Colour Mixing & Texture to encourage dynamic eye movement.
Inspiration and energy came from artists I respect; the bespoke palette and mixed media of Andy Dixon, the bright textures of the Impressionists and Van Gogh and the Fauvist’s wild use of colour.
There are many ways in which the pandemic came into these landscapes: close quarters, disruption, questioning the value of my shared time, holding space for studio time, working with uneven light.
As a true artist in (imperfect) residence, I then developed a self-tailored colour palette that I worked hard to create myself through long colour mixing theory research and colour mixing practice sessions.
Cohesion in the Collection
All this so the cohesion carries from canvas to canvas across the collection. Even as I make these pieces I’m thinking about how they speak to each other and how we are going to install it. I was thinking about the Art Base gallery where the solo show would take place and considered how the pieces will sit best in the space. The goal here is that the audience stands in the gallery and receives a fully peripheral experience. The movement in each painting will draw the audience from one travel experience across to another, with salon style smaller paintings grouped at the back and no boundaries between them. Finally, the way I painted over the frame creates a sculptural depth that lends itself to getting lost inside these views.
Light to Dark then Dark to Light Again
If you come to examine the artwork even closer you might note the light to dark and then dark to light again order in which the paint is layered. This is the first time I’m working on canvases spray-painted with solid colours. I’m very driven by the shaping in Ori Reisman’s landscapes.
Although I don’t explore a human form in the earth as Reisman does, I aim to work the shaping of the land in a similar way that inspires a similarly human interaction, even though it’s not intended to be a human-sized view.
This is me trying to expand my skillset, widening my canvas, practicing grander sweeps, expanding what I can do and bringing you to the precipice with me and you can extrapolate from that what it means to you to stand in immense spaces.
Childlike Innocence in Mixed Media
Due to the close quarters, I’ve been painting next to my 3 year old. She has influenced me. I mixed my use of acrylic paints and oil pastel to create a dynamic forward and backward motion of the viewer’s eye: from the background acrylic to the foreground pastel, we move through the scene.
Thanks to my daughter, I was inspired to replicate form with a childlike sense in the brushstrokes. For example, I thought very deeply about the innocence I wanted to convey in the form of the Temple on Sounio. There is an innocence in one’s experience of wonder when one encounters ancient monuments. It makes you feel small to see the history. I hope that textural peculiarity, the quirkiness in the lines and colours I chose, wakes up the dull feelings of ordinary scenes and gets the viewer excited about the unique vision we get when standing in the inspiring spiritual locations ancient people appreciated for the same reason.
Tidal & Air Movement in Space & Paint Speed
I thought a lot about texture because it offers something we don’t get from our screens. Paintings need to offer something more than what we get in the visual world of our screens. I asked: What do paintings do that screens cannot? I answered: The texture of the paint and the peripheral size of the canvas can outsize our peripheral experience and let us step outside ourselves, deeply experience the movement of the wind and air and leaves and water and receive that specificity of human perspective in a vast space.
Even if you are not familiar with these locations, from our travels in Greece and Belgium, even if you have not stood in the same spaces, I hope you agree, you feel a sense of space, feel their particular quality of light and catch a breath of the same air.
The gloss varnish was also an important element. Products made by machines can make a smooth perfect flat surface. An impeccable glossy flat surface cam be made by the digital world. I asked: What can paintings do that cannot be done by photography or a computer or a machine? I answered: Dynamic texture that follows the shapes of the image and brings an overall sense of sculptural harmony to the piece. This is unique to painting and that’s why I do NOT try to apply the varnish as flat as possible across the surface of the canvas, but instead follow the movements of the painting’s forms and express the speed of emotive brushstrokes even with the varnish itself.
By shaping the solid forms with the paint texture, using mixed media to bring in a dynamic movement forward and backwards from the surface of the canvas, flowing the brush strokes to mimic tidal or hot air shafts away and around the nearly fish-eye lens enlargements of the horizon, I am working to enlarge one’s sense of space.
The large size of the canvas is significant. It offers you more space for your inner life. There is a proclivity to turn inward when there is a global pandemic, but I want these paintings to remind the viewer of the spiritual release we receive when engaging with wide views of majestic nature.
