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Archive for April 23rd, 2010

Arthur Wesley DowI’ve been going back and forth over the last several weeks, painting in two different methods as I prepare for my two summer shows.  One is additive, where I am building up layers of paint, and the other deductive, where I am actually taking paint from the surface.  I am equally at home in either style but I have focused for the last few weeks on the deductive style, a reversion to the way I first painted.  In doing so, I have been reminded of the work of Arthur Wesley Dow, the American artist and educator from the early part of the 20th century.  Dow was a huge influence Arts & Craft aesthetic movement and his teachings combined Eastern and Western principles of art that have influenced generations of artists. 

I had never really heard of Dow until years after I had started painting and had already developed my style.  But seeing his work, his paintings and, in particular, his woodblock prints, struck a chord of familiarity with me.  I immediately sought out his classic text, Composition.  In it, he laid out the principles of simplifying form and arranging the pictural elements in a harmonious fashion.  He taught the Eastern concept of Notan, meaning dark light, which stresses the relationships between the two in composing a picture.

I was already doing many of the things he laid out in his treatise, having come to them by trial and error.  But it was thrilling to see the concepts that were central to my own work laid out in black and white.  His own compositions were spare yet not empty of feeling.  The way the simple forms played off one another  and the interplay of dark and light created feeling and mood.

Seeing them again recently, made me want to simplify my work again, to work in my earlier style to create emotion with pared down elements and paying more attention to subtlety of color and line.  And that is where I stand at the moment.  Thanks, Mr. Dow…

Anyone interested in browsing Dow’s classic Composition can read or download it free from Google books by following this link.

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