Student Post: Melissa Henry
12, June 2009 § Leave a comment
The semester has ended and things have come to a close here in Paros. It’s hard to believe that I have spent two semesters studying with the Aegean Center. I feel incredibly lucky for this opportunity and in my time here I have met such wonderful individuals and learned so much. It has been a year of personal growth as I have had a chance to reflect and explore myself in new and unique surroundings. The beauty of Paros and the experiences I have had will be with me forever, and the magic of Paros will echo throughout my life and my art hereafter.
In Jane’s Velazquez seminar, we have completed the painting of our sections of Las Meninas. Painting a life-size replica of one of the figures was a great exercise to culminate our semester-long study of Velazquez’ style and technique. I really enjoyed working so large (120 x 75 cm). Studying how he painted has definitely influenced my technique and how I view the act and art of painting. He painted subjects ‘out-of-focus’ but included passages with more attention to detail, which is similar to our vision. We are able to focus on only a small area and all surrounding forms are more or less blurred. I now see how this gives a painting more dynamism than painting everything in perfect focus. Another idea I will continue to keep in mind when I paint is the potential for a painting to be both abstract and realistic. From a distance Velazquez’ paintings read as clean, smooth realistic depictions. Yet up close we see that they are merely slashes of paint splattered on canvas. Paint can create great illusion but is essentially just paint on canvas. This semester Jane introduced us to putty, which I have nearly become addicted to using. It gives the paint more body and sculptural form and helps me to loosen up my brushstroke. I plan on continuing to explore texture and putty for my senior honors project next year at Brown University.
Because putty lightens paint and preserves the luminosity of it without making it opaque or chalky like white, I have used it a lot in my work dealing with a particular lighting effect. I have always been attracted to and inspired by scenes where a distinct feeling of light creates a certain mood. Almost all of my paintings this semester address some specific effect of light, particularly cast shadows, as in my first painting of lamp-lit vegetables, the school courtyard walls, and the trash bin cats. In a more recent work I wanted to capture the mood of the storeroom/garage that we visited last semester at the local olive press. The strong, glowing light hitting the wall and illuminating the objects within intrigues me. I wanted to keep a loose drawing quality to it and I kept a primary color theme through repeating passages of red, yellow, and blue. I used these colors in many layers of putty and glazing.
I continued my personal exploration with olive trees with a second painting dealing with the wrinkly, knotty, and aged quality of olive trees. I learned things from my first painting that I applied to this one. I chose a different, more static composition and I included more surrounding landscape.
We also did a ‘white painting’ using a limited palette of white, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. I really enjoyed working with such a limited palette. I find it easier to be creative when there are stricter constraints to work within. We pushed our palette as far as we could to create a variety of hues, tones, and temperatures. It was a good exercise to focus on the art of subtlety. Working with whites was a peaceful process and I like the feeling of my finished piece so I would like to do more work with a limited palette in the future.
Now that the beautiful summer weather has arrived on Paros, we went outside to paint on-scene at the bay port. I did a 2-hour study of some boats and it was a good exercise in synthesizing a large amount of information and detail. I used a limited palette similar to my white painting: only white, blue, and burnt sienna. Painting outside has its challenges. The light changes, the subjects are often in movement, and the weather conditions can be tough to work in (it was a sweltering hot day when we painted.) I learned to work with my immediate surroundings and should continue to do these quick nature studies.
I finally painted a self-portrait, which has been somewhat of a dread of mine. Jane has taught me the importance of choosing a ‘system’ and working within the parameters of that system to paint. This helped my tackle the portrait because it involves picking a method to break a painting down into manageable steps. I was getting overwhelmed with the many subtle colors and tones in the face but I worked in a series of layers that built up the form gradually. I began using the Velazquez method I have become so accustomed to: drawing with paint and adding in the dark tones then heightening with white. Then I went in with many layers of red and blue glazes. With just these two colors I was able to get many hues and tones. In places the blue and red mixed to make purple and because my imprimatura was a yellowish orange, I created a green tone when I put blue glaze on top. I found that using these layers interspersed with whites allowed me to get so many colors, temperatures, and tones without having to mix each shade of paint separately.
During our week-long semester break, I traveled to Santorini and Crete with a few other students. While in Crete, I was inspired by the geometry of the fields we drove through and the overwhelming variety of green. I was interested in how orderly and systematic they appeared, with the cast shadows of each individual tree forming a pattern across the landscape. In an ‘ode to putty’ I painted a tactile painting. How often do you see a painting labeled “please touch”? Not so much, so I decided to have some fun with layers and make a painting for the eyes and the fingers.
As a final painting of the semester I decided to do one last olive tree. After working on a large canvas for Las Meninas I wanted to do another big painting (70 x 100 cm). I went with a few other students to look at the olive trees that we pass on our way to Lefkes for hikes. I have always wanted to go up close and look at them and I am so glad I finally did it before leaving Paros! For me, these trees are incredible symbols of Paros. They have so much character strength; some have been alive for a thousand years. I feel that this painting is a good culmination of my year with the Aegean Center. Half is alive, half is dead. There is new growth and hope, yet there remains the dead wood of many years past.
My time studying at The Aegean Center has come to a close but I am excited to take with me all that I have learned to share with others and apply to my own work. The memories of the Aegean Center, and the sand, salt, and olive trees of Paros will be with me forever.