Romantic Notes Part II

Romanticism revealed its true colors when it was most operatic. Painters enjoyed turning even their small works into operatic stage sets. The German poet Schiller had written a poem about a solitary walk in nature. Friedrich used this theme to give us an emblematic romantic painting (example 1). Delacroix would borrow the compositional form of Friedrich’s stacked triangles in his later works.  Delacroix’s difference was in his coloring and gestures (example 2).  Friedrich pursued Romantic narrative themes but, Delacroix  added liberated color and gesture for his generation.  His notes on color and gesture would later incubate Impressionism.

When my collaborating partner Max Dunlop and I worked on a recent series we began  with an Alpine image reminiscent of Friedrich’s Alpine painting.  Max and His Munich raised wife, Natalie,(also a painter) had hiked through Austria’s Alps discovering roots of Romanticism with their cameras. Max and I exaggerated the verticality of the trees, the road and the mountains. Our foreground would work like Delacroix’s with a sharper focus than the blurred background (example 3).

example 1. Caspar David Friedrich sept14,29,caspar david friedrich, shillers poetic inspiration, the walk

example 2. Eugene Delacroix sept14,29,delacroix, eugene

example 3. Collaborative painting by Max and David sept14,29collaboration,max and david dunlop,Austrian Alps

I continued to pursue the theme of  the romantic mountain with a misty distance borrowing images from photos  along Ireland’s Ring of Kerry. Again, You can see how I  used the triangular rock/mountain forms and set them against a misty distance. The sharper the foreground the greater the feeling of contrast  and space against the blurred distance. See examples 4 and 5. Both are painted in oil on brushed gold anodized aluminum. Each  are 24×24″.

example 4. Atlantic Mist painting 1sept14,29,atlantic mystery 2

example 5. Atlantic Mist painting 2 sept14,29,atlantic mystery 1, oil on brushed gold anodized aluminum,24x24

At the time, Delacroix had begun to uniquely exaggerate complementary color effects because, he had read and interviewed Michel Chevreul on his seminal work on simultaneous and successive contrast which had been published in France in 1839.  He made his own observations on these  contrast principles while painting in North Africa (Tangiers).  When his color ideas were coupled to his bravura gestures the effect confounded French Academicians. They were shocked by this new freedom.

In consideration of autumn, I recently wandered through meadows snapping patches  and fields of wild flora. Returning to my studio I considered the stacked triangle compositions of Friedrich and Delacroix. I also considered the loose and free gestures of Delacroix as well as his complementary color effects.  I began to build a painting with three horizontal bands, each rising in a soft triangle ( example 6). I next superimposed patches of brighter color (white and blue-lavender). Their aggregated shapes also assumed a soft, rising triangular form ( example 7).   I then introduced a dense flurry of gestures using  6″ and 8″ squeegees. The squeegee gestures were both suggestive of the chaos of a web of flora as well as clear evidence of the gestural touch of the human hand as Delacroix had done with his brushes (example 8.)

example 6, step one sept14,29autumn meadow step1

example 7. step two sept14,29autumn meadow step2

example 8. step three sept14,29autumn meadow step 3

Finally, I again tried Delacroix’s sharp focus gestures against a blurred focus distance with a horizontal format. In the previous example #8 I used opaque whites because, I was working on a brushed gold anodized aluminum surface.  In this last example I did not add white to the foreground, I just deleted color with my squeegee which revealed the white enameled anodized aluminum surface.

example 9. horizontal meadow sept14,29,randalls farm autumn,12x18

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Romantic Notes

Early in the 1800s artists, writers, musicians responded to a new theme, Romanticism. Here was an opportunity for exaggeration filtered through a personal point of view. Here was a chance to be theatrical using the idea of one perceiving mind, vulnerable and alone before awesome nature. The question for these artists was how to contrast the power and expanse of nature against the solitary artist. Early in the century Caspar David Friedrich determined to show this Romantic idea in paintings that today feel like  backdrops for melodramatic stage sets. But, he also discovered the beauty of solitude as an inspired condition when set in a  vast nature natural setting.

Friedrich maintained the conventions of  the historical landscape form especially, as he found it in Dutch landscape Painters of the 1600s.  He  amplified the experience. This would be the course for Romanticism for the next century through expressionism.

Friedrich appears too literal when compared to our contemporary preference for understatement, irony and cynicism.  But his romantic spirit survives. It survives most obviously in our pop culture’s movies and music. It also survives more subtly in our paintings. Example 1 is  Friedrich’s 1832 landscape. Note the solitary, small boat tucked at the rear the river’s meanderings.  The palette is not jubilant. The marks are carefully and soberly plotted but, the feeling of space is vast and liberating. Example 2 is another of Friedrich’s. Here is a solitary monk below an immense sky. The year is 1809. If we leapfrog ahead 100 years we see the contemporary painter Gayle Stott Lowry’s handsome work which resides in the North Carolina Museum of Art ( example 3).  I think her inspiration  came from a visit to Ireland’s Ring of Kerry.  I recently found the same Romantic landscape there. And, I found  that Friedrich’s landscape forms as well as his themes were useful to organize this setting.( photo in examples 4 and 5).

