Flying high and higher, experiencing everything, yet instead of burning and crashing, as the legend tells us, he gains love and wisdom and gently comes home.
Icarus Landing was completed in 2001 in my beautiful Turkish home/studio in Rhodes, Greece. There is a saying about staying at a friends home, leave it better than when you arrived. Art is a little like that too. If you borrow from history, don’t just copy but add to it and hopefully making something better out of it.
I get the moral of the original Icarus legend is to help curb young people from adventurous excess. They will burn, crash, and die if they fly too high. That story and warnings from “wise” people never felt right to me. Isn’t death a bit harsh? Wouldn’t it be better to go after their dreams, learn from their mistakes, and enjoy the journey?
Having Icarus land safely for me was irresistible. In the early stages, his pose took on a Christ-on-the-cross-like image. With reflection, I realized that coming back to earth instead of dying worked equally well for Christ. Ironically, if one removes the cross from the sadistic crucifix imagery, what it left is an amazingly beautiful pose. Continue reading “Icarus Landing”→
Earlier today I signed off on the third tattoo painting. The series was a fascinating excursion in which I contemplated how we sometimes become the artwork. I have always thought that was true in a metaphorical way, in the sense that when we are young, we often form our characters, unwittingly, by the influence of movies, literature, songs, paintings, or by sculptures. With tattoos it is the reverse, it is the person that becomes the canvas. They literally become the artwork.
The process of painting them was difficult and fun. It is like working a jigsaw puzzle in 3d, with each piece curved to fit the human form, and each piece occupying its unique spot in space.
The Tats Series is part of an ongoing project of abstract, realistic paintings destined for The White Cloud Gallery in Washington D.C. this fall.
One of the more poetic events in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is when the protagonist, Howard Roark comes to watch Dominique posing naked for Mallory’s marble sculpture. The sculpture is of the human spirit destined for the Stoddard Temple. The three of them experience a perfect synergy of admiration, creativity, and beauty.
Further plot events see the destruction of the Stoddard Temple, one of the many painful obstacles Roark needs to overcome to continue his unique and innovative vision of architecture.
Stills from Song of Songs starring Marlene Dietrich and Brian Aherne
In a way, we can look at art history and see some patterns similar to The Fountainhead that include the beautiful nude, innovations, and the power of the creative artist.
Figure the Future
By Michael Newberry
Presented by The Atlas Society, 2008
Michael Newberry reflects on how the nude supports the best within us and shows that it has been present at the conception and implementation: of democracy; of systematic philosophy; and of art history.
0:17 Introduction by Robert Bidinotto
2:33 The Nude as the Personification of the Individual
The Status of Clothed Figures
Ramasus, Queen Elizabeth 1, Ingres, Millet, Whistler, Wyeth, Pearlstein, and Richter.
Thanks to Dana Ross for the video and audio.
About expressing being one with the Universe, anatomy, how does the light drive home the theme, color theory, and layers of techniques that merge with the theme.
Over three decades ago, in 1982, I booked a private telephone consultation with an Objectivist philosopher (associated now with the Ayn Rand Institute) on reading The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand’s classic non-fiction work on aesthetics.
At 24, I was both an artist and an Objectivist. A fine art major; I had taken several art history classes including contemporary art theory. At the time, I had just completed the painting Promethia, and even though it was a thematic work, I didn’t understand how one objectively identifies a theme of an artwork. With that in mind, I was excited to be mentored by an Objectivist philosopher.
In our consultation, he pointed to Willem Kalf’s still life painting in the classic art history book, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.
“How do I discover the theme?” I asked, genuinely.
“The theme of this painting is malevolent because of the dark background!” was the swift and vociferous response.
This was “obvious” — i.e. self-evident — he said. No further reasoning or discussion was necessary.
I ended the session and never consulted him again.
Alas, I had yet to learn how themes work in painting. So I returned to what Ayn Rand herself had written.
Details Don’t Mean A Thing
If They Ain’t Got That Swing by Michael Newberry
Artists often agonize over the completion of a painting. The bugaboo for many realists is the detailing. Details are the crowning touches and yet, more often than not, they can rob the painting of its vitality.There are many great artists that manage to solve the “detail” problem. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is brimming with life and her famous smile is one of the most detailed details of any painting. I have viewed her close up and have seen how da Vinci has broken down the form of her lips into hundreds of tiny planes.So why is it that when other artists pay special attention to details, they do not come up the same results? I believe the answer lies in the swing of the big forms. In other words, details only work when they maintain the integrity of the big forms and their place in space.
