Collaboration presents challenges to pride, identity and self-scrutiny. Collaboration reveals  our habits, predilections, taste preferences, and personal limitations.  Confronted with a process which denies the illusion of personal control we open to discoveries which are inaccessible  when we work alone.

My recent collaborator was artist, Max Dunlop. We are practiced at collaboration but, we still find surrendering to the work and will of another simultaneously frustrates and liberates our imagination.

As I work on a painting which I know I will surrender to another artist to complete I become liberated to experiment without regard to a final product’s purpose and effects.   I am free to swim in any direction. As I receive a work from Max which already has a direction, an identity, and ambition I try to discover this new work and interact with it rather than superimpose my will on his piece. I try to follow this gift of a new direction, of a different point of view.  I am free to interact with qualities which are not mine.  This inherited image offers me a chance to expand, to add to my vocabulary.  Here is a perceptual challenge.  Can I work with what’s in front of me instead of what I wanted  or expected?  Can I  invest my imagination in a work which is out of my scope but, accessible to my imagination and touch. Can I carry it further?

In collaboration I have found two treasures. One is the unencumbered beginning with its freedom to go anywhere because, I am not responsible for the conclusion. I cannot and will not finish it. I must let it go to another artist. The second is the gift is discovering another point of view, another quality of touch, another vision.  In the second case I must react rather than freely generate. Reacting demands looking, compassion, attention, contemplation if the collaboration is to proceed as the a unity of two rather than the triumph of one.

Below are examples illustrating the process of our most recent collaborations. They include imagery from my recent trip to Ireland.  Max’s images include images from his neighborhood (Ridgewood/Bushwick), industrial sections  of Queens, New York , and Austria.

The examples are presented in sets of two. Each set first shows the work as it began just as it was passed from the originating artist to the finishing artist (step one of each collaboration). The second image in each set presents the final artist’s efforts ( step two of each collaboration).

Example 1. Beginning by Max, Dingle Peninsula,24×24dingle Peninsula, max dunlop begins, 24x24

Example 2. Step 2,same painting, by Me, Dingle Peninsula,24×24Dingle Peninsula, david dunlop finish, max and david,24x24_edited-2

Example 2. Beginning by David, Queens Industrial,24×24queens industrial, david dunlop begins, 24x24

Example 2. Step 2,same painting,Finish by Max,Queens Industrialqueens industrial,max dunlop finishes, max and david,2424

Example 3.Beginning by Max,Bushwick Underpass,24×24bushwick underpass, max begins,24x24

Example 3.step 2(same Painting),finish by David,Bushwick Underpassbushwick underpass, david finishes, max and david 24x24

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The Interpretation of Streams

If vision is interpretive rather than absolute then any tool that can suggest an interpretation, no matter how vague, how blurred, or how ambiguous will be a persuasive tool.  Fingers have been a fundamental part of our tool set since we made our first image on a cave’s wall.  Fingers leave their trace, the evidence of fingers in the paint.  We have always relished a free and expressive gesture and, no tool is more immediately and  finely tuned than our fingers for making nuanced gestures.

Fingers can of course guide and inhabit all kinds of extensions such as rags, brushes, knives.  They can tickle a trail in paint with a single hair as subtly as water-spider skating on a pond.  What follows are illustrations of how we employ fingers directly and with some technical extensions.  Here are illustrations of how we use are fingers to conjure an interpretation (an image) while sustaining and not hiding the evidence of  the fingers at work.

We can’t interpret without previous experience, without a mental preset.  In art that experience comes from our own encounters with art history. They guide us as we make new art whether we realize this or not.  There is more freedom and creativity if we do realize the sources of our experience which guide our visual interpretations, our interpretations of everything  we encounter. Here are a couple of examples. Example 1 presents an Andrew Wyeth egg tempera painting of conifers reflected in a pool with an undulating shoreline. As I scouted painting locations in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this weekend I snapped this image ( example 2 ).  I realized I had discovered a visual idea (the Wyeth) I knew before but,  was now reconfigured in my new view.  I further recognized another image lay dormant in my photo, a painting by Gustav Klimt (example 3). You can see how these were  sources for my photograph.

example 1. Andrew Wyeth, egg tempera. aug14,19,Andrew Wyeth cove in egg tempera

example 2. my photo.aug14,19,franconia notch,profile lake_edited-1

example 3. Gustave Klimt, 1899.aug14,19,klimt, gustav, morning by the pond, 1899_edited-2

