Ellida at the Sea

Ellida at the Sea
Also visit www.andrewsandberg.net

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Caspar David Friedrich's Unity of Thought and Vision

Looking at Caspar David Friedrich's paintings I am awed by his ability to embody abstract thought in a visual expression.

In The Stages of Life Friedrich contemplates how human beings can mentally project the course of our lives in the form of the concepts of "future" and "distance." In order to embody these concepts visually, he integrates them with the physical attributes of distance: the diminution of size and fading away of detail.

In contrast to the detailed description and dark tonality of the foreground, Friedrich's ships sink away into a dreamy atmosphere of orange and blue. To integrate his projection of distance with its thematic meaning, Friedrich devised the method of echoing the arc created by the overall grouping of the ship's masts with the arced shape of the group of figures in the foreground. By presenting these characters at different ages Friedrich is telling the viewer outright that his projection of ships into the distance is a metaphor for the course of a man's life.  The flash of brilliant blue across the water and the yellow fire of the fading sunset suggest that the future can be an exciting destination.

By integrating visual attributes with a conceptual meaning Friedrich has created a unique, never-before-seen stylization of our sense of sight. As Ayn Rand writes in The Romantic Manifesto:
The sensory-perceptual awareness of an adult does not consist of mere sense data (as it did in his infancy), but of automatized integrations that combine sense data with a vast context of conceptual knowledge. The visual arts refine and direct the sensory elements of these integrations. By means of selectivity, of emphasis and omission, these arts lead man’s sight to the conceptual context intended by the artist. They teach man to see more precisely and to find deeper meaning in the field of his vision.
Friedrich has certainly lived up to Ayn Rand's statement. He has taught us how to use our eyes to project the future as a glowing blue dream.

* * *
An interesting aside about the title: "The Stages of Life" is a common iconography in the history of art (usually presented with a skull signifying death).

Friday, August 11, 2017

Also, this

This is a composition I am working on. Most of this was done digitally, though this is a plan for an oil painting. As is clear from the image, I am working on an irregularly shaped canvas. I am experimenting with several things stylistically, and this is quite an unusual composition for me. I have never presented the natural world as being so forceful and violent, but the the painting is intended as a depiction of courage and so I want the environment to be as formidable as the woman. All of my paintings are centered around the "heroic human figure," but I don't think I have ever come this far before in depicting the strength of a character.

On a Sailing Ship by Caspar David Friedrich

I would like to write about a painting that I have been contemplating, Caspar David Friedrich's On a Sailing Ship.

A man and woman sit aboard a boat in a dark ocean headed toward land. The porcelain colored city in the distance is bathed in a soft light. It is close enough to be real to them, but distant enough for the atmosphere to make it dreamy and insubstantial. 
        Look at how the man's jacket ripples as though he were a continuation of the sea. To his darkness (tonally and metaphorically), the woman is the light. He is one with the dark forbidding sea; she, her dress the color of clay, represents land and home and safety on a solid earth.  She is perched up hopefully. The man, with slumped but straightening shoulders, looks up at land with similar longing, but as though as at a hope that is less real to him. This dynamic between the characters tells us that she is the greater moral strength between the two. The fact that she is in the light while the man is in shadow tells us that her strength has some connection to the illumination in the sky. 
         The light in the clouds sits somewhere between the boat and the city.  Many artists have used sunlight as a symbol for hope and the dawning future, but Friedrich uses it in a special way. A typical artist might have placed it directly behind the city, connoting a glowing evanescent heaven. By putting the light between the foreground and background, Friedrich suggests that this light is moving ahead of the ship and pulling it along. Friedrich, himself a deeply religious man, might have considered this the light of God reigning over the sea and land, lending a beacon to those who venture too boldly into his creation. Abstracting from the specifically Christian interpretation of this element, we can view it as a kind of will, or living intelligence inherent in nature. A will which precedes and guides our own. 
          Friedrich communicates a tremendous wealth of information through this composition—much more than I have mentioned here—and everything he says is in the concretes of the painting. This is not an illustration of something we already knew, it does not require previous knowledge or even an explanation. We see the lesson that the artist is teaching us. We see it in those attributes that he has isolated in his portrayal, and these attributes are stressed by the absence of all the thousands of attributes a scene such as this might possess in real life, but which Friedrich has chosen to omit. As Ayn Rand said in "Art and Sense of Life," 
[An artist] selects those aspects of existence which he regards as metaphysically significant—and by isolating and stressing them, by omitting the insignificant and accidental, he presents his view of existence. His concepts are not divorced from the facts of reality—they are concepts which integrate the facts and his metaphysical evaluation of the facts. His selection constitutes his evaluation. . .
         There have been very few artists in history who live up to the role that Ayn Rand was describing in this quote, very few men who relied on nothing but the picture they created to communicate that picture's meaning. This principle, which Ayn Rand did not identify until the 20th Century, was a central aspect of an art movement  that was born at the end of the 18th. The school was Romanticism, and Friedrich was among its most towering figures.

