Part 4, project 1, exercise 2: From inside looking out: Hard or soft landscape

Updated on 19 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

27 October 2016. In this exercise I would like to revisit the things I learned when investigating thermal imaging during Part 3 of this course and carry them over to capture the mood of my chosen landscape.

First I started a mini series of sketches looking through the gaps of park benches. The “landscape” of natural and man-made materials one can find under a bench tells a lot about the people who use that bench, but after a few instances I found that the view would be too 2-dimensional for the purpose of this exercise. I might come back to it at a later point during Part 4 or as part of my personal project in Part 5.

To be honest I am no soft landscape person and I very much enjoy the rough aspect of rocky mountains and cityscapes. In preparation for this exercise I did something dangerous and totally irresponsible, I had my camera with me and took a series of pictures of our city while driving home from my son’s school. There is a major crossroads next to our favourite hospital, where the most prominent feature is a circular landing platform for helicopters on the roof of the emergency department and the very best view on that is from the car. This view is what I wanted to try in this exercise.

First I produced two sketches, one watercolour, the other acrylic (Fig. 1-2):

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – hospital crossroads, watercolour
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Figure 2. Sketchbook – hospital crossroads, acrylics

29 October 2016. After my two  preliminary sketches I decided that for the final painting I would try and stay with the rough mark-making, since it reflects the ephemeral impression I gained while driving, and carefully plan the introduction of colours corresponding to those associated with thermographic imaging.

But first a little research into contemporary art of a similar kind.
“Cityscapes” appear to be a favourite subject for countless artists, but I noticed that many of them are quite ugly, so I had to do some very thorough research in order to find what I was looking for. An overview over the history of the genre (Fernández, n.d.) traces the origin of the genre to Ancient Greece and Rome, where some very beautiful mural paintings prove its existence at the time. The changing styles in cityscape painting over the centuries reflect those found in all other genres, so that again everything has become possible in our time. Interestingly, the preferred subject – by far – appears to be New York on a rainy day and the next in the list is Venice on a sunny day, which always makes me wonder why. There are as many great views in our world as there are places to look from, but I guess that not everybody connects with everything in the same way.
An Austrian artist specialising in cityscapes – Venice mostly – who I have come across quite a lot in the book section of my favourite art shop is “Voka” (*1965), who created this own style named “spontaneous realism” (Voka, 2011). Although I do not feel comfortable with his prolific use of colour, I like his mark-making and hope to be able to introduce some of that into my own work, together with the beautiful handling of light using broad brushstrokes by Hsin Yao Tseng (*1986, Taiwan/USA) (Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara) (Fig. 3). So off to testing the effect of this sort of brushstrokes.

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Figure 3. Sketchbook – printout of Hsin Yao Tseng “Bush Street in the Mist” to serve as help with testing loose brushwork

I soon found that in my sketchbook I would not be able to reproduce brushstrokes like that, not least because acrylic paint, no matter how good the quality, tends to level out the texture of any support with an increasing number of layers. Also for me the 25 x 25 cm format is simply too small to work in such a rough way – maybe this will come with time and practice. And in addition, which is probably the main reason, the street and houses below came straight from my head with no intention of creating a painting at all. Most importantly, I failed to be “consistently rough” by never gaining true control over my brushstrokes (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Sketchbook – a meagre attempt at loose and accurate brushstrokes

The difficulties I encountered, however, were valuable hints for the preparation of my finished painting. Especially, I realized that I would need to feel the exact colour and place of every single brushstroke with care. My plan therefore was to find a largish glass plate, on which I could prepare the mixes I wanted to use. It is also immensely important to have a good idea of the wateriness of my mixes, because this has an immediate effect on the transparency and reaction with the dry paint underneath. Once the underlying layers are smooth throughout I find that a watery dilution will cause puddles of paint to form in any small dent in the paper – see last floor of small building on the left. It is fine if intentional, but not so if I want to create the illusion of an intact building. In Hsin’s painting above the roughness never leaves an impression of desolation. The buildings appear to be in very good shape despite the deceivingly careless use of colour. Mine on the other had appear to be crumbling without the “carelessness”. A weird effect. Need to find out while working on my finished painting for this exercise.

1 November 2016. I prepared the glass plate for mixing colours and found it wonderfully easy to use and clean (finally a working solution!) (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. My glass plate for mixing paint (nearly invisible on my table)

Next I started on the background for my final painting (A2 painting carton), intending to have some thermographic components to be included in the composition (Fig. 6-7):

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Figure 6. Preparing the background (1)
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Figure 7. Preparing the background (2)

3 November 2016. At first I found it immensely difficult to slow down and explore mark-making. Only when I had a relatively good idea regarding my choice of colours and after several background layers I was able to use the intended marks. Maybe this is the secret behind it all – have a decent working composition, then add the final marks. This is also what Hsin’s painting looks like.
Here is the long sequence for the last three days (but not quite there yet) (Fig. 8-12):

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Figure 8
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Figure 9
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Figure 10
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Figure 11

And this was where I felt that I was able to start loosening up:

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Figure 12

Here finally are some of the marks I was after, wanting to use them throughout the painting (Fig. 13):

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Figure 13. Finally some purposeful loose mark-making

5 November 2016. That was the idea, anyway. I should have known that I would not be able to remain focused on consistent mark-making, the format was too large for me. But it was the first time ever that I felt in absolute connection with what I did, and I enjoyed every bit of those few square centimetres. This I will try and remember throughout the rest of the course and always.
Here come the final two stages of the painting (Fig. 14-15):

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Figure 14
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Figure 15. Finished painting

So, overall, I am happy about some important discoveries made. Also, the mood of the place is about right, I wanted it to feel both real and at the same time disconnected in an eerie, somewhat threatening way. Not not so pleased with the technical aspects, however, especially the erratic mark-making and failing to capture the ephemeral quality of the impression. This came about, probably, because I wanted too many things at the same time.

References:

Fernández, G. (n.d.) Painting the City: The History of Cityscapes [online]. theArtWolf.com online art magazine, [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.theartwolf.com/articles/cityscape-painting.htm [Accessed 29 October 2016]

Voka (2011) Venezia – Auf der Suche nach dem perfekten Bild [online]. Voka, Puchberg am Schneeberg. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PG8Qrxjlrw [Accessed 29 October 2016]

Waterhouse Gallery (n.d.) Hsin-Yao Tseng [online]. Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara. Available at: http://www.waterhousegallery.com/City%20Light.html [Accessed 29 October 2016]

 

 

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