Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 5, 2017

Innocent X by Velasquez

Filed under: Art History,Italy,Painting,Portraits,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:43 pm

I intend to do a series of posts on paintings that knocked my socks off and thereby influenced me. Some famous others less so. I start with a famous one…

A decade or so ago I had a job painting a ceiling in Rome… no not that one, the ceiling of the Hard Rock Cafe which I had to cover in flying rock stars reimagined as cherubs. Working in Italy was great fun, the builders after initially being a little suspicious called me “Maestro” and brought me lovely coffees and treats. So I spent several weeks lying on on my back up on a scaffold tower being wheeled about by my long suffering helper Paul. In Italy work starts early but finishes at 4pm which gave me ample free time to float about Rome painting and looking at all the wonders.

One of those visits was to the Palazzo Doria Pamphili. I am embarrassed now by my ignorance, but I had not heard of it. I had just visited the Pantheon which was bombed out by hoards of tourists and was wandering home when I saw the sign and the entrance. It had that grand palazzo thing where you ascend a stone staircase to the piano nobile. To my surprise I was one of only a few visitors so could wonder around in peace. The place is absolutely stuffed full of paintings and every square inch frescoed and tromped. There are a many wonderful pictures, but I was after several rooms astounded by how much really bad painting had been done over the centuries! On average the decorative painting was better than the stuff in frames.

So I wasn’t prepared when I entered a fairly small room and there it was. I had no idea that the picture was there so it hit me right between the eyes. To say the painting had presence was an understatement. I nearly said, “Whoops, excuse me!” And tiptoed out again.

The picture of course is Velesquez’s great painting of Innocent X.

Velasquez, portrait, Rome, painting

A few details, painted about 1650 and 141in by 119in. The Pope was apparently suspicious of painters in general and Velasquez in particular and reluctant to be painted. He got Velasquez to paint his barber first to check him out. I suspect he was mainly concerned how any picture might reflect on his perception by others. In the event the picture was kept private by the subject in his own lifetime. There are two other versions that are probably studies. We don’t know but presumably these were done from life. There is an amazing consistency between all three in the likeness. Here are the other two:

Velasquez, Innocent X, portrait

This one is just a head study and is in the Washington Met.

Velasquez, Pope, Innocent X, painting, portrait

This is a head and shoulders and is in Apsley House in London

Though the studies are wonderful they don’t have quite the impact of the Rome picture. This is perhaps because of Velasquez brilliant structuring of the larger picture. Side to side the figure only just fits, indeed the paper held by the Pontif which holds the artist’s signature is cropped by the frame. The gilt work frame of the chair is broken by the Innocent’s head which both places the head in 3d space and anchors it in two dimensions. The background is an indeterminate russet then the chair fabric is a tad redder and then finally the Pope’s vestments a brighter red still. This progression pushes the figure towards us. All three reds are much the same in general hue which in turn gives harmony and subtlety.

The white of the rest of the vestments is where I feel Velasquez has had to work hard, I suspect they got painted and repainted a fair few times. The brief crisp shadow of the red papal fanon on the white makes the pope’s upper torso appear the float. The clever shadow of the right hand and the arm of the chair fixes the casually posed hand in space. There is the merest hint of lace to suggest opulence but not excess.

The hands describe a man who is relaxed. We cannot somehow imagine them fidgeting. They rest imperturbably on the fore-square arms of the gilded but rather severely formed chair.

Velasquez, Innocent X, Pope, Portrait

So to the head. Innocent was a lawyer and had been a representative abroad to both France and Spain for previous pontiffs. Here is a face that has seen much and would be hard to surprise. Worldly, he had a mistress, but not prone to any excesses although occasionally cruel and capricious he was a politician through and through.  He was not I suspect much of an art fan. Although Bernini was closely associated with Innocent’s enemies the Barberini he was left in charge of the works in St Peters and did a fine bust of Innocent. So although reportedly paranoid and suspicious, a calculating, worldly and pragmatic man. Velasquez catches this by having the head held forward little, not tense but wary. The eyes consider us with, if we can believe the mouth, a wry edge of amusement.

There is tremendous control of the edges. The hat is sharp and cuts across the forehead except as it approaches the ear where it is softened by hair. To the right of the brow there is a darkening of the gilt of the chair to pull the head forward. The line of the cheek is softened and wonderfully subtle. The shape of the chin is hidden by the Pope’s wispy beard. The collar cuts the neck sharply tone wise but the drawing indicates it is softly turned. The ear is strongly lit and describes the very slight turn of the head towards us. Velasquez has arranged it so the the eyes are turned further still which gives animation to the  square on pose of the body.

