Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Legend of Steel Bashaw, Part 2

Rembrandt and The Legend of Steel Bashaw
In one of my previous posts I promised to write about my “conversations” with Rembrandt. Well, there is no mystery about my contact with him or, better  said, with his art.  The truth is that I live quite close to  Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum, where they have a significant collection of his paintings. During the years I spent countless hours looking at Rembrandt’s  magnificent paintings and analyzing his glorious technique. Gradually I learned to tune myself to his art and was able to “hear” what he had to say to me.
As you probably know, Rembrandt van Rijn ( 1606 – 1669) was a famous Dutch painter, by many considered to be one of the greatest painters of all times. Rembrandt is often called “The painter of light”. Being the most prominent aspect of his art, the depiction of light is what he is most known for today. He adopted so called chiaroscuro technique (chiaroscuro means light-dark and  is characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark),   inspired by the paintings of his great predecessor,  the Italian master Caravaggio, whose art had a profound impact on the Baroque style. A few years ago I have seen an exhibition, in Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, of paintings from both masters, hanging side by side. It was an amazing show that strengthened me in my  believes that,  regarding the impact of chiaroscuro  technique in both master’s paintings, I dare say that Rembrandt’s  mastery surpassed Caravaggio’s, and set the standard for generations of artists to come.
And indeed, when standing in front of one of Rembrandt’s portraits, or a historic/religious composition, or even a landscape painting,  the suggestion of light in the painting is dazzling. It is as if his paintings not only depict the light in a most convincing and dramatic way, but it appears as if the paintings themselves  emanate the light as well. I often stood mesmerized by this phenomenon in Rembrandt’s art, trying to comprehend the way and the procedure that enabled him to achieve such a breathtaking  effect.

Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem, 1630.
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Oil on panel;  58,3 X 46,6 cm.

After many hours spent in examination of and in meditation on Rembrandt’s technique, I came to the conclusion that, roughly speaking, there are three major kinds of light that Rembrandt used to depict in his paintings.
The direct light, the reflected light and the inner light (glow) of the shadows. Of all the three different kinds of light I was particularly drawn to the last one; the inner glow of the shadows, or glowing shadows.  In fact the basic principle for achieving this light effects  is simple; keep the shadows warm and transparent.  Easier said than done! Many painters from Rembrandt’s time used the same principle but were not able to achieve such a marvelous results as the master Rembrandt did.
That brings us to the question; how we are than to connect Rembrandt and The Legend of Steel Bashaw? How one connects a mighty elephant to a tiny mouse.  Well, I would say the following;  look very good to that elephant, copy him (learn from him) and try to understand the essence of the underlying philosophy. Than incorporate the collected knowledge into your own art, without trying to become another Rembrandt.  Although a Giant among the artists, ONE Rembrandt in this world is more than enough.
Beside a few other  aspect of Rembrandt’s mastery ( like for example; the glazing of the light(er) impasto parts of the painting, which is a kind of  art of its own), the glowing shadows aspect in particular, was often on my mind while painting the Steel Bashaw pictures. Although I did not adopt Rembrandt’s working method, I took great care of the glowing shadows principle, trying to achieve a similar effect by using  my own approach to the technicalities of painting in oils.
In order to get the desired results I always painted the shadows thin, using the radish/brownish ochre as the underpainting, letting it shine through the following layers of paint as much as possible. Then keeping the shadows transparent,  while applying the subsequent thin layers of paint, and avoiding the use of white paint in the shadows, I tried to bring more light into the paintings. The first three paintings from The Legend of Steel Bashaw, that I have presented you in the previous post, and the picture of the Giants (see below), show the influence of Rembrandt’s art. Later on, as the work on the book  project progressed, and as my interest and  attention shifted to the other great masters of painting, my paintings reflected less and less of Rembrandt’s influences. However I never forgot to keep my shadows warm and transparent and to avoid the use of white paint, as much as possible (white paint in the shadows tends to kill the light, as well as life in the painting, for there is not much life without light).
A few years ago I heard a curator from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia,  (they have there a big collection of Rembrandts, as well) said something like: “Although Rembrandt is often praised because of his juicy, thick impasto, expressively painted  light parts, Rembrandt’s power, in fact,  lies in his shadows!”
I definitely agree with this statement.
The Giants


