Ancient Vessels

posted in: Painting | 7

Returning to ancient sources offers opportunities for re-invention and discovery. The enigmatic imagery and classical forms of ancient civilizations tantalize with their indecipherable mysteries.  Borrowing two thousand year old shapes and merging them with contemporary landscape images took art history in a new direction for me.

Visiting museums I collect images of urns, bowls, plates and other antiques.  I found many of these ancient forms in New York’s Metropolitan Museum.  My first image which is a less modeled form (example 2) begins with a 2200 year old Chinese vessel (example 1).  I superimpose photos of flora from a nearby nature preserve. Next I scratched, deleted and patterned the painting surface but, kept the rough form of the Chinese vessel.

Example 1. Ancient Chinese vessel.

Example 2. Painting referring to the vessel for a base design.

Photographing 2500 year old Greek urns, amphora, and craters gave me a repertoire of forms for re-invention.  The painting in example 7 begins with a terracotta jar from the Meidias painter from 410 BCE (example 3). I then layered a photo of a forest’s understory onto the terracotta jar (example 4).  For me, finding imagery which suited the vessel shape is a compelling part of the process.  There were many mismatches before the image you see.  Next, I looked for a painting which could serve as an appropriate substrate for my new layered image (example 5). Example 6 presents the image before applying light-modeling effects. Example 7 is the image with highlights and blended light modeling.

Example 3. Terracotta jar, Greek, 410 BCE.

Example 4.  Same jar with layered flora imagery.

Example 5. Under-painting to offer additional layers.

Example 6. Painting without many light modeling effects.

Example 7. Painting in present state, 24×24, oil on dibond.

In London’s Victoria and Albert Museum I found an arresting vase (example 8). I thought it needed trimming. I removed the two top side-florets to simplify the form. I applied strong complementary color contrast for the neck against the colors in the lower meadow.  The cerulean neck colors  were re-introduced as glowing reflected lights for the sides of the vessel as you can see in example 9.

Example 8. Vase in Victoria and Albert museum.

Example 9. My painting using the vase form, oil on dibond, 24×24.

In 1876 the renowned ceramicist, Josiah Wedgewood created a complex vase with swans ornamenting its top and supporting its bottom. It rests in the Metropolitan Museum.  I pruned the swans away to preserve the classical form (example 10). I shortened the form to fit into a square format. I considered how the marbling effects of foamy wave patterns might animate the surface of the Wedgwood vase. I also considered how to give a feeling of deep space across the upper area of the vase.  The result are my wave patterns swimming on the transfigured Wedgewood form (example 11).

Example 9.  Reduced and Pruned Wedgewood vase.

Example 10. My wave-vase painting, oil on dibond aluminum, 24×24.

Until June 17 please visit an exhibition of my paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203 318 0616.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques” At the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860 231 8019 to register or visit their website at  go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description.

Nicole’s Art Gallery, in Raleigh Durham, NC. will host me for a 3-Day workshop, Monday – Wednesday, June 26-28. My workshop is “Painting with the Masters, Old and New Techniques with David Dunlop”.  Call 919 838 8580 or register online by visiting

7 Responses

  1. Agnes Wnuk

    David, your creativity shows no bounds! Your work is amazing! I’m looking forward to the workshop in West Hartford.

  2. Ruth Feldman

    This is amazing!!! Any chance you could make a DVD (for sale of course!) of your upcoming workshop? Wish I could attend in real time!
    This is a brilliant direction-timeless!

  3. Gail Ingis

    Your paintings on an already amazing antique urn. Then fire and viola, you have created a 21st century urn. I agree with Agnes, “Your creativity has no bounds.”

  4. Jennifer Richard-Morrow

    The one of the Wedgewood with a seascape is really great!

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