Wandering along clear White Mountain streams I found other influences for my camera and later paintings. Along a rocky stream I  was reminded of  other paintings which awakened my  imagination, my desire to re-interpret. Example 4 shows a stream painting from 1810 by Simon Denis.  My step by step examples will take you through my experience of re-interpretation as stimulated by my encounter with a mountain stream. Example 5  presents step one  as I lay in ultramarine blue on brushed gold anodized aluminum.  Even in this vague and blurred image I see I can interpret the sensation of  stream with a dark forest alongside. Example 6 presents step two. Here I use Gamboge yellow for a warm and shallow foreground. I blend it into the ultramarine blue in the back. Example 7 reveals my use of finger painting with paper towels. Example 8 demonstrates a scene which is less accessible to multiple-interpretive viewing. There is less ambiguity. I now think examples 6 and 7 were more evocative, more capable of varied and sustained interpretations.

example 4. painting by Simon Denis,1810.aug14,19,simon Denis, oil sketch, 1810

example 5. Step one, the lay-in.aug14,19,step one, the stream

example 6. step two, introducing yellow.aug14,19,steptwo,nh stream

example 7. step three, initial finger and towel work.aug14,19,step three,painting,nh stream

example 8. step four, blurred opaque paint with brushwork.aug14,19,step four,painting,nh stream

Let me further demonstrate the suggestive power of finger painting. Here in two steps ( examples 9 and 10) I want to  illustrate the gestural pleasure and the suggestive  potency of loose finger painting. Example 10′s trees and foliage were almost completely painted with bare fingers and, with a paper towel wrapped around fingers.  The range of  variety in the marks is broad because, our fingertip touch offers great variety. We exhibit more dexterity and variety with our fingers because,  our experience with them is the greatest of all the tools at our disposal.

example 9. The trees lay-in with yellow and azure blue.aug14,19,step one,the trees

example 10. After the finger painting.aug14,19,steptwo the trees,



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Make It Feel Fast, Make It Feel Slow

Paintings like songs can slow time or speed it up. The viewer can read a painting like a poem, chasing the rapid urgency of a rhythm or in contrast, languidly reflecting upon a mist of ambiguity.  Paintings evoke a sense of time like music, just as  tight focus, sharp  up-tempos, and bright notes suggest a fast musical experience or,  a  sluggish tempo, in a minor key  with soft and darker notes suggests a more pensive and slower experience. Subject matter, color choices, modifications to linear and aerial perspective, the beholder’s point of view and  blurred edges can all contribute a sense of the high speed or slow pace in a painting.

Let’s begin with the fast painting. Example 1 uses a cityscape because, we are familiar with a hurried experience with this subject.  The beholder’s could be traveling by car, especially since I placed the beholder in the center of the street.  Cities are organized more geometrically than forests or lakes. Single or two point perspectives are well suited to recreating an urban illusion.  I Selected a single vanishing point and direct the parallel geometry of the street, buildings, traffic and overpass directly toward it.  The shared vanishing point uninterrupted by a set of curves and turns delivers the viewer speedily to infinity. The beholder can find this rapid experience of the single point perspective to be too quick and therefore,  might exit the painting unless another directed experience presents itself to divert and sustain their attention.  You see in both of my City paintings (see example 2) I offer two destinations as a way of sustaining the viewer’s attention.  Now, the beholder can experience speed without quickly wanting to exit the painting.  Choices always slow down our attention.  A choice of two decisions are pondered. One does not.

example 1. City, Decision, oil on pvc panel,48×48 aug14,11,City Decision,oil on pvc panel,48x48_edited-3

example 2. City, Fast On Broadway, oil on pvc panel, 48×48 aug14,11,fast broadway,oil on pvc,48x48

Both examples also use high value contrasts, bright complementary color contrasts, an application of aerial perspective (applied atmosphere),  sharp verticals contrasting against the horizon and ground plane, and an abundance of hard edges to reinforce a sense of speed.

In contrast, example 3 demonstrates a meandering soft-focus, dark shape slowly and loosely wending its way across the pond’s surface toward a diffuse and luminous background. There is no central vanishing point. The color harmony is analogous  ( blues and greens) . The equiluminance of the background coloring creates a field of close light values with blurring edges. The components of  background are not easily  situated in the visual cortex which creates an uncertainty and slows the beholder’s participation in the painting. Equiluminance thwarts our effort to locate objects within areas.  The subject is timeless and appears to be experienced from a static point of view. The components of the picture  appear to be  capable of  only subtle motion. There is light and temperature but, little to no breeze.

example 3. Randall’s Pond Variations, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,48×48 aug14,11,Water,Randalls Pond,Variations, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,48x48_edited-3



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Into The Woods, Deep Woods

Artists look at the same material and create different visions. Artists accompanying me in the Catskills gave different visions but shared similar design structures. We  share design forms just as we share the letters of the alphabet,  similar vocabularies,  and even similar story forms. But our personal stories (paintings) reveal our unique use of that alphabet, vocabulary and story form.

