Willem de Kooning – (Spatial Planes and Time)

Willem de Kooning - The Glazier - 1940 - 137 x 112 cm - 54 x 44 in - oil on canv

In this painting Willem de Kooning conveys his superb understanding of spatial planes.  The sophistication of his considerations is very impressive, providing a sense of space without the appearance of freezing the subject matter, as we would see with traditional perspective.  If he had used representational detail and modelling, the image would appear frozen in time, in the same way a photo captures the moment. This would be fine if that was the intent, and fortunately de Kooning and many other artists wanted to delve further, and explore the possibilities of planes and time in painting.


Let’s begin with the five vertically arranged planes at the right which include the mirror behind the vase  Their positions are intentionally ambiguous in space, inviting the viewer to determine where they should be.  Note how the plane in the table cloth connects to the upper three and how the bottom right of the painting is a plane as well. We sense flatness and depth simultaneously. We feel time because it is not clear where they are in the space because de Kooning intentionally leaves that for us to determine.

I am very impressed with how de Kooning integrated the figure with the plane (the mirror) with the brown triangle, (which is another plane).  How he integrated the triangle with the figure is masterful.  The top edge connects to the left shoulder and the bottom carries across the figure to another brown triangle.  This is truly sophisticated.

The ambiguity and sense of planes at the left of the figure, from the ear down providing a feeling of movement is magnificent.  His knowledge of the considerations in early twentieth century art is very apparent, and I feel he is truly mastering time and planes in this wonderful painting, especially between the figures legs.  Ask yourself why he painted this the same colour as the pants and then you will sense a plane, emphasized by that wonderful vertical black line.  Also, there is a wonderful curve at the top of the right leg giving us another sense of a plane.

One more beautiful consideration before I leave you to engage further with this wonderful painting. There is a subtle triangular plane overlapping the brown triangle pointing towards the face. Do you feel the plane it provides? Fantastic.

Mondrian – Committing to and refining Spatial Planes

Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Ginger Jar II - 1912 - 91 x 125 cm - oil on canvas

Mondrian’s dedication to refining the consideration of spatial planes as presented by Cezanne is most impressive and it the beginning of his journey towards abstraction.  It is important to note that most abstract art has a figurative base, and I think it is fair to say Mondrian was one of the few who managed to venture beyond the figurative, which will take a few years for him to achieve.

In this painting we see the early steps of his journey by reducing and raising the subject matter towards the picture plane.  He also breaks the space into planes as well which unifies the subject matter and the space it occupies

This wonderful refinement of cubism is truly a great step in art which is still difficult for many to accept, and I think it is much closer to our reality than traditional depiction or perspective.  We don’t live in a world with perspective because we and every thing else are constantly moving through time, and in painting, spatial planes provide the viewer the ability to move around, (in their minds), in the paintings.

Mondrian, Picasso, Braque and other notable artists of the time, understood this, and journeyed through the door Cezanne presented to them, leading the way to the wonderful world of twentieth century painting.



Van Gogh – (Time)

Vincent Van Gogh - Van Gogh's Chair - 1888 - 93 x 73 cm - oil on canvas

This great painting was truly ahead of it’s time because Van Gogh provided us with the sense of moving.  The subject is not but we are, be it consciously or subconsciously!

We see this in the chair, which may appear twisted at first glance, but Van Gogh actually has provided us with multiple views of the chair.  We see this most clearly at the right of the where the seat is at a different angle than the rungs.  We are viewing them from different places, in other words we would need to move.

We feel this very strongly in the floor which seems to drop down.  What Van Gogh has actually done is painted it as we would view it in reality.  When we view an actual chair we will drop our head or gaze downward to view the floor.  Brilliant!

This is closer to reality because he has provided the sense or time.


My Work – Spatial Planes and Rhythm

Don Farrell - Pink - 2011 - 23 x 31 cm - mixed water soluble media

This painting has the wonderful consideration of raising the table to the picture plane.  And I focused on spatial planes as well, which is very challenging.  I want the viewer to feel the space the planes present.  And I am pleased with the receding plane of the table which also could be termed as a spatial shift.  The shift represents movement (the viewer’s movement), which is more sensed than seen and provides time.  Thank you Cezanne!

Permitting these to appear while painting is important, allowing intuition to come into play.   I began with a table and wall and then let the play begins.  Thinking of shapes, rhythm and movement, rather than objects.  And of course my favourite things usually find their way into the painting, which ensures continuity in my work.

The soaking pan anchors the composition and from there we move along the bottom edge connecting to the rhythm of the black weights, leading you to the oval on the wall.  I then provided marks on the wall to return you to the pan.  Do you feel the curved movement in the pan?

