Saturday, December 06, 2008

Artist David Dunlop talks about taking painting "Beyond Imitation"

Today I spent a very enjoyable afternoon at Hartford Fine Art attending a lecture/demo given by David Dunlop. You may know him from the PBS series Landscapes Through Time. The event was sponsored by the Connecticut Plein Air Painters Society, and Dunlop was the juror for their current members show which is on display at Hartford Fine Art through January 4th. I feel honored to have had two pieces selected by Dunlop for inclusion in the show. Dunlop's own work is accomplished and unique, an expression of his own vision and interests. The depiction of motion being one of his current fascinations. While I like his work, I don't want to "paint just like him" but rather find my inspiration in him because he is well travelled, well read and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to art history, history in general and in understanding the neurological, physiological and psychological effects of perception, color and their impact on they way humans make,view, perceive, understand and appreciate art. He's also very affable, animated and funny. A lively speaker with a lot of great information to share who talks a mile a minute, sprinkles relevant anecdotes throughout his talk and makes salient connections across time and disciplines.While I was standing listening (yes, there were no chairs provided for this 2 hour event, and my back was screaming by the end!) I noticed a number of people taking notes, which was a good idea, and smiled to myself when others asked about the particular color and brand of paint he used, the type of oil, the size of his brush and where to buy the steel sheet he was painting on. Those folks I'm afraid missed the whole point. It's not the specific tools that help you create masterful paintings it's the understanding of all that has come before and the connections between art, science, religion, philosophy, biology, psychology and so much more that creates the sublime in an artwork. I think at least half the room stopped at Home Depot on the way home to pick up some steel sheets to paint on, LOL. My irony meter also went off because plein air painters (no knock here, I've been painting plein air for almost 7 years)usually revere sticking very close to their subject, heaping praise on anyone who capture a scene and it's colors and values "spot on" because his whole point was to go beyond imitation, to avoid creating a cliche. But my irony meter hit a high when he did his demo for the plein air painters using a photo as a reference LOL.

So what did David Dunlop say that was inspiring and beneficial? I didn't take notes, preferring to really listen and absorb knowing that the things that resonated with my present situation would stick and that was all that was really important. So here goes:

1.) Spend a LOT of time just looking, looking, looking, then paint rapidly.

2.) Don't listen to music while you paint, it divides your attention and keeps you from really getting into the "flow zone", don't lose the muse.

3.) Don't succumb to the tyranny of a plan, respond to the painting as you go, be willing to, as Picasso said "follow the paint".

4.) Work out of ambiguity as Da Vinci did. In other words start with an free flowing ambiguous gestural tangle of paint strokes and draw meaningful imagery out of it. Remember looking for images in the clouds when you were young? Go back to that mindset.

5.) Focus on creating contrast and anomalies in your painting. Regularity in shape, spacing, edges etc. kill interest and create boredom for the viewer.

6.) Don't resort to the pictograph. This is a real right brain/left brain struggle, painting what you actually see (perceive) vs. painting what you know or think you know about a subject. It's why it's hard to draw a foreshortened hand. What you see isn't very much, yet you know what a whole hand looks like and a hand print is the pictograph that's on our mind trying to force it's way into that compressed foreshortened view. It's the difference between painting a pictograph of an apple, round, red, small brown stem and an actual individual apple that may be misshapen, lack a stem and have color variations.

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