Paul Gala, Kathryn Poch, and Janine Robertson were three of 21 artists joining me in the Catskills. Their works reveal  shared design forms coupled to personal invention. Let’s begin with Paul (examples 1 and 2).  Working within a square format Paul  organizes his plein air experience by relying on the triangle as a foundation.  His palette appears warm because of his use of transparent red oxide (iron oxide). Observe in both examples Paul inclines the outlying tree forms into an off-center triangle. With his waterfall he guides us back and up the steps of the falls.  The falls also assume a triangular shape.  In his woodland painting Paul takes us back through a series of triangles within triangles each varied in size, inclination, and description of edges.

example 1. Paul Gala, Falls, oil. aug14,4,paul gala,Falls, oil

example 2. Paul Gala, Woodland Trail, oil.aug14,4,Paul Gala,Woodland trail, oil on anodized aluminum maybe

Janine Robertson (examples 3, 3a, and 4) stacks a triangle of clouds over an echoing triangle shape of trees  which can be seen on the right side of the meadow. She also laterally runs triangles in opposition to one another which you see diagrammed in example 3a. In Janine’s vertical composition she relies on a serpentine trail of spotted lights within a darkened foreground. Notice Janine uses the dark foreground as an effective threshold device to encourage the viewer to move back toward the light.  We step over the dark threshold to get to the light. The serpentine design is simplyl a stack of two opposing triangles, a softened letter “Z” or “S”.  Janine gives us an example of a fundamental application of the zig zag  to invite the viewer in.

example 3. Janine Robertson, sky and meadow, oil on metal.aug14,4,Janine's Meadow,oil on aluminum,

example 3. diagram of triangles  aug14,4,Janine's Meadow,oil on aluminum,_edited-2

example 4. Janine Robertson, Meandering Stream, oil on copper.aug14,4,janines stream,oil on copper

All three of these artists used curving or bending triangles to give them more dynamic forms with a greater suggestion of motion.  Kathryn Poch  (examples 5 and 6) uses triangles and circles. She bends her triangles even more severely.  In example 5 Kathryn flattens and foreshortens a circle  into a disc form.  She then places a vertically aspiring collection of shapes in its center. The effects has us feeling a landscape revolve around a motif, all evolving, all in motion. In example 6 Kathryn keeps us spinning as we revolve around a blue copse of trees.  Curvilinear forms suggest motion, a turning motion as well as volume.

example 5. Kathryn Poch, Coral Discovery, oil  on anodized aluminum.aug14,4,Coral Discovery,oil on anodized aluminum

example 6. Kathryn Poch, Wind, oil on anodized aluminum.aug14,4,kathryn Poch,12x12 oil on anodized aluminum,Wind

I am off to paint and photograph the woods, streams, waterfalls, meadows and White Mountains of New Hampshire in September. September 4th through the 8th. If you wish to join me contact the Silvermine School of Art at  203 966 6668 ext 2.




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Designing The Catskills

Whether exploreing New York’s Catskill Park or trolling through art history we repeatedly find the fundamental design form of the triangle. With its unifying effect on design it has become as omnipresent as the circle in painting. It can be turned in any directi0n to suggest the orientation or the motion of an image.  It can suggest the direction of light, the fall of water, or the slope of land. In example 1, a Rembrandt etching demonstrates ascending triangles. Their downward fans suggest falling rays of light.

example 1. Rembrand Etching.july14,28,rembrandt, crucifixion etching fourth state_edited-2

I can’t stop finding new design uses for the triangle especially, triangles within triangles or, reciprocal triangles which point toward each other.  I found myself on the shores of a lake at Devil’s Tombstone in the Catskills.  Two mountains formed a dramatic triangle at one end of the lake, example 2.  I snapped a photo ( example 3) as I looked across the lake with fronds of lake grass assembling themselves into a fanciful  “V”. The fronds erratically stretched in contrary directions.  Their reflecting light stood in strong contrast to the shadowed shoreline.  I diagrammed that photo by superimposing two triangles on it (example 4).  Next (example 5), I laid down a mixture of three colors, Gamboge yellow, ultramarine blue, and translucent azure blue(Sennelier). My next step ( example 6) was to carve out the grassy fronds with a six-inch wide squeegee which revealed the reflective brushed silver substrate.  Example 7 presents a diagram of the triangle of grasses and the inclined trees. These distant trees  imply another triangle which converges far above the painted image (above the picture plane).  These trees are inclined in the reverse direction from those in the photograph.