I permit myself time to assess and after much scratching and repainting found myself painting a small, very satisfying pink circle, which became the final note.

There are other lyrical markings, such as arrows and what I like to call loops which are in the pan and on the wall.  There is also a very fine rhythm within the oval on the wall, echoing the arrangement of the weights.  I strive for every mark to be in harmony.

I must also mention the angle attached to the soaking pan. Can you feel it’s importance?


de Kooning – (Integration with Line and Indicating Time)

Willem de Kooning - Two Men Standing - 1938 -155 x 122 cm - 61 x 48 in - oil on canvas

De Kooning’s use of line for emphasizing the structure of the composition is very impressive. The horizontal line at the right edge of the painting, near the figure’s shoulder superbly balances the composition. Without that line we would have difficulty moving away from the dominant figure.  It provides not only a pull, it also completes a wonderful horizontal integrating division of the composition.

Another beauty is the line under the shoe which not only supports the figure it is also provides rhythmic support for the line above at knee level.  There is another which shows us how sensitive and the thoroughness of de Kooning’s considerations.  It’s the faint line in the orange area, connecting the men at their elbows.

De kooning was also working at conveying time in this painting as we see in the right arms of both figures.  We see two positions of the arm in the dominant figure and at the hand of the other man.  And I think this explains the dark rectangle in front of the indistinguishable hands of the dominant figure.  There are basically two methods for conveying time.  One by inviting the viewer to move (not physically, but in their mind) and the other is to indicate the movement of the subject which de Kooning used here.  Both are very challenging.

I also would like to mention how the shoes are actually a pull, bringing us to the bottom.  And a fantastic pause.  The light mark at the left end of the line at knee level.  It’s influence on  the composition is superb!

I think his choice of not completing the legs of the man at the right is interesting and leaves us with an open consideration for discussion.


Influences (Cezanne on Matisse)

Henri Matisse - Apples on a table against a Green Background - 1916 - 115 x 90 cm - 42 x 35 in


In this wonderful tribute to Cezanne.  Matisse shows us what appears to be simple is actually very sophisticated.

There is a great deal going on in this painting , but I will limit my comments to Cezanne’s revolutionary consideration of including time in painting.  He was addressing the problems with perspective and may not be actually thinking in terms of including time, but his solution of allowing the viewer to move is precisely that, as the following generations of artists certainly have embraced.

Now to the painting.  Note how he painted the pedestal as if you are at it’s level.  Now look at the table top, you are now looking down at the fruit.  This would not be possible, unless you move, as we do in our reality, in other words the painting has time!

The viewer is invited to move!

You may also ask yourself is the background a wall or the floor, or both?  Why the vertical lines through the fruit?  Matisse leaves questions open for the viewer’s interpretation, as a master should.

I know, I went beyond limiting my comments to time.

Motifs and Submotifs

Don Farrell - Three Blocks - 1998 - 15 x 25 cm - 6 x 10 in - egg tempera

This small painting is an excellent example for showing the importance of shape motifs. The composition has a rectangle motif, supported by a sub motif of rhythmic loops.

Let me take you to the top area first.  Note how the area is made up from a series of subtle rectangles.  They must be subtle in order not to compete with the focus of the painting.

The chair seats and the three blocks are other notes in the rectangle motif.  The blocks, being the focus, are supported by slightly emphasizing the two rungs just below, (another rectangle.)

There is a very important small rectangle above the middle chair, which echoes the blocks.  In compositional terms this pulls your gaze gently from the blocks.  Pulls are wonderful compositional elements, if they are in tune. They musn’t disrupt the viewer’s gaze or compete.

I will be mentioning and showing more pulls and pauses in the works of many notable artists in upcoming posts.

The sub motif (the loops) which are the shapes of the chair backs, are repeated in the top area as shown in this detail.

These Integrate the chairs with the background, which is very important.

Another important note is how each chair is painted as if you are directly in front.  Very important, as this frees the viewer’s movement as mentioned in the post on Cezanne’s painting “Receptacles, Fruit and Biscuits on a Sideboard”




Paul Cezanne - Receptacles, Fruit and Biscuits on a Sideboard - 1873 - 65 x 81 cm - oil on canvas

This still life shows us one way Cezanne was moving away from perspective and allowing “movement” to find its place in his paintings.

What is intriguing is that this movement is not in the inanimate painting, it is the viewer that senses movement.

We see this in the wine glass and the cups above.  Note how they are painted as if they are on the same level.  In reality, this would not be possible unless the viewer is moving!

Cezanne has freed the viewer by removing the fixed horizon line, which permits the viewer to move, not physically, but imaginatively or subconsciously!