Running Through Harmony

Physicist, Lisa Randall, describes the condition of the universe just after the big bang as isotropic. Everything was the same in all directions and all places.  Here is a metaphor for harmony for in painting; a surface with a uniformity of touch, unity in shapes, palette and values. Not everything the same but, everything apparently  related and sharing resemblences.

Generating  thematic unity within a painting allows the viewer to more easily fill in missing or suggested information. If the level of focus (edge acuity) is universally soft or, if the pattern of contrast between blurred edges and hard edges offers a feeling of continuity then, viewer participation will be intensified. The viewer can  find a criterion for categorizing, for recognition.  Whistler gives us a strong example (example 1) in his work.

Example 1. James Whistler.
may16,2,Whistler, evening, oil

This feeling of unity (harmony) extends through El Greco’s work as much as it does  DeKooning’s abstract-expressionist paintings. We can discover a unified world, enjoy a unified experience because of their harmonies, harmonies of gesture, consistencies of exaggeration, harmonies of palette, harmonies of brushwork.

Applying harmonies determines the direction, emotional coherence, credibility, and  persuasive identity of an image.  In my paintings of the  city spaces whether they are interiors like Grand Central Station or outside on the avenue I build a primary unified direction, a destination,  a unified palette, a unified quality of resolution which graduates from near to far, and a unified sense of motion as you move through the space.

My first example is a waterscape (example 2) which failed to powerfully cohere so; I used it as a substrate for example 3.  Notice how the light will continue to emanate from the upper right. Now the vortex of light is stronger and cohesively  distributed.  Figures diminish in size and edge acuity as they move into the distance.

Example 2.  Waterscape substrate under example 3.
May16,2, step one for gcs, force of sunlight, 24x24

Example 3. Grand Central Terminal Interior.
may16,2,gcs, force of sunlight, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24

I repeated this process with my next examples.  Again, I found a waterscape (example 4) that lacked sufficient unifying harmony. I  decided to use it as a substrate. This time I rotated the image to the left  in order  to exploit the sensation of light moving laterally across the image.  Example 5 represents the result, a sense of lateral speed married to a vortex of receding space. The harmonies of touch are more apparent here where the blurred lateral gestures help reinforce the feeling of speed.

Example 4. Waterscape substrate to be rotated  under example 5.
may16,2, step one for fast crossing at 42nd,

Example 5. Crossing Times Square.
may16,2,times Square, fast crossing, oil on anodized aluminum, 24x24

Example 6 begins with another substrate but, this substrate is a vinyl digital print (36×36) which I greatly altered in Photoshop. Next (example 7), I covered the vinyl print with 2 coats of polymer gloss varnish and proceeded to cover-up the digital print with oil paint.  I then followed the paint.

Example 6. Altered digital image.
may16,2, Direct Sunlight, altered photo,street walking2a,36x36

Example 7. Over-painted digital image.
may16,2,city, direct sunlight, oil and mixed media on dibond and vinyl, 3636

Posted in Painting | 5 Comments

Tree Mysteries

Trees are vessels for myth and metaphor in the history of painting across time and cultures.  From the biblical tree of knowledge and life to the Druidic Tannebaum later known as the Christmas tree, to the liberty tree, we find trees to be adaptable symbols.  Their symbolism often correlates with their shape for example; the priapic Cyprus is often paired with the rounded olive tree.  Da Vinci was an early observer of trees but, he used them symbolically in his paintings and configured their identity to lie between observed reality and idealized symbol. You can see an example of this in his unfinished “Adoration of the Virgin” (see example 1). The principle tree shelters Mary and Jesus and stands in as a foretelling of the coming cross as well as a reference to the trees of knowledge and life from Eden.

In the Romantic age, early in the 19th century Caspar David Friedrich used trees for their symbolic value as well but, his trees appeared more naturally observed with less reference to iconic form (see example 2). The proponents of tree as symbol continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. Andrew Wyeth continued this tradition but, applied even more rigorous observation to his expression of trees. He also let gesture and accidents of paint play bigger roles in the expression of trees as you can see in his watercolor in example 3. In example 4 he is more cautious and overtly symbolic.

