16 June 2014

number 86

On Saturday I found myself on the banks of the Red Deer river with my painting outfit.  There was a steep, crumbly bank to the left (not shown in these photos) and lots of trees and rocks and rushing waters.  Again, very difficult things to paint well!  But looking down the river one could get a bit of distance...

steel sky woman
closest zoom possible

steel sky woman
cropped to this

So I was focussed on this tiny slice of a view far down the river, and here's what that view inspired:

verna vogel landscape #86
Alberta Landscape #74
oil on canvas, 10x10 inches

verna vogel
initial blocking in

verna vogel plein-air palette
limited palette + white
I have been thinking a lot about my other work, the multiples series I've been engaged in since January, and other abstract explorations.  Had a really great conversation with Ross Melanson this morning via skype, in which we discussed all sorts of philosophical ideas and how they relate to our respective art processes.  Ross makes conceptual art in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

My multiples are all about the many-sided view.  Our peripheral vision conveys more information, from more directions and through more avenues, than a focussed gaze ever could.  This is an idea which I come back to again and again in my work.

So it's interesting to me that I go out and paint these plein air landscapes, because it would seem that what I am doing is looking with a very specific focus, and attempting to depict in paint the thing that I am looking at.  

Why?  I ask myself.  Is this practice not the antithesis of all my studio exploration?  Well, yes....  ah, but no: 

I never paint landscapes from a photo, working in my studio*.  After conversing with Ross this morning, it has occurred to me that the appeal of plein-air painting is that when one sits on location to paint, a lot of peripheral information about the landscape invariably gets in, one way or another.

To paint a landscape from a photo would be the true antithesis of what I do in my studio, because a photo necessarily cuts out peripheral information.  In fact, this very aspect of photography is the basis of a debate around ideas of "truth" in photos.  Ah-ha!

Ross talked a bit about how, even when an artist makes a seemingly abrupt shift in style or subject, there is invariably a continuity in their work.  

Well, I believe I have just discovered some continuity between plein-air paintings and studio practice: the importance of peripheral information which permeates everything I do.

Thank you Ross!  :)

* A few months ago I made a landscape painting which was basically an enlargement of a plein-air work.  It was commissioned by my parents-in-law, and was definitely one of the more difficult things I've attempted to do in the studio - not so much due to the expectations of family, but rather due to the lack of information I had to go on, as my own plein-air work leaves a lot out!  The completed painting looks well in their home, but for me does not catch the essence of the landscape depicted.

And here is a lovely snippet of the Sheep river from last week:

verna vogel seeing

Something about the shape of that brush, against that rock, in that water...


Russell Mang said...

Hi...great pictures of the place & process, as usual! Something finally clicked for me - i seemed to not be able to connect to your comments about peripheral vision & its importance. I wonder, having worn eye glasses since Grade 10, that peripheral vision is a good deal less acute for me? Even now, i'm aware of the outline of my "rimless" glasses framing a large percentage of my overall vision. Hmmm, maybe next time i ought to try doing a plein air drawing WITHOUT my glasses! (Scary thought...)

Verna Vogel said...

Hi Russell,

What if, instead of peripheral VISION we talk about peripheral INFORMATION? I think this may be partly what Ross is getting at with his Gibraltar Point residency.

Smell and sight and sound and touch all provide a great deal of information, especially when we are not consciously focussed on that information... perhaps consciousness and judgement share a delicate boundary, easy to cross? And of course to judge something requires an hierarchy of importance of whatever information.

Anyway I think it might be really interesting if you were to try painting w/o your eyeglasses! You could wind up with something very elemental.

... Or you could wind up with a migraine.. ?


Jill said...

All the senses contribute.

verna said...

Yes Jill, they do - often much more than we realize!