The orientation is not just physical, it’s a psychological direction too. These are landscapes that inspire the sublime.
Kant’s philosophy of aesthetics involves the idea that a small human form as audience to a vast largeness will give us a sublime experience of nature. This is an almost spiritual release, like the gasp when you see a brilliant view.
Until recently I illustrated children’s books with big ideas, such as philosophy and theoretical mathematics, these were big in another sense. The title of this collection, Immensities, speaks to the broad horizons in these paintings, but it is also the far reaches of your mind. The Immensity of how your soul expands when you stand on these cliff tops or at the heart of these lush forests.
Choosing the Correct Outlook
Of course, one must choose angles of certain landscapes that first offer that sense of space. Only then a good initial sketch on location can provide the best possible opening of the shapes to make one feel the freedom of that sense of place. Travel memories and sketchbooks are brought back to the studio. In this case, my studio was my home during lockdown.
When you look at visual culture online you don’t think about the scale. Scale matters. If it encompasses you in real life, if it is bigger than real life, you enter the scene more deeply. You are smaller than the canvas. You are a child. In that way, your childlike wonder is more instantly stimulated.
I noticed the big ones made me afraid. Am I afraid to take up space? Am I afraid of bigger, more visible mistakes? Whatever the case, the larger canvases were necessary to achieve the goal: a nearly fish-eye lens viewpoint expressed on larger canvases is designed to provide a sense of perspective. These vistas are an offering for expansion, travel opportunities not lost, but to be found, again and again.
There are different walks you can take into these landscapes. In my last continuous line illustrated series I “took a line for a walk,” and in this one your eye can take a journey down different paths.
Although I visited these landscapes with my sketchbook in freer times, I painted this whole series, ironically, under the world’s first lockdown. It is the first time in the history of civilisation that all recreational activities were cancelled and we were prohibited to travel. As a family we were respecting the safety precautions and so it was with a sense of grief that I became an artist in residence in my own home and my art expressed the wider world. I painted with love the wild bluebells of Hallerbos forest during the time of year that those bluebells bloom. I recalled our joy in discovering that cool and shadowy woods with its bright points of violet where the bluebells carpeted the clearing and I painted it knowing I could not visit this year. So it was with a sense of longing and grief that I travelled those landscapes again in my heart and in my art, but they are intended as a gift to the flat walls of collector’s homes, deeply shapely and opening and widening the views you might or might not have from your windows, and allowing another scene to open up another view for you.
I hope the shapes appear spontaneous at first glance and give a gasping sense of space but then, if you’d like to look closer you might notice a thoughtful layering of light and carefully composed colours that builds up a sense of positivity and imbues warmth.
I was surprised: a North European art collector came to view the works of Belgium but ended up buying a very specific painting of Greece. It made me realise that although living between Greece and Belgium is my journey, the boundaries are not so present in this collection. There is a deeply personal journey of my encounter with these two nations’ presence in nature, as an aesthetic experience. However, they were explored in a shared global pandemic and so in each canvas there is the shared need for passing through a gateway, whether it be painted, or over the frame, or beyond the water, and onwards into an expanding space in front of us. This movement towards positive change is intentional: I hope you can sense the optimism I’m trying to plaster on our walls. This is my political act: to counter the negativity of the news with the colourful movement across canvases intended for regular positive uplift of your mood at home.
Now, thanks to this global pandemic, now we know having a view is nearly essential. We finally understand that if we do not have picture windows, then landscape art can open up our small rooms and turn house arrest into a home sanctuary.
These works were painting from memory during lockdown. They are my response to the feeling of being in closed quarters: painting widening vistas across the canvas.
What techniques did I choose to create a sense of more space?
IMMENSITIES Opening Night Thurs Sept 24th 6pm SNEAK PEEK: Largescale dynamic landscape paintings from Greece to Belgium. The cool-to-the-bones Art Base venue hosts contemporary artists, cutting-edge composers and the kind of global musicians that bring together local communities. Musicians will be playing for you by reservation on the 25, 26th and 27th of the two weeks that my art will be on show. You’ve been starving for cultural events; we will feed you with rich colours, vibrant music and Mediterranean snacks.
