Do you want to see the wheel spin? Then blur it. Do you want to see deep space and the motion of the waves then blur the edges . Blur the horizon, blur the waves. The sea and sky are two of the most malleable subjects for painters and therefore, two subjects which lend themselves to expressing motion and space. Heinrich Wolfflin observed that painters of the Renaissance wanted a truer experience of life in their paintings. For them, that meant evoking more space and motion, two principle pursuits of painters since ancient Greece. Artists slowly came to the conclusion after mastering linear perspective techniques of illusion that more illusion could be generated by diminishing the sharpness of edges. Sharp edges made the painting’s forms static and flat. By the time we reach Cezanne who ponders how we see biologically and how we compose historically, we are at a paradigm turning point. Cezanne observes it’s not what we are painting that counts . It’s how we paint. How we discover ideas, metaphors, light and form with paint. It didn’t matter if he painted Mt. St.Victoire or an apple. How he painted, how he saw was what mattered not, the subject except that it made it an a good reference because of its association with art history. And so it is with the subject of the sea. Turner ‘s seascapes become more and more seemingly chaotic, less legible and with less outlined subjects and, with more emphasis on motion and light (example 1). Matisse said of Turner that he liberated artists from having to imitate nature. We were finally free to observe nature then, directly transmute our feelings of that experience into paint. No more imitation, no more transcriptions. Courbet, another emotive and expressive painter of the mid 19th century takes the idea of a wave and invests it with operatic scale, motion and passion. He is not pursuing academic representation; he is not pursuing legibility. Here are a couple of versions of his efforts (example 2 , first version.) Like Turner, He pursues the power of suggestion. Consider how he borrows the iconic idea of a wave form. The pictograph for wave has been our visual reference since ancient Egypt. Courbet takes that idea, the cursive “W” and simplifies it into a single inverted “V”. (example 3). Observe how Courbet finds smaller rhyming shapes (see diagram in example 4) and how he unites the entire painting inside a vaguely define wedge shape ( see diagram). He tries the form repeatedly. He quests for more drama, more power.
Winslow Homer also invests his paintings with sense of dramatic motion through a simple unified design. In example 5, he uses also uses the arrow or wedge shape which is prevented from carrying the viewer’s attention out of the picture by the use of a countering shape. Example 6 provides a diagram. Homer also uses the zigzag form as a organizing principle and, repeats it again in the distance (example 7). In a quick class demonstration with oil on paper I use the “wedge ” design too( example 8). My countering shapes are placed above the wedge design. They are evident in my diagram ( example 9).
My next examples illustrate that what we paint is of little consequence. It’s how we paint. I begin with a photo of an inlet, “Shore Acres” near Coos Bay, Oregon. A dramatic location which stirs my imagination. My photo (example 10) takes me back in my memory to the experience. I then redesign the photo because, I owe it nothing. The information does not count. The psychological effect counts. Therefore, I build a new image out of this experience. I begin with a design ( example 11). The design uses and advancing “v” form, a high horizon, a tilted curling middle shape and , and a flattened and wriggling foreground . Within this example I have an illustration of a wave icon. I then begin to explore the paint, to discover shapes and forms packed with sloshing motions and layered in space( example 12). I want you to experience more of the texture and shifting planes so, I offer you a detail from this painting in example 13.