Vincent Van Gogh let his brush strokes imitate the pen strokes of his sketches. He found an expressive vocabulary of marks to describe the wavering, windswept, leaning, curling, interwoven patterns of nature (example 1). Layering and weaving nature’s strands of wheat, branches, flora and clouds is seductive challenge for artists. The attractions of nature’s complex textures expanded for artists in the 20th century.
I live near fields of sea grass along the Connecticut shore. Many artists here are seduced by the variety of light, texture, and motion offered by the shoreline grasses. Late 20th century expressionist Gabor Peterdi lived and painted these shores investing his sea grass with wind-dance motion presaged by Van Gogh in his pen and inks. Peterdi’s work (example 2) of the 1980s takes an abstract path unavailable to Van Gogh in 1890. Like Van Gogh, Peterdi explores chromatic complements but, with greater distillation and design efficiency.
Let’s begin with a couple of photographs of New England shorelines from Massachusetts to New York. Example 3 presents a black and white photo. I stripped away the color to allow me greater inventiveness with color. Example 4 is the painting that followed. I exaggerated the stand of grasses because, that’s where I found the maximum opportunity for texture, pattern and deep color contrasts. The image was painted on brushed silver anodized aluminum.
The next image begins closer to home along the Norwalk, Connecticut shore. These are the same wetlands investigated by Peterdi 30 years earlier. First, example 5 presents my photograph before manipulations in Photo Elements. Example 6 demonstrates both step one and two of the painting process. The right half shows my lay-in after some light texturing with a 4”brush and paper towel. The left half shows the second step after the application of squeegee marks excising areas of the lay-in. Example 7 presents the image in its present state after I applied opaque patches of pink and blue into some of the earlier excisions. I further overlaid vertical strands of more vivid color (light vermilion and citron yellow). The stronger reds occupy lower areas of the reeds. They transition into lighter yellows as they ascend into the sky. My color complements followed the standard set by physicists Herman Von Helmholtz and Ogden Rood in the late 19th century. Van Gogh had read and used their color advisories; a warm yellow complements an ultramarine blue. A Cyan blue best complements a Gamboge and notes of light vermillion.
Finally, I came in closer for a more intimate horizon-free view of marsh grass (example 8). The color contrast here is strong and complementary and, again follows the advice of Helmholtz and Rood (see his book, “Modern Chromatics”).