Balthus - The Sheep Farm - 1957 - 1960 - 50 x 102 cm - oil on canvas
I find myself revisiting Balthus for his work to remind myself how thoroughly composition can and should be assessed. I always discover something new, reminding me that there are no limits to refining a composition whether representational or abstract. I think it’s rather comforting knowing a work will never be fully realized. Time and experience will determine how well we do or assess.
Painting cultivated land provides a wonderful opportunity for integrating and developing rhythm in a painting and Balthus has done it beatufully in this serene farm scene. We are harmoniously guided through the landscape to the gorgeous group of buildings which Balthus adjusts to harmonize with the land. There are a number of pathways and rhythmic lines and shapes leading us to the buildings and I will guide you through a few.
Lets begin with a series of parallels which lead you towards the focus from the left of the painting. Your eye will run along the line with a little shed and you will then feel yourself gracefully moving to the buildings when you sense the rhythmic parallels below. You are also sensitively directed towards the buildings from the upper left and right of the painting. I marvel at how he supports the rhythmic movements with absolutely wonderful structure, integrating the fields with the buildings. He accomplished this with triangles which provide the primary motif of the composition.
I am very impressed with how Balthus adjusted the shapes of the buildings to harmonize with the land and discovering the reason for that small dark vertical at the bottom was a pleasure. It provides subtle structure and integrates with a leaning bush above which directs you to the buildings.
I must also the beautiful embracing arch above the large building and how it integrates with the buildings bringing us to the wonderful white shape, which is actually the focus. When you view the light areas on the buildings can you feel the pull of the tiny white shed at the left?
I will always return to appreciate and learn.
Hans Hofmann - The Artist Version - 1942 - 42 x 39 in - oil on canvas
This painting is a great example of flattening combined with a sense of perspective. The depth is provided by the oblique lines which do not lead to a vanishing point. This is very important because the vanishing point freezes the viewer and Hofmann avoids this with the parallel lines of the table top and the rung in the chair. We see parallels in the blue area connecting the chair and a line in the rectangle shape in front of the table. The blue area can read as another table, or a carpet? What wonderful play! He has painted a sense of space in which we can wonder.
I love the transparency of things like reading the chair leg through the top of the container and the table through the package or paintings in front. We also see this in the vase and cups. His sophisticated colours are wonderful and I hope you can feel how their flatness emphasizes the shapes. He knows the viewer will mentaly supply the space or depth.
Don Farrell - Direction V (Moving Square) - 2008 - 137 x 137 cm - mixed media
In this painting I was exploring how to provide movement with a square within a square which was an interesting challenge. I reworked this painting many times before I had the feeling of achieving my initial intent, which finally appeared with the two parallel lines and the sense of an arrow at the right of the painting. I hope you can feel the integration of the lines in the square with the two parallels and how they pull you towards the arrow and then beyond.
Movement is the subject, or in other words, this painting is about something rather than of something and the viewer provides the movement!
This is truly a wonderful open challenge for artists to explore.
Andrew Wyeth - The Mill - 1959 - 35 x 57 cm - watercolour
Wyeth’s work is far beyond figurative considerations, engaging with us on so many levels, and in this post I will focus on his composition, which is remarkable. His integration and the wonderful movement he provides with parallels is very impressive.
First to the very sensitive rhythm of parallels he created with a diagonal board in the fence, the eave of the roof just above and the roof line of the building behind (see detail). These guide us to the focus of the painting which is the dark window and to the flight of the birds.
Now to his poetic integration of the birds with the tree and the fence post as well as the top curve of the pickets, is a superb example of how graceful and sensitive compositional structure can be. You either take the path of the post to the strong rectangular shape of the foreground which will return you to the parallels. The other path is absolutely fantastic! Follow the birds to the tree and then along the top of the pickets. We are then guided to the roof line returning us to the flight of the birds. I hope you can sense the wonderful shape, or loop, which also gently returns us to the focus. It is brilliant.
I must also mention the triangle shape projecting up from the large dark foreground shape pointing into the building at the right. Can you feel how it parallels harmonizes with the triangles all the buildings?
This is visual poetry! And there is more for you to discover. Enjoy!
Don Farrell - Blue Stripes IV - 2004 - 21 x 29 in - mixed water soluble media
This is a composition which I will continue to revisit as I feel it has endless possibilities for refinement. I think it is very important to establish a personal and recognizable feel for my paintings. I have learned this from painters such as Morandi, Mondrian, Matisse and many others.
I am intrigued with the possibilities presented through reduction, and I usually find myself focusing on spatial considerations. This requires removing the superfluous and bringing the composition to the forefront.
Using shape motifs is a great way to establish the foundation of a composition. In this painting I provided a rectangle motif supported by an oval sub motif. And I rearranged their sizes and spacing a number of times before I was satisfied. The white oval above the table appeared late in the painting and I felt it provided both balance, and a little competition, for the shapes and colour on the table.
The three small white lines just above the left edge of the table provide rhythmic movement and keep you in the composition. There is a vertical at the right directs your eye movement, connecting to a subtle line which loops over the white oval, returning you to the three white lines and then to the shapes on the table.
I must mention the line in the white oval which parallels the blue stripes. This provides a very important rhythmic integration.
In composition all of the above should be “sensed” rather than seen.
Pierre Bonnard - Landscape Near Vernon - 1915 - 38 x 56 cm - oil
This landscape by Bonnard is a superb example of how a master, whether instinctively or intentionally, provides structure when developing a composition. I say this because a good artists will not permit their formulas to overrule their intuition.
