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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.