Posts Tagged ‘Dynamic Tension’


If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.

Jiddu Krishnamurti


The painting, Apex, as shown above on the left had been bouncing around galleries for quite a few years. It was one of those pieces that kind of gnawed at me after awhile. There was so much that I liked about it and it felt complete yet I began to feel that something was lacking.

The color bothered me. It looked washed out and pale. Now, I have done pieces with that sort of color and it can be very effective but in this instance the lack of intensity in the colors seemed to handicap the whole painting. The more I looked at it over the years, the more I saw the blue of the sky looking dull and lifeless.

And it felt like the trees on the ascending path were too sparse. I don’t know much about musical composition, can’t tell a quarter note from a half note, but when I looked at the hill with the trees I felt like I was looking at a piece of music and some of the notes were missing. It wasn’t saying what it should be saying.

And the central character, the Red Tree at the top, felt dark and small, not bursting forward as it should, at least in my mind.

The whole thing just felt like it was on life support– barely alive but but with no vigor, no spark.

But it was still alive and there seemed to be something in it that really pulled me in, I decided I needed to intervene, to either reinvent it or completely kill it. So I went in and deepened the colors of the sky and the hill dramatically. This created a nice contrasting tension and made the tree that were added to the upward path stand out more. The Red Tree grew larger, brighter and bolder while the clouds in the sky slimmed a bit.

It was  dramatic transformation. It was like Charles Atlas’ 97-pound weakling transforming, with the aid of his patented Dynamic Tension, into a beefy he-man who takes on the beach bully and gets the girl. I know that last sentence means next to nothing to those of you under the age of fifty but if you ever saw those old magazine ads, you’ll get it. You can click here to go to an old blog entry that shows that ad.

That might be a goofy comparison but as I sit here and look at the transformed painting, it’s hard to imagine that that it once was that old version of itself.

And it all came about thanks to Dynamic Tension. Thanks, Charles Atlas!


This reinvented painting will be with me at my Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery in Corning this coming Saturday, August 4. The talk begins at 1 PM and it should be a good time. In addition to the great conversation and plenty of prizes, I have also procured a monster truck act– Truckasaurus Rex— as well as a T-shirt cannon.

Okay, maybe that’s not quite accurate. Or true in any sense of the word. You’ll have to come see for yourself. 

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Charles Atlas AdI don’t know why this caught my eye this morning.  If you are of a certain age you will immediately recognize this ad that ran regularly in magazines for decades, touting the benefits of following the fitness regimen of Charles Atlas.  It was one of the longest running ad campaigns of all time and made the term 97-pound weakling  a regular part of our language.

I am instantly taken back in time by this ad, one that I read dozens– maybe hundreds of times– over the years, each time feeling Mac’s pain and anger at being pushed around and reveling in his revenge over the Bully of the Beach as a result of his simply following the way of “Dynamic Tension,” Atlas’ method of using opposing forces to create strength.

Never ordered the course, never acquired the sculpted body of Atlas or mastered Dynamic Tension, although that term has always stuck with me.  There is something in it that rings true and speaks to the polarity that I often describe when talking about my work, that energy created by contrasting forces.  For instance, the area of contrast between light and dark  is often the strongest part in a picture .

Perhaps there is something to this idea of tension and the creation of energy. Charles Atlas was trying to tell me that all those many years ago but I didn’t realize it could apply to things other than biceps, pecs or abs.  Funny how seeing something like this innocuous ad brings back memories and associations…

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