Example 1. Da Vinci’s idealized tree.
april16,25,da vinci, adoration by the magi

Example 2. Caspar David Friedrich, 1824.
april16,25,german,caspar david friedrich,1825, two contemplate the moon

Example 3. Andrew Wyeth, watercolor sketch.
april16,25,wyeth,andrew, wc pine sudy

Example 4. Andrew Wyeth, exhibit watercolor.
april16,25,andrew wyeth watercolor

My own examples here use photographic substrates. The first example (example 5) uses an inverted photo of a blurred Grand Central Station Interior. I coated the image with a polymer then I overlaid the forest painting exploiting the colors in the substrate.  As a reference I looked to two black and white photos of mine. You see the palette, the forest and the photo references in example 6.

Example 5. Grand Central Station photo substrate.
april16,25, substrate for forest,fun,nyc gct,parallaxmotion

Example 6.  Demonstration board.
april16,25,demo board

What follows are three tree/forest images which merge photography and painting.  Example 7a presents the original black and white photo.  The first image to be a merger of the photo and paint can be seen in example 7. I used selected tree shapes from the underlying photo but otherwise disregarded the photo information in order to build light and a stream (not present in the photo). This same photo imagery under-lays the next example (example 8) but with greater disregard for the photo’s information. Instead I used the photo for textures.  Example 9 shows the next step with this image which introduces atmospheric solar effects cascading on to the forest floor and stream bed.

Example 7a. The black and white photo.
april16,25, black and white photo,stonebridge august4_edited-1

Example 7, photo-painting merger.
april16,25,mixed media forest,tall and thin

Example 8, alternative to example 7 with same substrate,
april16,25,mixed media forest,step one

Example 9, after atmospheric effects,
april16,25,mixed media forest, step two

My final examples 10 and 11 present a tree with a tangle of limbs. I discovered this tree on Maine’s mid-coast.  Its branches were lichen encrusted and interwoven.  There is no photo substrate with this image, just paint. Example 10 demonstrates the first step of the painting.  Example 11 shows the 2nd step of the painting. It is 24×24 in oil on white enamel anodized aluminum.

Example 10, step one, Tangled Tree.
april16,25,step one the tangled tree

Example 11, step two of Tangle Tree,
april16,25,step two,tangled tree

Let me extend two invitations to you.  First, we still have an opening for our trip to Spain, the Prado and a week of plein air painting in Toledo. The trip begins on September 12. If interested call the Springfield Museum of Art at jfontaine@springfieldmuseums.org or call Jeanne Fontaine at 413 314 6482. You can see our list of workshops on at daviddunlop.com.

Secondly, I will give a 5 day workshop at The Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Sun Valley Idaho day workshop in beautiful Sun Valley with its magnificent mountains and streams. The workshop runs from June 20 through the 24th. If you are interested in this workshop with me contact the Sun Valley Center for the Arts at SunValleycenter.org  or call Sarah Kolash at 208 726 9491 or 208 309 0477.

Posted in Painting | 4 Comments

Considering Flowers

Flora has found a way into our poetry, ornament and decoration for millennia. A mille fleur tapestry from 1500 illustrates how flowers were aggregated into patterns as repeated visual themes suggesting cultivated nature (example 1).  The symbol of France rests in the fleur de Lis. In poetry the rose has more symbolic history than can be listed here, ranging from motherhood, to fertility, to romantic love, to death, to fidelity, to blood, to courage and much more. We have roses at funerals, or as wreathes for victorious horses or Mother’s day or anniversaries or Valentine’s Day. Varying cultures and varying epochs each attach new symbolic qualities to the rose and other flowers. Their ephemeral delicate chromatic radiance seduces our imagination.

As the genre of still-life grabbed its niche in art history beginning in the 1500s, flowers were destined for a prominent role.  By the 17th century in Amsterdam floral still-life celebrated as a noble convention (example 2). Here were floral and vegetable displays which defied the passing of time.   By the 19th century artists such as Henri Fantin Latour had perfected an intimate, soft edged realism (example 3).   Today, artists revisit those conventions with an eye to redefining, expanding, and exploding them. Mid 20th century surrealists satirized exaggerated the form. I prepared my own digital surrealist version in example 4. Contemporary digital artist, Gordon Cheung gives us an example of the dissolution of the 17th century still life in example 5.