example 1. Caspar David Friedrich 1832sept14,22,friedrich, caspar david_edited-1

example 2. Friedrich 1809,sept22,14,friedrich,caspar david, 1830s_edited-1

example 3. Gayle Stott Lowry 2006sept22,14,contemporary, gayle stott lowry, 2006, oil and wax_edited-1

example 4. Ring of Kerry photo 1sept22,14,kerry penisula,ptg, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24

example 5. Ring of Kerry photo 2sept22,14, kerry penisula, low tide

This Romantic Irish location at the edge of Europe urged me to make my reply to Friedrich and Lowry. The painting was based from the photo in example 4, as you can see. The composition has been used by many including Friedrich and Lowry with the left and right wings of the painting gently inclining asymmetrically toward the center. I exaggerated the distance by applying a diffused opacity over the distant area and, applying more specificity to the edges of information in the foreground. The foreground also is darkened  with higher contrasts than the distance. Example 6 represents my first step in the painting. Example 9 represents the painting as it now appears, a work on 3mm anodized aluminum, 24×24.

The compositions as well as the Romanticism of  Friedrich’s landscapes reach subliminally across time and geography. Example 10 is a work by artist Janine Robertson who painted with me recently in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

example 6. step onesept22,14,kerry penisula, ptg, step 1_edited-1

example 7. step twosept22,14,Atlantic Mist, revised, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-2

example 8. painting from White Mountains by Janine Robertson, a 5 x7″ work on copper.sept22,14,janine robertson, oil on copper, Crawford notch

Romanticism spread its influence across the 19th century and across the continents. The idea of the enchanted forest which descended from ancient Druidic and Celtic cultures enjoyed a revival in Romantic 19th century landscapes from the Hudson River painters to the Barbizon tonalists. George Inness used theatrical romantic ideas in his paintings.  Here again was a solitary figure at the edge of a dark woodland but, hope is sustained by the reflected sunlight in both the background and highlighted tree trunks ( example11). The composition is Claudian but, Inness has begun to distill the image into an atmosphere, a poetic and melancholy atmosphere of  contrasted darks and lights .

In the 20th century I can revisit the “Into the Woods” experience with my work (example 12) which sustains Inness’s effort  at evocation of enchanted nature through distillation and simplification.  There is just shadow in the darkness. We supply the idea of  details. Example 13 is the photo I used to begin my painting.  Example 14 was a pre-existing painting which I painted over to make the painting you see in example 12.  Notice how I incorporated aspects of the earlier painting and aspects of the photo into the new work.

example 11. George Inness paintingsept22,14,george inness, forest , n c mus of art_edited-1

example 12. “Into the Woods”, current version of my paintingsept22,14,Afternoon Mystery,formerly barn island, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

example 13. Original photographsept22,14,Into the woods, oil on anodized aluminum, 24x24

example 14. Original painting which was over-paintedsept14,22,oil on anodized aluminum, step one,Barn Island_edited-1

By the 1890′s artists like George Inness were dramatically reducing the quantity of narrative and detail in their work. This distillation process would prove to be a method of modernism and abstraction in  the coming 20th century.  Earlier Corot had tried simplification in the mid 1800′s.  Corot’s  ideas and compositions would be borrowed  and modified by others like Inness, just as Corot had done. Example 15 shows a landscape of Corot’s with a copse of trees on the right and a shallow body of water in the foreground. Example 16 shows how Inness aggregates the trees into a single mass on the right, removes the litter and the boat, and returns the  water to the foreground. The entire image is deliberately obscured to heighten our feeling of atmosphere, unity, and luminosity.

example 15. Corot’s boat, pond and meadowsept22,14,corot, row boat_edited-2

example 16. Inness’ pond & meadow painting.sept22,14,Inness_edited-2

While Inness had pursued simplification through an ambiguous atmosphere others like  John H. Twachtman would do the same but, they would also try simplification through palette and design. This idea had come to Europe through Japanese woodblock artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige.  While in France and testing the new ideas of pictorial simplification Twachtman also tried the simplified shapes of the Japanese artists. A result of this work can be seen in example 17.  Artists like me would later (a century later) find inspiration in Twachtman’s synthesis of Japanese and Romantic Impressionist ideas.  I enjoyed his harmony of a simpler softer palette. I enjoyed the simplification of background information into a luminous amalgamated mass.  And, I enjoyed discovering sharp edges hovering before that softer background.  In fact, they set off  the blurred background.  In examples 18 and 19 I borrow the Romantic ideas of deep and unpopulated space as well as the subject and brush vocabulary of Twachtman.

example 17. Painting by John Twachtman, sept22,14,Twachtman Exhibition_edited-1

example 18. painting by me,24×24sept22,14,Luminous Translucence, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

example 19. painting by me, 24×24sept22,14,Randalls Pond East, oil on anodized brushed silver aluminum,24x24_edited-1



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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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