Part 2, project 2, exercise 3: Still life with natural objects (step 1: choosing a subject and artist research)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

24 April 2016. Since I had already chosen flowers for Assignment 1 I was advised by the study guide to skip exercise 2 to go straight to painting natural objects.

Again, as always, I feel some inner resistance when having to put together random objects in order to display them as a still life. What I want to do is tell a story, even if the task is only keen observation of form, light and composition. So I gave the fruit basket and vegetable drawer a wide berth, collected and then discarded twigs, cones and snail shells, and half eaten breakfast eggs, and in my mind always came back to the study guide suggestion of painting rock crystals. I have a few of these, which we picked up on some mountaineering trips in the Hohe Tauern mountain range. While going through my small collection of rocks and crystals I also came across three specimens, which are, to me, so interesting regarding their surface appearance, provenance and history of formation that I could not resist choosing them for the exercise:
I have now a highly irregular, iridescent and near black piece of pumice, filled with holes formed by volcanic gas, which we found on a lava field near mount Teide on Tenerife, a 10 cm long cylindrical piece of petrified wood (which is at least what we think it is) from Australia, which is yellowish-pink in colour, as well as a piece of cream-white probably coral I inherited from my grandfather and whose ends are extremely worn, so that it looks well-rounded overall (Fig. 1):

Apart from the personal stories connected with the pieces, there is geology and biology to consider, if I am to create a painted still life story. So here I am with a real opportunity to go through a staged process. I just hope that I can force myself to a considerate approach.

First of all, since two of these objects are not what the study guide would call simple forms, while at the same time sharing a lack of colour, I will want a carefully chosen coloured background to emphasize the characteristics of my objects. The matter is whether I want the background to be part of the story, e.g. in its simplest form telling something about the place of formation of each of the three objects. What I could do is to create an abstract background layer in a way I saw in an exhibition of paintings by Herbert Stejskal earlier this year (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), but much more reduced, as e.g. in Anon (n.d.) or Guedez (n.d.). I like the strong lines delineating the boundaries of each coloured area, but I guess that just these lines would not provide an interesting contrast, but would rather suffocate the delicate structures of my objects. On the other hand, I do not want the still life to look like a display in a jeweller’s shop window with the items lying on a nice piece of cloth, satin or velvet, or whatever, or on an indifferent background as e.g. in this painting by Paolo Porpora (1617-1673, Italy) (Fig. 2):

Figure 2. Paolo Porpora: Still Life with Shells, oil on canvas, [n.d.]. Source: Paolo Porpora (1617-1673) [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Also, since I quite like the strong shadows, I want to chose a background which allows them to be included in the painting.

25 April 2016. In order to start experimenting without thinking too much about a story or concept, I had a look through my collection of scrap paper, which I include in drawings and paintings now and them, and was lucky to find three pieces, which could help me with visualizing background effects regarding colour, as well as size and position of parts. What I do not want to do here, however, is to take a shortcut and use the paper to make a collage. I want to paint all parts, because I know I need the experience. Here are a few photos I took while testing a first setup. To start, I took photos with each rock on similar and contrasting background colours and tones. See the results in the three photos below (Fig. 3, 4 and 5):

Figure 3. Rocks placed on similar background
Figure 4. Rocks placed on contrasting background – 1
Figure 5. Rocks placed on contrasting background – 2

I quite like the combination of tonal and colour variation in the above background experiment. There is, however, when looking at it again, far too much harmony, which I would like to break. I therefore varied the position of the papers and got two more or less acceptable results (Fig. 6 and 7):

Figure 6. Position of background papers changed to form rectangular areas
Figure 7. Position of background papers changed to form triangular areas

For some reason the triangular shapes appear appealing to me, probably because a good-willed viewer might read mountains, sand dunes or ocean waves into them. So I think that I might give that idea a go, but avoiding the jeweller’s shop appearance. So there will be no painting simple patterns for the rocks to lie on. In order to see how other artists solve their background problems, I had another look on the internet and found an example of how the background may be painted using the same hues as the objects placed on top and still successfully creating a background-foreground effect (Groat, n.d.). This gave me the idea that I might try a very subtle combination of the different hues provided by a volcanic eruption, sea water and sand desert. Whether the combination of colours (orange, blue and ochre-pink) will work together and whether I will need to enhance likeness or contrast, I will test in the next step of this exercise.

Regarding paintings depicting similar objects I did not find many examples. Entering “still life natural objects” or even “rock crystal” in my browser gave almost invariably fruit or vegetables interspersed with the odd fish, most of them to a high standard of practically photorealistic painting, which I do not want either. One style I came across I thought fascinating: Sylvia Siddell (1941-2011), a New Zealand based painter, had a very unusual and energetic approach to her still lifes, see e.g. “Out of the Frying Pan” (Siddell, 2007). She used an intriguing combination of line and colour, which I would like to include in this exercise, on a much simpler level.