Vernissage 24/9/20 18-21h
Visiting hours 26/9, 3/10, 4/10, 10/10 14-18h
Art Base, 29 rue des Sables Zandstraat, 1000 Bruxelles For reservations & more info to www.art-base.be
“I’m serious. I would love to have you make a painting or drawing inspired by current COVID-19 family life…”
14 May 2020 – Day 70 of our family’s Covid19 Lockdown in Belgium I wrote on Facebook:
“Out of curiosity, I timed and averaged across the interruptions yesterday. On average, during the moments when I explicitly told her I would be doing something other than engaging with her (e.g. working/cooking/going to the bathroom) my nearly 4 year old interrupted me every 15 seconds. For those of you who don’t understand what it’s like to be in lockdown in an apartment with no garden, with no childcare support, with a young child, imagine your thought process being interrupted on average every 15 seconds between 6.30 am and 8pm every day for 70 days. It’s INTENSE, people.”
Many, many people messaged me publicly and privately with solidarity but one message was bit different.
Mark Carlson wrote:
“Tamar, can you paint this feeling on canvas?”
“I think the interruptions would be part of the art. Or maybe the interruptions are the art. Can I commission a painting about this from you?”
“If you don’t mind the painting taking 900 years to complete [smiley face emoji].”
“Sounds like you already have a working title for the work [winky face emoji].”
“Haha! SOLD to the patient man in the front row.”
Then he sends me a private message:
“I’m serious. I would love to have you make a painting or drawing inspired by current Covid 19 family life. No rush and no expectations on my part. I think your talents are pretty cool.”
“Oh my goodness! I thought you were joking. I’d be delighted to do this project. Thank you. Will have to brainstorm how to depict all the big feelings. Thank you!”
“I really like your work and would love a way to remember this experience in life… I would like to hang something on the wall. You have the liberty to choose what it is. Thanks!”
“This is an amazing opportunity to be creative. I’m excited and inspired to do something that relates specifically to this era. I’ve started brainstorming ideas.”
“Please choose the size and materials that fit your inspiration. I will worry about finding a place to hang it. This moment in time is so rich in emotions. I am happy to are inspired.”
“Thank you so much for this opportunity, and for your faith in my abilities.”
21 May 2020:
At first glance this illustrated painting could be mistaken for a landscape, or a city park view. In fact, the subject is more precise. The neighbours. The pandemic allowed us to meet the neighbors. Can you see them on the balcony? People we’ve never spoken to before, cheering with us every night for the medical workers during the corona virus global pandemic, then shouting <<À demain!>> “See you tomorrow!”
I titled the painting <<À Demain!>>
As I was painting on our little balcony, cautious of the way the sun moved around the buildings and whipped the shadows out and around the other balconies I thought about how this art collector allows me to stay true to my creative inspiration, and yet is telling his own story about what he wants to see in a work. He trusts me to execute it well, he knows my interpretation might be akin to his own, as he’s known me for a few years and has a pretty strong grasp on my values through observation. At core he’s telling me all that matters to him is the creative documentation of a never before experienced, now globally shared event. I guess you could then conclude that we have collaborated on this project, through years of knowing each other as neighbours, this mutual knowledge, the trust, the creative skill set and the creative commission… yes, a unique collaboration befitting a public display of gratitude, as in the painting.
With Mark’s encouragement, I painted from our balcony, immortalizing a unique moment we shared: Every night my husband and child and I join the neighbours in a public display of unifying gratitude. See what looks like a trumpet in the turret? Someone in the turret next to them plays what I think is a trumpet, or maybe a French horn. He was always just inside the window, so the external image is from my imagination. He’s only learning and it certainly doesn’t sound perfect, but it brings tears to my eyes to hear that almost-salute. It’s the intention that counts. This painting is really about something unique to our experience of the pandemic; a public practice of gratitude, every night in our neighborhood.
The first time it happened I was holding my child in one arm, waving with the other, my husband shouting <<À demain!>> and I knew I’d never forget how unique that moment was, shared with intimacy with unknown neighbours made known by our shared experience.
