November 16, 2009

Working on Green Tilt, Texture

I've finished the left side of Green Tilt, which has a great deal of texture on the surface. This is the rust that has formed over years of wear from use and weather; it's an essential aspect of the machine depicted (an Ag-Bagger), part of its physical character. I've often worried about painting these signs of wear and age, because of the danger of nostalgia. But without the texture, surfaces could be bland and uninteresting, and certainly not as much fun to paint. In order for the paint to look right to me, I have to paint many layers of color, light on top of dark, and back again, cool to warm to cool. The touch, or use of the brush, has to be the right size and have the right gesture in order to be convincing. And it all has to sit on a single plane and not look like some of the color is floating above the surface.

I rely on the strong abstract compositions, with their cropped forms and hard edges to move my paintings away from sentimentality. Of course I want my work to be moving, to affect viewers, to have mood or power or whatever mysterious thing it is that a good painting can evoke...but not be nostalgic. (though I accept that I can't control how anyone sees anything I do.)

So, thinking about texture, I looked again at some still life painting:

Juan Van Der Hamen, Still Life with Sweets, 1621, oil on canvas, ca. 15 x 20 inches

Seventeenth century Spain produced many brilliant still life painters who created dramas of ordinary foodstuffs displayed in light against deeply dark backgrounds. Van der Hamen is one of my favorite of these artists because of his simple, rigorous compositions. Each object has a texture that describes its nature, and is part of its volumetric form. We are not aware of the texture in itself; it is used to make each thing more tactile.

John F. Peto, Old Books, 1890, oil on academy board, 6 x 9 inches

For Peto also, the texture of things was necessary in describing them (see also my blog post on Peto). In their wear, they show a human-like progress through life. Because the compositions in Peto's paintings have a clear geometry, and the forms have simple volumes, we do not focus on the details of texture; they are deeply embedded in each object, be it book or inkwell or letter rack.


  1. oh, that Jan Van der Harmon is such a treat, I'm going to steal it.

  2. Altoon, do you ever employ unusual painting tools such as sponges for your texture in situations like these, and have you done that here, or is it all brush?

  3. Mona, I always use only brushes in my paintings. I don't feel I'd have enough control using other tools. Also, for me a brush is an extension of my hand without too much personality of its own, while something like a sponge comes with its own mark and texture.