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Under The Influence of Temples

Mediterranean culture gave us mythology, math and architecture. The architecture of classical temples still fires our imagination in our churches, libraries, train stations and shopping malls. The magnetic pull of spaces like Grand Central Station, New York’s Public Library or the Metropolitan Museum can be traced to ancient temples of Rome.  Artists exercised their attraction to these spaces  by decorating and  describing them. Dutch artists of the 1600s used linear perspective and camera obscura technology to recreate the spell of the temples. Examples 1 and 2, by Houckeest and Emanuel de Witte illustrate the  observation and rendering skills of those Dutch artists.

example.1. Houckeest,1638.
dec14,8,g. houckeest,edited-1

example 2. de Witte, 1669, oil on panel.
dec14,8,emanuel de witte,1669 oil on panel, church interior

Contemporary artists’ affection for classical temple interiors challenges their interpretive skills. We are past  imitating photographic appearances in paint.  And, photographic appearances continue to be redefined by photographers’ imaginative use of  software  and the broadening capabilities of cameras as well as new insights in visual perception.

Example 3 takes us back to classical Italian architecture.  Here is a composite photograph of a columned corridor in Vicenza and a church interior in Rome.  Our brain unifies the evidence of two differing stories into one, two layered images become one visual hypothesis. Example 4 again uses classical forms as seen in the steel bridgework on Manhattan’s upper West Side. The arches inevitably suggest a classical temple. This image was built from photos layered with a painting of a similar subject.

example 3. Composite photo.
dec14,8,layered photo, Vicenza to Rome_edited-1

example 4. composite photos and painting.
dec14,8,city bridges, oil on anodized 13x13_edited-2

My next examples derive from the interior of  New York’s Metropolitan Museum.  The milling crowds, the light diffusing from Fifth Avenue, the complex of columns, and testing possibilities for coloring the atmosphere to energize the space motivated this image (example 5,a composite photograph).  Next, I prepared an unorthodox surface. I began with a landscape which no longer bore fruit for me. I over-painted this landscape with a silver metallic semi-translucent enamel (example 6).  At first, I  slathered on paint seeking another landscape but, felt an irrepressible urge to return to the imagery of the metropolitan museum.  Example 7 shows you an early first step in this painting’s process. I discovered I could alligator the surface of the  metallic enamel by selectively spraying it with turpentine. This example gives an idea of the textured surface. Example 8 presents the image as it now appears. I felt that notes of bright Vermillion placed in areas of a deep ultramarine blue snapped the picture into a more  lively expression. I restrained my squeegee work  in favor  of  brushwork.

example 5. step 1,the composite photograph.
dec14,8,step1,photo layered in museum

example 6. step 2, The under-painting with silver enamel.
dec14,8,step2,prepared silver metallic paint over landscape

example 7. step 3 with clearer evidence of alligatored surface areas.
dec14,8,step4,between columns

example 8. step 4 image as it now appears.
dec14,8,final step2,,between columns,oil on prepared anodized aluminum,24x24

I have two more examples of my museum explorations. This next example again begins with a lay-in over a silver enameled substrate (example 9).  The developed painting (example 10)  relies on an ascending triangle for compositional structure. The triangle evolved from blurring figures exiting the museum into a unitary but, perforated mass. The triangle’s fragmentation is also interpenetrated by columns as I try to build a horizontal interrupting the ascending (peopled) triangle.  The vermillion notes awaken and refresh our attention. Example 11 presents the motif in a grander scale. It’s 48×48.

example 9. initial lay-in, step 1.
dec14,8,step1,met museum,edited-1

example 10. image as it now appears, step 2.
dec14,8,final step,met entry, oil on anodized and prepared aluminum,24x24

example 11. a larger image of the same motif.
dec14,8,columns of light,  Great Hall, oil on anodized aluminum, 48x48

My invitation to you:  If you live within commuting distance of  the Silvermine School of Art in New Canaan, Ct.  I invite you to register for my winter semester.  Tuesdays  continues with morning and afternoon classes. Wednesday afternoons I offer an experimental class (in terms of materials and techniques). Registration begins on December 10, 2014.  Just call The Silvermine School of Art at 203 966 6668 ext 2 or fax in your registration.  Classes begin Tuesday, January 13.

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Approaching Winter

As Minneapolis experienced its coldest Thanksgiving in 20 years; -2 degrees Fahrenheit,  I found a moment to examine cold winter mornings.  Here were  brittle skeletal stalks of cattails and  blue violet shadows on snow.  Earlier artists from Holland’s 1600s described their winter with frozen canals and harbors laced with skaters.  Later 19th century Impressionists found winter stimulated them to explore complementary color relationships like  violet vs. yellow and, blue vs. yellow and peach.  Winter became the time for  nuanced tones of pale grays and violets,   the time to build cold luminosities.

