Saturday, December 27, 2014

Why I Don't Use Photographs When I Paint

Went to an exhibition of paintings by a prominent realist painter who is known as one of the first committed photorealists, painters who consciously attempted to capture the look and feel of a color photograph in their work. The work had been executed with extreme care and was impressive for the amount of detail each canvas catalogued. 

But if pressed, I would admit my most favorite works would be from other painters from the museum's permanent collection.
The art I like best is about feeling and mood. They are highly interpretive.  And they're always surprising, you don't know ahead of time what the artist is going to focus on and what they're going to leave out.




Charles Burchfield, The Mysterious Bird, watercolor,
Delaware Art Museum

Edward Hopper and Charles Burchfield are two of my favorite artists, as long time readers of this blog know.  Neither of them used photographs as sources for their work, preferring instead the dictates of their own eyes, memory, and emotions. As different as they are from each other in style, each engaged in an inner dialogue as they painted. 

In the Burchfield above notice how the artist reserves almost all his darkest darks for moodier top half of the painting compared to the lighter and warmer foreground road. He makes a shift in feeling from the close space to the distance. As we travel through his painting we feel our mood change.

Below is the first painting I ever paid attention to when I was a teenager, Edward Hopper's fantasy about his painting studio on Cape Cod. At first glance a tableau of empty spaces, Hopper invests  each surface with gradations of colors that weren't really there but that breathe life into each section of the painting. And I know from my residencies in the Hopper studio how extensively Hopper lied about the actual architecture of this corner of his painting room.





Edward Hopper, Rooms by the Sea, oil on canvas, 
Yale University Art Gallery

Hopper and Burchfield looked out at their world but also turned their gaze inward upon themselves. Their resulting paintings look like nobody else yet speak to so many of us. 

In my own studio, while my style is different than either of these two masters, I borrow from their way of selecting, interpreting
and  inventing. I think this is the road that leads to an art that genuinely reflects how living feels to us in our time.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for this, Philip. I'm trying to get away from photos and always have a richer experience painting when I do.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Carolyn. I have seen many artists do good work that is based on photographs. It's just not something that stirs me up enough to do my best work. I worked for years to sharpen my eye and my drawing skills so I want to be damned sure I put them all to use.

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  3. Great post! there's some really great advice here, keep up the awesome work and thank you for sharing!

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