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Posts Tagged ‘illusion’

CubistWindowBlueFinal
The layering in this painting is uncanny, so pay attention. You think the “window” in those Cubist browns (1) is on top of the blue CubustWindowFinalAnalysis“background.” Look again. Those browns used to cover the whole painting and then the blue (2) washed over everything, leaving that “window.” That created enough of a puzzle, but the artist felt the painting needed a line somewhere in the blue expanse. Indeed. The line materialized, quite literally, not as paint but as a piece of yellow yarn, which was glued onto the canvas with acrylic matte medium. The effect of this humble yellow line is that it amplifies the three-dimensionality of the pictorial space, in that we now have the illusion of a horizontal plane below the yellow line and above it, a wall. Now the “window” really pushes forward. As you look at this, you know you’re being fooled by the simplicity of means and at the same time you gladly give into the illusion.
Keren Vishney, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”

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15JanBlueDiscAPrimary colors are pleasing. Look: red, blue and yellow. Plus two secondaries, orange and green. Plus black and white. This is a pleasing painting. The colors are luminous and the composition is stable and orderly. What more could you want!?
Well, you might want some chaos to liven things up a bit, because our experience of life is, dare I say it, a bit chaotic. Our rationality only covers so much territory in our inner lives. If you think chaos belongs to a truthful look at life, painting may be your medium. Paint welcomes chaos. Dip the brush into some paint on your palette and whoosh. Chaos comin’ right up, sir.

15FebBlueDiskB
This is exiting to look at, way beyond just pleasant. Notice how things overlap and fade. Notice how your eye is constantly moving through this thing.  You cannot rest any where, even though you can see that the underlying structure is rectilinear and stable.

The painting appears to have multiple layers, but actually it only has four. The top layer consists of two rectangles, neatly outlined: one black and one smaller one in yellow. These two rectangles cover very little surface, but isn’t it uncanny how they contribute to the illusion of depth in the painting?
Painting by Bruce Boyer, oil on canvas, 30” x 40”
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ThisIsNotABrush
It looks hap-hazard, doesn’t it, at first glance. There’s a frame within a frame within what might be another frame and things get a bit uncertain there, not at all like what you expect from a frame. The job of a frame is to separate the illusion created by the artwork from the banal, certain reality of the wall. But this frame is not only blurry but it seems to be sliding off into the lower left. Or is it emerging from the lower left? So you ponder this. Then you notice a small white rectangle in the upper left and, oh, another one in the lower right. Now your eye goes back and forth between the two, crossing the painting diagonally. There’s another white rectangle attached to the “frame” in the middle, a bigger one, and you pause there as you go diagonally upper-left-lower-right. Then there’s that brush. This may actually have been the first thing you noticed in the whole painting. What happened there? What’s it doing there? Did the artist drop it accidentally? Well, no, that wouldn’t be accidental, because she had taken one of her brushes and painted one side blue. Then what. She must have deliberately placed it on her canvas painted side down. This is indeed what she did, quite deliberately, carefully and quickly, on the spur of the moment and as the last act in making this work of art. It’s witty and it’s profound. The imprint of the brush brings the “frame issue” even more into focus. Ha, what focus? This painting has us coming and going on this question of what’s illusion, what’s reality. And that’s a  good thing.
Painting by Maria Palacios. Oil on canvas, 24×30.
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Nov2014
Yes, it’s all rectangles and squares. What an interesting challenge! Wherever you look, it’s all 90° and you think this should look stable and fixed. Not so. It’s all motion and speed. How do you make a painting consisting of right angles so lively?! Try to look away. Gotcha!

Our visual apparatus evolved to detect motion. Frogs can only see what moves. If you don’t want to be associated with frogs in your family tree, try to remember what it’s like to sit in a train while reading. It’s hard, because your eyes are attracted to the blur and motion at the window. Maybe a painting that simulates the effect of motion holds our attention for the same reason. But this painting does not illustrate motion.
Let’s look at an illustration of motion.