Da Vinci, Mona Lisa
Stepping back and looking at the Mona Lisa as a whole, you can see that her head “sits” in the middle foreground, while her chest and hands rotate towards us, “locking into” the foreground.
Here you can get a sense of “leap-frogging” from her hand in the immediate foreground, to the corner of her breast, and then further back to her lips.If da Vinci had painted too strong of contrasts or gave too much, or too little, volume to her lips, he would have killed the lively dynamic of the swing of the forms through space.
There is no simple technique for placing objects in space. The contrast of light, dark, and color play a role, as well as high definition, perspective, and expanding the forms. All of these contribute to bringing objects forward. Transparency, less contrast, and blurring help make forms recede.
Rembrandt, Young Woman at the Window
Very similar in the setup as the Mona Lisa is this Rembrandt. Her head “sits” in the middle foreground and the corner of the breast comes forward.
If you look for it, you will see how Rembrandt is wrapping the figure in light; he is swinging the light current around, behind, and up front on her form.
Notice the meticulous detail of the leather cord and metal key around her neck.
The earring also has extremely fine detailing, yet it occupies space way behind that of the cord and key.
Picasso, Mother and Child
An interesting contrast to the above paintings is this Picasso. It is all form with very little detail. It is extremely deceptive in its simplicity. All the forms work in space as they do in the Rembrandt and da Vinci.
It only takes a little painting experience to discover that details are time exhaustive. Picasso opted to save time and sacrifice details.
If you are detail orientated, try to establish the big forms, like Picasso, has done above, and then embellish the forms with as much detail you like. Be careful not to flatten the form!
Beert, @1600, Still Life of Flowers
Here is a 16th/17th Century Flemish still-life. It is loaded with detail, but it is a flat painting. It is as if the flowers have been compressed and share a two-inch space of depth; as if the flowers have been painted from side to side, but not front to back. I would call this an example of indiscriminate detailing. The artist is not considering the interrelationship of the flowers’ positions nor their forms, hence, sacrificing the vitality of depth for superficial decoration.
The swing of forms through space excite eye movement and, for many observers, this creates an emotional response. Details that embellish and complete the forms bring with them an irresistible reality. Adding details to big forms is a tour de force of artistic skill.I hope you enjoyed seeing art in a fresh way.
Painting Denouement was a chance to live inside glowing, colorful light and to express through art what love feels like to me.
Puccini, Polyclitus, Aristophanes, Beethoven, and Michelangelo rock my world. In their time, they were innovators with a love of beauty, humanity, and passion. Their art was a constant source of inspiration.
There were visual influences for Denouement. But most of the epic works were from “brown” painters, classic technique with a limited pallet in which dark things are brown and black hues. The French Impressionists had a fantastic sense of color harmonies in light and shadow. What I had in mind was to take the best of both and integrate them.
But there was no one work from these artists that I could use as a prototype for what I had envisioned, so I had to create a new path.
In 1984, I began studies on a moment of love shared. The first sketches were drawn from my imagination. In the images, you can see the glow from the light between them.
Then I began to develop studies from live models for this composition.
I modeled for the two left drawings, having rigged a couple of mirrors. All the studies for Denouement were from scratch – no photos.
To create glow, it would be important to backlight the guy. In hindsight, backlit objects are a bitch to draw because it is hard to see the dark stuff.
I began color studies in pastel.
I didn’t like the gray colors. So I kept drawing pastel studies, changing the light sources, colored objects, and color of the paper.
With these pastels below, the color harmony clicked.
I began to evaluate my overall composition: should the man be closer in size to the woman? Should they be closer together – more connected?
Changing the guy from standing to reclining solved both the size and connection problems.
What turned out to be cool was that his new pose worked great with hers. The two of them now created a diagonal line through the composition, like the flight line of a jet taking off.
Having solved the imaging of the man and woman, the next problem was arranging all the stuff to fit naturally.
I relied on two-point perspective to get the perspective of the carpet right.
Each object had to be adjusted to fit the perspective and be the right size.
Spatial Depth and Transparency, Integrating it All
Having drawn all of the information I needed, there was still the small matter of how all of this information was going to fit together. I needed to create spatial depth of about 20′, every object had to fit naturally in its space, and the overall lighting had to feel like it was from one source.
