Monday, December 10, 2012

Plein air and beyond

Howard Creek Ranch Plein Air. 16"x12".
Oil on linen panel. July 2012
Many a book about plein air painting, and many a teacher, will tell you that you have to figure out, for yourself, what attracts you in the view you have chosen, what is interesting about it, before you start painting, or even before making preliminary compositional sketches. I agree that it is generally a good idea; all in all, it's better to think before doing something, on most occasions. For me, though, it doesn't always work like this; often, I have to work on a painting, both en plein air and afterwards in the studio, before I even begin to understand what this painting is all about. 

This post begins with a plein air study done while we were staying at Howard Creek Ranch: the hills behind the farm house, with a forest running down to its rose garden, with the ocean behind the viewer. What I thought attracted me to this view were two technical challenges: compositional, with the hill dominating both the sky above and the garden and the roof below; and coloristic, with dominant greens and their subtle variety (by the way, no green pigments have been used in the making of this painting). 

The native hue of resolution. 24"×18"Oil on linen, August 2012
Back in the studio, though, this motive began unravelling in two slightly different directions. The first one took place on another, larger canvas: the original peaceful, inert greens splitting into contrasting blues and yellows. The eternal fight between three primary hues replaced the green-dominated color harmony, only slightly punctuated by reds. It's the same landscape, but with its latent energy unleashed in outburst of primary colors. The same landscape, but viewed by another person (inasmuch as one human being can be different persons at different times and places and contexts).

I remember a garden. 16"x12".
Oil on linen panel. September 2012
The second reinterpretation of the original motive took place on the same panel, as a studio re-work of the plein air study. It is now called "I remember a garden", a slightly hidden quote from "The English Patient". If you recall, the man who says this has never actually seen the garden he remembers; he only heard about it in a moment of extreme heightening of emotions: a peaceful garden, running down to the sea, the garden of his beloved's childhood home recalled in a time of pain and mortal danger. 

So this was, as it turned out, what attracted me to this view in the first place: the initially unrecognized hint of shared remembrances of things past, the ever-present contrast between peaceful harmony of nature and painful energies of human emotions attached to it. 
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