The features in themselves are ordinary, the fleshy nose the wispy beard, Velasquez has made no attempt to flatter. There is no real record of the Pope’s reaction to the painting, though rumour has it he commented, “It is all too true.” In any case the picture was hung in his family home where it still is today.

Finally a detail of the Washington study.

Velasquez, InnocentX, portrait, detail

Many layers of refinement are visible but the whole remains fresh. He decides what should be clear and what obscure what marks of making should appear and which blended.

For the sake of interest here is Bernini’s bust of Innocent.

Bernini, Innocent X, Sculpture, marble

He is given a more youthful air, Bernini hopes to flatter I suspect. This bust also stayed in the Palazzo and was not for public consumption.

Another by Alessandro Algardi who was Innocent’s favoured artist:

Alessandro Algardi, bust, sculpture, Innocent X, bronze

This image was I suspect more how Innocent preferred to imagine himself, more in the mode of an apostle weighed down by his office.

Algardi also got to do the official sculpture:

Alessandro Algardi, statue, Innocent X

Now this one was definitely for public consumption!

March 3, 2017

How Art is Made

Filed under: Art History,Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:43 pm

Well this is a big ask! I am in the process of reading swathes of art theory that I mostly disagree with (there will be more on that in another post). In general the logical, and philosophical rigour in these texts is lamentable with huge amounts of argument by assertion and airy poetical musings. Things do not become true or even likely just by the act of stating them, or by saying that other clever people have stated them before so therefore they must be true. Some degree of testing ideas by thinking of scenarios where they may hold or fail to hold is surely the minimum we should expect of our art theorists. However, most just seem to trot out the old received ideas with little or no critical examination.

So it came to mind to delve into how I make a painting, art or not.

Firstly, there is the starting. As I am an observational artist so I see something exterior and have a mental reaction to it. It really is as simple as “Does it ring any bells.” or if you like, does what you are seeing fit any of the likes that creating previous works and or appreciating the work of others have built up over the years. It is never going to be a perfect fit so I might look repeatedly and try to imagine how a painted image might feel and how the painting of it could be carried through. I ask myself, what is the key thing that appeals and how would it break down or simplify? A certain amount of squinting and uncertain dithering then takes place. Nonetheless the process is I think quite simple, you assess the likely hood of being able to pass on to another via paint on canvas something of which made your arty bells ring. We call this process inspiration, but it does not happen in the binary way of light bulb going on or off as the romantic notions of art and artists might have you believe.

The process of assessing and reassessing the exterior stimulus might be repeated several times, with it even being rejected and then returned to after other possibilities didn’t come up to scratch. My key point here is that I believe all inspiration whether abstract or representative come from out side via our perceptions. They may be remembered perceptions rather than immediate ones, but it is pretty much certain that everything in our heads came in from the outside at some point. This I’m afraid pretty much rules out the origin of art coming from within, but not perhaps the realisation of it. It is the processing and decision making that occurs internally and where an artists personal stamp appears.

So once the decision to set about making a particular image is made then a new set of assessments are required. Composition, tone etc are all tested by this process:

1) Look

2) Assess a particular or general aspect.

3) Imagine how it might be achieved in drawing or paint and hold that mental image.

4) look again and test how what you see compares with your imagining.

5) Assess result and either decide on a course of action or failing that repeat the process again.

This is pretty much the way my head seems to work when painting, though it is very hard to perceive your own mental activity as the act of perception interferes with what you are trying to observe. All the above happens very rapidly and repeatedly without express intent. I have been painting all my life so these decision routines seem to run pretty much automatically. They are so automatic that I can easily understand why an artist might choose to think the answers returned have come from some magical spring channelled from elsewhere, but I truly think that is not the case. It works in the same way as when you speak to someone in conversation. You do not assemble the sentences and preview what stresses and nuances your response should have. You merely intend to speak and the words come out. All the work is done by a part of yourself you cannot observe only infer from the resulting speech. We have all had the experience of a segment of speech that pops out of the machine ready to go when there isn’t a pause in the too and fro of conversation to accept it!

Generally making a picture seems to consist of variations of a repeated process. It could maybe be written as a linear string that might loop at any point:

Look…assess…imagine action…assess…look…imagine…assess…decide…act…look at result…look at subject…compare…assess result of act.