Example 2. Devils Tombstone photo with sky triangle and reflected lake triangle.july14,28,devils tombstone3_edited-1

example 3. Photo of lake with triangle of grasses.july14,28,catskill lake,photo,devils tombstone_edited-4

example 4. Diagrammed photo with reciprocal triangles.july14,28,catskill lake,photo2,devils tombstone_edited-6

example 5. Step 1, initial lay-in of oil paint.july14,28,catskill lake,step1

example 6. Step 2, After carving out fronds with a squeegee.july14,28,Catskill Lake,step2, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,24x24

example 7. Diagrammed painting.july14,28,Catskill Lake,step2a, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

While visiting the Catskills I conducted a plein-air painting workshop.  I began each day with a talk and small demonstration.  If I followed the tradition of the Hudson River painters like Sanford Gifford or Asher Durand who painted here I would start with a small sketch in oil or pencil.  Later I might try refining that sketch in my hotel or tent or studio.  In the studio the sketch becomes more distinct or legible.  That was their mid-19th century practice. I began my demonstration in oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum, 12×12″ ( example 8).  Example 9 presents a triangle-within-a-triangle design diagrammed on the image.  I returned to my studio and worked into the demonstration ((example 10).

example 8. on sight quick demonstration.july14,28,catskill forest,step1,

example 9. triangle diagrams on demonstration.july14,28,catskill forest,step1a,_edited-1

example 10. After studio work on the demonstration.july14,28,catskill forest,step2a, oil on anodized brushed silver aluminum,12x12_edited-2

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The Rising River

Following the Housatonic River Road this morning I found my opportunity to raise a river.  With my contrived, elevated river  I could build additional psychological distance into the painting.  The River is a mirror and mirrors reflect light.  My river-mirror gave me as it has so many other artists the chance to place a pool of light strategically within a darkened area.  Paintings as mirrors to nature were once the universal  metaphor for painters. That changed with Neo Impressionists like Van Gogh and Cezanne.  They wanted more. They wanted to penetrate the structure of nature, the feelings we have for nature, their biological vision of nature and their connection to the history of art. Now I can still use the mirror metaphor when painting but, I can also construct my mirror’s image according to those other categories as well.

I pulled over to walk along the river road. I crouched along the upper meadow above the Housatonic to include lots of angled meadow in my view (example 1). As I lowered my camera  the thinner the river became and, the higher the river went in my image and, more meadow appeared. If I turned 180 degrees I could find a reverse angle  for the meadow sloping down to the Housatonic. Again I found a pool of light, the reflection of the sky tucked between the darkened tree covered banks. The light reflecting from the water appeared brighter because of the darkened surrounding trees (example 2).

example 1. photo july14,14,Falls Village,River Road 6_edited-1

example 2. photo july14,14,Falls Village,River Road17jpg_edited-1

I wandered further along the road to discover a lagoon. It offered the same elevated vista. Here I noticed  the lagoon assumed the historic serpentine form.  If I lowered my camera I could include an arcing mowed path which led toward the reflecting serpentine lagoon. This arcing path could be moved left or right of the lagoon depending upon my camera’s position. You see how I am toying with compositional ideas here in examples 3 and 4. Examples 4 and 6 diagram the serpentine lagoon shape, the arcing path, and the soft “v” of the horizon.

example 3. photo july14,14,Falls Village,River Road18alt_edited-2

example 4. photo july14,14,Falls Village,River Road19alt_edited-2

example 5. diagramed #3 july14,14,Falls Village,River Road18_edited-1

example 6. diagramed #4 july14,14,Falls Village,River Road19_edited-1

The overcast day provided me with a softer set of contrasts. I could try a palette of  blue-green and deep purple as an initial lay-in using 3 and 4″ brushes example 7.  At this point I knew I could go more abstractly toward an atmospheric sensation or, I could turn the image toward more representational imagery by carving shapes and teasing out various textures with brushes, fingers and rags ( example 8).

example 7. step one july14,14,step one housatonic, oil

example 8. step two july14,14,step two, housatonic, oil on aluminum,18x18

Example 8 could be reversed to pursue a more abstract and unified field of textures. Other  examples of  the same form with the motif elevated to the upper area of the painting can be found in other landscapes as you see here with the marsh grasses elevated to reveal a broad expanse of surface extending before the beholder (example 9).

example 9. Pond with opposing diagonals.july14,14,randallspond,oil on aluminum,24x24

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Thrown On The Rocks

Art history has seen  waves, ships, maidens, sailors and  plastic water-bottles thrown, shattered and strewn against the rocks. These painted collisions have been harsh and theatrical or, soft and subtle, detailed and legible or, blurred and abstracted. Painting the tension between land and sea, between dynamic waves and unmoving rock has a history that crosses time and continents. My eye has been distracted by the collision of sunlight against  rocks.  If mystery lives in shadows then the longer the shadows the deeper the mystery. Late and early sunlight shows us elastic shapes with stretching shadows. The elongated shadows describe the surface of sea and land, cross it with attenuated patterns and serve up opportunities for  new compositions and vivid color harmonies.