Example 1. Detail from 1500 tapestry.
april16,18,tapestry,southern netherlands, millefleurs with unicorn,1500

Example 2. Festoon of fruits and flowers by de Heem in 1660.
april16,18,dutch,jan davidsz de Heem,1660,festoon of fruits and flowers, oil on canvas

Example 3. Fantin Latour’s  glass vase with roses.
april16,18,Fantin Latour, Henri,roses,detail3,1884

Example 4.  Surrealist digital floral.
april16,18,surreal bouquet in rome, 13x13,13x19

Example 5. Dissolving still life, Gordon Cheung.
april16,18,contemporary,armory show,gordon cheung,archival digital print2014

Picasso returned to the flat 2 dimensional version of the still-life as he reached back into the history of frescos and tapestries to expand the definition of painting (example 6).

Example 6. Picasso painting, 1931,
apirl16,18,picasso, pitcher and fruit bowl, 1931

Invigorating floral painting with wind, sunlight, amplified color, motion, and other perceptual exaggerations has fallen to contemporary artist like Joseph Rafael with colossal watercolors (example 7). I have my own history with flowers  in paint. I found the thin tissue of the petals transmitted radiance when backlit by the sun as seen in examples 8 and 9.  And, I enjoyed toying with the wind tossed blurred forms of flowers offered in example 10.  Finally, I re-examine  the luminance of back lighting in examples 11 and 12. Example 11 presents step-one as I block in the graphic forms of my design. Example 12 presents step-two, my effort to offer sensation  of a flower offering and advancing  its light toward the viewer.

Example 7. Joseph Rafael, watercolor.
april16,18,,josephRafael,watercolorrainwater

Example 8. My oil on anodized aluminum.
april16,18,flora,bright atmosphere,oil on aluminum,36x36

Example 9. My oil on aluminum.
april16,18,flora,sunlight and shadows alt, oilon anodized aluminum,36x36

Example 10. My oil,wind tossed, on anodized aluminum.
april16,18,flora,windswept, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

Example 11. Step one, oil.
april16,18,step one rose in back light

Example 12. Step two, oil on white enamel anodized aluminum.
april16,18,step two,flora,rose in backlight, oilon anodized aluminum,36x36

 

Posted in Painting | 3 Comments

David posts a Special Guest Blog on ArtistNetwork.com

David was asked to write a Guest blog for Artists Network, and you can find the article here: Turner vs. Rembrandt | Oil Painting Study.

 

Posted in Painting | 3 Comments

Tales of Recession

Since the 1400s we have understood how to compose a landscape which appears as one might look out a window. Jan Van Eyck was an early employer of this idea (see example 1).  And Since the 1400s we have understood that objects reduce their apparent over distance.  But, we needed more time to recognize that over distance objects also lose their color saturation, their edge acuity and, they tend to blur together.  J.M.W. Turner appreciated how our vision generated a blurred unity in the distance (see example 2). By the late 20th century other criteria defining the relationship between near and far had been developed.  Almost 200 years of photography experiments as well as studies in perception and memory all contributed to the expanding criteria.

Vija Celmins, working in drypoint on small plates explored how pattern dissipated over space and, how we project a feeling of motion on to organized patterns (see example 3).  Celmins’ work enjoys  global  recognition.  Observe how Celmins’ edges and shapes subtly pitch in choruses of quiet motion which seem to find more stillness in the distance. Observe the shift of diminishing value intensities over the distance.

Example 1, Jan Van Eyck, drawing with silverpoint on panel.
march16,28,jan van eyck, unfinished silverpoint on panel, 1430

Example 2.  J.M.W Turner, a later work from around 1840.
march16,28,Turner, JMW, Thames above waterloo bridge,1835 to 40,oil on canvas

Example 3. Vija Celmins, 2nd state drypoint.
march16,28,contemporary,vija celmins, drypoint, ocean, 2nd state almost,

In the later 19th century Eugene Boudin uses progressively thinner horizontal bands to trigger a feeling of graduated space.  Notice his foreground beach area is thicker than the band of people which is thicker than the band of water (see example 4).

