Archive for April, 2011

Atmospheric Effects

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Misty Morn on Gator Alley

As I drove down Alligator Alley (a long, straight stretch of I-75 that crosses the Everglades) one misty morning, I was intrigued by two things, in particular. The first was the way the foliage appeared layered by graduated gray values, separated by expanses of thin haze. The second fascination was the way the light and shade dappled the chain-link fencing, which is used to keep animals off the highway. I felt challenged to depict the patterning through watercolor.

One problem posed by my composition (#101105, “Misty Morn on ‘Gator Alley,” shown above) was the sky. The sun was strong and still comparatively close to the horizon. The light was bright enough, despite the haze, to cast clear shadows along the fence and to bring out brilliant colors in the grass. Yet the sky was not altogether clear and blue. Although I incorporated a pale cobalt wash to provide a hint of hue, it wasn’t enough to break up the vast expanse in the upper left corner of the painting. I didn’t want to depict a strong sky color or delineate clouds, which would have belied my intent, and since the haze itself was actually a thin, low-lying cloud. So I introduced a bird to break up the area and to provide a sense of “life” and motion.

The sheer simplicity of the composition is much of what makes it succeed.

Approaching the Abstract

Friday, April 1st, 2011

I had intended, this month, to show a painting that digresses from my usual approach. Upon reflection, however, I decided that, because of its radically different character from my usual style, it would be unwise to post it here. Most of my work is figurative; this piece was decidedly abstract. It’s generally not a good move to publicly introduce a radically divergent style to an otherwise consistent body of work.

The photograph upon which it was based was shot in Scotland by Fiona Shearer. She was gracious enough to grant me permission to use it as a painting subject. Instead of posting either the photograph or the abstract painting itself, however, I have chosen to post a figurative interpretation of the scene, entitled “Snowy Dunes” (#110202) and to write about my creative thought process as I reevaluated the scene and “restated” it into the abstract version.

Snowy Dunes

The scene seemed to me to be metaphorical. In order to present the same concept in abstract terms, I elected to simplify and alter the elements in the scene that inspired me, to suit and express my interpretation of the literal image. In other words, to show what the original scene “said” to me.

I conceived, in my mind’s eye, an image of family dynamics. The lowering sky suggested to me a brooding, stormy threat of trouble just beyond the horizon, outside the family unit represented by the land. I saw in the shrub-covered dunes a series of rounded, feminine forms, acting as a defensive barrier stretched between that trouble and the purity and innocence of childhood, as indicated by the unsullied white snow in the lower right. Meanwhile, I recognized in the road, straight and thrusting, arrow-like, into the distance, a dynamic and aggressive image of masculinity, driving into the problem head on, working in partnership with the feminine counterpart to protect the innocent while under-girding and guarding her.

The white of the snow represented to me childhood innocence. In my abstract version, I allowed the white to gradually take on color of the masculine and feminine hues, indicating a growth toward maturity as youth gradually takes on the roles and responsibilities of adulthood. The hue representing femininity reached its greatest intensity where it confronted either threat or the masculine presence. Similarly, the masculine hue, like surges of testosterone, became most intense when juxtaposed with femininity, when challenging the perceived threat, and where reinforcing the protective shield between trouble and innocence. Despite all the parental efforts, a faint reflection of the brooding and troubled sky dimmed some stretches of the unbroken snow. Yet, at the core of both the feminine and masculine forms, remained pristine pockets of child-like innocence.

Every aspect of the painting, including my use of hue, value, hard and soft lines, and juxtaposition of colors and values, has a meaning to me. Yet another viewer might read something entirely different into it. Part of the pleasure and delight of abstract art is its enigmatic character: It is left open to the viewer’s interpretation. Any other explanations, whether or not it coincides with my own, could be legitimate and correct. Abstraction allows the viewer’s imagination free rein, and, because it is based on individual interpretation, no response is wrong. In the same way, I will leave to your imagination my painted, abstract interpretation.

Why not try one of your own?