I have been provided with a massive collection of digital images by an artist friend. There are a lot of fun and obscure things on it and I am going to be able to use them in the blog. One of the artists whose images I now have to share with you is John Carlson. Its very difficult to find images of his work so I am going to throw some at you tonight. John Carlsons name has passed through this blog many times. his book John Carlsons guide to landscape painting is the one book I recommend the most. John Carlson 1874-1945, was a Swedish immigrant and well known teacher who lived in Woodstock, New York. He was a student of Birge Harrison.
Carlson invented wonderful patterns of unique and individual shapes. One of the skills that fine designers have is knowing how to restate what they see in a way that each shape within the painting is different from every other shape in the painting. This gives an enormous amount of visual interest.
Look in this example how every one of these trees is a different width and each is broken up either by the play of light and cast shadow or by patches of snow. Here's another.
The same thing goes on here too. Look at the way that Carlson displays the fine tracery of the twigs and small branches fanning out transparently between us and the light of the sky. Carlson has painted in the sky note and then softly laid the branches in a tracery over that. Then he has gone back in with the sky note and cut the brilliantly designed holes through to the sky again. Stop and look at the shapes he gets in that veil of fine branches.
Look up at the top of the painting and notice how he cuts the sky down into the spaces between the larger branches. The negative shapes he designs there give the junctions and divergences of the limbs a lively look. This also sets up a system of their perspecting up away from the viewer at differing angles, as the rise into the sky above our heads.
If you look at the top 1/8 of the painting there are a lot of branches, but no two have the same weight or thrust. But the rightmost branch exactly counters the leftmost branch. The branches up there are softened with notes of gray and the sky color and have all sorts of little value shifts operating within them. They almost look like the are treated with military camouflage. That is of course the point, just like camouflage the idea is to break up the regularity of the forms and edges and keep them from being too visible. A passage like this is very difficult to paint because of the insistent and overly assertive contrast between the dark branches and the bright sky. It wants to look like a jailhouse window.
Here is a snowscape using what is called a steelyard or a balance beam type of composition. The left hand tree and the foreground are in the shadow and the right hand side and the other group of trees are in the light. The painting balances not only from left to right but from the back group of trees forward to the left hand shadowed tree. The same effects I spoke about above are going on here too, the delicate tracery of unique shapes of the branches against the sky. and also the careful patterning of the shapes in the foreground snow. Look at the bottom 1/3 of the painting. All of those wedge shaped snow elements are broken up with little bits of grass or spots of dark that make every single shape in that foreground unique.
Here's another Carlson of a similar subject but with a different mood. Notice how all of the weeds and trees and other vertically thrusting elements are counter balanced by the horizontal lines of the snow across the middle. Another sort of balance is in the color. The russet color of the dry leaves still clinging to the branches is a compliment to the cool green gray, blue tones that make up much of the rest of the picture. These pictures are all very carefully arranged and designed. Because of that they lose a little bit of that random naturalistic appearance that some very carefully observed paintings have, but they gain sophisticated rhythmic almost oriental print quality that I think makes them beautiful and compelling.
If absolute naturalism was the most beautiful thing, those large photomurals of forests they used to put up in the dentists office would have been more satisfying. These are perhaps less "real"but they are far more evocative and interesting.
More Carlson pictures tomorrow.