People matter. Not just in the world around us but in our paintings, as well.
Recently I did an acrylic painting of a rainy scene of Venice’s Piazza San Marco (#121201). The verticality of its iconic towers balanced the dark horizontal line of gondolas bobbing quietly at their moorings along the edge of the lagoon, and were reflected in the wet sheen on the paving stones, providing a strong rectilinear composition.
Due in part to the way I had matted the small piece, the negative spaces were not optimally proportioned in relation to one another. Also, although I had incorporated red and yellow amid the pervading blue of the composition, these supplementary hues proved too subtle for my purpose of enlivening the basically monochromatic scene. The painting definitely needed further work.
I increased saturation somewhat in the distant brickwork and considered how to more effectively reposition the 5”x7” mat. Along with several other minor changes, at the suggestion of an artist friend I also added some figures, which served not only to identify the foreground as a solid surface but also to provide a sense of proportion and to break up the seemingly empty spaces in the foreground.
Although the figures were tiny and only minimally rendered, they endowed the scene with a sense of life. The painting was no longer just an iconic image of a recognizable place. Suddenly it represented a moment with which viewers would be able to identify. By including people along with the icons, the scene immediately gained relevance. Whether viewers had ever been to Venice or not, like the “people” represented in the painting, now they could imagine that they had been there, too. Go figure.