At the end of the 19th century Winslow Homer dramatically simplified his compositions. The snow blankets of winter helped this process as you see in example 1.   A few years later in 1908,  the early expressionist pioneer, Marsden Hartley was  separating himself from Impressionism (See example 2).  Unlike Monet’s Impressionist winters, Hartley finds simple shapes and reduces them to  iconic status. He applies paint like a winter Impressionist but, we see his later bold expressionism bubbling up. By winter 1982 Neil Welliver usurped the broken forms of Impressionists,  suppressed their complementary color palettes and reintroduced edges to forms but, kept the Impressionist appetite for confusion (visual noise through a texture of small overlapping strokes) as generator for  emotional sensation  (example 3).

example 1. Winslow Homer
dec14,1,homer,w, sled_edited-2

example 2. Marsden Hartley
dec14,1,marsden hartley,1908,snow_edited-1

example 3. Neil Welliver
dec14,1,welliver, neil, oil stdy for early thaw,18x18, 1982_edited-1

If I borrow Hartley’s palette and the vertical composition of Welliver I discover winter in Manhattan (example 4).  My buildings and figures take over the vertical role of Welliver’s trees.  If I transfer the vertical confusion set up by Neil Welliver to a winter marshland of cattails  I get examples 6 through 11. Here are step-by-step developments of two different paintings sharing the same source material (photos in example 5).  They are reconfigured into squares. In the first step-by-step sequence (examples 6 through 9) I begin with brushed-silver anodized aluminum.

example 4. Winter in Manhattan, oil.
dec14,1,manhattan winter, oil on anodized aluminum,18x18

example 5. some of the original photos.
dec14,1,winter photos
The next images are the same size as Neil Welliver’s study, 18×18.  Step 1 (example 6) covers the surface with an unevenly blended combination of red iron oxide and ultramarine blue. Step 2 (example 7)  With soft synthetic flat brushes I reveal threads of the silver substrate which is now stained by the red iron oxide to look golden.  In step 3 (example 8)  I  added opaque pastel colors to both sky and foreground.  I smeared the foreground  with gentle vertical strokes. The blurring at the lower part of the picture (ground plane) evolves into more clarity in the middle ground. This blurring from the edges into clarity toward the middle imitates our own act of vision.  The center of  our vision enjoys much more clarity than the periphery.

example 6. step 1.


example 7.step 2.

example 8.step 3.
dec14,1,step 3,winter,dawn at bald eagle I, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,18x18_edited-1

In steps 9 through 11  I pursued a slightly more abstract effect.  I start with an underpainting of  varied yellows in acrylic.  Step 1 (example 9) shows my initial lay-in with ultramarine blue and red iron oxide. The sky reveals the color and quality of the underpainting which I will later rediscover with a squeegee strokes.  Step 2 (example 10) shows the evidence of my squeegee work and gentle over-scrubbing with synthetic flats. Step 3 ( example 11) presents the image after adding opaque pastel blue  which gets dragged and blurred up into the darker middle area.  Finally, I return with the squeegee to find brighter and cleaner threads of the yellow underpainting.

example 9. step 1.
dec14,1,step1,bald eagle blended,18x18

example 10. step 2.
dec14,1,step2,bald eagle blended

example 11. step 3.
dec14,1,step 3,bald eagle blended,winter,dawn at bald eagle,18x18_edited-1

I conclude this exploration on with  an earlier collaborative painting ( an oil on raw aluminum,48×48) by Max Dunlop and Me. The image begins with a wintry vista in the Badlands of the Dakotas (example 12). We borrow ideas from older winter Chinese paintings reaching as far back as the Sung Dynasty in the 12th century.

example 12. Badlands in Winter.
dec14,1,max and david, final version after david, badlands2, 48x48 oil on aluminum_edited-2


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Pattern Makers: Building The Maze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Point of View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

example 7.Step 2 with color.

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

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

example 9. Wave and sea foam recession.

nov14,10,ocean skies,step2

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

Example 10.
nov14,10,Florence streets

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

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Perspective With A Twist

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

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

1. step one.nov14,3,step one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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River Fast, Mountain High

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

example 10. Bob Lenz:bob lenz painting_edited-1

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

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

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

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

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

13.Invoking the Muse. group shot

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

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


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Come Away From The Window

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Perspective Like A Rubber Band

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

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

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

example 2. Thiebaud’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Inside Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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