If  I look  to the first half of the 20th century I find the shoreline experiments of artists like Rockwell Kent and Edward Hopper as they distilled and abstracted their experience of  sunlight on the rocks. Their ideas of complementary color harmony can be seen in Hopper’s rock sketch on the coast of Maine (example 1). He shows us how to use value, design and color to highlight and separate the planes of rocks.  Rockwell Kent’s painting presents a silent horizon and a quieting sea that earlier cast a ship onto rocks (example2).  He relies on the chromatic complements of ultramarine blue and yellow to give a morning’s glow to his work.  The rocks are choreographed into a stylized set of shapes, pillowy squares and triangles pinning the arc of the boat against the sea.

example 1. Hopper july14,7,hopper,edward, maine rocks,oil sketch, small

example 2. Kent. july14,7,rockwell kent, maine,shipwreck_edited-1

I found myself along Connecticut’s sunset shores.  Those lengthening shadows with red, orange and blue caught my attention. First, I looked to find a less clichéd pointed of view. I tried lowering my camera down to the surface of the rocks.  This telescoped the distance between proximate rocks and distant ones. They  dramatically overlapped one another to indicate who was in front and who was behind. I brought my photos to my computer where I stretched the shadows further, elongating the rocks as well. I pushed the contrast higher.  I brought my new computer-photo ideas to my easel.  Here, I exaggerate color, texture and shape still further.

I  blurred images and heightened color contrast at the computer. I continued this process at my easel.  Example 3 presents an earlier stage. Example 4 presents the same image after heightening color contrast, value contrast, blurring, and adding more geometric distortion and ambiguity.

example 3. step 1 july14,7,hamonassett blue shadows, oil on canvas,34x36

example 4. step 2.july14,7,shorelines,hamonassett evening atmosphere,oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

At the computer I compressed a photo’s imagery to fit within a square format ( example 5). I then  reversed that image and overlaid  it with  another blurry stretched version of itself (example 6). The painting  evolved through stages of abstraction until I came to example 7.   I noticed  problems. The lower right needed to better advance to the viewer. The bottom edge had too much similarity in the size of its shapes. The division of space in the lower right quadrant was too regular. I had more work to do. The result of the modifications can be seen in example 8.

example 5. square compressed photo.july14,7,photo,hamonassett june 2_edited-2

example 6. overlaid with blur and reversed.july14,7,photo,hamonassett june 2_edited-3,jpg_edited-2

example 7. step one of the painting.july14,7,painting,shorelines,step 1

example 8. step two of the painting.july14,7,shorelines,Hamonassett blue shadows, revised,oil on canvas,34x36_edited-1

I again compressed a photo to fit within a square format (example 9). In example 10 I overlaid the previous photo with a blurred version of itself and, I pushed the color in new directions. At the easel I stretched the  rocks further. I introduced blue-violet vs. amber color harmonies as well as placed  patches of deep carmine in the shadows of dark green areas. The water’s surface  became light violet-pink against dark green shorelines. Here was  another use of simultaneous contrast relying on both value contrast and color contrast. I sharpened select edges to snap some shapes out of the blurring background.

example 9. photo squeezed into a square.july14,7,photo,2,hamonassett june6_edited-1

example 10.same photo layered with a blur and re-colored.july14,7,photo2a,hamonassett june6_edited-6

example.11.painting on canvas.july14,7,shorelines, Hamonassett Late Shadows, oil on canvas,36x36_edited-2



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Turn Up The Noise

You are in a popular and loud restaurant with an exuberant bar crowd and  Bose speakers situated on the ceiling above your table. You lean forward to pick out the gist of  a conversation. You employ all your senses, lip reading, anticipating words in the conversation, cupping your ears. The conversation becomes more valuable as you expend more effort.  Paintings can offer a similar experience.

With anticipation and focus you can glean a sense of the painting’s direction, content, and effect.  But with a painting, instead of leaning forward across the table you step back away from the subject.  To penetrate a picture’s interfering noise and discover its unified content we need to step back to see the entirety of a painting. Almost always we first encounter a painting from a distance across a room at  10 or 20 feet. We  don’t close our eyes and wait to open them until we are within a foot or two of a painting. We discover paintings at a distance and see them through interfering visual noise. Impressionists realized this.  Before Impressionists, visitors to galleries assessed a painting by examining it with a magnifying glass.  Impressionists asked the audience to step back and let the visual noise amalgamate into visual coherence.  Opposite colors in  patches created a visual hum when viewed from 10 or more 20 feet.  Small patches neutralized each other.

