The Road to Perspective
featured image: detail from “On a Chip”
In my own abstract paintings I have often eschewed the formal techniques used to create space and perspective. Depth comes at a cost. All of the techniques and approaches used to create space and depth also restrict the sizes of objects, the colors in different regions of the canvas, and the way shapes evolve. Perspective and depth can easily become the dominant “logic” providing order in a painting. This is especially true in abstract work where a depiction of something familiar is not present to mitigate the types of order and organization imposed onto the painting.
In some of my early oil paintings like “Transition to Chaos” (below), the only sense of depth comes from gradients of warm and cool color in the background. A thin sense of volume is also created by layering of the impasto patterns in the foreground. The painting evokes machinery and device architecture printed onto a surface, but the moody background tends to move the circuitry into the space of ideas rather than real device design. “Transition to Chaos” is all about the patterns and geometries at the surface of the canvas – how they contrast, interact and seemingly dance a complex set of steps. Adding perspective might be an interesting effect, but it would also interfere with the way the patterned shapes interact. Some of the feeling of movement and some vibrancy would be lost, along with some of the work’s mysterious and evocative qualities.
“On a Chip“, top right in the gallery above, takes some of the ideas from “Transition to Chaos” to create a dancing pattern evocative of machinery. Acrylic extrusion through a variety of nozzles creates sharply raised three dimensional patterns on the surface of the canvas. This approach increases the contrast between foreground and background and emphasizes the actual three dimensionality of the thin flat surface of the painting. The dimensionality of the paint itself is presented in a manner that overwhelms and replaces any painted illusion of depth. Paradoxically the increased contrast between sharp foreground and softly graded background creates a feeling of depth.
In “Technocool“ and “Suspension, Resolution” ( gallery above) patterns of parallel lines and converging shapes begin to suggest space and depth through perspective. Color is also used in ways that create depth. The uniform light blue background in “Technocool“ suggests an expansive space. while variations and hatched patterns of bright warm color and darker cool colors create an active receding background in “Suspension, Resolution“. An evolution in the use of space illusions can be seen when comparing the two paintings. The earlier “Technocool“ still refers strongly to the flat patterned circuitry ideas of “Transition to Chaos” and “On a Chip“. The parallel and convergent geometries that would suggest projected planes are not expansive. These features suggesting Perspective are also broken up by linear details that contradict the space illusion. The result is dynamic and energetic, but this dynamism results from breaking the illusion of space. In contrast, “Suspension, Resolution” makes stronger use of Perspective illusions in the foreground. The very active and less ordered background intrudes to create a more nuanced dynamism that preserves the illusion of space.
In “Heretical Musings …“ and “The Ephemeral Nature…“ above, perspective is a very strong organizing feature in both abstract spaces. “Heretical Musings…” contains a complex intersection of parallel and converging lines, creating an illusion of fractured intersecting planes. Linear details again span the perspective elements, providing a counterpoint to the illusion of depth. However unlike in the earlier “Technocool“, here in “Heretical Musings…” the feeling of space has begun to dominate the painting. In the last painting of the progression, “The Ephemeral Nature of Vision“, radiating and intersecting illusory planes are the dominant motif ordering the painting. Many of these parallel and converging groups of lines were painted as separate layers for each “plane”. The use of transparent pigments and translucent dry brushing to create the sets of masked lines makes the volume seem traversed by diaphanous material, like thin sails. Patterns of color and color gradients emphasize the sense of depth and of projecting and receding planes. In some cases convergent bands are broken up into patterns of smaller shapes, where a progression of similar (mathematically) shapes with different sizes enhances the illusion of depth.
The Next article highlights and explores illusions of depth through examples of Landscape painting (my own). This is followed by more examples using works by some interesting Contemporary artists to illustrate creative ways to use these different ideas in different styles of painting. Look for it (I’ll update here when it publishes)! Perhaps you’ll discover a new favorite artist!
surveys different techniques used to create depth and volume in Representational and Abstract painting