The Conjurer’s Brush

Look at a painting from the 16th century by Albrecht Altdorfer, then one from the 17th century by Fragonard, and then one from the 19th century by Corot. You notice that the concern for salience (clear and informative edges)  has changed over 400 years.  Altdorfer was one of the first Europeans to paint a landscape without figures. They were small, palm sized (see example one with St. George). His energy went into amassing a thicket of edge information, leaves. By Fragonard’s time artists realized that the effect of clustered foliage was more persuasive when blended with less edge information. By Corot’s century we were able to see nature, experience nature in a painting with only smudges to suggesting areas of leaves.  Paintings were approaching the way we see. Artists were able to conjure an experience of representation through deft blurring with few clear edges. The schematic idea has endured; a small window through thick flora.

example 1. Altdorfer, St. George Pursue the Dragon.may14,24,Altdorfer, albrecht, 1510, St George and Dragon

example 2. Fragonard.may14,24,fragonard_edited-1

example 3. Corot.may14,24,corot, woman with roots_edited-1

Ernst Gombrich contributed the title to this blogpost. Before he wrote “Art and Illusion” he had been thinking about how artists learn traditions, vocabularies of design and marks as well as palettes. They also learn suitable subjects as  required by their respective markets.  Art changes as the purposes of art changes. Purposes change because cultural needs change. We see how the vision of the artist painting a forest changed from the 15th to the 19th century. It is still changing. Technology changes, markets change. Artists answer the call for change just like doctors have changed in their roles. But, we all come from tradition. Historical templates can help explain who we are and what we are trying to do.

Today not only can I use photographs as 19th century artists did. I can manipulate those photographs to resemble the way vision blurs or focuses. Furthermore, you and I have learned to experience the world through cameras, through the appearance of photographs. We believe their reality to be like our vision which it is not. Today many naively think think they complement an artist by saying that their painting looks like a photograph. But today’s photographs no longer look like past photographs. Their standard appearance also continues to mutate just as  the history of paintings has mutated.

In my first example I am responding to Altdorfer’s landscape by building one of my own but, I use a squeegee instead of a brush. The image appears more graphic, more like a staged cutout.  Example 4 presents my original photograph. Example 5 represents step one and, example 6 represents step two.

example 4. photograph.may14,24,meadow,stonebridgemay12_edited-1

example  5. first step.may14,24,meadow,step one,24x36

example  6. second step.may14,24,meadow,step two,24x36

In the next examples I take my photo (example 7) and then present you with two different responses. the first is an oil and mixed media on 140 lb. arches (example 8) and the next is a oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum ( example 9).  I use my fingers, brushes and squeegees on each. Notice how the two images  evolved in separate directions even though they began with the same initiating photo.

example 7. photo.may14,24,rocky water,devils den may11_edited-1

example 8 . oil on paper.may14,24,rocky water, oil on paper 13x13

example 9. oil on aluminum 48×48.may14,24,rockywater, oil on anodized burshed silver aluminum,48x48

In the 20th century we began to cut and rearrange the photo with collage. This tradition continues to be explored. With the aid of personal printers we can make large scale multiples and redefine collage as you see in my example 10.  I used a 13 x 19 printer. I printed multiples of the same image then, cut it into fan patterns and reassembled an extended image using  different versions of the same image.

example 10.may14,24, photocollage

We  don’t have to wait for centuries to elapse before witnessing the evolution of painting. We can do it ourselves.  Example 11 is a small oil on paper demonstration of a crowd in  New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Example 12 presents its evolution as  I enlarged the idea and changed it.

example 11.  Grand Central Terminal on paper.may14,24,gtc demonstration

example 12. Grand Central Terminal on anodized brushed silver aluminum.may14,24,gct,Electric Travell, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

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4 Responses to The Conjurer’s Brush

  1. David,
    Thank you for providing interesting historical and contemporary examples of the evolution of painting.

  2. David,
    Thank you for providing interesting historical and contemporary examples of the evolution of painting. Reading this post is almost like being in class with you again.

  3. Fredric Neuwirth says:

    I was wondering why in example # 9 you were able to create a circular pattern with reflective highlites but in example # 8 you did not create the same pattern or was this the difference between paper vs. aluminum?

  4. William Child says:

    It is eye and mind opening, how things have evolved throughout the centuries. You present the voyage of perception in a very easy to understand way. Perhaps, in my own thought, instead of thinking of the way as a dissolution of the image from distinct to atmospheric it is more a a blending of learning how Nature really works. We are awakening as a species to become more in tune with the processes that have been around since long before our time. We are seeing as a new generation of interested and sensitive minds the world around us. Many times the artist is the one to open our eyes to the new way to see. Thank you David for being one of these who help us see the path from back then to now. What will the next big landscape painter’s movement entail. What will they see in their artistic eye?

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