Here’s an example of this phenomena by Monet (example a.)june14,16,monet,spring blossoms 1878_edited-1

Impressionists were not the first to realize how a viewer amalgamates the brushwork into believable content. DaVinci understood the obscuring effects of s’fumato and Rembrandt tugged on the sleeves of studio visitors pulling them back to have a longer view of his work.  if visitors got too close he knew they would only see the brushstrokes and not the illusion.

I have added interfering noise to thicken the atmosphere and  have the viewer puzzle out the image through the rain of noise. I have not gone far enough with my application noise. But, I want you to see how I  proceeded with my experiments and demonstrate how much more engaging the texture and visual experience of the painting is when the noise is turned up. Turning up the interfering noise also obliges me to further simplify the image and  the design.  Contrary to your immediate reflex, adding confusion can enrich and clarify the effect.  An entertaining set of  guesses can more easily be made out of an ambiguous visual field than a one governed by sharp edged clarity.  More space, motion, and vitality  live beneath a veil of noise than with a set of clearly enumerated and outlined shapes. The ambiguity offered by a curtain of noise increases the range of possible interpretations. Noise increases participation just as leaning across the table in a boisterous restaurant.

In my first example observe that the image begins without the blanket of noise and in example 2 observe how adding noise creates a sensation of  a more layered and  textured space. The painting’s noise is not just created by adding more marks, it is also generated by blending and obscuring edges (by adding obscuring atmosphere or soft noise) to the territory at the back (top) of the image.

example 1. Early state without much noise(oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum)june14,16,water, randalls pond in luminance, step one,oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-3

example 2. Added noise (both articulated and blended)june14,16,water, randalls pond in luminance, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-3

In the transition from example 3 to example 4  notice the additional noise created an illusion of greater distance by adding  light shapes to  the dark curtain at the top of the painting. The confusing blanket of marks added surface texture and dimension to the forward area (bottom) of the painting.

example 3, before adding noisejune14,16,water, randalls farm pond, step one,oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-4

example 4. after adding noisejune14,16,water, randalls farm pond, step two,oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-4

The noise can come in the form of added color or added color relationships. In example 5 the painting appears ambiguous but the color field has a monotonous and therefore quiet effect.  In example 6 not only are more marks added (while some are subtracted) to the surface but the color harmony has been complicated by the introduction of higher contrast and complementary colors.  These colors generate a more vibrant atmosphere and build a stronger sense of space because of their complementary push/pull effects.

example 5. before  adding color effectsjune14,16, water,reeds and reflections, step one

example 6. after amplified complementary color effects.june14,16, water,reeds and reflections, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

My final examples show two different directions for useful pictorial noise.  Example 7 presents a case for varieties of texture imitating some aspects of  3d materials such as curving long and stringy shapes overlaying short flat rounded shapes. Example 8 presents another variety of textures that are more tool-constrained. The range of marks here are limited to those of a 6 inch squeegee. Orientation, pressure, and dimension determine the vocabulary of marks here.

example 7. varieties of texture from a fingernail, brushes and squeegeesjune14,16,water, Receding Sun Over Marsh, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

example 8. almost exclusively squeegees in oil on a surface of brushed gold anodized aluminum.june14,16, water, randalls farm pond in blue and gold, 24x24



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The 1000 Year Old Wedgie

The year is 1120. You are a poet, painter, and imperial court officer.  Imagine you are looking for a composition for your ink on silk landscape. You will be decorating a handheld fan. Philosophical principles oblige you to find a quietly balanced design gently receding into soft distance.  Ying and Yang, right and left, up and down, a balance will be found with patterns gradually echoing  like ripples from a stone on water. They slowly diminish as they travel.  You begin with a shape dominating the horizon on one side.  Your design resembles principles other artists will use across time and cultures (example 1,  Yen Ts U Yu, late 12th century). Observe this design has correspondence with the wedge-on-the-horizon design I discussed in last week’s blogpost.  Take a  look  at another example, this one is by the 19th century painter Alfred Bricher (example 2).

example 1. late 12th century Chinese,june,14,9,china,late1100s, Yen Ts u yu,fan,ink silk_edited-1

example 2. Alfred Bricher landscape june14,9,alfred thomson bricher,promontory

The Bricher example also gives us  nearby rocks echoing the shape of the wedge, promontory on the horizon.  If I take this principle of design with me to a state park on  the Long Island Sound I can rediscover  many evolving varieties.  Exploring with design means discovery through recombinations, alterations, mirror reversals, elevation shifts, perspective shifts, and lateral shifts of the design’s structure.  Here are examples of such explorations.

