Saturday, February 12, 2011

Delta Oak

Delta Oak, 2011, oil/panel, 20" x 60" (click to enlarge)

Palita, 2011, oil/panel, 60" x 40"
I had an interesting discussion with painter Gary Evans today.  He was telling me about his students in his drawing class at Georgian College. Not much has changed since I use to teach drawing many years ago.  He told me that most students struggle to understand and draw mass and form.  He explained that most of them fall into the trap of drawing a flat shape to represent an object and then "fill it in" with "expressive" scribbles.  They are unable to sense or reproduce the weight of objects.

It's not easy to do this any more.  We agreed that in the past, one hundred to one hundred and fifty years ago even a modest amateur could draw form showing mass and weight. It could be that human visual perception has been changed by photography / video as the primary method of conveying information about the visual world.  Photography's ability to render minuet detail has dulled the visual cortex's sensitivity to mass.

It's not that people aren't aware of mass; it seems that they have lost the ability to describe it as sensed with binocular vision.  Cameras (excepting 3D) have a single lens.  This flattens images into a single plane.  We have two eyes that provide us with two images that the brain interprets, presenting us with visual knowledge of mass.  A good artist can draw this on a 2 dimensional sheet and still present enough information to trick our brains into sensing mass.  But it seems fewer and fewer young artists are willing or able to master this challenging skill.

After reflecting on our discussion it occurred to me that my own interest in mass (trees and foliage) contrasted against space (the landscape) relate to these ideas.  Is it possible that people who enjoy my works are responding to the sense of form and mass?  These are often what impress a person who is standing before a tree.  But to actually get a real feeling for the massiveness of a tree presented as a painting is possibly quite rare these days.