Enigma and Mystery

posted in: Painting | 1

One of the most famous landscapes in European history is the ” Tempest” by Giorgione from 1506. It is also one of the most enigmatic and inscrutable paintings and yet, its undecipherable character underpins its attraction. We are able to conjure a wider range of narratives because of its uncertainty.  Renaissance and later Italian painting has provided us with a vocabulary of palette, tone, iconic images and design forms ( i.e. schema) which artists have been borrowing from Constable and Turner to Balthus and Gerhard Richter.  Technology, photo shop, has delivered new methods for exploiting this historical borrowing. Art history, like the works of Giorgione or Giovanni Bellini, provide us enigmatic inspiration as well as a painter’s vocabulary. Contemporary artists enjoy access to pan historic and pan cultural sources for enigmatic ambiguity and artistic vocabularies such as Chinese Sung Dynasty landscape painting.  Here is a visual demonstration of the marriage of technology between art historical material and painterly methods and traditions.  First consider this example by Giorgione. This is not a unique example of the enigmatic by Giorgione.  I recall standing before Giorgione’s portrait of an old woman in Venice’s Accademia as I projected varieties of feelings and narratives into that portrait.  Next, consider this Chinese painting of the Sung Dunasty, about a thousand years ago. The appeal for us rests in the darkened quality of mystery, mysterious and deep space.  The mind’s eye can wander here.  It is painted in the style of Fan Kuan by a follower and owned by New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Balthus, ( my next example) uses a gridded system of Renaissance linear perspective and atmospheric perspective. We are left to feel the space, to imagine its history, its life but, not receive any direct explanation of place and purpose. The surface of the painting has a texture like a fresco, another allusion to the early Renaissance. By borrowing the iconic subject forms, the unifying design forms, the associations genereated from the Italian Renaissance palette as used to describe landscape, applying linear and atmospheric perspective and, applying a contemporary tool, photo shop, I endeavor to conjure a mood or mystery condition, like an ambigous stage set or, like the play “Six Characters In Search of An Author” by Luigi Pirandello. I build an image, a place for the mind’s eye to begin to search and ponder.  Rather than rely on the facile flat effects of a computer generated image ( the world is too full of these mechanically infinitely reproduced effects from the faux wood dash board in my car to labels to hotel prints) I return to painting the image because, in the act of applying the paint I discover new possibilities for enigma and mystery just as previous artists have.  And, by applying paint I invite the viewer to examine the surface of the image and discover  the illusion’s  deconstruction into paint at a closer focus.  I invite the viewer to experience the act of discovery by presenting the evidence of the paint, the evidence of small neurotic gestures made in pigment by fingers, brushes and rags.  First, I present my photo-shopped images which I took to begin my exploration toward mystery.  Then, I layered these two different images to create a third image which the mind unifies into a new narrative.  Here are the first two images, the layered image and finally, the painting.     Next, I present the layered photo which uses the same original photo of the vineyard as the previous image but, uses a different archictectural image for layering.  Notice that I try to localize areas of light to draw dramatic attention to them and borrow a tradition of spotlighting developed by Dutch artists like Rembrandt and Van Ruisdael (combining more traditions).  .

  1. Kay Halcrow

    Very interesting to see how you have used this process to develop a sense of mystery, ambiguity, even surprise. I still think about your painting which seemed to have a reference to the burning of Rome …

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