          I would like to add as a purely personal note that I love this painting. I don't agree with its religious premise, but as an integration of thought and image, it is just simply a marvel to behold. Its colors and brushstrokes especially are a feast for the eyes. Notice how the blues and greens of the sea seem to "float" on the underpainting of brown. See the almost melodic harmony of the brown, gold and green in the mast and sail, and how the sequence of vertical lines that compose these objects provide a rhythm that send your eye flying into the sky. The brushstrokes of the sky are each a distinct mark and they radiate out in a concentric ripple. The texture created here is unusual, and resembles the inconsistent nap of a carpet. This gives the spread of clouds a realness, a stressed physicalness that unites them with the sea below and further concretizes Friedrich's metaphysics—specifically his feeling that all of the world is an integrated unity, that spirit and nature are one. True, Friedrich believed in God, but a God that is in Nature, not beyond it. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Trumpet Tree

Oil on paper, 5" x 7." This painting is based on some watercolor sketches I made of trumpet trees in Sarasota, Florida.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Coloring Pages

I decided to try my hand at designing a coloring page. Adult coloring books have become a sensation, and my curiosity is piqued. I designed this print by hand, and colored it digitally.

Coloring book enthusiasts click here if you would like to purchase a digital download of this design. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Figure Drawings

I made these in a figure drawing class in 2012. Graphite on paper.

The assignment I gave myself was to express as much as possible in the most elemental terms, using only the bare line and minimal shading. This type of exercise is a valuable lesson in economy of means; it helps me orient myself away from naturalistic clutter and towards an essentialized view.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How to Paint a Landscape in Oil

This is a landscape painted with oil on paper. It was painted from a photograph and the subject is a pond in Central Park. The visual theme is "distance" and all of my choices were made in order to communicate and stress the illusion of space. 
The painting was made in four layers, with a few days between each one to allow the paint to dry. I am going to describe the process of each layer.


The first step is to block in the large shapes. This is a means of mapping out the composition, choosing which objects will be included and which omitted. The exact tones used at this stage are not absolutely critical but are an approximation of the target colors. Since they will serve as a substrate for subsequent layers, I mixed them lighter and duller than my target colors. That way they won't dominate subsequent layers by showing through and altering the color of those layers—at least no more than I want them to.


The next layer of paint is primarily concerned with shadow tones. I chose the tones of green that would serve as shadows for each area of the composition and roughed them in with a stippling brushstroke. Stippling is when you pat the brush rapidly against the canvas at a 90ยบ angle. I then lightly swept the surface with a fan brush to further scatter the color and to level out any heavy blobs of paint. Since the shadow colors are customized for each separate patch of foliage, this layer progresses the differentiation of one object from another and allows for more refined compositional decisions to be made. 
          Speaking personally, this is the most painful layer. Having just finished a beautiful underpainting, I now have to obscure those carefully chosen colors with a rash of messy brush strokes. As painful as it might be, an artist has to steel himself against being pristine at this stage. This isn't where you find gold; you're just loosening the soil to begin digging.


The next layer is all about light. I carefully chose the greens for each group of leaves. The basis for the choices was mimesis of the actual landscape, but I augmented them to accentuate the differentiation of each tree from the next and to exaggerate the atmospheric perspective. I activated the middle-ground behind the trees with bright patches of light and I obscured the background trees with a scumbled layer of white. (Scumbling is the semi-transparent application of a light color over a darker color. The effect is a bluish-gray haze.) 
             The most important and time consuming element of this stage was the leaf grouping. I had to apply the paint rather slowly, and to carefully control how each patch of light green is connected to or distinguished from its neighbors. These choices heavily influenced the final stage where I could cash in on them with the most complex stylistic effects of the painting.