Example 4. Eugene Boudin, Beach.
march16,28,boudin,eugene, fulll view of beach near honfleur

About the same period (1872) J. F. Kensett applies a greatly exaggerated sense of scale to his image to create a feeling of space. The trees on the horizon are merely a pale thin horizontal shape. I will later borrow this idea. His textured information in the rocks and flora is pronounced versus the texture of the distant horizon information (example 5).

Example 5. J.F. Kensett at Contentment Island.
march16,28,Contenment Island, J F Kensett,

When I borrow historic distance inducing criteria and subtle motion/design principles as described above I discover how plastic my subject matter can be.  I find I can arrange and rearrange shapes without compromising the feeling of distance, the feeling of near/far.  I also see how my shape arrangements can be re-contoured and textured to suggest volume and a meandering sense of motion. My choice of surface and paint (brushed silver anodized aluminum and translucent pigments) further affect the image’s reflectance and the suggestion of motion.

Example 6.  Whispers of Light, oil, 24×24.
march16,28,shorelines,Whispers of Light, oilon brushed silver anodized aluminum,24x24

Example 7. Tide Matters, oil, 24×24.
march16,28,shorelines,Tide Matters, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum, 24x24

Posted in Painting | 9 Comments

City Lights, City Life

By the Mid 15th Century any artist who failed to demonstrate competence with the new illusion-geometry of linear perspective found themselves without commissions.  In 1450 the middle aged and popular Piero Della Francesco relied on linear perspective to build persuasive urban contexts for his narratives.  He was a pioneer with Masaccio using this tool.  Previously, others had tried to build cityscapes but without the use of linear perspective their cities were unconvincing.  Busy with commissions requiring architecture constructed from linear perspective, Pinturicchio enjoyed success in the last half of the 1400s (see example from 1486).  The system enjoyed even more persuasive effects in the 17th through 19th centuries as artists from Vermeer to Canaletto used tools like the Camera Obscura to support their linear perspective designs.

An 18th century contemporary of Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, relied on linear perspective as he built his scenes celebrating Venetian life.  First he sketched in smaller scale drawings then, he worked them into larger works.  Example 2 provides us with his image of the Venetian piazza before the Scuola di San Marco with the Pope giving a blessing.  Elaborate staging was built before the Scuola for the event.  A century later John Singer Sargent (as well as many other artists from London and Paris) arrived to apply a more relaxed and spontaneous response to the same bridge and Piazza. Compare the watercolor of Sargent’s (example 3) with Guardi.  Both paint the city but with different methods and intentions.

Example 1. Pinturicchio, 1486.
march16,14,funeral of san bernardino,Pintoricchio,late 1486

Example 2. Francesco Guardi  paints the Scuola di San Marco.
AMO98729 Pope Pius VI Blessing the Multitude on the Campo SS. Giovanni and Paolo, 18th century (oil on canvas) by Guardi, Francesco (1712-93); 64x81 cm; Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, UK; (add.info.: Pope Pius VI, Giovanni Angelo Braschi (1717-99);); Italian, out of copyright

Example 3. John Singer Sargent paints the Scuola di San Marco.
IMA208218 Rio dei Mendicanti, Venice, c.1899 (w/c on paper) by Sargent, John Singer (1856-1925); 37.1x52 cm; Indianapolis Museum of Art, USA; (add.info.: Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo; Scuola Grande di San Marco;); Mary B. Milliken Fund; PERMISSION REQUIRED FOR NON EDITORIAL USAGE; American, out of copyright PLEASE NOTE: The Bridgeman Art Library works with the owner of this image to clear permission. If you wish to reproduce this image, please inform us so we can clear permission for you.

Following the rich history of cityscapes that explored variations of the Italian piazza/plaza, my next examples experiment with New York City and its dynamic sense of movement. Its feeling of motion anchors to the organizing principles of linear perspective.  Example 4 presents pedestrians crossing into the sunlight as it generates coronas and long shadows.  One of those figures was modeled by my wife, Rebecca.

