Tag Archives: masters

The Black paintings

Darkness as wrapping

Black is the dark energy from which the universe is spawned.

It is the source of light and colour.image

It reveals as much as it conceals

Like an empty stage, black is portent, potent and pregnant, but paused in anticipation. Black is. silent.

imageWarm and inviting or threatening to freeze like its close relative, Chaos,

Black can swallow substance like a fog,devouring shape and masking the weight of dreams.Yet it  sharpens the battle axe edge with Bintent,given form to follow.

Given subtlety, black takes on the character of its mixturesnjxs

It mutates into grey.

I The ancient ones knew  all colours came from black and white.  Our age was spawned by  Newtons prisms.For over 150 years we have been afraid of black.


“Never use black” intoned as incantation by generations.You have heard it yourself. Maybe said it yourself.This ought to be described as a clinically diagnosable medical condition and mandatorily notifiable contagious aesthetic position.


Certainly the so called impressionist painters had no qualms about using black. They didn’t let  theory spoil a good picture .And there are many.  Gray pictures ,using blacks and completed in the studio.

I have learned from the atelier to mix even my lights with black


I sing in praise of black.

A blank wall and a burnt stick.


Brian E Deagon 2015

Abstraction in Art

“There are no rules. No guidelines. No boundaries .” my friend complained. “How do you do abstract


Thinking about it, I could see he had a genuine concern.  I had no answer other than to mutter “ Mysticism. Its about esoteric mystical concepts of purification. Its shamanic identification with the creative process.”

He  frowned. Clearly that was not helpful.


Perhaps we could consider its parentage in Cubism and Surrealism?

Cubism itself had its lineage, including ( in no particular order)

  1. Cezanne’s difficulties understanding binocular vision, resulting in multiple viewpoints.
  2. New style shop windows which allowed the artist to see not only the window contents but also the reflected artist and the street behind him.
  3. Double exposures and X-ray photography
  4. Einsteins Theories on space and time
  5. Bargue’s guidelines for figure drawing
  6. The “discovery” of indigenous art, which was ( no..still is )viewed romantically as somehow more “pure” or “elemental”. It was used as a kind of purgative to remove layers of sclerotic culture and offered a new beginning. The new beginning became a nightmare in WW1

The outcomes of this torrent we are all familiar with. The upshot was a structure of mostly straight lines creating interpenetrating planes and a kind of elliptical composition. These planes do not exist behind the picture plane, but on it, or even project illusionistically into the viewers space, while still remaing parallel to the picture plane.


Understanding this structure is important, for it provides the underpinning of abstraction, the dominant “look” of the style. The Bauhaus reinforced this, taking over architecture, typeface, furniture. Its everywhere.


Surrealism had two arms, both belonging to Madame Blavatsky.

One was dependent on traditional illusionistic painting. Only the subject matter was bizarre. Burning giraffes come to mind.This flourishes in film still.

Of more importance was a more extreme outpouring of Freud and Jung’s unconscious that utilised chance or surrender of control as a creative principle.  Hence the throwing and splashing, the random ravages of weather or processes such as burning or collaged images from every fifth page.

When American artists in the aftermath of WW2 and the Korean war discovered calligraphy it blended seamlessly with this style of Surrealism.

The preparation of the artist before gesturing meaningfully upon a canvas was central to the creative process . Very Zen. Lots of positive and negative space.This is the shamanic side of abstraction. This led to extremes which in turn literally killed artists. Drug addiction is a poor preparation it seems.Better to meditate upon Earth Air Fire and Water, or play the Sex Pistols VERY loud.


So there is the Yin and Yang of it. On the one hand the artist manipulates mediums to create a structure that is an expression of the artists will, and the cubist ghost is never far away:  and on the other the artist becomes part of the medium which creates by itself a structure that is revealed in the making, and is independent of the artist’s will. Surreal really.


In actual practice, most artists waver between these extremes. Kandinsky encompassed both. Most of the abstract “isms” live or die here.


Wolesy will bury his drawings for six months, Klien will cover his models in paint and roll them across a canvas, Gleeson will let paint run and blend , then use the result as a trigger for his quite beautiful brush. Mondrian and other purists were messionic  about minimal means. Kline ,Motherwell and the Europeans Matthieu, Sonderborg took gestural calligraphy to extremes, but never matched the Chinese. Pollock poured out his soul, but who knows where it went?

Vestigial colours of landscape, a horizon here or there, a hint of a figure and some will cry “ Its not abstraction!”    But does it really matter?


