Technique Tuesday: Allusion

What is it?

Today’s “Technique Tuesday” post is another good example of the way we’d like to use this series to delve into aspects of fine art that go beyond very literal, physical techniques of applying paint to canvas. While fascinating and important, those only describe a few of the many facets that go into the way that artists visually communicate with the viewer. Just as the use of paint in certain ways (impasto, glazing, multi-loaded brush) adds to the way a painting communicates, so do less physical and more conceptual techniques, like bokeh, atmospheric perspectiveand positive and negative spaceStill further, and perhaps most obviously, the subject matter of the painting often does a great deal of communicating as well. Today’s “technique” is an incredibly prevalent one throughout the history of art: allusion!

Allusion is a term that is typically applied to a literary device which involves a passing reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance, without describing it in detail. Literary allusion draws on a stock of knowledge that the author expects the reader will already have, in order to give a context through which the reader will instantly understand the work more fully. (Some more succinct examples: if an author references someone’s “Achilles heel,” and the reader is familiar with the mythology of Achilles, the reader instantly understands that this is a reference to someone’s one weakness. If someone references a nose growing like Pinocchio’s, the reader instantly understands that this references the telling of lies, as in The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio’s nose grew whenever he told a lie.)

Let’s take a look at the way that allusion has been used as a technique in visual art, as well!

Examples in art history:

Paintings with Biblical Allusions: (left) Rembrandt van Rijn, “Storm on the Sea of Galilee”; (right) Caravaggio, “The Conversion of St. Paul”

Narrative storytelling is one of the oldest purposes of the visual arts. During the Renaissance, this became an especially important function of art, as the Christian Church began to use paintings to educate a largely illiterate public about the stories of the Bible, and commissioned countless religious paintings and frescoes portraying a vast variety of moments from the Bible. As European art continued to develop, allusion began to be used more and more frequently. Whether Biblical allusion, allusion to Greek and Roman mythology, or literary allusions, these references help to deepen the viewer’s understanding of what the painting seeks to communicate.

Paintings with Mythological Allusions: (left) Sandro Botticelli, “Primavera”; (right) Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Persephone”

Paintings with Literary Allusions: John William Waterhouse, (left) “Miranda” referencing Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and (right) “Morgan Le Fay” referencing the legends of King Arthur.

 

Examples from Principle Gallery:

(left to right) Geoffrey Johnson, “Tower of Babel”; Cindy Procious, “Plastic Paradigm III”; Terry Strickland, “The Seamstress”

Now and then, paintings containing allusion will come through the gallery. Sometimes the allusions are Biblical scenes, such as in Geoffrey Johnson’s “Tower of Babel,” and sometimes they’re a reference to something from pop culture, like the Barbie doll in Cindy Procious’s “Plastic Paradigm” series or the Superman logo in Terry Strickland’s “The Seamstress.”

Never before this month, however, has an exhibition here at the gallery been so full of artworks containing allusion! Robert Liberace’s solo exhibition, currently on display, is an amazing collection of paintings and drawings showcasing the artist’s astounding skill at depicting the human form. And, in learning the inspirations and the names of these pieces of artwork, the viewer learns that many of them are mythological and literary allusions! Take, for example, these pieces from Robert’s “Don Quixote” inspired series:

“Visions of Adventure”

“Knight of La Mancha”

“Hidalgo”

How do you think the references to the classic novel change the way the artwork communicates, and the viewer’s understanding of it? Consider the same with these images of mythological figures Atlas and Orpheus:

“Atlas”

“Orpheus”

To view the entirety of Robert Liberace‘s current exhibition and explore all of the allusions contained, stop by the gallery soon or check out our website here!

 

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Technique Tuesday: Painting from Imagination

Technique Tuesday from imagination

What is it?

Continuing our mini-series on different reference methods artists use, today we’ll be looking at painting from the imagination. Nearly everyone who has ever had an interest in art had at some point created an artwork from imagination or memory; most all of us have at least doodled from imagination! When there’s an image that an artist wants to capture, but they either cannot or do not wish to use reference photos or a live subject, an artist can rely on their own memory and imagination to provide all the inspiration they need. As it’s difficult to accurately remember all of the details and shadows of a scene just from memory, some artists will use reference photos or a live subject to help enhance the realism of a scene they are creating from their mind, but the overall combination and placement of subjects still spring from the artist’s imagination. Other times, the realistic rendering of the image is not so important to the artist as the subject and content, and in this case, they can paint from pure imagination alone!

Examples from art history:

There is little doubt that painting from one’s imagination or memory is an art form that goes back as far as art itself (after all, it would be a bit difficult to get the buffalo to come pose inside the cave for those ancient cave paintings!). Additionally, when ancient cultures created artworks depicting scenes from their mythology and lore, particularly those involving strange creatures or deities, they had no option but to create from imagination, and as we can see looking at ancient art, the imagination is as diverse and prolific as humanity itself:

ancient art collage

artworks depicting deities from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and India

In addition, outdoor subjects were very difficult to paint from anything but one’s memory and imagination, as before the innovation of paint in tubes, it was difficult to paint en plein air at all! Many artists sketched outdoors, observing and copying details so that their final paintings would be more realistic, but in the end the works were created indoors and the artist had to rely on their mind to fill in the blanks. This was a large part of why nearly all landscapes preceding the 19th century were painted as what is termed an “idealized landscape.” But even when it became more accessible to paint en plein air, some artists chose to continue to use their imagination to help create a composition, for a variety of reasons. Take Van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night” for example–that scene does not actually exist anywhere in the region of France where he painted it; rather, Van Gogh was inspired by the surrounding landscape as well as by his thoughts of home, so he created an imaginary village and churches that reminded him of his Dutch homeland.

imaglandscape collage

(left) idealized landscape by John Paul Rubens, “An Autumn Landscape with a View of the Hetsteen in the Early Morning”; Vincent Van Gogh, “Starry Night”

As the twentieth century dawned and artists began to explore expressionistic painting more in-depth, many different styles of painting from one’s imagination evolved. One of the most well-known of these styles is Surrealism, a movement from the 1920’s in which artists explored themes of dreams and the subconscious through irrational pairings of images. All of these movements encouraging artists to use their imaginations and emotions as reference for their art have continued to have a major effect on art today, both in the world of fine art as well as urban art, which relies heavily on the artist’s imagination.

collage 3

(left) Salvador Dali, “Ship with Butterfly Sails”; (right) Urban art from Atlanta’s fourth ward

Examples from Principle Gallery:

At Principle Gallery, we show the artwork of a wide variety of artists, each with their own preference for what they use as reference. We do have two artists in particular, though, who delight in painting from their imagination. Francis Livingston, an artist often known for his city scenes painted in brilliant color, also enjoys the playing with odd and unexpected juxtapositions of subjects as you can see from his combination cityscape/animal artworks. Plus, if you happen to remember our post last summer on National Ice Cream Day, you can see some more examples of Francis’s ice cream paintings, which he also creates from memory alone. The results of his imagination-infused work are whimsical, beautiful, and intriguing.

Livingston Collage

(left to right) Francis Livingston, “Deference”, “Mating Season”, “Triple”, and “Night Moves”

 

Another Principle Gallery artist who paints from imagination, GC Myers is a painter based in upstate New York who creates colorful, stylized landscapes from his imagination alone, resulting in lovely, emotionally charged scenes. Keep an eye out, because our annual solo exhibition for GC Myers is coming up next month, so we’ll be getting in a lot of great new pieces!

MYERS COLLAGE

(left to right) GC Myers, “Interconnected”, “Happy Trails”, and “Allura”

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