If you watch someone painting you can see the process in action and trace the stages by where and when the attention is focussed. If you are painting an abstract or even dealing with an abstract quality in your figurative painting you might leave out the look at subject section. In that case you might:

look at your painting… assess what it might need… imagine the change… compare the imagining to the existing… decide on the action… carry it out… assess result.

The key thing is these processes feed back into each other, there is perhaps even a sort of mental resonance set up. Indeed the act of painting a picture is to see or think of something that resonates with you and work out how you can make an object that causes a corresponding resonance to occur in another when they look at it. You might I suppose imagine it as plucking a string on a musical instrument to make a nearby string resonate in sympathy. The vibration transferred might not be identical to the original, but the impulse can be directly traced from one to another. It might be argued that great works of art are those that produce a consistent resonance in many viewers despite barriers of context, time and culture.

Well here are a few of my plucked strings. There are as usual some musical results as well as a few bum notes…

Eggarden Hill, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting, landscape

I have been sticking to the oils for plein air painting as watercolour takes too long to dry in this weather. This is a very quick end of the day view from the side of Eggardon Hill. 30min or so I suppose with racing clouds and rapidly changing light. Oils 14in by 10in.

 

Arne, Bird sanctuary, oil painting, sea

A trip to the bird sanctuary at Arne. Some great light  rapidly changing. Not sure if this will ever see a frame but I suppose most sketches never do. 16in by 10in Oils.

 

Arne, church, oil painting, plein air, Dorset

Second one from Arne. Didn’t really make a picture but I have a vague idea of how to make it into something… the only problem being I can’t quite fix on how! Maybe a repaint in watercolour would give me a clue. When I saw the subject I saw good possibilities but couldn’t quite get them onto the board. As so often occurs the photo of the scene didn’t really help. Maybe go back on a different day. 16in by 10in oils.

 

Milton Abbas, landscape, plein air, oil painting, dorset

Done after a visit to Poole to drop off paintings at the Lighthouse Gallery where I am in Dorset Magazines exhibition for Dorset Landscape Artist of the year… no I didn’t win but got into the last 10. This is Milton Abbas a bit of Capability Brown’s work. Enjoyed doing this great fun picking out which layers to emphasise as the cloud shadows zoomed over the landscape. Unlike watercolour in oils you get a chance to get things down as they happen and chop and change if things improve. To aid me in this I laid the whole lot in without any highlights as if on a dull day then I could drop in lit areas as they happened. 14in by 10in Oils

 

Rawlsbury Camp, Dorset, plein air, oil painting, landscape

I have quite an impressive pile of half done plein airs, so I set to to finish a few. This is Rawlsbury Camp on a dramatic day. I got the sky done and most of the darks, then it rained on me enthusiastically. Pleased with this, the best I have managed of this subject so far. 16in by 10in Oils.

 

Child Okeford, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

This is done from just outside my house in Child Okeford on a misty moisty morning. I just didn’t have time to get the tones as subtle as I would have liked so I had to glaze it after. This is the unglazed version the glazed one below.

 

Child Okeford, Dorset, oil painting

I glazed with a transparent bluey white to knock the tree back which was too dominant. Then I used a transparent cobalt blue to adjust the hue of the buildings. Glazes allow amazing control of general tone and hue without compromising the fresh feel of the underlying brushwork. You can wipe off at any stage, so my method is to go in too strong then lift out with a brush or rag. 14in by 10in Oils.

 

Cerne Abbas, Dorset, Church, oil painting, plein air

A beautiful day in Cerne Abbas with the Hardy Monkeys which is an off shoot of the Brass Monkeys in London. Sadly getting to the London days with the Monkeys has become too difficult as the trains are always dire on weekends due to engineering. So I have inaugurated a West Country version! The light was gorgeous and stayed quite constant so I finished in one go which is always gives me a good feeling. 14in by 10in Oils.

 

Cerne Abbas, Dorset, Oil Painting, plein air.

I was on bit of a roll so I got this done in one stab as well, the same street but looking the other way. The light was so good almost every direction had a possible painting. The low winter light is so wonderful to paint. 14in by 10in Oils.

 

Cerne Abbas, oil painting, Dorset, church

Cerne Abbas again. A studio job this one. I wanted to experiment a bit with palette and design. 14in by 10in Oils.

That’s it I must get back to the watercolours soon but am steadily getting more fluent with oil paint which gives me hope!

It is the Wapping Group’s annual show at the Mall Galleries which runs from the 13th March to the 18th I have 5 London pictures in it so have my fingers crossed for sales.

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