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art for the day: Conrad Jon Godly

I’ve recently been admiring the artwork of Conrad Jon Godly, a contemporary Swiss painter.  I had seen some of his pieces years ago and loved them then, but after seeing more of them recently, I find myself with a new appreciation for the mastery he possesses over his medium.  I think the primary reason for this appreciation comes from my own experience of creating art over the past few years.  However satisfied or dissatisfied I’ve been with my pieces, I’ve come to realize that appreciating the process itself is an integral part of being an artist, regardless of the result achieved.

Godly’s process requires a thorough understanding of the nature of oil paints.  Rather than working in the traditional manner with a brush and palette, Godly chooses a different method that allows the paints themselves to have a greater role in the process of painting.  His vividly three-dimensional pieces are brought about by piling paint upon his canvases and using a palette knife to create shapes, colors, depth and texture.  The sheer volume of paint used means that the oils move and spread across the canvas according to their consistency, which makes them a kind of agent in the piece’s creation.

I love this approach for a number of reasons.  I see these paintings as a reminder of the living, breathing nature of art and the wideness of the human experience.  Although oil paints are thought to have existed since 650 A.D., Godly’s work shows us that artists’ techniques are ever evolving and allow for endless diversity.  The fact that there is such variation contained within the same framework of paint laid upon a canvas is a real testament to the wholly unique being of every person.

Below are a few favorites of mine.  I’m astounded by how real and evocative these mountains seem; I can so easily imagine the feeling of the sun on my face in such bitter cold, standing in the brightness of the snow against the open sky.

Explore more of Conrad Jon Godly’s work on his official website.

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art for the day: unfinished sculpture

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the way that material shapes art.  This has mostly come up in the context of making things myself, as I often have questions about the way my materials will affect the final result.  How will different types of fabric change the drape, weight and look of the garment being sewn?  How will paper of various weights change the delicate way the watercolors spread across the surface?  One of the things I love about the creative process is the ability to change the art I produce through my choice of materials.

I think about this, not only in terms of what I make, but also in terms of the centuries-old art that exists to this day.   One of my favorite materials is marble.  I love that marble sculptures showcase not only the beauty of the marble itself, but also the talent of the sculptor in bringing subjects to life through technique.  It’s amazing to see how lifelike and animated sculptures can seem when they’re executed well.

An example of this is Auguste Rodin’s sculpture Orpheus and Eurydice.  This sculpture embodies the qualities I love in such a bold and striking way.

Orpheus and Eurydice, Auguste Rodin. Carved 1893.

What I really love about this sculpture is the contrast between the finely sculpted figures and the unfinished texture of the surrounding marble.  This artistic choice of Rodin’s is important in conveying the pathos of the original story.

In the ancient myth, Orpheus seeks to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the underworld after her sudden death.  Hades, god of the underworld, agrees under one condition. This condition is that Orpheus lead her from the underworld into the real world without once looking back at her.  Orpheus leads her patiently until the last moment, at which point he loses faith and looks back at his wife.  She has been with him all along, but only as a shadow waiting to reclaim her human form.  Of course Orpheus would be unable to hear her footsteps.  Eurydice is tragically condemned to the underworld forever because of Orpheus’ broken promise.

Rodin chooses to depict the lovers just after Orpheus looks back at Eurydice.  Her resignation to life in the underworld is apparent, and the sculpture is also shot through with Orpheus’ inconsolable grief.   Understanding this moment leads us to see how masterful Rodin’s choice of material and method was.  His material, marble, evokes the humanity of both lovers.  His method, non finito (or “not finished”) carving, evokes Eurydice’s pain as she is pulled back into the underworld.  It is almost as though the uncarved marble represents death and the carved marble life. Eurydice almost seems to melt back into the roughly hewn marble as Orpheus exits out of it.  Rodin’s use of non finito carving expertly signifies Eurydice’s transition back into death and Orpheus’ movement towards life again.  This conveys the agony of their separation better, I think, than any traditional sculpture could.

I love this sculpture for many reasons, but especially because of the mingling of material, method and story.  I’d love to keep an eye out for other artists who successfully merge these important facets.

What art have you found that does this well?

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art for the day

I’ve been loving the work of Russian painter Isaac Levitan lately.  A friend sent a photo of the painting below to me the other day, thinking it would be exactly the kind of art I’d like.  And I loved the paintings immediately.  This kind of art inspires my daily life: each piece reminds me of the beauty we can find in simplicity and the peace that nature affords us.

Fog Over Water, c. 1895.

Levitan’S Art and Impressionism

When I was first introduced to Levitan, I thought to myself that his paintings must be relatively modern.  I was amazed to find, though, that he was active as early as the late 19th century.  He was stylistically well ahead of his time, eventually becoming known for advancing the genre of “mood landscape.”  This genre gives a sort of spiritual quality to nature by choosing to focus on ambiance and overall tone rather than small details.  The landscape of mood is a genre we still see today, as painters abstract a feeling or mood from landscapes rather than paint a more realistic scene.

It’s easy to see the connection that his paintings had to those of impressionists such as Monet, Degas and Pissarro.  Although Levitan is not nearly as well known as these artists, his art reflects the main themes of impressionism.  These involve focusing on changes in light, often painting en plein air (open air), and capturing the tone of a scene without focusing on technical details.

In the Vicinity of the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery, c. 1880.

Light and COLOR

Levitan’s use of light is sometimes subtle, often striking.  The painting above is a strong example of the power that a few strokes of a lighter color can have.  Without the soft ivory that illuminates the clouds and hints at sunlight in the corner, the painting would be left with a dim, washed-out flatness.  By the incorporation of those lighter colors, though, the painting is given remarkable dimension and is able to evoke the look of sunlight before or after a storm.

Texture and movement in Levitan’s Nature

These last three paintings show the ability that impressionism has to elicit specific feelings.  In each of these, I can close my eyes and almost feel exactly what is going on.  The quiet rustle of birch leaves.  A calm wind drifting through an open field.  The gentle creaking of spindly trees moving in the wind before a storm.  These are just the kind of paintings I want in my house, full of serene elements that bring tranquility to my daily work and thought.

Birch Grove, c. 1885 – 1889.

Gray Day, c. 1888.

The Storm. Rain, c. 1899.