I needed to develop a theory of integrating the color, light, and space. I discuss this theory in my articles : Transparency: A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting, Part 1 and Part 2. To give you a sense of the problem here is a pastel study of the lamp, and final in the painting. They are quite different. Just transferring it exactly from study to painting doesn’t mean it will fit.
What do lemon green, green, and cool magenta have in common? Cerulean blue. Her arm rests in a subtle shadow, by using cerulean blue as the common denominator I was able to push the color boundaries and softly place her in the right place. This was the way I saw the colors from life, but understanding the color theory helped bring out those color connections for all the other elements of the painting.
Integration is, perhaps, the most complex problem in making art. Often it is the cause of an artist’s agony and ecstasy.In this series on integration, each tutorial will focus on one problem and show how the solution fits into the whole.
The theme of Counterpose is about a harmony of contrast. At that time in my life, it reflected my quest to pull together many different aspects of art and life and to balance them.
I have removed the color from this image so that we can focus on the tonal values of the light.
Counterpose, 1990, oil on linen, 36×42″ (Black/white photo)
Notice the dramatic difference between the highlights on her face and fingers and the dark casted shadows. I am purposefully using light and shadow to support the painting’s theme of contrast.
In the orange circle, you can see the high contrast of the fabric of the folds.
Almost every part of her body has an element of contrast between the light and shadow. You will notice that the highest contrasts are in the foreground and as parts of her body recede away from us the contrast diminishes. This also allows for her body to be integrated into space, which, of course, is another tutorial.
As a foil to Counterpose, the theme of Denouement is about the radiance of love. It has a much softer, diffused light which radiates out from the lamp on the floor.
Though these b/w photos are of the finished paintings in color, I did paint a monochromatic underpainting for both of them. The advantage of monochromatic under-painting is that it is easier to organize all the tonal values and details without the added worry of the hue (color values) of things.
If you are a painter struggling with a mess that isn’t coming together, take the color out and it will immediate help pull the work together. From that point, go back into color, carefully matching the color with your monochromatic tonal values.
Denouement, 1987, oil on linen (Black/white photo)
Here is a side by side comparison of Counterpose in color and without.
The next tutorial on integration will be about the high contrast of color in Counterpose.
New York, July 28th, 2006
Newberry, Counterpose, 1990, oil on linen, 36×42″
In the tutorial, Integration of Light, I mentioned that the theme of Counterpose is about a harmony of contrast. I showed how I painted extreme contrasts in light and dark. In this tutorial, I am showing how, keeping to the theme of contrast, I painted extremes of color contrasts.
The main color theme is about the contrast of her hot red hair and warm colors of her body with the cool blues of the futon cover.
Perhaps more important than that, and perhaps much more subtle is the color contrast between the objects in the light and the objects in shadow.
The set up started with a yellowish-orange incandescent light bulb, which gave the objects yellowish highlights.
Here, in the areas circled with blue, I am showing the violet and blue-violet shadows on her body. Her foot is shaped with light and dark violets, yet her foot is essentially bathed in shadow; it is not touched by the direct yellow light.
The contrast between violet shadows and yellow highlights is one of the most radical color contrasts possible. And yet, I believe, I have given them a natural-looking, harmonious glow.
To understand how color contrast works, a color wheel is indispensable. It is out of the scope of this tutorial to discuss how a color wheel is based upon natural visual phenomena; for the moment trust me on that.
The classic contrasts are red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and violet. One reason they are considered opposites is that when you mix them you get a non-color; something neither gray nor brown.
When you juxtapose contrasting colors they serve a bit like contrasting black and white, you get an intense burst of color vibration. If you put violet next to yellow, it pops and excites the eye.
Here I outlined a few of the highlights on the blue fabric. These highlights have a slight greenish tint to them because of the yellow light. If you add yellow light to blue cloth you get green.
As we get further away from the direct yellow light that is smacking green at the front the futon, the blue of the futon merges progressively with the violet color.
Whether it is a high contrast of color in the light, or the color contrast of flesh, cloth, background, and hair in this painting, you will find an endless kaleidoscope of pure color contrasts: blue vs. orange, yellow vs. violet, and red vs. green.
As simple as Counterpose may look, it’s a very complex painting with many variations on the theme of a harmony of contrasts.
Next in the series on integration I will be discussing how her pose embellishes the theme.