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Archive for July 26th, 2011

Goya’s Miniatures

I have written here about a series of small dark pieces that I painted a few years back which I called my Outlaws series, pieces that were of shadowy figures often holding pistols next to windows.  They had been greatly influenced by a number of later silent films of the 1920’s which featured haunting dark imagery as well as a group of small late paintings by Spanish master Francisco Goya that I had seen at the Frick Collection in NYC, along with other works from near the end of his life. 

The Goyas were were painted on small squares of ivory around 4 inches square  that had been coated with a ground of black carbon on which he dripped water which removed the carbon to reveal the shadow of white ivory below.  He would then look into this wetness and manipulate it to produce the images that he saw emerging from it.  The result was a series of small but powerful pieces that really resonated with me, especially in that I easily identified with his process in producing these plates, one that was very similar to the method of painting I first adopted in my earliest forays.

Here is a clip from the introduction to the Frick exhibition that describes his process:

Goya departed from the traditional miniature technique of stippling — applying tiny touches of color with a fine-pointed brush until they coalesce into the desired images — for a broader means of execution. His improvisational process is described by a young painter friend, Antonio de Brugada, who witnessed Goya at work:

His miniatures bore no resemblance to fine Italian miniatures nor even those of [Jean Baptiste] Isabey. . . . Goya had never been able to imitate anyone, and he was too old to begin. He blackened the ivory plaque and let fall on it a drop of water which removed part of the black ground as it spread out, tracing random light areas. Goya took advantage of these traces and always turned them into something original and unexpected.

In transforming the stains of water into recognizable forms, Goya added accents by scratching the surface with a sharp pointed instrument; touches of watercolor were deftly applied; outlines were reinforced in black; and small patches of the surface were wiped to produce a range of shadows and highlights.

It’s an interesting little group of pieces from Goya, one that I’m glad to have stumbled across.  I had looked often at his work and had admired much in it but this was the first work from this master that really hit me, sparking me in my own work.  You can see the rest of these images here.

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