It's easy, when making visual images, to focus on capturing the appearance of our subject. One "sees" something, thinks that it would make a good subject for an image and then goes to work using their chosen medium to make an approximation of what they saw, thinking that if the finished work "looks" like the subject, it will be successful. But even the most skillfully and accurately rendered visual facsimile of a subject can fail to give rise to any deep feelings in the viewer.
The truth is that when we engage with a subject, our experience is the product of many senses, not just the visual. All of our primary senses (visual, auditory, taste, tactile and olfactory), as well as other senses such as memory, emotion, and thought, can, and usually do, influence our experience. The sounds that we hear, aromas that we smell, the feeling of the warm sun or cold rain on our skin, and any memories that rise up into our consciousness are all part of the experience that we have. For me, the challenge of the visual artist isn't to simply reproduce the outward appearance of a subject, but to find a way to turn the totality of an experience into some kind of visual form. If I'm painting a tree, I don't just want the viewer to know what the tree looked like. I want them to smell the tree and the air around it, hear the insects and birds and distant farm machinery, feel the breeze, taste the sunlight and have the memory of the old tree in the woods behind my neighbor's house and to share my longing for the grey-eyed girl that I almost kissed there when I was thirteen.
In two-dimensional art, we deal with two different types of space. "Decorative" space is a flat, two-dimensional space, which involves the arrangement of two-dimensional shapes on the two-dimensional surface. "Plastic" space involves creating the illusion that the two-dimensional images is three-dimensional. Within the realm of plastic space, as in the universe in which we live, there exists a dichotomy between form and emptiness, neither of which can exist without the other. We couldn't be aware of solid forms if there were no space between and around them and, likewise, we could not conceive of empty space if there no forms in it.
When dealing with plastic space in drawing and painting, the artist is always trying to manipulate their materials to suggest that the flat, two-dimensional surface is either solid form or empty space. Cézanne criticized the Impressionist for not having enough form in their paintings – for being all atmosphere and light. One of the remarkable attributes of Cézanne's paintings is that if you see one in person, the illusion of form is so convincing, that some of the objects seem to project out in front of the canvas. If you stand in front of a Rothko and look at it long enough, the painted surface dissolves and becomes a void, filled with light, atmosphere and color.
I like to think about each image that I make as having it's own proportion of emptiness to form and oftentimes, each image will be a reaction to the one that preceded it. This image was based on a small section of a pastel drawing that I did a few years ago on a cold, damp October day. I love the dense, tangled, chaotic wildness of the woods. As complex and Labyrinthian as it appears, careful study and contemplation will reveal a masterful plan beneath the surface. I tried, but failed, to capture this image in paint a few times in the intervening years. I realized that the problem was that I was focusing too much on the empty space in my previous attempts – trying to create the illusion of depth and space around the forms. The solution was to to fill the canvas with form and let the space take care of itself.
I am a full time artist, originally from Massachusetts, currently living in northern Maine. I work primarily in oils and pastel, and occasionally watercolor. I offer instruction in drawing and painting at my studio, which is in an old renovated potato barn. Please feel free to view samples of my work (You can see a larger version of each picture if you click on it.) and leave a comment if you are so inclined. Be sure to click the "Older Posts" button at the bottom to see more work. I don't always have time to respond to comments, but if you wish to correspond with me, you can e-mail me at email@example.com