The last layer is about refinement. The main choices have been made, and they now need to be edited and polished. 
          I added shadow details with dark glazes and edited the profile of the trees against the sky with light scumbles. The patch of sand in the hollow behind the trees is now a patch of sunlit grass, establishing a sense of distance from the brighter patch of sunlight closer to the foreground. I painted in some abbreviated shapes in the water to finish the illusion of reflection and added the flourish of ripples in the water to transition the ground separation of foreground to background refections. 
          The bulk of the work was in bringing up the highlights in the leaves. Working over the shapes established in the previous layer I found shapes and patterns that could be accentuated with a series of small dabbed highlights. By selecting which areas will receive this layer of refinement I could choose which would be the areas of primary focus. By selectively refining some leaves and leaving others rough, I direct the viewer's gaze to the mid-ground trees as the primary point of focus, with the willow branches in the foreground and haze of trees in the background as the secondary focuses.
           The differentiation between these three grounds is what carries the visual theme of distance. They are like the "plot" of the painting, with the more limited ground separation in the hollow behind the trees serving as the sub-plot. Looking back at the underpainting, you can already see this"plot" in its essentialized form. This is the value of following a rigorously methodical approach. By establishing the basic compositional design early on, I was free to focus on narrower aspects of the painting and could rely on the foundations I had laid to implicitly keep me directed to the theme, without having to consciously focus on it.
*The method I have described can be used in any type of painting, not just landscapes, and with many different paint media. The procedure will be essentially the same if you are using acrylic or digital media. If you are using watercolors, keep your underpainting very light, and fine details and corrections can be made with opaque colors, such as gouache or acrylic. And remember, this is a "how to," not a "must do." Think of this method as a template on which to build your own approach. Technique is the material implementation of style, so as your unique style develops, your technique should become more personalized.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Good Night Bather

I recently rephotographed this painting after having varnished it. The colors in this image are much closer to the real effect of the painting than I had achieved in earlier photographs.

This is my favorite of all the paintings I have made. It is the most effective combination of the elements that are most personally important to me stylistically: brilliant colors, an integrated tonal key that allows for glittering highlights, extreme selectivity, and self-assertively solid, 3-dimensional objects.
Apart from stylistic approach, it is also my favorite as a subject for two reasons: It presents a strong female character, which I love in all art, from Antigone to Dominique Francon, and it uses an iconography that goes way back in world art. The subject of the "bather" goes as far back as civilization itself, and I love works of art that take known forms like this one and do something new to them to give them a new expressive purpose.

Friday, October 21, 2016

New Painting

This painting is a watercolor on paper (7" x 4 ½"). Though the setting is imaginary, the colors are based on studies done in Central Park at night (3 of which are posted below). 
          I think this painting is a fair demonstration of one of the pay-offs of color studies (a definition of which can be found in my post of May 15), which, in addition to being a crucial means of technical exercise, are also a fertile means of thinking on paper. The very act of laying colors down onto a surface initiates a chain of thought, which is accompanied and directed by words, but enacted by images, the goal, in this case at least, being the formation of a composition.  

Summer Color Studies

With fall coming on, I am posting the last of the outdoor color studies which were a personal assignment for the summer. The first five are watercolors on paper and were done in New York City parks.
The last two are oils on canvas and represent views of my neighborhood in Queens.

Friday, September 9, 2016

New Ink Painting

(India ink on panel, 8 ½" x 11")

This painting depicts a real staircase located in midtown Manhattan and is a study for a future oil painting. The impressive aspect of the design of this staircase is the stylized use of the hand railings to stress upward motion, which from any viewing angle leads to the climax of the skyscrapers above. What the architect achieved in structural terms, I can use (in the oil painting) for a somewhat different purpose and use the lines of the handrails as a kind of "lightning strike" visual cue, guiding the eye to a human figure at the top of the stairs. With that figure staring off into the sky at the buildings, and the buildings disappearing into the blinding light of the sun, I can create a nested chain of visual cues, leading inescapably from foreground to background.

I submitted this painting to the Shades of Gray drawing competition, a yearly contest for drawings done in black and white media.

Also, here is an edited version of an earlier painting called Night Light. I altered a confusing shadow on the figure's face and softened the lines of her hair. I think she is much prettier now.