Our library of visual models guides us to visual conclusions. From the jittery arrays of photons we assemble an image in our cortex out of memory and experience. We manufacture visual reality. Our memory stocks work to discern if a ball of wavy blond strands is a stooped head, a lolling cocker spaniel or an oddly posed mop. Context helps us decide. They enable us to build visual categories. As artists or beholders we recognize configurations as matching previous models. Expanding our models is the adventure of art, of poetry, of dance, of architecture, of music.
After 2 ½ year old Iris discovered she had painted a blue rocket ship she experienced confidence and decided to reapply her newfound skills to making a pink rocket ship. She was expanding her model. In 1910 Picasso saw the problem of painting with added complexity. How could he combine the memory experience of three dimensions into two? How could hue be merged with value within his quest for building a picture? He found awoke to these challenges through his dexterous familiarity with many models for structuring a picture. He had to recognize and then isolate what was possible for expanding the experience of painting. Referencing his mental library of models was not altogether conscious. For example, we speak without consciously thinking about constructing our words.
On an adventure like Iris’s and Picasso’s we don’t think about remuneration or fame. We don’t think about finishing and polishing our product. We only act. And, at some point we stop our action. We don’t stop because our action arrived at a suitably marketable moment. We don’t necessarily stop from satisfaction. We stop from uncertainty for future action. The painting is not finished; it is merely paused. It is never finished. We move on. We try another. Cezanne recognized this phenomena when he refused to sign but one painting over a ten year period of work.
Let’s see how this process moves. Consider the rocky seascapes of George Bellows. Example 1 presents two images. He culled their structure not from the seashore but primarily from precedents by other artists, like Winslow Homer. He borrows Homer’s palette, brushwork, and designs. But, his work is not a copy. It is more an emotional reassessment, a test of skills and materials than a mere recapitulation.
Example 1. George Bellows seascapes,
Winslow Homer found the structure of rocks in two dimensions could be repeatedly distilled and .simplified. Through expressive simplification of his model he could stimulate the beholder to recognize rocks in a natural context. He could abstract them and still recognize them. Homer’s painting of his studio gives us an example (example2). The forms of the building and the forms of the rocks are shared.
Example 2. Winslow Homer’s Studio at Prout’s Neck.
I too, mine the designs of past art just as Bellows, Picasso and Cezanne did. Here are opportunities of expansion and amplification. I presented the Bellows and the Homer works because they showed me a way to invent or riff on their forms in my following examples.
Consider a photograph of mine (example 3) which offers silhouetted rock imagery but, in a different context. Here the rocks are flattened against forest light and set above a tranquil vernal pool. Without being consciously aware of my sources I proceeded with my first painting. This painting derived from a photo (example 4) which recalled art historical models. In my painting the rocks were arranged into a more unified chromatic field, lots of blue. The design was simplified. Once that was done I recognized the works Bellows and Homer as source models.
Example 3. Original photo,
Example 4. First painted response,
Via Photoshop I merged examples 3 and 4. I found inventive freedom in this simplified design. I layered another image with my newly merged example. This new image offered richer, long grass textures and, also possessed a small central pool , The result is the amalgamated photo/painting in example 5. This new image suggested possibilities for a more mysterious painting which you see in example 6. I continued this approach of layering similar images to my foundation image. I quested for an engaging surprise.
Example 5, Hybrid mashup of photos and painting,
Example 6. Resultant painting,
I experimented with another photo of an intimate natural pool (example 7). I printed this image 36×36 on heavy vinyl. The complex range of textures intrigued me. They might serve as an arresting substrate for my vernal pond paintings seen in examples 4 and 6. I applied two coats of polymer gloss varnish to the digital vinyl image before painting in oil. As I painted I excised areas of the paint to reveal textures from the digital image beneath and to augment the textures of the painting but, not to define it. The result can be seen in example 8.
Example 7, digital photo print 36×36,
Example 8. Over-painted digital print.
This new source of texture encouraged me to repeat the process but with a different subject, a big sky panorama. I started with a digital image which was a composite view of the New York’s west side and a cubist landscape by Georges Braque (example 9). I then borrowed imagery from a photo I had taken from Frederick Church’s Olana above the Hudson River (example 10). Next, I overpainted the composite NY/Braque image with my Hudson River image. I deleted sections of the foreground to exploit textures lurking in the NY/Braque image (example 11).
Example 9. Digital Combination of NYC and Braque,
Example 10, photo of Hudson Valley,
Example 11.Painting with digital image as substrate,