The painting refers to art of the early 15th century when Leon Alberti describes the principles of linear perspective in Della Pittura in Florence, Italy.  Immediately artists like Raphael and Pinturicchio apply these principles to painting piazzas with convincing depth.  Located in a contemporary city crosswalk, pedestrians walk into the light. Their shadows create vectors pulling us into a luminous distance.  The attraction to light is universal in diurnal creatures like us.  It is a foundation of our theology and art across time and cultures.

Example 4.  Sunlight On Madison, 24×36.
march16,14,city, Madison Cross Walk, oil on anodized aluminum,24x36

The next examples (examples 5 and 6) rely more heavily on linear perspective for structuring the feeling of space as the architectural information moves further toward abstraction.

Example 5.  Crossing Midtown, 36×36 oil on linen.
march16,14,city, race through midtown, oil on linen,36x36

Example 6, Race Across Town, 30×30 on aluminum.
march16,14,city,race across town, oil on aluminum,30x30

 

Posted in Painting | 4 Comments

Shake It, Make It Move

We recognize the surface of water not only for its translucence or reflective properties but additionally because, it moves.  Its reflections move.  Movement further  distorts  the forms of subsurface material. The degree of  motion is inferred through  reflections.  If we disturb (shake) the surface we discover a field in motion.  Coherent  motion also tells we are looking at water.

Translucence has a role in triggering our brain to think “water”.   Clear or obscured subsurface material depends most upon the angle of the viewer.   The more oblique the angle the greater the appearance of the reflection.  The more acute the angle of view then we get more translucence.  However, even subtle motion can obscure the sense of translucent clarity.

Example 1 is a digital photo which has been doctored in Photoshop.  The undulating reflections were staged by me as I gently moved the water to get the reeds to suggest a dancing motion. Example two is the same image (both 36×36 on vinyl) after I have layered transparent and opaque layers of oil paint onto it. Observe that I  added more illusory layers to the foreground.  Additional horizontal shadowy shapes were added to increase the sense of surface motion.  I deepened the blue color to be able to excise these lighter, swimming shapes.  Before adding the oil to the vinyl digital print I gave the surface two coats of a polymer gloss varnish.  This was generously applied by mopping with paper towels.

Example 1.  Adjusted digital print.
feb16,29,photography, digital print,tods point10,36x36

Example 2. Digital print after oil paint application.
Feb16,29,mixed media, shorelines in primaries, archival digital print and oil, 36x36

Shaking the surface can evoke motion in territories other than water. The next two examples demonstrate how overlapping related surfaces can suggest movement.  Both examples 3 and 4 use the same root image of rails. This root image is overlaid with different paintings designed to augment the feeling of motion within the image.  Each example illustrates how layered images can be shaken into evoking motion.  Both images illustrate how paint and photography can merge to generate more movement.  These images are collaborative works with Max Dunlop who provided the original track images.

Example 3.  Rails and Vortex, Mixed media print.
feb16,29, digital print, hybrid, rails,nyc elevated2abcd36x36

Example 4.  Rails and Vortex II, Mixed media print.
feb16,29,nyc, street perspective, oil on aluminum, 48x48, collaboration of David Dunlop and Max Dunlop2cde36x36

Posted in Painting | 4 Comments

Eye-Tracking And Magic

Magicians rely on our inescapable and automatic response to track a motion, to anticipate the direction of that motion and to separate the tracking subject/object from the background. If the magician provides a convincing motion we will follow with eye-tracking and, believe we are seeing reality not fiction because of our subliminal sense of anticipation.  Can this perceptual phenomenon also be exploited by artists? I think so. If we work through texture gradients fitted into a perspective map we discover a strategy to distract, puzzle and sustain the viewer’s attention as they try to find their way through the labyrinth’s directional clues.

The following painting examples are constructed to give a sense of coherent complexity like a densely detailed map. When reading a page or a map we employ our sense of anticipation which results in our scanning and not focusing on every possible focus point. Most of our field of vision receives zero to little attention. We follow trajectories, paths, and the directions of a motion while we pull objects out of the background  to track their motion.  Motion direction and figure/ground  selection allow us to comfortably navigate complexly textured territories. We suppress background information until it startles us (for example, with a noise or sharp edge of contrast).

