Ben Nicholson – (Flattening, Integration and Movement in Space)

Ben Nicholson - Still Life with Jug, Mugs, Cup and Goblet - 1925 - 60 x 60 cm - oil and pencil on canvas

Ben Nicholson is a superb example of a painter who explored the great considerations of conveying depth and space by raising the subject matter to the picture plane.  His dedication to this major shift in art is very impressive.

This early still life shows us his awareness of the importance of limiting perspective, conveying space through placement, as well as shifting the viewers sense of place.  You can see this shift in the mug at the right.  We are simultaneously level with the mug and  above the others. This provides the feeling of space or movement!

Nicholson was also exploring another shift when he flattened the decoration on what we read as the curved surfaces of the mugs.  This subtle dynamic is very sophisticated and is not meant to be obvious.  Great artists are very aware of how we interpret subconsciously.

I should also point out some lovely integration.  The shape entering the painting at the bottom taking us to the white cup and then the left of the cup integrates with the edge of the mug above.  Also the top of the mug connects to the handle of the pitcher.  Can you feel the integrations?

Nicholson was a great twentieth century master.


My Work – Shape Motifs, Parallels and Rhythm

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.

My Work – Spatial Considerations

Don Farrell - Special Place - 2000 - 34 x 52 cm - mixed water soluble media on paper

The seed of this painting was the feeling of the space between the chair and the collection and sorting of the black objects, which are intentionally open for interpretation.  This is more interesting for the viewer.

I usually begin compositions by dividing the space which, in this painting, are the bands spanning the background.  I have now quickly established a rhythm of horizontals which is the foundation of the composition. I was very careful with the rhythmic vertical movements of the chair, the triangles and the floating shape to ensure they will not compete with the horizontal movements.  The primitive animal form appeared, to my delight, after the triangles found their way into the composition.

I was very careful not to loose sight of my initial consideration, the feeling of the space between the chair and the white square, and I don’t mind saying that I like it very much.  The warmth of the chair also feels right, as I wanted it to relate to the white cloth but not dominating.

I think a successful painting is a combination of knowledge of composition and play.