There is a wonderful horizontal rectangle formed by a small white vertical at it’s left and a small bright green tree providing the right vertical, the top is formed by a roadway running behind the tree. When you see it and feel it’s impact on the composition, I hope you will appreciate the sophistication. And remember the viewer does not have to see it, a master is very aware of the power of suggestion and knows we connect to shapes subconsiously.
The tree shapes are magnificent. Try to feel the movement provided by the parallels of their shapes, particularly that wonderful squarish shape at the right edge and how it supports the other two trees.
I must also mention the harmonious movement in the sky. There is a square like indentation in the tree at the right edge, which provides the sense of a parallel movement with the other trees and the placement of the cloud above creates the same movement in the blue sky. I hope you can feel it as well as the wonderful integration of the other clouds with the trees.
There is another beautifully assessed rhythm leading us into the composition from the left. The harmonious relationship of the three white verticals and the white vertical which forms the left edge of that marvelous rectangle.
Bonnard was a great master painter.
Paul Cezanne - The Great Pine (Mont Sainte-Victoire) - 1886 - 60 x 73 - oil on canvas
Cezanne did a number of paintings of Mont Sainte – Victoire which is fortunate for us as we can see the consistencies in his compositions. These paintings show us that repeating and refining is a strength in art.
We see the same considerations in this composition as the last post. It takes time and a great deal of effort to develop a masterful composition and good artists will continue to refine the endless possibilities. I think the first composition in a series, whether figurative or abstract, is an opening to infinite refinements We see this in the work of most masters, no matter what their discipline.
I don’t know which of these paintings was first, no matter, what is important is we see the same rhythms and integrations. What matters is each painting required its own refinements which are assessed differently to suit each composition. In other words has it’s own voice. One key difference are the angles we see in the branches, paralleling the road and other lines in the fields. Wonderful integration providing oblique movement leading into the composition from the bottom right and great structure. I also love the sophistication of how that black rectangle provides the focus. Also, note the green line coming up from the tree towards the black rectangle is fantastic! Do you see the triangle it creates reinforcing the importance of the rectangle?
There is also a harmonious rhythmic line running across the bottom, supporting the rhythm of the branches. I must also point out the parallel lines in the mountain directing us towards the black rectangle.
What a painter!
Paul Cezanne - Mountain Sainte-Victoire - 1886 - 67 x 92 cm - oil on canvas
We can see the care given to rhythm in this painting by Cezanne with the beautiful relationship of the mountain and the branches above. The sweep of the lower branch at the right matching the curve of the mountain is superb. I love the one at the top right and how it’s curve connects to the left side of the mountain. Do you sense the movement running across the painting in the branches? What a painter!
There is a very sophisticated integration beginning with parallel lines which bring you into the painting from the bottom right and connecting your eye movement to the lower branch at the left. I hope you can feel it, as it is very impressive. Can you also feel how this movement is in harmony with the mountain and the branches above? His thoroughness is outstanding. What a painter!
Andrew Wyeth - Glass House - 1991 - 20 x 27.5 in - watercolour and drybrush
This gorgeous high key painting is wonderful, Wyeth was truly a master of light as well many other considerations. And I will confine this post to his elegant integrations.
Lets begin with how her head integrates with the vertical elements behind her, particularly the verticals connecting to her forehead and to the back of her collar. Can you feel how the structure supports her confident posture? Another connection is how the vertical mullion connects with her knee and how the front of her leg parallels the window sill. Fantastic!
There are two more examples which show us how sophisticated integration can be. The first is how the shadow behind continues across her body and then on to the bottom right of the painting. Oh how lyrical integration can be in the hands of a master. The other brilliant integration is how the birds connect to the trees in front and behind her resulting in a harmony for her dress.
I should mention how the shadow running down the bottom right is supported with a parallel shadow at the left and how the horizontal mullions integrate with her eyes. There are more for you to discover and I hope you can see why Wyeth is considered to be a great visual poet!
Andrew Wyeth - Fast Lane - 1987 - 36 x 42 cm - drybrush
Andrew Wyeth’s work was instrumental in my development, particularly through studying his wonderful shapes and subtle abstractions. And this painting has a beautiful example of abstracting for the sake of the composition. I feel Wyeth would never allow the subject to dictate and would adjust to suit how he wished the viewer to participate in his visual poetry.
Lets begin with the light source and how it bathes the house. The light is coming from the upper right and it would not be possible for it to wrap around the end of the house, which begs the question, why?. The reason is composition and by abstracting and allowing the light on the end of the house he has directed your eye down to the unfortunate squirrel. The angle is far more important than ending the light at the corner (producing a vertical) for the sake of accuracy’ which would disrupt the rhythm guiding you to the squirrel. Wyeth has provided a rhythm of oblique parallels which include the trees at the far left, the light, on the house, the squirrel’s legs and the shadows on the building at the right behind the tree. He also abstracted the shadows leading down from the porch railings to harmonize with the squirrel. This is the primary movement in the composition.
The other strong rhythmic movement leading in from the bottom left is beautifully done and masterfully support the squirrel. That strong triangle at the boom right is absolutely wonderful. Can you feel how it holds you and how it harmonizes in value with the darks in the upper area of the painting? Last but not least are the yellow lines on the road and how they frame the squirrel conveying what had just happened.
Wyeth was a great poet! He was far more than a realist.