I invited Mark to come see the work unfold as I painted it, standing beneath our balcony. I painted en plein air, attempting with all my might to get it all in one go, to commemorate the theme of a singular moment in time. This watercolour and mixed media painting is not as belabored as acrylic works because Mark asked me to include family life in the theme. There is no way I could have gotten through so many layers of colour and mixed media if I had even attempted oil paints. So, it’s the urgency in completion that brings the dynamism of the watercolour and mixed media to this canvas. I hope the unrestricted movement of the oil pastels, for example, can be seen by the viewer to bring a sense of immediacy to the image.
“No restrictions, whatever you want, just documenting this time.”
I was a little frightened that whatever may be my vision may not suit Mark’s aesthetic taste, but more than that, I felt deeply, truly honoured by the trust he put in me and incredibly impressed. For this is how this person, this art collector, demonstrates his creativity: with a truly original brief that pinpoints an era in time.
We spoke on the phone before I delivered it by hand.
Mark said, “Throughout history artists painted historical moments, I am yet to see art based on this historical event.”
I realized more than just creativity, there is a journalistic element here. As a professional video journalist, he’s expressing and exploring his own high level career through another high level medium; documenting historical events through this creative art commission.
The finished piece is the largest watercolour I’ve ever done.
A couple of details about the work: I have been primarily a portrait painter for many years, and portraits are about a likeness, capturing the essence of a person no matter the angle. In contrast, whenever I create a landscape I work hard to make it at an angle that is always accessible. The audience is invited to step inside. My landscapes create another room, an extension in your home. You look through your wall to another world that welcomes you.
We are the viewers, from our balcony. I do not comment on the tight quarters of our apartment. Or the length of time we’ve been indoors. I don’t comment on the very few vehicles left on this busy street. Or the empty sky that normally buzzes with airplanes from Brussels airport and helicopters covering EU summits. This scene is quiet. To people who know this park, this neighbourhood, like Mark and his wife Anita, they could tell you that’s part of the era I’m capturing here: a quiet street that is not normally a quiet street at all is a statement in itself. It’s a subtle statement. It’s one for people in the know.
I know that they enjoy our neighbourhood park as much as we do and I hoped that by immortalizing the tree-lined avenue they commute through every day it would be a painting they could carry with them through life, taking the park and the light and life it brings wherever they go.
I hope it’s clear, even though this pandemic has instigated truly tragic deaths and insolvency, my current work is still trying to share a positive and bright approach. It’s not gloomy or apocalyptic or expressing the frustrating circumstances around these strange pandemic times. Instead I’m expressing the way we connected with our unknown neighbours every early spring evening with light, bright colours and a dynamic movement in the brush strokes as the wind passes through the deserted park trees.
There’s a slight sense of grief in the way I depict our neighbourhood park from a distance. It’s not available to us now, only expressed to those familiar with it’s form, those who might spot that I excluded the park gates, any opening to the inside of the park, in this particular image. You’re welcome to enter the painting but we were not welcome to play in our park during the pandemic. If reading between the lines, that’s the only slight sadness on the canvas. The park play was literally policed and so the inner park was not alive to us. Here we are on the periphery. The periphery of the park and leaning over our balconies to applaud with others at their periphery too. The split-second depicted here is joy, the joy of meeting people from where we live, connecting to where they live and greeting them evening after evening. Even though the trumpet may not be in tune, it was still stirring. This piece may not be illustrating the sensitivities of loss or pushing abstract boundaries as Shock Art, but the positivity I try to portray is actually deeply, stubbornly and even politically reactionary. I encouraged Mark and Anita, to frame it with something bright like goldenrod yellow. It’s the sunlight on the leaves and the joy in this landscape that is reactionary to the anxiety portrayed in the current newscape. It may be Mark’s job to tell us the current news in images, but it’s my job to help you sit with them for years to come.
8 June 2020:
“It’s everything we could have wished and more!” ~ Anita Holten Carlson
“Unbelievable. The level of detail is amazing. This painting really invites you to walk right into it.” ~ Mark Carlson
“Thank you Mark! It was a very exciting project.”
When Mark sent this image of the work in a temporary frame I was really shocked how much more detailed it looks from a distance. While painting on our tiny little balcony I forgot to step into the house, to stand back from it while I was painting, to see how much detail carried up from ground level to the audience at a distance. I hope it does the same for the viewer, carrying vibrant details up to the viewer remembering this unique era at a safe distance in the future.