Often, when I begin a new painting, I ask myself- reflecting on my subject, whether it be a model or a portrait subject- ‘what binds us ?’. What is the  dynamic link between us? – a link either residing intimately within the artist and  finding its reflection in the model or an empathy that lies between individuals, both sharing an experience or interaction in the present. Identifying this element is critical. It is not something that can be added at a later time. The vitality of this initial interaction between souls must be in the initial stages of developing the image.

Artists of the renaissance referred to this initial vitality as furia. They felt there was a correlation between the movement of the body and the movement of the soul. One could not create something that had life unless it contained furia. And in order to have furia one needed to feel deeply, to have an intimate understanding of one’s subject. There needed to be  a dynamic relationship that was seeking form. How do I view the model before me? Is he or she just something I observe in a passive manner? Or is she a reflection of myself? Or is she an engaging individual in her own right? These questions are critical to shaping the image. It reveals acutely who one is and how one views the world.

The artist needs to be more than a passive observer. He must have an intentionality that is deep and forthright. For myself, the model is a dynamic self-reflection specific to myself yet containing an aspect that is universal and shared between myself and the subject. There is the specificity of the individual linked or bound to the universal. There is a duality. It is me and yet not me. There is also something of the other, the individual, creating a relationship that goes beyond this specific moment that we share and binding us to the larger world. This charged interaction lives through the image revealing something hidden from both sides. The artist and the model share this in such a way that opens a lacuna for another to enter – that being the viewer at some future date. This correlation between my empathy toward my subject and the inherent vitality of the image cannot be denied. It is this inner movement that carries the image beyond the desires of the artist and gives to the image an efficacy in the world.

Envisioning the Image

One of the most difficult things about beginning a painting is being able to envision what it will look like when it is complete. This envisioning the painting beforehand is critical and is often overlooked. But how can one even begin if one does not know the path one is to take? Monet said (I believe it was Monet), “don’t paint anything if you cannot imagine it first as a painting”. One needs to see in the mind’s eye the image in as much detail as possible- what it will look like; how the color will flow; what will be the focal point and how the painting process will reveal this; how the melody of color and form will heighten the emotional content; how the composition will bring this all together to create a lasting impression. One will only know if a piece is complete if it fulfills this first “vision”. Otherwise, one is apt to paint on it continuously because as moods change, both for the model as well as the artist, the sense of the painting changes. Before you know it you are lost in “the dark wood”.

There is also the question of technique. The proper technical means to achieve the desired result will be found because the image itself will call forth what it needs in order to speak . This puts technique at the service of the image and not the other way around. Technique must succumb to this envisioning process. Henri states,

“It is useless to study technique in advance of having a motive. Instead of establishing a vast stock of technical tricks, it would be far wiser to develop creative power by constant search for means particular to a motive already in mind, by studying and developing just that technique which you feel the immediate need of, and which alone will serve you for the idea or emotion which has moved you to expression. You will not only develop your power to see the means, but you will acquire power to organize the means to a purpose.” ( Robert Henri, The Art Spirit, p.220)

Possibly a new approach will be necessary in order for the image to be realized. Finish will come when the means has approached the initial “vision”. To seek technique for its own sake is a vapid exercise.

This does not mean that spontaneity is removed from the process. One always needs to be attuned to the moment for it is in the moment that we get a glimpse of what lies hidden beneath the surface. But if one provides the framework of meaning and emotion, spontaneity has the chance to dance upon that structure adding greater depth to a piece. And this is what you want- a combination of opposing forces, true to our experience of the natural world.

Locating one’s vision is sometimes,unfortunately, referred to as “what do you want to say?”, but language is limited and image usually goes beyond the verbal to contain something more deep and unspoken. Words cannot contain the thought or the feeling in quite the same way. When one has a feeling for an image, a vague sense seeking form,  by what means can the artist come to know that image more fully? In what way can he allow that image, that remains somewhat hidden, to reveal its self?

As a practice, I attempt to draw the image from my mind’s eye first. Repeating this process until the image speaks back to me that feeling I am after. Then I recreate this image using a model and whatever other means necessary, again repeatedly doing studies until the image “speaks” back to me. Then I tackle it from the angle of color and melody by painting color studies from memory until they contain the right emotion. Finally, I paint a color study of the model combining my feeling for color with the reality before me. It is this final combination that brings me close to envisioning what my piece will look like when it is complete. The french academies of the 19th century referred to these final studies as etudes. It is a vision or summation of the final painting, containing all the elements and emotional content that the final piece will entail. It is the “spirit” of the image seeking its final fulfillment. In many ways these etudes of the 19th century have a greater impact to our modern sensibilities than the later Salon pieces because the forza is immediate and finish is reduced to a minimum. In the end , it is the furia and intentionality that we seek to translate in a visual form- making it tactile and leaving an impression that will reside in the memory. [ Furia– the living quality, the height of invention( David Summers, Michelangelo and the Language of Art,p.63)]

Related Posts with Thumbnails