Linked, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 5 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.
I never show my source photographs for a very good reason: they have more "reality" than the paintings I make from them, so can seem more appealing and stronger; they can give a mistaken idea of what I'm after in the work. Here on this blog we are looking at a digital image of a physical painting and a digital image of a digital image; if we were in my studio looking at the painting and a print of the photo, the relationship between the two would be reversed, with the painting having more presence. But I wanted to speak to the way I transform the photo, so showing it will help in my explanation.
The most noticeable change is that I simplify the given image, leaving out details of wear and rust and dirt, in order to take the work out of the specific and into more formal concerns––color, shape, light, composition––and into something beyond the ordinary. What grabbed my eye were the repeating links, lined up in a subtle tilt upwards, with the stronger diagonal below them. Those two elements, along with the odd shape of cast shadows, were my focus. But what to do with the rest of the composition? I tried many different approaches: making the background very dark, as in a Spanish still life painting, but it looked awful. I tried adding some of the complexity that was on that machine behind the links but that didn't work either. I tried different colors, different shapes. What I finally settled on was a diagonal above the links that was opposite to the main diagonal below, with a shadow running across it. This shape was invented to serve a compositional need. As for color, I ended up with variations of yellow; I'd tried black, blue, red, brown, for the bottom right and upper left triangles. I painted this picture using Titanium white, two yellows––Cadmium yellow medium and light––Cadmium red medium, and Ultramarine blue, for me a limited palette.