s like looking past the mullions in a window to see the landscape beyond (examples 2 and 3).

Example  1, Pierre Bonnard, landscape,

Example 2, Gerhard Richter Landscape,

Example 3. Gerhard Richter Landscape,

Richter refers to a much earlier tradition of painting landscapes in example 4.  His overlying visual noise uses distorted rectangular forms. We feel as though we are looking through a canted, smudged window.  Historically landscape artists set up tables with glass frames through which they viewed and recorded the landscape.  This distortion of Richter’s cleverly refers back to that process as he supplies us with a conventional landscape beneath his visual noise.

Example 4. Gerhard Richter, Venetian Landscape through a noisy frame.

Last week I introduced a shoreline/marsh grass painting with lots of noise and counterpoint directionals.  I later responded to that experience by creating an image in Photoshop which was an amalgam of photography and painting. I combined a shore-grass photo with a painting and, with another photo of a woodland pool.  This amalgamated image is represented in example 5.  From this noisy and confused image I generated different new paintings. Example  6 presents one such painting. Example 7 presents a revised version of example 6, a step two.

Example 5, the photo amalgam,


Example 6. Step one of the new painting, “Sparks on a Shoreline”.

Example 7. Step two of the new painting;

I tried this process again with a different painting and photo.  I merged the two images into a new photo (example 8). This photo became my point of departure for my next painting which you see as example 9.

Example 8, Photo amalgam, of painting and photo.

Example 9.  Landscape painting on enameled brushed silver laminated aluminum,oct164miles-wildlife-sanctuary-photo-and-painting-mergerpainting
I abandoned the Photoshop process and went directly to distressing and confusing an existing landscape of mine, I simply tried to apply noise but, sustain chromatic harmony and a feeling of linear and atmospheric perspective. Step one (example 10) presents the painting as it was, a more conventional landscape. Step two (example 11) presents the painting after imposing a harmonizing mayhem.

Example 10, original painting,

Example 11. After harmonizing noise and mayhem,

I  invite you to join me in a variety of events. This Saturday October 8, 2016 I will be at the opening reception of an exhibition of my work at the White Gallery in Lakeville, Ct at 342 Main Street.  The opening runs from 5 to 7 pm.  I will arrive at 4 pm.

In November I have a series of workshops at Jerry’s Art of the Carolinas in Raleigh Durham, N.C.  from Friday November 11 through Sunday November 13th.   The Friday workshop, 9am to 4 pm, “Painting Reflections in Glass, Water and Other Surfaces”. The Saturday workshop is also 9am to 4 pm “New Trends: Merging Paint the Digital Photography”. The Sunday workshop, 9 am to 4 pm “Abstracting Nature, from Meadows to Flora”.  To register call: 800 827 8478 ext 156. These three different workshops are described on this website under classes and workshops.

“The Psychology of Art and Design” is a lecture I will be giving at the Silvermine Art Center in New Canaan, Ct. on Sunday, October 16th at 4:30 PM.   How do we make, view and market art?  What are the subliminal forces that direct our intentions determine our responses?

Posted in Painting | 6 Comments

Geometry Speaks

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

Example 1, Velazquez, Las Meninas,

Example 2, Canaletto, St Marks Piazza,

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

Example 3. Canaletto, Capriccio,

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

Example 4.  Illustration from Chaucer,1484,

Example 5. Georges Braque,

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

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

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

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

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

Example 8, Photo of street reflections through barred window,

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

Example 9, Edward Hopper,

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

Example 10, Las Meninas diagrammed,

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

Example 11, Atrium Glass,

Example 12, Atrium glass diagrammed,

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

Example 13, Madison and 57th, current state,

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

Example 14, Van Gogh, expressive geometry,

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

Example 15, City Landscape as substrate after vertical flip,

Example 16, Shorelines with expressive geometry,

Example 17, Shorelines with geometry diagrammed,

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


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Sky Shapes

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

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

Example 1. El Greco’s View of Toledo,

Example 2. Van Gogh, Starry Night,

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

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

Example 4 .Step two, after glazing.

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

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

Example 6. George Michel in 1840,

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

Example 7, Initial lay-in of color,

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




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Scrambled But Legible

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

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

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

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

Example 1, Scrambled but legible,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Intervals: Rhyming Patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above, Below, Forward and Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Beach Abstraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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