In the zeal some posess to “restore the old ways of the masters” we had better be careful. It’s a coaches nightmare to have his team obsessing about what the opposition is doing. Rather than pointless spleen levelled at Modern Art and its advocates, it makes more sense to remember that the work that was produced belonged to a particular historical period. Even if we don’t like the art, we should have the sense to view it with the eye of the anthropological archaeologist. “ What does this thing mean?” is a question never fully answered. And we might learn something after all.

Brian Deagon


Rhetoric and Hadyn

Sir Kenneth Clark posits that the Classic nude is aesthetically and culturally beyond us. The completeness of rhetoric and technique are averse to our prediliction for the fragmentary and accidental. This came up again with Prof Lancaster and Hadyn. He points out that Baroque musical form is based upon the rhetorical devices of Quintillian. One states a premise,and another,then develops an argument and arrives at a conclusion. The “premise” is stated as a musical theme or idea.I assume, the same would have been applied to painting and all the other arts, particularly given the multi-arts sweep of Baroque. The wit, Professor Lancaster says, has an “aha “quality, not a “ha ha”. A large part of this would have been the conspicuous displays of erudition,linking subthemes and motifs,legends and narratives, as a commentary on the main theme or subject. Of more interest to me,is the notion that the pictorial language of pure composition must have been considered in the same way.Note that “rhetoric” here is more than “allegory” and “technique” means more than”finish”. Thats where it ended up in the worst of Salon Silliness.In Renoir’s Grand Baignuese we can see an impressionist realising that the dissolution of form itself had to be resisted in the nude, but is happily accommodated by the landscape.Renoirs painting is an argument as rhetorical as can be.

There’s no going back, But I’m going

Theres no point in silverpoint now I have a pencil, no point in lapis lazuli now I have ultramarine, no point in egg emulsion now I have acrylic and oil. But to use all of the old materials and techniques is an education in how to use the modern equivalent. I now know, because I have been there.

In “Image of the Body” Michael Gill makes the observation that the same desire to record every detail produced double entry bookkeeping accounts and Florentine art. It makes sense that the patrons of the C15 should bring the same attitudes to Art as they did to business.

And I have mused about the cultures that tend to Realism before. The Dutch invented the stock market and exported it to Boston and New York. Academic Realism that Americans preserve from C19 English Empire and C19 French, has the same love of detailed “finish”. They bring the same aesthetic to the nude as they do to chrome automobiles.

This weakness is to be avoided. That does not mean that the whole style is to be avoided.For me, the brushmark must finally be triumphant, and that is why Rubens is a touchstone

On Rubens

Its amazing how long it can take for the penny to drop!

Rubens’ use of the neutral gray is forced on him by his substitution of warm shadows at first instead of the cool verdaccio of the Italians. They arrived at a dynamic mix caused by the warm and translucent midtones scumbled over the verdaccio, which they then warmed in the deepest darks with a transparent glaze. Rubens glazed late in the process too, but he BEGAN with them. That is why he used a neutral gray on the turn between the deep shadows and the midtones. He couldnt get them any other way.

Technically, this meant his painting could proceed rapidly, especially when his midtone ochre was already dry , having been applied as the imprimatura,and was frequently left as is. The lights could be applied without mixing them with the greys.

All this did not prevent him from subsequent glazes and scumbles when the underlayers were dry, and his medium ( turpentine and resin?) would have dried very quickly. Even the umbers and ochres and mars black used in the initial drawing and shadows were actually drying agents (siccatives) and were applied extraordinarily thin. And today we shy away from lead white ( Flake and Cremnitz). These too are very fast drying.

After a good nights sleep, all your work the previous day would be pretty well dry enough to apply a layer of medium( turps, resin, and stand or sun thickened oil), into which work would proceed, producing that “enamel” look. Oh yeah, and the old masters used soft brushes and VERY thin paint, even in the impasto lights. Rembrandt excepted!

Its a historical (not to be confused with “natural” or any other kind of “progression” ) sequence from Florentine chiaroscuro to Caravaggios spotlit dramas and on to Rubens’ assimilation of venetian oil technique. It bears repeating that “truth to nature” in the French academic sense was not an aim of earlier art. So the arguments about “relative” versus “absolute” tones is truly…..well, Academic!

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Why is it that a violinist can play Mozart , an actor breathes life into Shakespeare, a dancer dies as a swan yet again memorably, and all these artists receive acclaim, but if a visual artist declares ” I will now “do Rubens”, a completely different set of assumptions apply.?

I contend it is the assumptions that are misguided, and completely miss the point. If Rubens(or any other master) is my composer, my playwright,my choreographer, then judge my performance accordingly,starting with whether I know the script.

After all, if your role is to provide illustrations to,and demonstrations of, the theories and pronouncements of art critics and impenetrable French philosophers; so should your work be judged-as just that.

Brian E Deagon
Thursday November 10th, 2011 9:55 am
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