Sunday, August 13, 2006

Thinking about painting!

“38 Main Street, Ballynahinch”, July 2006.
Oils on canvas, 24” x 18”.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the "why?" of what I am doing. Initially, when I started painting again, it was simply to get myself, without stress, back into the habit of working on my own art. But, as I became involved with the mechanics of what I was doing, it became clear that straightforward "observational" painting is really not either straightforward or simply to do with observation!

A normal photograph of a scene will do three main things:
  1. It will record the scene with strict regard to linear and aerial perspective - the view is recorded from one precise point, straight lines will appear straight, objects will diminish in size with mathematical precision according to distance and more distant objects will appear to be hazier and bluer.
  2. Colours, because of the limitations of film design (or printing ink, if using a digital camera) will be be distorted. Some colours, usually the most vivid, will "out of gamut" and cannot be reproduced exactly - and so will be muted.
  3. There will be variation according to the depth of field. Anything at the same distance as the object focused upon will appear to be sharp. everything in front or behind will appear to be blurred. (By using a very small depth of field, a photographer can deliberately use this to isolate his subject from the background, so that his subject appears sharp and everything else will appear hazy.)
But this is not actually the way that a scene is viewed in reality. We move our heads (and we have two eyes, giving us stereo vision, which means that sometimes one eye can see what the other can not), our eyes can appreciate a much greater colour range than the camera can record and we look at different parts at different times, mentally blending our observations into the one perception.
Although not intentionally distorting what I am seeing, when painting, I quite automatically incorporate this way of viewing into the result. Perspective - whilst appearing to be essentially correct - will be "adapted" so that vertical lines may no longer be precisely vertical, angles may change to make the view more dramatic or to reveal a greater area (as from a different viewing point). One of the rules of human observation is that one "notices" more that which one is interested in. So colours can appear more vivid - and the perceptions can then be reproduced by using the full range provided by good quality paints! Everything is painted in focus because one automatically focuses on the part which is being observed.
The final result of all these adaptations is that, I believe, a painting can be much more "alive" and truer to actual perceptions of a scene than a photograph can ever be!

“Kitties Entry (Harmony Way), off Main Street, Ballynahinch”, July 2006.
Oils on canvas, 24” x 18”.