HorsesBeachHere we have a specific instance, a narrative of motion. Horses and riders on a beach can evoke the memory of a beach, the smell of the ocean, the energy of young men and the power of horses. Notice that all these are specific memories and as such they’re limited and limiting.
In the painting,  our experience is deeper. Without a narrative as a hook and employing a most restrained composition, it moves us to introspect on how perception itself works.  We have to ask how this is possible.  And that’s endlessly fascinating.
Painting by Maria Palacios, 30×40. Oil on canvas.
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14MariaRedBlueSquaresThis is quite an accomplishment, isn’t it.  You’re looking at rectilinear forms, four rectangles and two squares. From the verbal description, you’d expect a static image.  But it’s far from static.  You can’t help seeing these blue things moving. And what about the vertical divide, is that in the middle?

The suggestion of movement in the composition comes, to a great extent, from the little blue rectangle in the lower left corner.  It appears to be a fragment of the kind of square we see clearly stated on the right side of the painting.  The fact that there are two identical blue squares sets up an expectation in our minds that what we’re seeing in the lower left is one of that kind.  It’s uncanny, how powerful that little blue rectangle is. I would say, it makes the painting.  It sets everything in motion.

The other blue rectangle is that long thing in the middle.  It’s in the middle, right?  Wait, we can’t be sure, looks like the middle, but maybe not.  The large red rectangle appears to be just a smidge narrower than its light counterpart on the right, because a saturated color area will look smaller than a light area.  But, at the same time, red is a dominant color.  The illusoriness of the red half and the question of the mid-line are rubbed in our faces by this blue thin rectangle in the middle. Where’s-the-middle becomes an issue.  What’s static, what moves?

This painting by Maria Palacios appears to be simple, but is anything but.  Look at it.  It won’t let you go.

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13BoyerrGrnSquVaseArrow

I encourage my painting students to work big.  Working on a large canvas helps you think in the modernist mode.  You’re more inclined to work with a big brush and a big brush makes an assertive, juicy, gestural stroke.  When you work small, you’re more inclined to think “decorative,”  more inclined to want to please someone else and more inclined to adhere to what you think are rules.

So, go for the big picture!

Bruce Boyer has definitely been converted to the big canvas.  He paints on 30 x 40.  Yesss!!  Because he works in oil—slow drying—he prepares the underpainting ahead of class.  The tones he chooses for the underpainting are rich sepia browns, reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance, or equally serious deep blues.

Then the shapes appear.  How?  I don’t know, exactly.  I do know, however, that whatever you put down on a canvas will trigger an association.  In the above painting, the green square came first.  The painting takes over.  From step to step, it lets you know what’s needed.  Boyer seems to be investigating the illusion of planes and spacial depth.  Notice that as soon as you think you know where you are, situated in credible space, your attention wonders to some element in the painting that throws your certainty out the window.  Endlessly fascinating.

When, as a painter, you’ve hit upon a game like that, it’s good to keep poking at its possibilities, variations and mysteries.  How does this work?  How does my mind work when I do this?

13BoyerRedSnakeFinalPlusBlueThat’s Boyer’s 40 x 30 painting, starting with bluish-black underpainting.  And here are two earlier stages for you to puzzle over. Notice how your attention moves through the painting.

13BoyerRedSnake113BoyerRedSnakeFinal

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The flipped version, where the stripes move from lower left to upper right, feels more optimistic, doesn’t it.  There’s an UP feeling.  (See previous post.)

At the same time, the stripes get paler as we move up KensettView-on-the-Hudsonover the hilly cloth.  This creates the illusion of great distance.  We know from our everyday experience, that things that are close to us are crisp and clear, while objects in the distance appear paler and less well defined. We also know this from looking at landscape paintings.  The painter will make distant mountains look hazy and thereby create the illusion that he’s painting a great vista.

13CanistersMegLooking at this delicate pencil drawing of tea and sugar canisters on top of some ordinary cloth, we get the weird feeling that these cylinders are humongous.  How is this illusion created?  Through the simple technique of making the stripes in the cloth paler as they approach the top edge of the cloth!   That edge now looks like the crest of a hill.   We now have cloth that looks like rolling hills, like sand dunes. The eye moves up the dunes and at the top where they crest, we see absurdly large cylinders.

They look ominous. 

They look ominous in the original.  The left-right flip trivializes them. (Previous post)  I prefer the ominous effect in the original.  It’s witty. It makes me sit up straight and say, whoa, how did you do that! My thanks to the artist/student, Meg Faga.

(John Fererick Kensett (1816-1872), “View on the Hudson.”)

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