Friday, October 28, 2011

WEEK #31/ Eggs in a Wire Basket

Eggs in a Wire Basket
James Aponovich
Oil on canvas, 10" x 10", 2011

The Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi once called the egg the "ideal"form. There is much truth in that statement. The absolute simplicity of the egg form demands the utmost from the artist in order to capture it's gradations of value, but also the fact that there is no visible edge. It just keeps on turning. So, not only does the artist have to deal with light, highlight, shadow, core shadow and reflective light, but also to modify the transition of edge to the surrounding value. That's a lot of technical talk that boils down to the fact that if you can paint an egg, you can paint a lot of things.

Rogier Van Der Weyden (1400-1464)
Portrait of a Lady
0il on panel, 14 " x 11"
National Gallery, Washington, DC

Here the head of the lady conforms to the shape of an inverted egg. There is an extreme refinement and subtlety of value in the articulation of the eyes, nose and mouth, all within the general shape of the face. By framing the head with a starched white headdress the artist avoids having the central values of the face absorbed into the black background. The resulting graphic contrast is amazing.


Jacques-Louis David
Lictors Bringing to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons,1781
Detail of a Sewing Basket

David was active during the French Revolution and Napolean's rise to power. At that time still life painting was not "true" painting but only a training exercise. High art dealt with the human figure usually set in a classical context. Historical subject matter supported the Neo-Classical principals of the age. Here, amongst the intense and tragic drama,David finds relief in a small sewing basket. We will have to wait for the French painters culminating with Cezanne to fully liberate the still life.

Friday, October 21, 2011

WEEK #30 / Four Maple Leaves Taped To a Wall

Four Maple Leaves Taped to a Wall
James Aponovich
oil on panel, 10" x 8", 2011


This painting is a concept study for an inset panel in a commissioned piece of furniture. It will ultimately be painted on an oval and bet set into the pediment of the White Mountain Breakfront, a collaboration with the New Hampshire Furniture Master, David Lamb. (see week #16)
The leaves have a symbolic meaning known only to the patron. I wanted these leaves to appear as real as I could so one would think that they are actually attached to the piece of furniture. I went to a style of painting that the French call Trompe-l'oeil, fool the eye.


Realism is the rendering of textural qualities of an object according to formal Western artistic concepts, such as value modeling (chiaroscuro). An essential factor in obtaining the illusion of reality is conveying a credible sense of space. When objects are painted in this space the tactile surface of the picture disappears and the painting becomes it's own world. It becomes an illusionistic piece.


There is a tacit agreement between the viewer and the painting that acknowledges that it is a fictive world. To enter this pictured world is an act of volition by the viewer and one is led by the realism of details and the construction of space to accept ( or not) the illusion of reality. To put it another way, when we attend the movies, we know it is not real but we allow ourselves to be absorbed as if it were real. We have a visual dialogue.
In Trompe l'oeil there is none of this. That is to say the main purpose of most "trompe" paintings is to immediately convince you that it is real, not a painting. If you have to feel the surface to determine that yes, it is a painting then the artist wins! It's a hoax. This is why the "trompe" style is frowned upon by critics, it is entertainment.
The problem for me comes in when I realize how difficult it is to paint in this style. I have to bring all my experience and knowledge to carry it across and still I fall short. It's really hard!

William Harnett
The Faithful Colt
oil on canvas, 22" x 28", 1890

My fascination with all this began when I was standing in front of this painting by the American painter William Harnett. I knew that painting a gun on a barn wall was kind of trite but I experienced something quite unique, my eyes felt good looking at the surface! There was a definite sense of physical joy in just observing the details.

William Harnett
Mr. Hurlings Rack Picture
oil on canvas, 30" x 25", 1888

Harnett is the acknowledged master of this form of still life. There is a shallow depth of field and an "over the top" rendering of detail. There is more. This piece has an abstraction and visual energy that predates the great art movements of the 20th Century. It is well worth a look.
Fool me once, shame on you,
Fool me twice, shame on me.

copyright 2011 James Aponovich

Friday, October 14, 2011

WEEK # 29 / Three Pears in a Glass Bowl, The Garfagnana

Three Pears in a Glass Bowl, The Garfagnana
James Aponovich
Oil on canvas, 15" x 12", 2011

Last week I came across an old pencil sketch I drew many years ago during our first visit to Italy. Beth tells me it was 1994, the location was Barga, Tuscany. It would be a decade before we would return to Italy.

