Saturday, February 1, 2014

Essay 1 – On the Absence of Paint

                                                                    By Petar Meseldzija


Every seasoned painter who has reached a certain level of craft and understanding knows that  the absence of paint on the canvas can sometimes lead to the best results. Little patches of not covered canvas, either white or with an imprimatura, or a transparent underpainting,  bring light into the painting making it more vibrant and lively.  The absence of thick paint allow light falling onto the painting to reflect through the layers of paint. This creates a feeling of painting being  flooded with light, or an impression that the painting itself emanates light. When it comes to painting, there are a few basic elements that, when approached and applied properly, usually lead to a successful piece; things like composition, tonal and color arrangements, the expressiveness of the application of paint, the presence (suggestion) of light in the painting, etc.  Most people react to the aspect of light in the painting as something that appeals to them more than any other aspect, regardless the subject matter or a type of light depicted. Consciously and unconsciously, we yearn for light!

Many painters, old as well as contemporary, have applied this technique often achieving wonderful results characterized by the impression of lightness, airiness and effortlessness. But the ability to properly apply this technique comes with experience (surprisingly… ) for only through practice is one able to master it and therefore make the painting more extraordinary, instead of just creating a feeling of unintended or artificial “unfinishness” . This absence of paint has to be organically woven into the painting as a whole.  I think one of the best examples of the power of this principle is the work of Rembrandt. Unlike the wide spread notion that the main quality of his work is to be found in the thick and expressive impasto parts, in fact the true secret of his work lies in his transparent and vibrant shadows. 
Needless to say, in order to see the full impact of this technique one needs to analyze the original paintings. 

Gustav Klimt, Pallas Athene

Anyway, for the less pragmatically oriented  souls among us, who are inclined to search for the clues “ behind the physical canvas”, here is another explanation.
After all, why using the paint if you can reach your goals without it. Why speak, when silence has already spoken. As one progresses, one learns how to free himself from the unnecessary, and therefore burdens himself only with what really matters to him.
Although many of us, in one or another way, eventually become aware of the idea of the power of ABSENCE, or “acting by not acting”, it takes many years to fully accept, incorporate  and eventually apply it properly in one’s work. It seems obvious that one of the main obstacles is not being able, or not willing to believe that in order to create a really extraordinary impact, one does not have to always “shoot from all canons”, so to speak. This brings me to the related subject of the overuse of  elements and details in a painting. Again, it takes time and experience (professional as well as life experience) to realize and truly accept that all that abundant presence of forms and details, sparkling glitter and glamour on the surface, not necessarily reflect the essence of things. Moreover, it is not unwise to conclude that -  the more glitter on the surface, the greater the possibility that the things are hollow and empty from inside.  This principle of compensation is very indicative and often points out towards the notion of substitute, a substitute for something that is missing, something more fundamental. 

Gustav Klimt, Unterach on the Attersee

Ilya Repin, a detail from The Zaporozhian Cossacks write a letter to the Sultan of Turkey

Paja Jovanovic, a detail from The Coronation of Tzar Dusan

Rembrandt, Selfportrait

9 comments:

  1. Great point, wonderful examples. I especially love "Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks". Now that is a painting I would love to see in person.
    James Gardner

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  2. So true! Great post- thanks Petar! I totally agree with James on the Repin;)

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  3. What you say about leaving space in your paintings is true. But it is so frustrating to understand that you need to do so, yet not be able to! Thank you for this article. It is a great concept to think about and work toward.

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    1. I understand the frustration, Beth, believe me! But at the same time it must be said that, under the presumption that one never gives up, and keeps on pushing forward, and of course is sufficiently aware of his personal limitations, then one could say with certainty that - the more frustration, the greater chance that we will accomplish something extraordinary by finally solving the problem, or reaching a particular goal we have set for ourselves. In other words - per aspera ad astra! I am sure you know this already.

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  4. Fantastic essay Petar! Something that every painter should read and be conscious of in their work.

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