Thursday, November 29, 2012

Melody Arch

1.80 Melody Arch. One of the things that I enjoy about painting as compared to photography is that in creating a painting you have absolute control over how to depict lighting. Shooting a photograph into the sun as in this view would result in all sorts of blown out highlights or details lost in shadows, you'd have to choose one or the other. Here I was able to show a slight contrast between the colors of the shadow on the sand in the foreground and the stone while also keeping the background dark enough to show the fainter shadows on the cliffs in the distance. Neither a painting nor a photo will show you exactly what you would have seen standing there that day, but at least in a painting you know that each color and shade is the conscious decision of a person who experienced it. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Skull Arch II

1.79 Skull Arch II. Skull Arch is a perfect example of the kind of subject that suffered from too much detail in my earlier attempt to paint it. Last time, I was preoccupied with creating some kind of starburst in the sky behind the arch, replicating desert varnish and texturing the stone. What I missed was the powerful shape of the pothole arch. I made the rim too thin, sapping its strength. I included so many little crumbly shadows in an attempt to make it look "real" but they only made it look flatter. This time I chose to focus on the shape of the arch, forming the small scattered shadows into bigger chunks of shade. I made sure that the rim appeared thick and strong. I'm trying to not be afraid of painting large areas of the canvas black-brown. I used to always worry that it appeared lazy to just block out a large section of the canvas with what was essentially devoid of visual information. If there is noting to see here, why is it in the painting? But I realize that the context of the lighted subject is important and by including these large areas of shade, the context is somewhat built into the painting. 

Surprise Arch II

1.78 Surprise Arch II. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been revisiting a lot of painting subjects lately. I'm doing this for a couple of reasons. First, these recent paintings are an interpretation of another painting rather than a fresh interpretation of a landscape. This has allowed me eliminate superfluous details and refine the scenes further than I could when I was struggling to pick out the important visual information during my first attempt. Having all of my paintings hanging around my house gives me years to casually look at them and subconsciously work out the problems that I had with them. The second reason that I'm recreating old paintings is to take stock of where I am currently. My output dropped off to almost nothing for the majority of the past year as I struggled through a period of crippling ennui at my day job that spread to my work at home.

I consider each painting to be a step in a journey towards what I imagine as my ideal style. After finally getting back to work, I needed to discover where I had left off. Looking back, I'll share what I discovered.
My first paintings focused on exaggerated color differences between sandstone layers. I imagined by exaggerating this striking feature of the desert landscape I could evoke the awe that one feels when they see this otherworldly landscape.

Because I was so interested in the stone formations, I began to read books on the geology of the area so that I could learn how they were created. I hoped that my knowledge of the genesis of these formations would inform my depiction of them. However, what I learned about the deposition of the sandstone members of the Moab area made my wildly varying colors look ridiculous to me. I had been shoehorning the extra color into my paintings.

I took some time off and when I came back, I began to focus on texture instead of color. The variations in color of the sandstone were limited to no more than three varieties in a painting and the formerly smooth blocks of color were scrubbed with brown and red paint to simulate the granular texture of the sandstone. With this change, I felt compelled to include more details so that the added texture wouldn't look out of place. Soon clouds began to appear in the skies and eventually trees and scrub in the canyons. The absolute contrast of the older paintings was replaced by blending and what I consider sleight of hand techniques, representing leaves on a tree as twisting thrusts of a ragged brush.

When I was in high school art class, I used to draw photo-realistic recreations of portraits from magazines. A friend of mine in the class one day quoted me a passage from an art book to the effect of "with the advent of photography there is no more value in realistically recreating a scene by other means." I was offended at the time, and while I still don't agree entirely (photographs are not an absolute record of a scene as the medium has its own unique and surreal qualities such as depth of field and dynamic range) I now see that detailed recreation of a subject is not always the truest way to represent the subject. Often, refining the depiction to just a few details can align better with one's experience of a person or place.

Interestingly, the majority of the paintings that I have sold are from this set; which is my least favorite. This style stuck with me up to the summer of 2011 after I had started work and begun to first feel the damaging effect of strictly scheduled days on my will to create. After not painting for months, I had two weeks off in the summer. I woke and slept when I wished and went out walking all day. One day I came home and started a large painting of a river winding through a canyon. It was an aerial view and as such did not provide a lot of opportunities for cues to the viewer about the three dimensional shape of the canyon. As I painted and re-painted and covered over layer after layer, I finally realized that my best tool for conveying shape to the viewer were the shadows that the canyon walls cast on the river and the opposite rim.