[Anon.] (n.d.) Abstract Painting on a Wall [n.k.] [online image]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Groat, H. II (n.d.) Terra Mater [oil on canvas] [online]. New York Art Collection. Available at: [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Guedez, C. (n.d.) La Ville de Paris [acrylic on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Study Visit: Gallery Tour in Salzburg [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 Blog. Available at: [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Porpora, P. (n.d.) Still Life With Shells [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 25 February 2017]

Siddell, S. (2007) Out of the Frying Pan [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 26 February 2017]


Study visit: Gallery tour in Salzburg

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

10 March, 2016. Last week we cycled into town to see the exhibitions presented in some of Salzburg’s galleries. One I had wanted to see in particular, the 20 year anniversary exhibition on Bernhard Vogel (*1964, Austria) on show at the Galerie Weihergut. Getting there we found the show room closed, since the gallery staff had gone to present their collection at a large art fair in Vienna. So we changed our plans and first had a look at the Lumas gallery, a dealer in high quality photo art reproductions. I particularly liked the work by Matthew Cusick (*1970, USA), who specialises in collage-like delicate “paintings” made of carefully chosen clippings taken from different maps of the world, e.g. “Mylan’s Wave” (Cusick, 2012).
Most impressive at the same place was a 1.5 x 2 m photo, “Urban Landscape V” (Bakonyi, 2013/14) by Bence Bakonyi (*1991, Hungary) showing a number of floors on two of Hong Kong’s giant skyscrapers. The, by the standards of Austria and probably most parts of the world, incredible density of urban space, left me bewildered at the number of individual fates and stories told and the weird attraction created by the almost, but not quite, repetitive pattern. The owner of the shop reported an occasion, where a lady had spent some time looking at that particular photo. When asked for her opinion about it, she told him “I just spotted my flat.” Years earlier, she had actually been living in one of the diminutive dwellings. What a coincidence.
The overwhelming number of phantastic photos resembling paintings reminded me that any former boundaries between the two forms of art are no longer existent. They are mutually fertilizing, allowing artists coming from each side to make use of all the available achievements and new developments. And also, the quality standards are breathtaking – reminding me harshly that there is a long road ahead of me.
Having spent a lot more time at the Lumas gallery than initially planned there was only one more place to have a quick look at before they all closed for the weekend. One of Salzburg’s most internationally renowned galleries presented works by Herbert Stejskal and Eva Möseneder. Stejskal’s (1940-2012, Austria) abstract paintings, watercolour and acrylics, reminded me of the intuitive “energy” paintings, which are at the moment extremely popular in Austria. I was fascinated by one peculiarity: Stejskal breaks up the canvas into many “sub-canvases”, each with its own style (sometimes photographic, sometimes reminding of different printing techniques), but at the same time never leaving a doubt that each is part of a whole. Energy appears to flow between the parts by the way they are arranged in shape and colour. See e.g. the aptly named LAVA (Stejskal, 2003) or CROLLO (Stejskal, 1987).
Eva Möseneder’s (*1957, Austria) series of small paintings showing vividly coloured potted and other imaginary plants appeared to me like clippings from larger works by phantastic realists including Arik Brauer (*1929, Austria), see e.g. “The Flower of Chernobyl” (Brauer, 1996/97) or Wolfgang Hutter (1928-2014, Austria), e.g. “Die braunen Blätterpflanzen mit den blauen Kugeln” (Hutter, 2004). While Möseneder’s choice of colours is most attractive and the plants appear to glow from the inside, at least to me they are strangely lacking in aliveness. This may of course be a deliberate effect, but it makes me wonder what it is exactly that makes Stejskal’s abstract paintings burst with energy, while the living things depicted by Möseneder do not. I had another close look at them and they seem to refuse to communicate, content to live their own strange plant life, whose emotions we will never be able to understand. It also makes me wonder whether the refusal of a work of art to interact with the viewer may well be another way of attracting attention.


Bakonyi, B. (2013-2014) Urban Landscape V [photograph] [online]. Lumas Gallery, Salzburg. Available at: [Accessed 19 February 2017]

Brauer, A. (1996-97) The Flower of Chernobyl [n.a] [online]. Leopold Museum, Vienna. Available at: [Accessed 19 February 2017]

Cusick, M. (2012) Mylan’s Wave [collage] [online]. Lumas Gallery, Salzburg. Available at: [Accessed 19 February 2017]

Hutter, W. (2004) Die braunen Blätterpflanzen mit den blauen Kugeln [n.a.] [online]. [n.a.]. Available at: [Accessed 19 February 2017]

Stejskal, H. (1987) LAVA [watercolours and transferred media on paper] [online]. Galerie Welz, Salzburg. Available at: [Accessed 19 February 2017]

Stejskal, H. (2003) CROLLO [acrylics on canvas] [online]. Galerie Welz, Salzburg. Available at: [Accessed 19 February 2017]