Monday, May 15, 2006

musings on landscapes and more

I spent all day Saturday at the Getty staring at paintings. What I like about looking at paintings I've seen before is noticing new details I've never seen in them before. And these are details I rarely grasp from reproductions as I hunted for decent links to the few paintings that really stood out to me this visit and couldn't find a single one.

So this weekend-- while I was originally aiming to see the Courbet exhibit before it went away (and more specifically looking to see how the color green is used in his landscapes...) -- I ended up getting inspiration in the Italian painting section instead. After finding Courbet and other plein air paintings in the permanent collection rather dull this visit (not that it is dull, it just didn't strike me this time around) I thought I would open myself up to more than just plein air painters. I wanted to see different takes on landscape. This is how I found myself in the Italian Renaissance. What intrigued me was not the figures (which is what I usually obsess over) but how everything else was arranged and painted-- the landscapes, the cities, trees, blades of grass, leaves, flowers, clouds, etc. This painting, for example, was one that particularly spoke to me.

I am not an expert on anything Renaissance (it seems as I get older and more disciplined I am starting to find holes in what I know. After this weekend I have decided to invest in several books on the Renaissance to satisfy my need for more knowledge.) What I am curious about is how a painting would be constructed using various elements.

Going back to the painting by Dosso Dossi as an example I deduced the following based on observation. Objects like the vase, the broken crushed flowers, maybe some of the foreground earth were probably done from life (maybe in sketch form first). I don't know how much of it was in one place at one time. Surely the flowers would have wilted in the time it took to paint them so I assume there were sketches and studies done-- the finished product done based on those. I am not sure of the ground beneath the figures, but looking at some of the other paintings nearby in the gallery I got obsessed with feet-- mainly because the figures in many of the paintings were not very well set into the space suggesting the models were not posed in that location. In the Dosso Dossi painting this is less of a problem-- however the legs of the centaur on the right side are unnaturally in shadow which for some reason I assume was because he had trouble painting what he couldn't observe and maybe played it down a little bit by letting it fall into deep shadow. I could probably assume all the figures were posed and worked from seperately. There seems to be very subtle shifts in scale, perspective, position in space that doesn't quite seem natural. The background is a whole other monster. The separation between foreground/background is very distinct as if the background was more of a backdrop than a continuous landscape receding into the distance. I am guessing the background was not drawn from life, but is a compilation of familiar elements arranged to serve the theme of the painting. The landscape seems more like a fantasy-- something drawn from imagination rather than life. The leaves are painted wit a certain pattern like quality and the color seems more literal as if from memory as opposed to life.

Many of the paintings I looked at had a bizarre dichotomy: beautifully painted luminous figures set in landscapes that seemed unreal and not quite sharing the same space as the figures. But at the same time-- this seemed to be done accomplish a point and they get away with it.

This way of painting the lanscape is very opposite to the plein air painters I also looked at. I thought that plein air landscapes would be more helpful to me-- after all they were painted almost directly from life. And isn't painting from life far superior? After looking at all these paintings I am not so sure. I think that painting out in the landscape is a great learning tool-- but when it comes to the core of one's work-- the real key is to figure out what your painting is all about. And what I realized this weekend is that-- yes-- lately there has been alot of landscape in my paintings. But my purpose is not to capture the landscape nuances accurately. I am trying to create a sort setting that has a subtle feeling of fantasy-- of an imagined or subjective landscape. I am thinking I may start making my landscapes more unreal on purpose and see what comes of it.

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