Sunday, 27 November 2011

Lost and Found Edges

Edge Play  24"x 20" sold
This is a recent still life in which I wanted to 'play with edges' (hence the title) and the relationahip between 'figure and ground'. I began with a fairly straightforward drawing of the objects using black acrylic paint, and then as I painted, limited my palette to blues, yellows and greens, with a bit of red and orange for contrast.
I had been thinking about something Robert Genn (of the Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letter) had written  in A Free Chapter of "The Painter's Keys"  about making "lists or you use: plans, directions, techniques" when painting and then gives a sample recipe list. Among the many important ideas is defocus: "Paintings that are equally sharp and focused are boring. When we work from life, our eyes dart around the subject, focusing on each item, and this creates a problem. Real life is different....Your paintings will pick up life if subjects you wish to feature are sharper, and secondary elements softer". Then he goes on and suggests that by blurring some subjects and areas in your paintings you can "Create mystery and paucity. Paucity means smallness of number or quantity. In art it means the minimal expression needed to convey the form or idea." He talks about reinforcing negative space areas and suggests lost and found edges: "Evaporate some things and let the viewer's eye behold some mystery and excitement."
I began to look for those ideas (defocus, blur, lost & found edges) in the work of other artists and immediately thought of Henri Matisse. In his painting The Blue Window you see a collection of still life objects arranged on a rectangular surface in the lower third of the composition. Behind this is a window through which you can see a highly stylized voluptuous tree, some hills and sky with one lone cloud. All other parts are painted in varying shades of blue so that the distinction between table surface, interior wall, and outdoor three dimensional space is blurred, creating a wonderful play between figure and ground, reality and illusion. You can see similar ideas at work in The Red Studio and Harmony in Red as well.

Tulips, Pears and Peaches
With Matisse's paintings and Robert's ideas in mind I started painting my still life. My 'normal' artistic approach with this kind of subject is to draw the objects accurately in a credible three dimensional space. Once I have claimed the image as mine on the canvas, I follow my intuition in how I paint and the colours I use. The two paintings at the left are more typical of my style.

Really Big Pears 
My goals in Edge Play were to blur the lines between object and background, find and lose edges, and ultimately play with space and illusion. I loved the painting process - the internal decision making as to which edge to lose by blending the object's colour with the background colour, and which edge and therefore object to maintain and focus on. At the same time of course, there was the need to keep design principles in mind -  location of focal point, rhythm, harmony etc. Probably the biggest challenge was to just let some objects be a weird (even for me) colour - and here I am thinking about the daffodil leaves, vase, and pears.  I am very happy with the painting and see it as the first in a new series in which I will continue to explore lost and found edges.
What do you think?

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