Let’s travel through time to make a compare and contrast study. I will compare technologies, surfaces and materials and see how contemporary artists have adopted traditional design models. Let’s begin by traveling back and forth between the 1600s and today. Artist, Max Dunlop turned to 17th century images for re-interpretation in his new work ( Harbor, see example 1) just as Turner turned to Claude for his models. Max painted on raw aluminum, 48×48 which gave him a faster surface than the linen and polished panels available to 17th century artists. Example 2 provides us with an image directly from the 17th century, a painting by Jacob Van Ruisdael. The design is the same. Again the water serves as a distorted mirror of the landscape. While the size of the boat on the left has been reduced it still serves the same purposes, to direct the viewer into the picture and reinforce the surface plane of the water.
If we travel forward to the mid-1800s we find John Frederick Kensett using the same design (example 3) but, it’s dramatically simplified. He dispensed with architecture and left us with a large reflecting mound on the right. The boats sail into the heart of the picture. His color palette uses orange-red/brown and blue/green complements to give us a feeling of iridescence. Wolf Kahn distills the same design structure further as you see in example 4. He uses the ambiguities of atmosphere to attract us as well as a recipe for iridescence descended from the Impressionists. Now look at contemporary artist Kathryn Poch’s painting (Blue Shimmer, example 5). She too paints on aluminum but, her work is on a white enamel anodized aluminum. She reveals the white of the enamel to invigorate her colors and help create a strong sense of iridescence. Kathryn uses large flat brushes and large squeegees while her design uses aspects of the traditional Kensett model with the addition of a languid serpentine shape to help the viewer travel back to her high horizon. The high horizon was an imported idea to Europe from Japan in the 19th century.
Contemporary artist Vic Muniz created his large photo collage (see example 6) using the same design model as Max Dunlop in example 1 and Van Ruisdael in example 2. Muniz created a collage from torn and cut printed images then blew them up into a single printed image. His suggestion of a water surface is richly thickened with the texture of assembled images.
The final examples demonstrate varieties of surfaces and textures. The first example is step one (example 7) of three. I am working on canvas and like Kathryn Poch I use a high horizon. I also use light tinted color complements with close values to generate an iridescence not unlike the sensation generated with different colors by Wolf Kahn. We are both indebted to the work of Pierre Bonnard here. Step two (example 8) presents the addition of blue at the base of the painting. With the introduction of blue I begin to use chromatic complements as defined by Helmholtz and Ogden Rood. These two scientists greatly influenced the neo-impressionists Seurat and Signac. Example 9 represents the current state of this painting. This painting is on an acrylic titanium white canvas. I used brushes and a 6 inch squeegee. I removed paint for the brightest whites with the squeegee. The painting was made at one sitting and the watery subsurface effects were created by blurring forms.
In example 10 is a 48×48 oil on anodized aluminum. Again I begin with the high horizon. Here the uncertain location of the land or water territories suggests the atmospherics of Wolf Kahn except, I am using vibrating textures of complementary color notes laid down with gentle cross hatching with the brush and squeegee. Flat water areas comingle with vertical grass areas. The values are light and use complementary colors with broken and uncertain edges to create a light iridescent sensation in this painting.
example 11 has eliminated the high horizon and the 17th century structure we began this discussion with. Now there is now horizon and a series of stacked, overlapped and concentric circles to sustain the design’s unity. However, the iridescent color effect still follows the same recipe.
Example 12 presents an image I introduced in last week’s blog. Here the surface is brushed silver anodized aluminum for greater reflectance and a greater sense of sparkle. The Sparkling concentric circles overlay the rocks below which are stitched together via a labyrinthine serpentine of dark purples. My squeegee helped me reveal the sparkle patterns as it sliced into the wet oil paint.
This Saturday, June 7, 2014 I am presenting a workshop on painting water which will explore the subjects of translucence, reflection, iridescence, sparkle and water in motion from ocean waves to streams, lakes and wet city streets. Please join me in New Canaan, Ct. at the Silvermine Art Center. Contact silvermineart.org or call 203 966 6668 ext. 2 to inquire or register.