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While fireworks were an invention of Tang Dynasty China in the 9th century they took a while to get to Europe. But, by the time Claude Monet was a young experimenting impressionist in the 1860s he had seen varieties of colored fireworks.  James Whistler’s famous firework night paintings appeared in the 1870s.

Monet’s sense of an exploding rising rocket could be in evidence in this early painting of his from 1867 (example 1). Here the tower of Sainte Catherine appears to have vertical momentum with an explosion of forms at its base but, maintains firm unity in its rising pinnacle set against the sky.

Example 1. Le Clocher of Sainte Catherine in Honfleur,

Monet’s first mentor was Eugene Boudin of Honfleur. This L’Ecole des Beaux Arts educated artist recommended landscape painting to Monet and gave him guidance.  Monet found Boudin’s work displayed in a storefront in Honfleur.  Boudin showed Monet more relaxed paint-handling, the use of broken forms and softer edges.  Boudin’s beach scenes had a lateral feeling of blurred unified movement. Later, when Boudin painted the harbor of Honfleur he continued his momentum effects using loose lateral paint gestures to create a unity for the harbor-front and how it appears in fast a horizontal visual scan (example 2).

Example 2. Eugene Boudin view of Honfleur,

In 1475 Leonardo Da Vinci was still tied to Verrocchio’s studio. Among his earliest works is an annunciation painting. He would experiment with new ideas like linear perspective in his sketches. In our example #3 a smaller predella version of the annunciation .  No doubt this was in preparation for the later more refined and enlarged version now in Florence.  This example was only recently attributed to Leonardo and may presently be seen as a part of an extraordinary show on Leonardo in Verrocchio’s workshop at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Observe how Leonardo uses the zig-zaging walls  give the painting a momentum into deep space which counterpoints the angel’s horizontal relationship with Mary.  Da Vinci referred to the tension between stillness and motion as critical element in successful painting.

Example 3. Leonardo Da Vinci’s smaller Annunciation scene,

As art moves into the 20th century with abstraction through artists like Wassily Kandinsky we see how structure, design, and movement are critical to effective painting.  In example 4 from Kandinsky’s early 1920’s work we see abstract geometric forms in counterpoint with one another.  Essentially the painting’s design is a hub-and-spoke vortex with a curved red shape helping to turn the form and give it a contrasting movement.

Example 4. Wassily Kandinsky, small abstraction,1920’s,

I also explored this idea of a vortex offset by a turning form in my examples 5 and 6 which represent steps one and two in the process.

Example 5. Step one, Turning into the Brooklyn Bridge,

Example 6. Step two, Turning into the Brooklyn Bridge, present state,

For another demonstration of momentum my next examples (examples 7 and 8) again focus on a hub-and-spoke design. There is also side-to-side horizontal counterpoint and secondary visual goals like the archway in the lower left and the light openings in the lower right.

Example 7. “Brooklyn Bridge Entangled”, step one, 48×48,

Example 8. “Brooklyn Bridge Entangled” step two, 48×48, present state.

Before beginning the painting you see in example 8 I created an alternate similar image by layering multiple views of the Bridge’s entrance from the same perspective in Photoshop. I demonstrate this process in examples 9 and 10 which picture a southeast corner view of Grand Central Station on 42nd Street. Notice that the motorcyclist is facing you moving away (in contrast) from the receding moment of the highways and bridges.

Example 9 is one of two different photos of the corner building, Grand Central Station. I layered that shot with another photo which was of the same subject but, from a slightly different point of view. The layered image was then crunched into a square which helped to exaggerate the verticality of the architecture and elongated the feeling of the striped crosswalks as they gathered speed and momentum moving east along 42nd street to the horizon. By doubling and stacking the red awnings and windows and other elements I could amplify the sensation of directional movement. I could give the piece more momentum.

Example 9. One of the two original photos of the corner.

Example 10. The Crunched or squeezed layered and enhanced photo which can now to serve as a point of departure for a future painting, perhaps.

I invite you to join me this year for Jerry’s Artarama’s tradeshow and workshops at their Art of The Carolinas in November (9th -11th) in Raleigh Durham NC. I have three workshops to offer you.  My Friday workshop FR1807 is “New Affects and Ancient Sources for Painting in oil/wc/and Acrylic. My Saturday workshop SA1807 is “Nature Up Close” n oil/wc/and acrylic. My Sunday workshop SU1807 is “Cities in Motion, Bridging Realism and Abstraction”. A more fulsome description is available through Jerry’s Artarama Art of the Carolinas website. Or on  Try





8 Responses

  1. Abhi Ganju

    Awesome ideas of abstracting city scenes….I’ve been trying out something like this with Chicago scenes, taking inspiration from Wayne Thiebaud, but I need to work on them a lot more.

  2. randy k davis

    awesome David! examples 7-8 appear to be twisting so violently that it could collapse! much like the Tacoma Narrows bridge (washington state) did in a windstorm! that failure prompted engineers to start using vertical guy cables from the main cables to the roadway. the harmonic amplitude is the wind matched that of the roadway causing structural failures.

  3. Fredric Neuwirth

    Example #10: I like that the pavement stripping runs thru the womenr legs adding a floating feeling and depth,
    The office tower really zooms upward adding a lot of drama to the paintings
    The crowd of people add activity and color
    It is all very effective
    #7 & #8 lack solidity need more definition. Promise to be great!

  4. Laurette Karstetter

    How absolutely wonderful what you share with us- thankyou.

  5. Patricia Scanlan

    The art history that you present is fascinating. The iconic structures that you paint and present here makes me realize that artists have so much power in their work. In Brooklyn Bridge painting, is the motorcyclist
    leaving a chaotic situation? The viewer can see the activity, almost hear the noise and feel the air in this dynamic

  6. Bonnie Brewer

    I am so impressed with your knowledge of art history, and art techniques. Your paintings are exciting, and wonderful. Thank you.

    I wish that you would write a book reflecting your step by step process of creating paintings, etc. as well as your knowledge of art history.

    Sincerely, Bonnie

  7. Bonnie Brewer

    I am so impressed with your knowledge of art history, and art techniques. Your paintings are exciting, and wonderful. Thank you.

    I wish that you would write a book reflecting your step by step process of creating paintings, etc. as well as your knowledge of art history.

    Sincerely, Bonnie

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