Study, Three Pears in a Glass Bowl
James Aponovich
Pencil on paper, 3.5" x 3", 1994

The sketch is simple, three pears, a bowl, cloth and landscape. For the painting I added a crown of leaves, elevating the composition. I have written about the difficulty of working with the primary color triad of red, yellow and blue. The secondary triad of green, orange and violet is for me is the easiest and most pleasing combination due to the fact they are admixture of the primaries. They are subdued and tend to harmonize and be non confrontational. The leaves and landscape are green, the pears orange and the cloth and sky are violet (?)


In this weeks painting the white stands in for violet. Why?

Analysis of a white sky

Optically, white is composed of all the colors of the spectrum. Physically, to arrive at white, I first mix tints of yellow, red and blue, plus two browns ( top row).
By careful blending, and I mean careful, I mix a neutral grey. When I add white to this grey I can attain values from lightest to darkest (middle row). In the painting the sky is lightest by the horizon and has a total of six values, each progressively darker.
The bottom row illustrates the extremes of the lightest ( horizon) to the darkest ( top of sky). This system of mixing grey also means the color can be warmer (more yellow)
or cooler (more blue).

The Garfagnana

Barga, The Garfagnana, Tuscany

Away from the splendid aridness of the Crete, far from the rolling lush hills of Chianti and above the bustle of Florence and Siena sits the beautiful town of Lucca, a short drive from Pisa and the seacoast. Most tourists that visit Lucca marvel at the wonders of this walled city, dine on the famous Pollo Mattone "chicken cooked under a brick" at Giulio's, buy a bag of the ancient grain farro and then depart, going back to the more familiar safety of their Tuscany.
If you travel further, beyond Lucca, up the valley of the Serchio River, past the Devil's Bridge and up, ascending via a totally crazy winding road to the Medieval town of Barga, you will be rewarded. Barga stands at the gateway to the Garfagnana region of the towering Apennine Alps. The landscape is spectacular.
Barga was our artistic home during the first stay in Italy. It was here, while visiting the home of the National Poet, Giovanni Pascoli, at the Castlevecchio Pascoli that I drew this little sketch. Recently we were talking about Barga and waxing romantic thinking of our time there. When this project is complete, we hope to go back to the Garfagnana, so this painting is my own "painterly paean" to that wild Tuscan land.

copyright 2011 James Aponovich

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Sunrise, Little Harbor, New Castle, NH
James Aponovich
oil on canvas, 12" x 30", 1999 -2011

Landscape painting is not as easy as it might seem. Rarely does nature just line up perfectly to give you a great "picture". Most of the time things are manipulated by the artist, mountains moved may be referred to artistic license.
I wanted to paint the sun rising over the Isles of Shoals, eight miles east of the New Hampshire coast. I was attracted by Little Harbor, enclosed by a pair of jetties. However, due to the Shoreline Protections Act, trees within seventy five feet of the shore cannot be cut down.
I had originally painted this scene with trees ringing the harbor, but just like anyone that builds a house next to the ocean, I wanted a clear "view". So, I returned and painted most of the trees out.


Fitz Henry Lane
Brace's Rock
oil on canvas, 10" x 15", 1864

With the trees now gone, I needed visual drama. For inspiration I went to one of my favorite seascape painters, Fitz Henry Lane of Gloucester, Massachusetts fame. I have mentioned him before when I was painting in Blue Hill, Maine ( week #17). He painted a number of versions of Brace's Rock, off Cape Ann (Massachusetts), always with the wreck of some ship. I was interested in the dark rocks silhouetted against the calm harbor. For my painting I waited until low tide so that the rocks would be exposed and the shore line defined by seaweed. To add a human element I added a sailboat catching the first light and breeze of the morning.

copyright 2011 James Aponovich