Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Paintings About to Dissolve in Light

Peter Doig, Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like) 1996

Recently, by chance it seems, I've stumbled over several paintings in various states of being overwhelmed by diffused, reflected, and in the case of the Peter Doig above, cascading light.

Fairfield Porter
Fairfield Porter's porchscape above is a fine study in light-filled "transparent shadows." Oil painters use transparent shadows as opposed to just dark or colored blobs of paint so create the sense of visible, textured surfaces modulated with a combination of shadow and reflected or ambient light.

It's so believable we don't give the reality of anything else in the painting a second thought, but look how much the pines are softening in the glow, and how about that chair on the right - it appears to be dissolving completely!

Israel Hershberg
Painted shadows become more convincing when filled with light that's bouncing into them.  Israel Hershberg's cityscape above serves as an illustration, and the whole thing is a delightful study in how light melts matter. Here the light is direct, ambient, reflected, diffused, and atmospheric all at once! Hershberg had been experimenting with very distant landscapes, as seen through a telescope. What he's really interested in isn't the city but the light-diffusing atmosphere itself.

Monet's cathedrals are unbelievable in person.
Like poetry that (according to someone somewhere I'm sure!?) gains in purity as it approaches the condition of silence, such paintings seem like objects nearing a sort of sublimation, a trans-substantial, self-luminous state. Monet's cathedral paintings come to mind.

At their most extreme they're like diaphanous veils shimmering between nothingness and being, wavering at the uncertain boundary of matter and light: physical and spiritual, real and imaginary at once.

Monet again. Show me the Monet!

In this below one by contemporary Dutch plein-air artist Roos Schuring, the diffused light from the winter sky and the snow create a nice balance between ambiance and substance, don't you think?

Here's an Aldro Hibbard in the same category.

Aldro Hibbard, February Orchard
And here to take us out are three diffused-light-filled landscapes by contemporary Russian plain-air painter Bato Dugharzhapov.

Dawn, Bato Dugharzhapov

Bato Dugharzhapov

Winter Dawn by Bato Dugharzhapov
It's the way the light values threaten to overwhelm even the midtones in these that I love, I think. The loose paint seems almost a metaphor for matter dissolving in light.

J.M.W. Turner, Sun Setting Over a Lake, 1840

Turner's another painter whose subjects are often being overtaken by luminescence. I imagine the air in the painting above to be saturated with moisture suffused with sunlight.

I'm sure some of you can think of others that I should add to this collection?

Lee Mullican, Space, 1951


  1. The light seems fitting for this time of year.. I personally love the snowscapes and vast luminous space in the porch shadows.

  2. Stunning collection. I haven't had the opportunity to see most of these in person save the Monets - which are mesmerizing.

    Others in this category might possibly be Turner's Regulus or Lee Mullican's Space.

    I love how the Aldro Hibbard scintillates.

  3. Helpful and interesting observations (as usual). It seems there is almost an over abundance of soft edges, too... that diffuses and blends everything even more.

  4. Katherine- So right! How could I forget Turner?! And thanks for the Lee Mullican tip - I did not know his work.

    Dana - thanks! Yes, you're right - soft edge over-abundance indeed.

  5. Great post Sharron Boxenbaum mentioned it to me. Great blog also.
    i was honored :) Good luck in it all.
    Happy painting!

  6. Rock on, Roos! Keep those winter scapes coming!

  7. Really interesting blog and paintings Christopher.. saw your link through Todd Bonita...while checking links to update. I'm adding yours!

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