If I borrow Bricher’s composition and reverse it and also change the palette to  red/orange vs. blue/violet then, I get an image like the photo in example 3.

example 3. The Bricher design reversed.june14,9,triangle left and below half,rocks no diagram_edited-1

I stay with the design in example 3 but, I change it by raising the horizon and slowly fracturing the design. Here the wedge begins as a unified form and then progressively breaks  apart.  It implies more motion through this sequence of deconstruction from left to right  (see example 4.)  Example 5 illustrates the same photo with a superimposed diagram illustrating the pattern of gradual deconstruction.

example 4. deconstructing the wedge june14,9,disintegrating left triangle with rocks no diagram_edited-1

example 5. deconstructing the wedge with diagram june14,9,disintegrating left triangle with rocks with diagram

If  I raise the horizon on the Bricher example I need to have an extended triangle (another wedge) taking me back into space toward the horizon. Without this receding triangle the wedge on the horizon appears to just float in air and the painting has no context for believable space. I demonstrated this solution last week with Max Dunlop’s and Van Ruisdael’s paintings. Here I have morphed Bricher’s sailboats into rocks.  The rocks serve the same design purpose as the sailboats in the 17th, 18th and 19th century paintings (see example 6 and example 6a).

example 6. photo with elevated horizon and receding shape.june14,9,elevated horizon with receding triangle, no diagram_edited-1

example 6a. photo diagrammed june14,9,elevated horizon with receding triangle

In example 7  I  impose a role reversal on the land and water. First I reverse the location of the wedge of land above the horizon. Next I switched the location of the water for land and the land for water.  The shapes are still the same. I just changed their occupants.

example 7. land and water role reversal.june14,9,switching roles of land for water with diagram_edited-1

Example 8 returns the land to its original role of occupying the triangle on the lower right but, now I have extended the wedge on the horizon to reach entirely across the picture plane.

example 8. horizon wedge across the picture plane. june14,9,triangle receding with land mass wedge extending  no diagram_edited-1

example 9 illustrates the effect of reversing the lower land-formed triangle to lie opposite the wedge on the horizon. This creates a spiraling effect drawing the triangle on the lower left back toward the wedge on the upper right horizon. Example 10 illustrates the diminished sense of motion (the image is more static here) when I move the large illuminated rock toward the center.

example 9. reversing triangle with horizon edge on opposite side june14,9, reversing triangle with rock  off center, diagrammed

example 10. more static image with illuminated large rock moved to center.june14,9,reversing triangle with wedge on top,and centered rock,diagrammed

If I slide Bricher’s horizon wedge shape toward the center of the image then I can create a design which suggests the ancient idea of a mountain on the horizon. This design-form has also been used for thousands of years.  I will now use a series of soft triangles of varying angles presented in alternating bands of dark, light, dark. See example 11 for the example with diagram and example 11a for the example without the diagram.  Cezanne uses this same design program (example 12 and 12a) when he paints Mount Ste. Victoire. You see his triangular mountain sits left of center on the horizon while he employs a diagonal wedge/triangle of light which recedes toward the mountain side of the image. This is a 17th century design recipe. A formula Cezanne knew well.

example 11. the triangle wedge moved away from the side june14,9,triangle to center, echo triangles, soft mountains, no  diagram_edited-1

example 11a. triangles diagrammed june14,9,triangle to center, echo triangles, soft mountains, with diagram

example 12.Cezanne’s Mt St Victoire diagrammed june14,9,cezanne mt st victoire

example 12a un-diagrammed Cezanne june14,9,cezanne mt st victoire,no diagram_edited-1

In example 13 Contemporary photographer Sara Jones returns us to the low horizon design with a wedge sitting on the left.  She has substituted a bed for a seascape just as  T. S. Eliot once observed “the horizon spread out like a patient etherized upon a table”. Ms. Jones follows the tradition of the dark threshold at the bottom of the image and, she has simplified the image by stripping it of other triangles. This distillation and simplification is consistent with the tenets of both modernism and its later modification, minimalism.


example 12. Sara Jones photograph.june14,9,contemporary,jones, sarah, photography_edited-1




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Embracing Traditions, Changing Materials

Let’s travel through time to make a compare and contrast study. I will  compare technologies, surfaces and materials and see how contemporary artists have adopted traditional design models. Let’s begin by traveling back and forth between the 1600s and today.  Artist, Max Dunlop turned to 17th century images for re-interpretation in his new work ( Harbor, see example 1) just as Turner turned  to Claude for his models. Max painted on raw aluminum, 48×48 which gave him a faster surface than the linen and polished panels  available to 17th century artists.  Example 2 provides us with an image directly from the 17th century, a painting by Jacob Van Ruisdael. The design is the same. Again the water serves as  a distorted mirror of the landscape. While the size of the boat on the left has been reduced it still serves the same purposes, to direct the viewer into the picture and reinforce the surface plane of the water.

