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: Egg Tempera

Technique Tuesday egg tempera

What is it?

Last week, we took a look at oil paints and acrylic paints, but this week’s topic is a painting medium that predates both of them–egg tempera. Egg tempera is an ancient type of paint that is made by mixing powdered dry pigments with egg yolk as a binder, and typically with another ingredient like water, vinegar, or wine added to prevent cracking of the applied paint.

Examples from art history:

Examples of egg tempera painting can be found as far back as ancient Egyptian sarcophagi decorations and ancient cave paintings in India. Egg tempera was occasionally used alongside another method of painting known as encaustic (paint made from pigment and hot beeswax) and eventually took the place of encaustic painting as the preferred medium for panel paintings and illuminated manuscripts. By the beginning of the Renaissance, it was the primary painting medium for nearly all fine art painters. It was at the height of the Renaissance when oil paints began to take over as the preferred painting medium, for many reasons. Oil paint is slow drying, which means that it allows the artist a lot more control in blending colors and creating a three-dimensional appearance to forms. Oil paint also often has a thicker, more glowing color to it than egg tempera, and is more flexible as well. Egg tempera has its own charms, however–it is non toxic, water soluble, permanent, and will not yellow over time– and it made a comeback in popularity in the 20th century with great artists like Andrew Wyeth and Thomas Hart Benton dabbling in the medium again.

Egg Tempera collage

(top left) “Judgment of Osiris,” tempera on papyrus, 1285 BC ; (top right) Michelangelo, “The Holy Family,” tempera on panel, 1507; (bottom left) Sandro Botticelli, “The Birth of Venus,” tempera on panel, 1480s; (bottom right) Andrew Wyeth, “Christina’s World”, tempera on panel, 1948

Examples from Principle Gallery:

The vast majority of our artists here at Principle Gallery choose to work with oil paints, but we do have one artist who prefers and regularly paints with egg tempera. Scottish-born artist Colin Fraser mastered many mediums, including oil paint, before deciding that egg tempera suited him best. Colin paints delicate, exquisitely beautiful still lifes, as well as some landscape and figurative works, and he uses the unique qualities of egg tempera paint to help him achieve the incredible brilliant luminosity of the colors in these paintings. Egg tempera is a type of paint that must be applied in thin, small brushstrokes and the layers and colors built up very carefully, so it is astonishing to see what Colin has achieved with this medium. We are thrilled that Colin himself will be joining us for the opening of his solo exhibition here on Friday, October 16th as well as Saturday, October 17th for a live egg tempera painting demonstration! Here’s a sneak peek at some of the incredible egg tempera works from Colin’s show. If you’d like to receive a digital preview of Colin’s exhibition, just send us an email at info@principlegallery.com!

Halo 15x19 inches

Colin Fraser, “Halo,” egg tempera on panel

West Coast 72

Colin Fraser, “West Coast,” egg tempera on panel

Whitespace 72

Colin Fraser, “Whitespace,” egg tempera on panel

Technique Tuesdays: Sfumato

Technique Tuesday sfumato

 

What is it?

This week we’re taking a look at a technique called “sfumato” (pronounced sfoo-mah-toh). This is also a word with its origin in -you guessed it!- the Italian language. The word is derived from the verb “fumare”, which means “to smoke.” The sfumato technique refers to a painting with no bold or harsh outlines. By blurring and blending carefully, artists use sfumato to give a smoky, atmospheric effect to a painting. Sometimes, this is done using a dry brush technique (more on dry brush technique on another Tuesday!) and sometimes with a careful smudging or blending of brushstrokes with a finger, a rag, or another brush.

Examples from art history:

Until the Italian Renaissance, it was quite common for art to contain distinct areas of outline delineating the forms. Once again, Renaissance All-Star Leonardo da Vinci shook things up a bit. He provided an excellent example of a different style with his famous portrait, “Mona Lisa.” You can see in these cropped images below how Sandro Botticelli, an excellent painter from the early Renaissance, has painted this face with clear outlines, giving it a fresh and crisp appearance. The sfumato technique is all the more apparent when seen compared to this crisp style, as da Vinci’s portrait takes on a blurred, dreamy quality. There are no clear lines here, just soft shading providing the transition between different tones. You can also observe how the landscape in the background behind the figure is even more blurred than the figure, enhancing the illusion of depth and helping to provide more focus on the foreground.

(Left) crop of Sandro Botticelli's "Birth of Venus", (Right) crop of Leonardo da  Vinci's "Mona Lisa"

(left) crop of Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, (right) crop of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”

Examples at Principle Gallery:

Contemporary art now includes a vast range of styles and techniques, and while some artists might favor a crisper and more delineated style, many painters still enjoy using the sfumato technique. Sfumato can provide a variety of effects, including imparting that dreamy quality, giving a softness and tenderness to a portrait, creating the impression of fog, enhancing the impression of great distance in the background of a landscape, and more. Check out some of these examples of sfumato in paintings by some Principle Gallery artists:

(upper left) crop of Martin Poole's "First Fall," (upper right) crop of Paula Rubino's "Wu Wei", (lower left) crop of Martin Poole's "Pisces Moon 1", (lower right) Lisa Gloria's "Angel"

(upper left) crop of Martin Poole’s “First Fall,” (upper right) crop of Paula Rubino’s “Wu Wei”, (lower left) crop of Martin Poole’s “Pisces Moon 1”, (lower right) Lisa Gloria’s “Angel”

These examples, by Martin Poole, Paula Rubino, and Lisa Gloria illustrate some of the many ways that artists use sfumato to enhance the mood and the spatial effects of their artwork. Click on their names here to see more incredible paintings by Poole, Rubino, and Gloria!

Join us next week on Technique Tuesday for a trip to the great outdoors, as we look at the technique of painting landscapes “en plein air”!