Archive for March, 2013

Little People Matter

Friday, March 15th, 2013

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.

What’s Your Impression? Part 2

Friday, March 1st, 2013

One of the reasons I enjoy impressionistic and expressionistic paintings so much is that they give me a glimpse into the artists’ response to the world as they experienced it. These works are basically interpretations (either more or less literal) of recognizable images, as represented through the artist’s experience. Attention is drawn to aspects that are important to the artist, while less important elements are minimized. This exaggeration and distortion may be barely discernible or may be taken to extremes. Visible brushwork is often an important factor in these paintings, as it is in “Dog Walkers” (#120522) below.

120522 Dog Walkers

The closer a painting is to the abstract end of the realism-abstraction continuum, the less “familiar” the image appears to the viewer. Some viewers find the inevitable distortions in these paintings disturbing or feel that the artist must have been unable to do it “better.” If color contrast is important to the artist, description of form may be minimized. If narrative is more important than description, scale may be intentionally distorted. To the untrained eye, all these distortions appear childish, prompting such remarks as, “A kindergartener could do better!” On the contrary, these variations away from “photographic” imagery do not necessarily indicate lack of technical understanding or ability on the part of the artist, but rather they show a willingness to restate the obvious and an ability to make use of the theoretical tools at hand to express intellectual ideas in an interpretive way.

How do you see it?