example 1. Max Dunlop, Harbor june14,2,max dunlop,harbor_32x48

example 2. J. Van Ruisdael,1600s june14,2,van ruisdael, windmill_edited-1

If we travel forward to the mid-1800s we find John Frederick Kensett using the same design (example 3) but, it’s dramatically simplified. He  dispensed with architecture and left us with a large reflecting mound on the right. The boats sail into the heart of the picture. His color palette uses orange-red/brown and blue/green complements to give us a feeling of iridescence. Wolf Kahn distills the same design structure  further as you see in example 4.  He uses the ambiguities of atmosphere to attract us as well as a recipe for iridescence  descended from the Impressionists.  Now look at contemporary artist Kathryn Poch’s painting (Blue Shimmer, example 5). She too paints on aluminum but, her work is on a white enamel anodized aluminum. She reveals the white of the enamel to invigorate her colors and help create a strong sense of iridescence. Kathryn uses large flat brushes and large squeegees while her design uses aspects of the traditional Kensett model with the addition of a languid serpentine shape to help the viewer travel back to her high horizon. The high horizon was an imported idea to Europe from Japan in the 19th century.

example 3. Kensett,mid 1800s june14,2,KENSETt 1

example 4. Wolf Kahn, contemporary june14,2,contemporarykahn, wolf, six decades show_edited-1

example 5. Kathryn Poch, contemporary june14,2,contemporary, Kathryn Poch,BlueShimmer,36x36,oilonaluminum

Contemporary artist Vic Muniz created his large photo collage (see example 6) using the same design model as Max Dunlop in example 1  and Van Ruisdael in example 2.  Muniz created a collage from torn and cut printed images then blew them up into a single printed image. His suggestion of a water surface is  richly thickened with the texture of assembled images.

example 6. Photo, Vic Muniz june14,2,contemporary,photo,vik muniz, full image_edited-1

The final examples demonstrate varieties of surfaces and textures. The first example is step one  (example 7) of three. I am working on canvas and like Kathryn Poch I use a high horizon. I also use light tinted color complements with close values to generate an iridescence not unlike the sensation generated with different colors by Wolf Kahn.  We are both indebted to the work of Pierre Bonnard here. Step two (example 8) presents the addition of blue at the base of the painting. With the introduction of blue I begin to use chromatic complements as defined by Helmholtz and Ogden Rood.  These two scientists greatly influenced the neo-impressionists Seurat and Signac. Example 9 represents the current state of this painting. This painting is on an acrylic titanium white canvas. I used brushes and a 6 inch squeegee. I removed paint for the brightest whites with the squeegee. The painting was made at one sitting and the watery subsurface effects  were created by blurring  forms.

example 7. step one june14,2, step one_edited-1

example 8. step two june14,2, step two

example 9. step three june14,2, step three forest,iridescent harmony, oil on canvas, 36x34_edited-1

In example 10 is a 48×48 oil on anodized aluminum. Again I begin with the high horizon.  Here the uncertain location of the land or water territories suggests the atmospherics of Wolf Kahn except, I am using vibrating textures of complementary color notes laid down with gentle cross hatching with the brush and squeegee. Flat water areas comingle with  vertical grass areas. The values are light and use complementary colors  with broken and uncertain edges to create a light iridescent sensation in this painting.

example 10. Light Iridescence.june14,2,water, intimate places,alt, oil on anodized aluminum, 48x48_edited-1

example 11 has eliminated the high horizon and the 17th century structure we began this discussion with. Now there is now horizon and a series of stacked, overlapped and concentric circles to sustain the design’s unity.  However, the iridescent color effect still follows the same recipe.

example 11. Circles without an horizon.june14,2,water circles, oil, 36x36

Example 12 presents an image I introduced in last week’s blog.  Here the surface is brushed silver anodized aluminum for greater reflectance and a greater sense of sparkle. The Sparkling concentric circles overlay the rocks below which are stitched together via a labyrinthine serpentine of dark purples. My squeegee helped me reveal the sparkle patterns as it sliced into the wet oil paint.

This Saturday, June 7, 2014 I am presenting a workshop on painting water which will explore the subjects of translucence, reflection, iridescence, sparkle and water in motion from  ocean waves to streams, lakes and wet city streets.  Please join me in New Canaan, Ct. at the Silvermine Art Center. Contact  or call 203 966 6668 ext. 2  to inquire or register.

example 12. oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum june14,2,water circles,reflections and shadows, oilon brushed silver anodized aluminum,48x48_edited-1




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