December 8, 2009

Beginning a New Painting: Black V/The Vertical Painting

I've started work on a new painting, one that goes back to intense color. There are so many different hues of blue; this one is a cool blue, made using manganese pigment. Cerulean blue would work as well, though manganese is more intense. Would you call this sky-blue? looking at this image made me think of the different colors of skies that I saw when painting landscape. On a bright day, the sky here in Vermont tends to be cobalt blue, and has some cooler cerulean as it fades towards the horizon; in the south of France, and in California, I saw skies that were ultramarine, a very warm blue. I remember one summer years ago seeing a yellow tinge in the sky, which came from smoke from forest fires out west.

But the color in this painting is from an object, and is influenced by the direct light of the sun, changing from highlight to cast shadow to half-light. The blue does seem to have a sense of depth to it, like looking into the water of a clear Caribbean sea. It is aggressively held back by the black shapes of strap and pipe.

Above is the painting with the first layers of paint added. I'd mentioned in the previous post that this painting and the new ruglet, Swing, have the same dimensions, 20 x 10 inches. If you look at this composition and the sketch for Swing, or for that matter at Cascading Squares, which is also 20 x 10 inches, you can see how starting with the same format can yield very different results. I love the challenge of using a certain shape and size and creating many moods with shape, color, and line. In painting, I've done numerous 12 inch square paintings, which you can see here , and 12 x 10 inch ruglets, here. (please click images to see them better) It's so much fun to surprise myself with new ideas in the same format.

As you've seen, I've been very interested in using long rectangles, in which the proportions are a least 2 to 1. This is the first painting for which the rectangle is a vertical. (I don't count paintings such as Red Cone or Yellow Curve because their shape is more conventional.) As far as I know, there is very little in western painting history that uses a long vertical shape. I know of a contemporary painter, David Reed, who has worked with this format, though his horizontals are more successful. Within a long horizontal image we can "read" a story; it seems natural for our eye to travel across the surface. Looking from top to bottom is somehow more difficult, and it's harder to make a composition that holds together.

To find masters of this format, we have to look to Asia, where hanging scrolls have, over centuries, beautifully utilized this tall shape.

A Korean landscape in the style of An Kyon, Evening Bell from Mist-Shrouded Temple", 15th century, ink on silk, 35 x 18 inches

The landscape goes from foreground to distance as it moves up the scroll. In this way, our eye curves up around land forms, through the mist, traveling farther and higher into space.

Bada Shanren (1626-1705), Fish and Rocks, ink on paper, 53 x 24 inches

This painting creates a drama between two rocky shapes, heightening visual tensions across an undefined space, which becomes charged with feeling; the tiny flicks of fish float in an emptiness that becomes sea.


  1. Altoon,
    Your blog expands my horizons each day. It's a pleasure eavesdropping on your thoughts.
    I love the tall thin shapes you're working with...and all the inspiration.

  2. thank you, Cheryl. I enjoy sharing my thoughts, and hearing from those of readers .

  3. Altoon,
    I like vertical too.
    have you seen the tree drawings of Sandra Allen?

  4. thanks for the tip on the Sandra Allen drawings, Susan. Her very tall, simple drawings of tree trunks are powerful.