Elastic Courtyards

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Our word “paradise” is an ancient Persian term. It meant a walled enclosure, a place like a garden separating us from the dangers of the external world. We have redefined the concept of  Paradise (walled garden) or, courtyard through many cultures. We find examples from the Alhambra in Spain to antique Persian miniature paintings to Mediaeval monastic cloisters. We see courtyard examples across Europe and then, later imitated in the Americas in the form of urban plazas, an aristocratic gardens and enclosed rural farmyards.

The courtyard motif relies on triangles and arches to build its space. The arches originated from the arching trees creating a sacred grove of trees as a worship site for ancient Druids and Celts dwelling in northern Europe as ancient Rome ruled the Mediterranean.  The triangle descends from shadows shaped by right angled architecture.

The courtyard form evolved to use local flora and architecture. In Venice in the 18th century Canaletto redefined the aristocratic courtyard (example 1) just as Piranesi was resurrecting the courtyard concept from Roman ruins (example 2).

Example 1. Canaletto’s Venetian Courtyard, 1700s.

Example 2. Piranesi’s Roman ruins, engraving, 1700s.

In 1850 we find A. Gabriel DeCamps using a similar but, simpler, agrarian setting as he described the French country courtyard (example 3).

Example 3. A. Gabriel DeCamps, The Heart of the Farm, 1850,

A trip to New Orleans offered a view of a French farm courtyard blended with Louisiana flora and southern porch life (examples 4).  I painted this image relying on an arching coulisse of large dark leaves to frame the left side.  The vertical tree continues to supplies more arching shapes with its branches until they confront the triangular forms of the roof and balcony.  The doorway presents both an alternative psychological entry and an escape from the courtyard.  The window above the central door also employs the arching form.

Example 4. New Orleans Courtyard, oil on Compbond (aluminum) 36×36.

My final example presents a radical change of venue and style. The theme of arching spandrels and columns is carried by the girders and trestles supporting the highway overhead.  The scene slowly turns to the right as it pierces the city with traffic.  Subliminally, I must have channeled of an old Jan and Dean pop hit “Dead Man’s Curve” because, all you can see of the car are its six tail lights.

Example 5. City: Elevated Highway, oil on Compbond (aluminum,) 36×36.

I invite you to join me in an upcoming workshop at Artsplace in Cheshire Connecticut at www.artsplacecheshirect.org at 203 272 2787. The Workshop is “Natural Elements: Painting with the Masters, Old and New Techniques” January 6 and 7th, 10 am – 4 pm.

I invite you to join me at “Lily Pad West Gallery” in Milwaukee, Wisconsin next Thursday and Friday evenings, December 7 and 8 at 215 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. There will be a showing of my selected works.  Info@lilypadgallery.com

Join me this spring at the Huntsville Museum of Art (Huntsville, Alabama) for a Master Workshop there, Natural Elements: Painting with the Masters, Old & New Techniques with David Dunlop.  The workshop is part of the Museum Academy program. Thursday May 3rd – Sunday May 6; 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. Register on line at hsvmuseum.org or call 256 535 4350 ext 215.


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