Saturday, February 1, 2014

Essay 1 – On the Absence of Paint

Every seasoned painter who has reached a certain level of craft and understanding knows that  the absence of paint on the canvas can sometimes lead to the best results. Little patches of not covered canvas, either white or with an imprimatura, or a transparent underpainting,  bring light into the painting making it more vibrant and lively.  The absence of thick paint allow light falling onto the painting to reflect through the layers of paint. This creates a feeling of painting being  flooded with light, or an impression that the painting itself emanates light. When it comes to painting, there are a few basic elements that, when approached and applied properly, usually lead to a successful piece; things like composition, tonal and color arrangements, the expressiveness of the application of paint, the presence (suggestion) of light in the painting, etc.  Most people react to the aspect of light in the painting as something that appeals to them more than any other aspect, regardless the subject matter or a type of light depicted. Consciously and unconsciously, we yearn for light!

Many painters, old as well as contemporary, have applied this technique often achieving wonderful results characterized by the impression of lightness, airiness and effortlessness. But the ability to properly apply this technique comes with experience (surprisingly… ) for only through practice is one able to master it and therefore make the painting more extraordinary, instead of just creating a feeling of unintended or artificial “unfinishness” . This absence of paint has to be organically woven into the painting as a whole.  I think one of the best examples of the power of this principle is the work of Rembrandt. Unlike the wide spread notion that the main quality of his work is to be found in the thick and expressive impasto parts, in fact the true secret of his work lies in his transparent and vibrant shadows.

Needless to say, in order to see the full impact of this technique one needs to analyze the original paintings. 

Gustav Klimt, a detail from Pallas Athene

Anyway, for the less pragmatically oriented  souls among us, who are inclined to search for the clues “ behind the physical canvas”, here is another explanation.

After all, why using the paint if you can reach your goals without it. Why speak, when silence has already spoken. As one progresses, one learns how to free himself from the unnecessary, and therefore burdens himself only with what really matters to him.

Although many of us, in one or another way, eventually become aware of the idea of the power of ABSENCE, or “acting by not acting”, it takes many years to fully accept, incorporate  and eventually apply it properly in one’s work. It seems obvious that one of the main obstacles is not being able, or not willing to believe that in order to create a really extraordinary impact, one does not have to always “shoot from all canons”, so to speak. This brings me to the related subject of the overuse of  elements and details in a painting. Again, it takes time and experience (professional as well as life experience) to realize and truly accept that all that abundant presence of forms and details, sparkling glitter and glamor on the surface, not necessarily reflect the essence of things. Moreover, it is not unwise to conclude that -  the more glitter on the surface, the greater the possibility that the things are hollow and empty from inside.  This principle of compensation is very indicative and often points out towards
the notion of substitute, a substitute for something that is missing, something more fundamental. 

Gustav Klimt, Unterach on the Attersee

Ilya Repin, a detail from The Zaporozhian Cossacks write a letter to the Sultan of Turkey

Paja Jovanovic, a detail from The Coronation of Tzar Dusan

Rembrandt, Selfportrait


  1. Petar - Very well said. This is a lesson I wish modern film makers would learn - especially those involving themselves with Middle Earth.

    1. I must admit that I share the same frustration with you, Larry!

  2. And I agree with both of you. I'm afraid we live in a time of excess and our way of life has spilled over into our method of creation. Very nice post Petar.

    1. One of the fundamental aspects of the artistic expression is to creatively react to the stimulation coming from the outer world. But in my opinion just as important, if not more important, is to express (as smart/suggestive and as broad/deep as possible) a commentary, or a critique, about the nature of this stimulation and its impact on the individual, the community as well as the natural world, and if necessary point out another direction, another option, inspire and encourage another approach, point of view; with intention to deepen the insight, to enrich and improve.

      Yes, in our times we are experiencing a unique situation which shows us that the world (especially the certain parts of it) at present state is not able to handle abundance (excess) in a proper, mature way, eventually causing many visible and invisible problems, which seemingly can only increase their grip on the human being of the future, disassociating him further from his own foundations. Generally, commercial art, according to its nature, reflects that state of mind, plays with it, obeys it, stimulates it, helps it endure. Unlike the commercial art, free art not only reacts, it also tries to ACT (in that respect I dare call it High Art), and has a slightly different approach and often reflects that second function of art mentioned above.
      Beside his urge to state the facts, if ARTIST is not a herald of something more uplifting, universal and more enduring, who else is? … Well, I better stop rambling … in fact this might be a good subject for one of my next posts.