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).
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.
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.
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).
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 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 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.
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.
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.