posted in: Painting | 3

Chiaro (clear light) and scuro (dark, from which we get the verb “to obscure”).  Leonardo da Vinci perfected many ideas for transferring visual experience onto a two dimensional surface and Chiaroscuro was one of his finest. Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Turner and countless others would find expressive freedom and persuasive power with this process. If you were a printmaker like Rembrandt, the notion of removing the dark (the dark ink) to reveal the light would be natural to you.   As he applied dark color (like Degas also did with his monoprints) he could tease out areas of light as if he were operating a spot light which could be turned up or down or broadened or narrowed.   The gesture of his fingers (and yes, da Vinci also painted with his fingers as did Turner and Degas and it’s a long list) revealed subtle transitions of light from dark which gives the sensation of deep volumetric space. In this late Rembrandt self-portrait you can see how the figure moves forward from the darkness.   2600 years ago, the Greek artist Apelles made the same discovery; light advances and expands while dark areas contract and recede (softly implode).   In my photo of my wife, Rebecca, you can see that photography lends itself to the same effects. And, in my painting inside the Metropolitan Museum I found the the chiaroscuro process allowed me to pursue da Vinci’s best advice which was to look into ambiguous areas and see what shapes and stories emerge.   Da Vinci specifically suggested looking not only into darkly smeared paint but also, into moldy stone walls and the embers of a fire.  I found the figures in my painting by removing the dark paint and they just seemed to float to the surface. As Picasso advised, “Find, don’t Seek.”

3 Responses

  1. Kay Halcrow

    Taking away the dark paint and figures emerge – in the imagination as the gestures of the brush in the paint and merging of the different paints form ripples and eddies and nascent shapes that you as artist ‘recognize’ and enhance ?

  2. Denise Grossman

    I am so interested in learning how to portray techniques of chiaroscuro in my portrait drawings and paintings to display authentic emotions. Also, I work primarily with medium of Soft pastels and charcoal. I would love to enroll in a virtual class to facilitate my skill development in the technique of chiaroscuro. I welcome all suggestions!😊🌺
    Thank you

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