Two years ago I was looking for a forest with a magical spell. I had seen a spellbinding place in a painting by Albrecht Aldorfer, the artist credited with the first European landscape. It was small, the size of your hand. Painting themes in 1500 were portraits, religious or mythological. Paintings like landscapes without figurative content were perceived as too hedonistic. They lacked moral purpose. Albrecht Altdorfer ignored this prohibition as he experimented with landscapes. He didn’t paint his small landscape experiments for a market. He was curious and took a risk.
We inherit our experience and culture. Altdorfer’s trees had a religiosity to them (example 1). Like Eden there was a tree of life (bigger) on one side of the painting and a tree of knowledge on the other. In the distance were sacred mountains. Artists the world over have been fascinated with sacred mountains. They place them in the distance to make them appear bigger.
Altdorfer’s distant sacred mountains coincided with the number three for the Trinity and for the three crosses on the hill of Golgatha (Calvary). Aldortdorfer could not escape his religious knowledge. It shaped his thinking and painting. He took pleasure in making this richly foliated landscape as he had known in his native German countryside.
Altdorfer also considered how to sustain the experience of a deep landscape while employing a popular storyline. Forests had been historically dangerous and wild . Altdorfer places his hero the dragon/serpent questing St. George within a deep forest (example 2). Mythologically, St George is on a quest to slay the serpent/dragon to protect or save a virgin. He rides a white horse, of course, to demonstrate his purity of purpose.
We remember the serpent from the garden of Eden. The serpent offers temptation and knowledge of sexuality. St. George is trying to slay that serpent to gain back his purity and suppress his rising libido. But, slay one dragon and another rises up.
There is a way out of the forest for St. George. He can see the opening to the light. His enlightenment lays in the distance beyond the forest and the domain of his desires.
All this mythology and more is packed into the symbolism of this forest painting. As I resume my search for a magical, golden forest I returned to a place that had fired up my forest memories. I recalled earlier stream/serpent meandering paintings of mine, how they were embedded in thickets of nature. But, earlier I had given too much space and attention to the stream and not enough to the dense mysteries of the thick flora (example 3).
Today with my camera I stumbled like St. George upon a beacon of soft, distant, promising, Edenesque light. I began with photographs. I altered the photos in Photoshop. Examples 4, 5, and 6 demonstrate those altered photographic images.
Examples 7, 8, and 9 present the sequential steps of an intimate forested and grass lined stream in hazy sunlight. The stream is not as wide and divisive as in my older example #3. I began this painting differently using a primary yellow water color as a bright translucent substrate. Next, I began over-painting that yellow substrate with oils as you see in example 7.
My final example brings me to a meandering tidewater stream as it slides through blue shadows and under bright and dense marsh grass (example 10).
I also invite you to my workshop “Explore Spectacular Flowers and Nature” with David Dunlop on Saturday and Sunday , March 23 and 24th at Artsplace in Cheshire, Ct. at www.artsplacecheshirect.org or call Joan or Karen at 203 272 2787.
You may also wish to join me at The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for my workshop “Natural Wonders” May 17, 18, and 19. Demonstrations in watercolor oil, acrylic and mixed media. This is a studio workshop. Call Sara Bass at 904 280 0614 ext 204 or register at www.ccpvb.org/programs/adult/adult-workshops