Rethinking problems of the flat surface

Or should we say opportunities? Painting exists in a dialectic between flat surface and pictorial space. How to be true to both? Renaissance art had solutions in angels and other flying creatures occupying areas needing foregrounding so that tensions between surface and illusion of depth were kept up. Breughel used birds to good effect. Clouds were employed by Dutch landscape painters and Constable/Turner—the viewer taken into spatial recession along some canal path or other, but the journey back was on a cumulonimbus. Mountains are useful—distant but interesting.

Late nineteenth century art freed paint from its full time job of representation so brushstrokes could unite a canvas with some sort of integrity. Artists started tilting landscapes, raising horizon lines so that land and picture became one, especially in  works of Cezanne and Van Gogh. And from there on into various forms of abstraction.

(A journey out could tell this story in reverse, so that temporary apotheoses may occur when brushstrokes take the place of angels and spatial recession is glimpsed in-between.)

 

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Steve Rushton On the road again oil on board 2020

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