Technique Tuesday: Unblended Brushstrokes & Planes of Color

What is it?

Happy Tuesday! This week we’re looking at a style of painting in which depth, roundness, changing values, and changing colors are depicted using separate, unblended brushstrokes. If that still doesn’t sound very clear, no worries, let’s look at a visual example! Here are details from two paintings from our current (FANTASTIC!) exhibition, “Graceful Subtleties,” side by side:

(left) detail from Louise Fenne’s “Sisters”; (right) detail from Jussi Pöyhönen’s “Coconuts”

Take a moment and observe the two different ways in which these artists used the paint to describe rounded forms. Louise’s brushstrokes are blended beautifully and give a soft and even slightly blurred appearance to the roundness of the young woman’s face and shoulder, and to the body of the little bird. The colors, values, and brushstrokes are blended seamlessly, one into another, and present a more true-to-life three dimensional effect. Now look at the contrast between that and the roundness of Jussi’s coconuts. Jussi’s brushstrokes are decidedly more defined, and rather than blending seamlessly, the different colors and values present as separate brushstrokes, and visually as separate planes. It creates a fascinating three dimensional effect, that is less strictly realistic and more painterly, and serves to create a glittering effect of light on these forms. It is this unblended, planar approach to describing form with brushstrokes that we’re going to take a look at today.

Examples from art history:

For a long time, during the leap forward in realistic painting seen during the Renaissance and through many centuries after, the academic standard in painting was a detailed, fully blended, fully rendered depiction of form. This is why, during the emergence of Impressionism in the 19th century, the effect of separated, unblended brushstrokes and the focus on separated planes of color was so jarring, and at first, frowned upon. Perhaps anything less than  the academic standard to which critics were accustomed at first appeared primitive and lacking in artistic merit– but the innovation and brilliance of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist style did not take long to win many over, and today is still a popular favorite among art lovers. There is an energy in this type of painting, a glittering play of light and exaggeration of form that is visually very appealing. Furthermore, the paint itself becomes a theme of the work, rather than solely the subject which the paint depicts. One begins to see the beauty beyond the image portrayed, and finds it also in the simple application and texture of the paint strokes themselves. Some of the most notable innovators of this technique include Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, and Vincent Van Gogh, and some excellent examples can be seen here:

top row: (left) Henri Matisse, “Derain”; (middle) Paul Cezanne, “Mount St. Victoire”; (right) Vincent Van Gogh, “The Large Plane Trees” bottom row: (left) Paul Cezanne, “Still Life with Seven Apples”; Paul Cezanne, “Portrait of Victor Choquet”

As a fun side note, the separation of rounded forms into more geometric planes, particularly in Cezanne’s work, also gives us an exciting glimpse at an art historical movement still to come in the early 20th century, Cubism! Playing with paint in this new way truly opened up the minds of so many artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, and of this century as well!

Examples from Principle Gallery:

Many artists that we show  here at Principle Gallery make use of this technique of unblended brushstrokes and planes of color, some in more subtle ways, and some in more obvious ways. Jussi Pöyhönen and Paula Rubino, however, are two of the most striking examples, and their works featured in the current Graceful Subtleties exhibition are excellent samples of how lovely the effect of this technique can be. Take a look below, and if you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the entire exhibition on our website here!

Jussi Pöyhönen, “Coconuts”

Jussi Pöyhönen, “Jasmine”

Jussi Pöyhönen, “Tomatillos”

Paula Rubino, “Laji”

Paula Rubino, “Summer Clouds”

Paula Rubino, “Universal Pleasures I”

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