Technique Tuesday: Surrealism

What is it?

Today we’re covering a fun topic that we’ve touched on somewhat before: Surrealism! Surrealism is an artistic and cultural movement that originated in Paris in the 1920’s, and established a genre that artists are still exploring today. The art historical movements of the early twentieth century are truly fascinating, but as this is just a blog post, I’ll do my best to give a brief explanation of Surrealism’s nascence. Following the first World War, an especially brutal experience for many countries around the world, a generation of both civilians and former soldiers were left disillusioned and emotionally scarred. Reality, which art had for so long sought after so desperately, was suddenly quite painful, and the opportunity to step back from that and explore a different, more internal world appealed to many creatives during this time. The field of psychology was also rapidly growing, and the theories of famous psychologists like Sigmund Freud, such as notions of the subconscious mind and dream analysis, were becoming widely known. Several French artists and writers were inspired by the idea that the subconscious contained answers to fix the broken world around them, and that representation of these ideas, so different from reality, could jar society out of some of the long-held beliefs and structures that had led to such damage. Therefore, these writers and artists began to create bizarre, illogical scenes that evoked aspects of dreams and un-reality and elements such as odd juxtaposition, strange changes of scale, and elements of pure fantasy.

Examples from art history:

One of the names that comes to everyone’s mind when Surrealism is mentioned is Salvador Dalí. Dalí was an eccentric Spanish painter whose combination of excellent, classically-based draftsmanship and bizarre, unsettling imagery has had a lasting impact on artists even today. Below are a few of Dalí’s best-known Surrealist works:

(left to right) Salvador Dalí, “Swans Reflecting Elephants,” “Caravan,” “The Persistence of Memory”

Many other artists, including writers, photographers, filmmakers, and musicians took part in the Surrealist movement, but the work of the Surrealist painters is what has arguably made the most lasting cultural impact. Here are a few more examples from artists Max Ernst and Rene Magritte:

(left to right) Max Ernst, “Napoleon in the Wilderness,” “The Elephant Celebes”; Rene Magritte, “The Lovers,” “Golconda”

While some Surrealist painters, like Ernst and Dalí, created images that were more fantastical, some, like Rene Magritte, painted oddly familiar, ordinary looking scenes that had a major twist to them, and often an unsettling one. This is one of the aims of Surrealism–to get you to think differently! For instance, we know that a mirror reflects what is in front of it, but what if that reality was twisted a bit? Well, this is a concept that has inspired some Principle Gallery artists, too!

(left) Rene Magritte, “Not to Be Reproduced”, (right) Louise Fenne, “Mirror Portrait No. 2”

Examples from Principle Gallery:

(left to right) Michele Kortbawi Wilk, “Who’s Afraid,” Laura E. Pritchett, “Projection,” Francis Livingston, “Mating Season”

Elements of Surrealism pop up in the work that we carry here at Principle Gallery, and it’s always a thrill to see the creativity these artists are expressing, as well as the reaction from the viewers. There are two artists who show primarily at our Charleston, South Carolina location who use elements of Surrealism quite often in their work– Karen Hollingsworth and Anna Wypych! Click any collage to see it larger!

(left to right) Karen Hollingsworth, “Depth,” “Voyagers,” “No Boundaries”

 

(left to right) Anna Wypych, “Sea Color,” “Steely Eyes,” “Giant Girl”

Check out these artists, and many more, on the website for Principle Gallery Charleston!

 

by Pamela Sommer

Technique Tuesday: Painting from Photos

technique tuesday painting from photos

Happy Tuesday! Today’s post is part one of a mini-series of posts looking at the different methods artists use for reference when they’re working on a painting. Essentially, there are 5 ways an artist might paint:

1. From life (this applies to both plein air painting and indoor painting from a still-life set or a live model)
2. From photographs
3. From images on a computer screen
4. From imagination
5. Any combination of the above!

Today’s going to be a bit of a 2-in-1 post, since we’ll be taking a look at both methods 2 and 3 today, and examine the way artists use photographs to help create a painting.

What is it?

Painting from photographs may sound like an incredibly simple concept, but there’s actually a lot to it. As we’ll see, the history of using ocular devices to aid in the creation of artwork goes back quite a ways! These days, with the proliferation of cameras and printers, photographs are becoming a more and more popular tool for artists to use for reference. Painting from photos gives an artist a lot of freedom. They can work from the comfort of their home or studio (where they can control elements such as lighting), and they can paint without a strict time constraint (fresh cut flowers will eventually wilt, and models can’t sit still forever), and it allows the artist to manipulate the image they’d like to paint before they actually put paint to canvas. With today’s technology, artists can manipulate photographs on editing software to give it any effect they’d like before they render it in physical paints.  (For instance, Valerio D’Ospina, one of the artists featured in our current exhibition, often desaturates the images he uses before he begins painting, as this allow him to better visualize and refer to his limited palette.) Some artists feel there are big disadvantages to painting from photographs, such as the loss of the full range of colors and values we can see with the naked eye, but other artists work around these issues with incredible results.

Examples from art history:

For several centuries, even before the advent of modern photographs, artists made use of ocular devices to help plan and execute paintings. The most well known of these devices is something called the “camera obscura.” Here are a couple of neat images to give you a visual of the way a camera obscura works:

CamOb Collage

The camera obscura is a device that led to the invention of the modern photographic camera. Essentially, it involves a space–either a room or a box–that has a very small hole in the side. When light passes through this small hole, the image of what is outside the hole will appear in the room or box, just flipped 180 degrees. This super cool phenomenon was discovered as far back as Ancient Greece (and possibly, even further back than that!), and ever since,  artists have made use of it to create more realistic paintings. As the nineteenth century began and the first of the modern cameras were invented, artists began to make use of printed photographs for reference when painting. Check out some of these awesome examples from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (click to view the image larger)!

AH collage

Reference photographs for paintings by Edgar Degas (left), Alphonse Mucha (middle), and Frida Kahlo (right)

Examples from Principle Gallery:

The artists we show at Principle Gallery have a wide variety of reference methods for their work, and many make use of a combination of photographs and references from life. There are a few artists, however, who truly love the method of working from a photograph and the effect it achieves. One excellent example is Delaware-based painter and photographer Laura E. Pritchett. Laura is both an avid painter as well as a photographer, and has gained a lot of notoriety and a sizable following on Instagram, where she goes by the handle @bythebrush. (Check out her Instagram here!) One of Laura’s specialties is her self-timer photography, which features Laura herself as the model, usually captured in motion outdoors. She takes her art one step further though, by using her photographs to create her beautiful, contemplative paintings as well. We just recently got some new work from Laura, which you can check out on our website here!

Pritchett Collage

Laura Pritchett, “Horizon” (left), “Faith” (right)

Sometimes, a painter will go one step further and paint from a photograph while it is displayed on a computer screen. Not only is it convenient with today’s large, bright digital screens, but painting from images on a screen also often gives the image a kind of back-lit glow. You can often observe the way this glow’s effect appears subtly in the finished painting. Two Principle Gallery artists who sometimes enjoy painting from a computer screen are Anna Wypych and Jeremy Mann–check it out!

Wypych Mann collage

from left to right: Anna Wypych, “Loading”, “Safe Place”; Jeremy Mann, “Requiem”, “Stature”

Check back to see the upcoming Technique Tuesday posts about painting from life and from the imagination! To get our new blog posts sent right to your email inbox, subscribe by entering your address in the bar at the top right of the page!