Monthly Display - June 2021


Recording the Colours and Tones of Sunlit Scenes

This month's display is a small selection of my paintings and pastels that are based on recording the colours and tones of sunlit scenes. The basic concept is a very simple one - a direct way of interacting with the world I have found around me. For recording the colours and tones of sunlit scenes, I take my art materials outside and work directly from scenes lit by sunlight - scenes that I have also found to be interesting for various reasons. Such pieces are in many ways similar to the work of the "Impressionists" in principle. The Impressionists took transportable paints outdoors to paint scenes using the colours that were observed from real scenes.

Many years ago, when I first worked very successfully as a graphic artist/designer, and produced commercial artwork for other people, I eventually started to think that I'd much prefer to be using my artistic skills and understanding for my own ideas, not for other people's ideas. But what were my ideas? What things did I think were worthwhile?

Well, one thing I feel is very worthwhile is to try to record the real colours and tones of sunlit scenes that I experience. Looking at the world around me lit up with sunlight is something that feels very special. Even without the sun actually out, seeing the world in overcast light is also worthwhile. But when the sun is out, the light is just magic! It's an incredibly beautiful world we live in, surrounded by life, surrounded by air, and water, and soil, and sunlight. It's about feeling a connection with the real world, about studying the complex mix of phenomena that make up the various scenes we see, and about asking questions about the nature of the world we find ourselves living in.


Detail from "View of Hallett Cove in the Morning"

Sunlight is a very relevant subject. It is the main light that we see local scenes with. Sunlight also drives just about 99.99% of all life on this planet. Living organisms classified as 'animals' (including human beings) live by eating other animals and plants. Ultimately, all animals larger than a single cell rely on 'plants' for their continued survival. Plants have the incredible ability to create food from photosynthesis, using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. Plants and seaplankton that are capable of producing their food from sunlight lie on the bottom of the 'food chain' for almost all other life forms on our planet. Plants using photosynthesis are also responsible for the oxygen and nitrogen content in our atmosphere. In this way, the sun has driven, and continues to drive just about all life on this planet, including us.

There is a sense of scientific investigation in trying to capture the colours and tones actually experienced. The range of tone and colour experienced in reality is much greater than the range of tone and colour available within paint pigments. Some light outside is so bright it can hurt our eyes to view it for longer than a fraction of a second. There are no paint pigments that are similarly strong. To record what is experienced, one must synthesize an approximation that 'feels' like it is capturing the essential relationships experienced. I try a certain combination of colours and feel if it is 'accurate' compared with the relationships in the real world. If it is close, I move on to other relationships. If it is not close, I formulate a hypothesis to work out how I can modify what I have, so that I might get a closer result (e.g. add more yellow, or add more red, or tone back the saturation of colour, etc.). I try each hypothesis, and then assess the results. Slowly and methodically, I can build up the accuracy of the scene experienced in front of me.

When I work outside directly from real scenes, I am constantly aware that 'recording the relationships of colours and tones in the world' is an extremely subtle process - and that there are constantly changing colours and tones being seen. The sun's position in our sky changes slowly, but persistently. Shadows change quite quickly. Many things affect the quality of the air, the colours seen in the sky, and the colours seen in objects on the ground. Photographs can capture such scenes reasonably well, but have a number of problems: One big problem is that the film or digital sensor captures the scenes differently to human eyes. The relationships of colours captured in photographs are often quite different to what I have found from recording directly from the scenes in front of me. Another problem is that photographs don't contain the level of deliberate manual construction of paintings and drawings. To produce a painting of such a scene, the artist has had to think and decide about every brush stroke, every mixed colour, etc.

This month's display has pieces that were produced at a range of places, and at different times in the day, from just after sunrise, to after sunset. They were all produced on-site, directly from the real world. The last page is a menu of similarly produced pieces from the permanent galleries. There are quite a few pieces there, because "Recording the Colours and Tones of Sunlit Scenes" is one of the key themes in my artwork.

Continue with the first piece