In example 1. I present a 40×60” aerial painting of  Manhattan.  We don’t initially notice that the building information is constructed entirely out of loose squeegee marks. The variety of marks and contrast levels appear consonant with experience if we do not look closely. In example 2 a similar experience is offered with a different profile view of Manhattan.

Example 1, Manhattan Aerial, oil on anodized aluminum.
feb16,22,city, Manhattan Horizon, oil on anodized aluminum,40x60

Example 2, Manhattan Profile, oil on anodized aluminum.
feb16,22,nyc, manhattan profile, oilon anodized aluminum,36x36

The next images present organized complexity packed with arching lines of directed motion. While there is not the deep linear perspective space of the aerial view paintings instead, there is a matrix of overlapping forms which suggests space to the viewer.  To demonstrate how this effect was built I present three continuous steps toward the latest step which also uses complementary and simultaneous color contrast to create a sense of vibrating space.

Example 3. Step one, Wildflower Matrix.
feb16,22,step one,hillside thicket

Example 4. Step two, Wildflower Matrix.

feb16,22,step two,hillside thicket

Example 5. Step three, Wildflower Matrix.
feb16,22,meadow, Hillside Thicket, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

A similar process was used to build the image in Example 6. Example 7 merges the aerial views’ linear perspective and atmospheric perspective system as demonstrated in the first two examples with a more intimate viewing distance presented in the Examples 5 and 6.

Example 6.  Overlapping shapes with complementary color.
feb16,22,december marsh

Example 7. Aerial mapping and atmospheric perspective merged with complex intimate space.
feb16,22,intimate stream, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

Posted in Painting | 2 Comments

Changing Speeds, Slow to Fast

Compressed space with articulated edges and textured density slows our sense of time and motion.  Blurred and blended forms expressed across space with uniform textures quicken our feeling of time and motion.  They give the beholder a variety of experiences of time, motion and space within a single 2D frame presents a set of challenges.

If your intention is like my first postulate, to build compressed space with an abundance of articulated edges and dense textures then, example 1 offers a possibility. Here the beholder is embedded in a thicket of flora. They are pressed against (almost into) the picture plane. This thickly textured territory offers little sense of near-and-far until the beholder discovers the dark background above and,  above that finds a paler texturally uniform secondary distance.  This last area is blurred and pale to offer a feeling of infinitely deep space.  The forward area is a matrix of thin overlapping forms. These textures are generated in acrylic with generous applications of transparent retarder allowing ragged bristle brushes and squeegees time and opportunity to work into this malleable film of acrylic.

Example 1a. Step one of the thicket.
feb16,15,olana vista,step one

Example 1. The thicket, acrylic on white anodized aluminum.
feb16,15,meadow,Olana vista, oil on anodized aluminum,12x12

If your intention is like my second postulate, to quick our feeling of time, space and motion using blurred and blended forms expressed across the picture plane then the following examples will serve as demonstrations. Example 2 begins with a photograph. Example 3, step 2 is a reimaging of the space with a more deliberate slowness as illustrated by the use of dripping paint. Example 4, step 3 simplifies the space and forms of step 2, blurs more of the image area, and apply a haze of atmospheric perspective.

Example 2. Originating photo.
feb16,15,stonington photo

Example 3. Step 1, oil on galvanized steel,
feb16,15,meadows,stonington marsh,step1

Example 4. Step 2, over-painting step 1,
feb16,15,meadows,Stonington Marsh, oil on steel,36x36

In the following examples I accelerate the experience of speed or motion. One strategy   is to incline the picture plane. A sloping curve has more motion than a horizontal line. Contrast examples 6 and 7 with example 4 with its more stable horizontal shapes.  Example 4 gently transitions into sloping shapes toward the horizon.  The entire image of examples 6 and 7 are canted. The distant areas are more blurred and stretched giving a feeling of greater motion and elasticity.  As source material I used the photo you see in example 5.  I horizontally blurred the image in Photoshop. When I moved into  paint I relied upon greater value and color contrasts.  I also canted the image more dramatically.