  1. Thank you so much for your art, and this blog...beautiful, and illuminating.

  2. I am so pleased to have found your blog... I am really blown away by your paintings and your painting style and really appreciate your in depth explanations of your technique and influences...
    I shall definately visit often!
    Carrie... :)

  3. Thank you for sharing your wonderful meditations on Rembrandt and your own work!

  4. Great post Petar. If you've got the time, I'd love to hear about some of the artists that have inspired you.

  5. I'll have to pay more attention to the old masters. There's so much to learn. Thank your for this insight into Rembrandt! And thank you for posting the details from some of your paintings! I'm already recieving this book for Christmas, and having seen these images, the 25th can't come soon enough.

  6. Petar,

    First, your work is absolutely crazy incredible!! I had the pleasure of seeing one of your works up-close at the Spectrum 2009 show at the Society of Illustrators in New York City. I was floored. You are a modern master. I found myself, like you, pulling your painting apart to figure out how you did it. Looking over every inch at different glazes and impasto area. I think I spent about 15-20 minutes in front of it. Amazing...

    Just wanted to tell you about a book, if you don't already know about it, that goes in depth on Rembrandt's painting technique. The book is called "Rembrandt: The Painter at Work" by Ernst van de Wetering. A must-have book, not only for Rembrandt fans, but for painters in general. The book talks about everything from Rembrandt's development as an artist to where he bought his canvas from and even the weave count of his canvases to place them correctly in his career. X-rayed and infared images of his works reveal his pigment and medium use. A great book!! You will not be disappointed.

    Oh, and "Steel Bashaw" is on my Christmas list!!


  7. Larry – I do intend to write a series of blog posts about the artists, the old masters as well as the contemporary artists, whose work inspired and influenced me. There are so many of them without whose “support” I would never arrive at the spot I find myself now. So, wait patiently, please, for this might take some time…
    Gene – Yes, I know the book. The writer, Ernst van de Wetering, is one of the most respected experts on Rembrandt. For many years he was the head of Rembrandt Research Project. The main aim of the Project was/is to do the research of the complete Rembrandt’s oeuvre. Van Wetering has published several insightful books on Rembrandt’s art. Anyway, thanks for your kind and useful remark.
    Thank you all!

  8. Dragi Petre,

    dok kucam ove redove, u svom krilu drzim Tvoju knjigu Legenda o Bas-Celiku. Prvi put sam je srela u izlogu male knjizare, u mom gradu Backoj Palanci i obecala sebi da ce, kada bude bilo vreme, biti upravo moja...
    I cekala je...

    Strpljivo, isto kao i moje iscekivanje, traje i nemo upoznavanje sa svakom stranicom, svakim redom, nijansama i mirisima koji dopiru izmedju njenih korica...
    I seca na vreme prohujale bezbriznosti kada su i meni, u polumraku, saputali na uvo mudrost starih...

    Veliko HVALA na ovoj lepoti!

    Pozdrav iz Srbije,

  9. Marija - Reci koje si mi uputila su lepe i dirljive i zaista bude secanja na stara, dobra vremena, kada su se bajke i realnost preplitali...Najlepse hvala!
    Svako dobro ti zelim.

  10. I enjoyed reading about who you studied and what you learned. Light in the shadows.... wonderful indeed. Your art is a wonder to behold. Thank you, I will never look at shadows the same.

  11. That is right, Tammie! One of the aims of Art is to broaden our often narrow and preconditioned view on things. Shadows are much more than what the widely accepted statement about it suggests: the absence of light.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing your art!!! You are one of my new favorite artists. The energy in your brush work and the colors are just astonishing. I would love to learn as much as i can about your process. Again thanks for sharing it with everyone!

  13. Ojha,,samo da kazem da se moj mali odusevio knjigom.
    Fantasticne ilustracije.

  14. Hvala Mirko! Greetings to you and your son!

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