THE LANDSCAPE RECONSTRUCTED
Landscape has traditionally been a frozen image, contained by a rectangle or square, as if one were looking through a window. To me, the landscape is more alive than that – more dynamic, more active. There are weather and clouds and a lower sun (at this latitude) that has a distinct and different effect on light. Coloration and shadows are constantly moving, nothing is static. Storms come and go and wind changes directions. There are real seasons where foliage changes. All of this makes you want to move “out of the edge” to create forms that reflect these constantly changing shapes and colors.
Nothing in nature
In addition I no longer look exclusively at the landscape from the ground, where the horizon, the sky, and the traditional rules of perspective are so important. Airplane travel now allows us to look at the landscape very differently. Looking down instead of outward, I find the horizon and the sky’s negative space are no longer an issue. I am seeing unique design and patterning of water, terrain, and flora. Suddenly the geology becomes evident, so what is beneath the landscape is also meaningful. There is topography and ecology to consider, things we don’t normally think about when painting, things that can add importance beyond just the surface of a lovely scene. However, traditional landscape painting does offer unending opportunities for interpretation, where color, form, and space continue to be done in inexplicably beautiful ways and the overhead landscape has mainly been a device of the photographer, almost as a travel guide, instead of as an esthetic style. But I find that the free-shaped canvas and the overhead view offer a new perspective and a level of beauty that dramatically changes how we see the world.
My attempts to reinterpret the landscape are not without conflict. After all, the primary goal is to make good paintings and not get carried away with a creative philosophy. The “shaped canvas” and the overhead perspective create enormous dilemmas in composition and in arranging “ambiguous space.” But this format has wonderful benefits. You can apply collage and use many media, reinventing surface design and space simultaneously.
THE COSMOS EXAMINED
Recently I started to imagine a new direction. I have become fascinated with the Hubble Telescope images and realized that my painting style might work well with those images. Also landscapes of other planets can be done without inhibition. My canvases, in addition to being free-shaped, could also become dimensional. Space was now more mysterious and offered great experimentation in composition and color.
Be it ever so Hubble,
there’s no place like space.
This series of paintings has allowed complete freedom of color and changed the idea of a central image that happens in a traditional landscape. Here everything is moving away from the center and is exploding toward the edges – space is bending…and confusing. That’s why I am also experimenting with mirrors, which emphasize that confusion. The mirrors also bring unpredictable light and motion into the painting, which is no longer passive. They also change the viewer from an observer into a participant.
There is a sense of awe in imagining traveling away from earth into this “space-scape.” Understanding that our galaxy is just one in a universe of endless galaxies and that our solar system is basically invisible in our own Milky Way should open our eyes and fill us with wonder.
AN UNFORTUNATE DESIGN DILEMMA
If a painting emerges forward from the wall, you no longer deal with the illusion of realistic space on a flat surface. You are creating a new language of space and composition, where color can be dominant. Form, shape, and line have to be in balance with color and should not overpower it. You have to think about the edges – because you no longer have a frame – and these colored edges must be integral to the composition.
One of the maxims of modern painting is the sanctity of the “picture plane,” which should not be violated. But since the dimensional-shaped canvas violates this tradition, you no longer have the illusion of a window. A shape may go beyond the edge, become dominant, and then be subordinated by an interior shape. In addition, the picture plane could be curved or follow the terrain of a landscape. And for those who paint the figure, you might think about the interesting ramifications in using this format. The shaped canvas can become a very liberating concept when composing a painting.
I sometimes include symbolic concepts in my artwork. But one of the advantages of an abstract style is that the symbolism is hidden and is subject to subtle interpretation, so the challenge is to keep good art and the underlying message in balance.
So far, I have been quite analytical in describing my approach to painting. But actually I feel very passionate about what I am doing. My present artistic development is a product of strong feelings and difficult choices about life and my understanding of the world. I believe my work is a visual depiction of that experience.
There have been many new movements in the history of art but the longest established style in painting is the rectangular shape of the canvas. It is part of early Greek esthetics, which emphasize the “golden mean” and was solely used for portraiture by the aristocracy.
Are we ready to begin something different?
Perhaps the next generation of artists will see something exciting about experimenting with the free-shape style. Imagine digital or video applications or perhaps brand-new theories of composition. In the creative world nothing stands still.