Example 5. Original photo.
feb16,15,photo,lakeville vista blurred 2

Example 6. First of two paintings.
feb16,15,mudge pond panorama, oil on aluminum, 36x36

Example 7. Second of two paintings with image reversed.
feb16,15,mudge pond vista,36x36 oil on anodized aluminum,

I again invite you to join me for my workshop on Saturday March 12 for “Glass and Water Reflections” at the Silvermine School of Art at 203 966 6668. And, I want to invite you to join me for my three days of workshops at the Cross Roads Art Center in Richmond, Virginia May 20 through May 22. See crossroadsartcenter.org  for more info.

 

Posted in Painting | 4 Comments

Scratching the Surface, Sgraffito

Sgraffito, “to scratch (in Italian)” is ancient process. Since antiquity artists have scratched through surfaces to reveal substrate colors. In Ceramics an artist scratches through layers of surface glaze to reveal other colors below. Artists from Da Vinci to Cezanne have scratched and incised their wet paintings to exploit the effects of underlying color.  Today’s sgraffito tools include more than a palette knife or the end of a brush.  Printmakers (etchers) use drills, chains, burins, scrapers and any device which leaves a unique trail in the surface metal, i.e. the plate upon which the image is made.

The autographic evidence of scratch marks serve as both a method and inspirational source spans across time from Rembrandt to Turner to Cy Twombly.  Example 1 presents a work of Cy Twombly’s from 1960. His treatment of surfaces relied upon the effects of his scratch-writing technique. Twombly’s use of erasures is another form of sgraffito applied here.

Example 1. Cy Twombly.
feb16,8,CyTwombly,PoemsToTheSea,1959

Now imagine the pleasure of scratching through a polished and blended surface with substrates of various colors and textures. James Whistler, an etcher as well as painter, recognized that drawing and painting could be enhanced by scraping and scratching. He worked in thin layers of paint which he then wiped, scraped and scratched as seen in example 2 (Whistler painting of St Marks, Venice).

Example 2. Whistler painting.
feb16,8,whistler, venice, st marks

The next examples first show an initial underlying  image with  varieties of color and texture followed by overlaying colors which then receive sgraffito treatments. For the initial painting and blending of color I use soft flat brushes from 1” to 8” wide.  For the sgraffito tools I have a broad selection of squeegees and a silk screen hard plastic scraper bars. Example 3 provides a photo of a few of the brushes and sgraffito tools.

Example 3. Brushes, scraper and squeegees.
feb16,8,brushes and tools

Starting with a manipulated photo of a marshland (example 4, step one), I begin a journey of distillation and reconfiguration.  Example 5, step two, represents my initial image which evolved into example 6, step three. The lower 3/4ths of this image (example 6) gets covered with veils of blended oil color.  While wet I apply the sgraffito marks you see in example 7.

Example 4. Altered photo.
feb16,8,surface impressions step1

Example 5.Step one.
feb16,8,surface impressions,step 3

Example 6. Step two.
feb16,8,surface impressions,step 4

Example 7. Step three.
feb16,8,shorelines, surface impressions,step 5, oil on aluminum,36x36

I employ a similar process with examples 8(step one) and 9(step two). Example 8 has the applications of color and texture which serve as the substrate for the later application of blended color and subsequent sgraffito marks in example 9.

Example 8. Step one, underlayment.
feb16,8,surface atmosphere step3

Example 9. Step two, after blended overlays and sgraffito.
feb16,8,surface atmosphere,step four, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

Of course the process need not conclude with the sgraffito.  Examples 10 and 11 trace a process which moved through the initial lay-in, followed by sgraffito squeegee work, followed by finger sgraffito work, followed by additional paint and bristle sgraffito effects. In the final application of paint the small thin bristles scratch patterns into the water area to suggest vibration and subtle motion.

Example 10. Step one.
feb16,8,winter,cedar road stream,step one

Example 11. Step two.
feb16,8,winter,cedar road stream,step three,24x24

Posted in Painting | 3 Comments