Monday, May 7, 2012

Landscape 911

The Dead Paintings Society: First Gathering

Last Friday, May 4th, marked the first gathering of The Dead Paintings Society, which met at my studio in Amesbury.

There were nine painters, plus me, and we got to know each other a bit as we shuffled chairs and settled in. Many of the artist were well known to each other, and they had some enjoyable catching up to do.

In the meantime, I looked over the 'dead paintings' which had arrived. I chose a water scene, measuring 18" square.

My job was to see what this dead painting might become. Of course I know nothing of the place where it was painted, and have no attachment to any of the particular elements of the painting. Equally, I bring to the painting my own painting concerns, my likes and my dislikes----au fond, my own way of seeing.

My first question is always "What is this painting about???" In this case, it seemed reasonably evident. It was a painting of a summer's day, in fair weather, with a substantial, green lushness. All these things had been communicated quite straightforwardly.

As I looked at it longer, however, I began to find faults. It was too-unrelievedly the same green. Although the shape of the water implied a recession from the viewer, the artist hadn't used either perspective (in the sense of forms of diminishing size) or aerial perspective. The central line of trees almost exactly bisected the canvas. The cloud form was not modeled, and it was placed very close to the center of the canvas.

So I started to work, keeping the same horizon line, but introducing a mountain to break up the overall rhythm. I changed the shape of the water and, in doing so, radically changed the the subject of the painting. What may have been a pond or lake became a definite river. I modeled the cloud to make it a bit more dynamic, even while leaving it in its central position. I tried to establish a light scheme, both sunlight and shadow, to animate the canvas in terms of values. Overall, I sought to enliven the painting by increasing color contrasts and value contrasts, and by supplying a more inviting composition. The class was three hours of painting for me, and I subsequently spent, perhaps, another 90 minutes, over several days, changing little things.

The original artist has been very kind. She is still speaking to me after I trampled all over her canvas. But, hey! It had been consigned to the dead paintings corner. And all's fair. She won't, now, paint as I do, because we are different artists and different people. But what may have been valuable is that she was able to observe the sort of choices I made, and to hear my explanation of why I made them. One hopes that she, and the other members of the gathering, will remember to continually ask themselves hard questions, both in the field and in the studio.

The Dead Paintings Society will hold its second gathering this Friday, May 11th. 



  1. Thanks a lot for that. Much appreciated your sharing your knowledge like that - Jon

    1. Jon...You're entirely welcome. Stay tuned, because I'll post the succeeding weeks as they happen. But the post from this coming Friday, 11 May, may be a bit delayed. I'm teaching a workshop from the 15-18th. Where are you in France? I had a house in Saone-et-Loire, not far from Cluny.

  2. Great post, Donald. This is really helpful and I hope more will follow in this line. I was showing a fellow Wednesday painter my corner burial mound today and am encouraged by this to try to resussitate one or two.

    Today at our Wednesday session my subject was full of spring greens and could easily have turned out like your 'before'. I am now encouraged to look for the colours in the green!

  3. Donald, thanks for replying. I shall certainly stay tuned - I appreciate your paintings, above all of the French countryside - as they correspond to my feelings for it. I live futher down - Provence - Julian Merrow Smith, Potscard from Provence, is only about 40 kms away.