Slowly shadow became a stronger theme in my paintings and texture became less and less prominent. I did paintings with just three colors: sky, shadow and stone. I tried painting a canvas the color of sandstone and creating the feeling of depth entirely through the addition of shadow. I felt that the effect of the landscape should be produced by representing only what was actually there, often less, and never more.

The restriction of detail that came with such a limited palette made me less intimidated by large canvases that would have taken weeks to complete in my older style. With the use of large canvases came larger brushes and with the use of larger brushes came more flowing shapes. I began to see my paintings as an arrangement of shapes that didn't necessarily have to be viewed as a landscape. I wanted the colors and shapes to be pleasing in a way that was completely separate from recognition and understanding of the subject.

At the cresting of this wave of rapid output I created one of my favorite paintings: 1.70 Canyon de Chelly. Then, as if I had simply exhausted the last of my creative energy I could not create another painting that I was proud of.

During this slump I tried to simplify again by creating line drawings. I made them looser and looser until the subject was unrecognizable sometimes. When this failed to jump-start my painting again I gave up for many months and didn't paint at all.

I was recently asked by a local art magazine to submit a bio for a possible article in their upcoming issue. I decided to write something new and in doing so had to reconsider where my inspiration came from. Remembering those dark forms towering over me the first time that I went into Arches before the sunrise I realized that the shapes and the shadows where what stimulated my imagination years ago and I tried to paint again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Factory Butte

1.74 Factory Butte. I don't think that this is finished yet, but I liked the way that it looked unfinished, and there's a good chance I'll mess it up when I try to finish it, so I wanted to post the unfinished version and later add the "finished" version.

Grand Canyon III

1.77 Grand Canyon III

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Delicate Arch II

1.76 Delicate Arch II. I've painted over this canvas more times than any other. On three separate occasions, the first being immediately after completing my first painting, I've tried to paint this scene. So this has been sitting half finished for almost 4 years now. Watching the sun rise sitting on this cliff across from delicate arch is one of my favorite memories from my visits to Arches NP. I sat for 3 hours in the cold watching the shadows change and move across the cliffs and fins. However, this painting shows a sunset! I've been trying all this time to capture what I found so amazing about the sunrise but just couldn't find a way to translate it into a painting in the style that I wanted. Sunset casts a lot more of the canyon into shade and makes for a lot of interesting interaction between the large fins in the foreground. I may try again to depict this scene at sunrise, but for now it feels good to no longer have this half finished canvas propped up in my hallway.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Unnamed Maze Arch IV

1.75 Unnamed Maze Arch IV. It has been a very long time since I've completed a painting. After I completed the painting of Canyon de Chelly (1.70) I thought that I had reached the next step towards that style that I'm striving towards. However, subsequent efforts were all disappointing, to the extent that 1.73 and 1.74 are both sitting unfinished on the floor. I started the line drawings in an attempt to refocus on simple, effective depictions of the landscape. Even after some enjoyable results from that I still could not get started.
I decided to take a trip to Utah to see if I couldn't rediscover what had motivated me to start all of this 4 years ago. This time, instead of going alone, my best friend came with me. She had never seen Utah except in photographs and paintings. Showing Arches NP to her and watching her discover the feeling of awe and calm while sitting under Sand Dune Arch reminded me of how I felt the first time I saw all of these things. We got up early to hike out to Mesa Arch for sunrise and saw the sky so dark that you could see the Andromeda Galaxy.
After I came back, I decided that I would revisit some of the first paintings that I completed to see how 3 years of experience and change would impact their style. This painting is a recreation of 1.11 . I like the choice of colors in the earlier version best, especially the grey. But I like that the shadows are simplified in the newer version. Also I fibbed a bit in the earlier version, removing a bit of canyon wall seen through the arch. In this version I put it back in and I think that it helps the arch not look like it is floating in the sky, disconnected from any surrounding rock.
I'm going to try to revisit some more earlier paintings to see if I can't find the style I want without the added pressure of interpreting a whole new scene at the same time.