Monday, February 16, 2009

Dissecting a Metcalf , brushstroke


Above you see a close up of the middle of our Metcalf painting. We are seeing it smaller than actual size.So lets pull this thing apart,we can start with brushwork. There are no brushstrokes in nature, so this is a purely artistic choice the artist makes here. They are the handwriting of the artist who makes an artistic decision about them. Does the artist intend for his hand to be visible or invisible in the piece? That is, will the individual strokes show? Will the brushstroke describe the form or obliterate it? Will they be large or small? and so on. Lets observe Metcalfs' brushstroke. Willard is not painting leaves or even individual trees. He is painting the large color shapes in a simplified manner. His strokes are elongated and thin like quills. I think of them as colored rice. Some painters' brushstroke describe each separate object, but these are like pixels on a screen. Perceived together they add up to the image.
Below is a another passage from a different Metcalf, again showing that rice like brushstroke that assembles at a certain distance to form the image. This is done with the edge of a small flat. It is also only one brush stroke deep. In some of his paintings the white canvas actually shows between his brushstrokes. What that means is the painting went down in one shot, on the white canvas, no washed in tonal plan preceded it and it was done with absolute assurance, once, with no revisions.


Remember me saying a post or two back that you could slide a ring from your finger around on a canvas and always find multiple notes of color within it? Look at the detail above, there it is. Another thing is going on here as well,These little brushstrokes are sewing the edges of the different objects to each other. All of the forms have indeterminate edges. The edges are lost and found in a different way than most painters, they are not softened, or pulled together with a sable, the brushstrokes are crisp, so the shapes are woven together almost like a tapestry or perhaps an oriental rug. I am thinking of a kilim or flat weave rug here for those of you you who are hip to rugs. Each brushstroke sits separate and unsoftened from its neighbor. Even the flowers are painted as masses with that same stroke. He uses no individual dots for flowers. The trees the grass the flowers all are presented in this same quivering brushstroke. This gives the painting enormous unity It helps it be one big thing on the canvas rather than a lot of little things.
He doesn't paint the objects out in the landscape , he is painting the light reflecting from them. He is painting the general not the specific.

image; www.
By way of contrast here is an example of a very different approach, this is a detail of a painting by Albert Bierstadt, a generation before Metcalf. Bierstadt is painting leaves and blades of grass. This is an academic approach as compared to an impressionist means of representation. Each brush stroke is the size and shape of some little thing out there that it represents. The Bierstadt was done in the studio from drawings made on location. The Metcalf of course was done on location.

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