How the Painter Sets the Stage

How the Painter Sets the Stage

When a painter, whether abstract or figurative, begins a painting there is nearly always an awareness of where color will go. How a painter creates an explosion of color on the canvas depends on the working methods of the painter and, to a large extent, the time frame within which the painter paints.

In earlier centuries, for the most part, a painting was built up in series of layers using glazes and repeated layers of paint to prepare for the drama that was to unfold whether

The subject was Jesus about to be crucified or a Dutch merchant ship sailing into the harbor.

In more recent times, as the immediacy of painting became more implicit and the setting up of the ground (or background as most call it), it became a process that was not buried under layers of Paint but rather asserted itself with and against the ‘subject of the painting’ whatever that subject might have been.

La Danse by MatisseWhen Henri Matisse, the grand master of painting in the 20th Century, painted a simple still life of pink and red tulips on a grey green table against a blue grey wall, he would begin

Not with the painting of the flowers but the painting of the space around the flowers.

A preliminary drawing would be made most often in charcoal and Matisse would begin to fill in the space around things, the space around the flowers. His brush would move quietly, then

Pick up speed and drama it would ‘ dance ‘ around the drawing of the flowers. The brushstrokes begin to collide and swim and toss and turn a bit as the space is filled.

The eye is always checking out the location of the flowers to be painted in but is not leaving the energized pulse of the ground

The color of the ground is determined to best create the ’stage ‘ for the color and tone and shape of the tulips soon to be painted.

The tension builds, and the drama as well as, as the brush nears the tulips and the color and adjustments of color in anticipation of the flowers to be painted.

The painter puts down the brush and leaves the room – perhaps to get some coffee or tea, to look out the window, to feed the cat, to let the dog out, to let the dog in – it matters little.

Returning to the canvas, now that table and wall and parts of the floor in the painting have been blocked out , the painter is ready to begin.

But truly he began a long while ago.

The space between things has been set.

Matisse mixes of bits of pink and red and pops them into the tulips spaces he has drawn. The color has ‘kick’. It pops and sings. Yes, adjustments are made. This is too pink, that a bit too red.

This brushstroke too heavy, that one too light.

But all has been done like a stagehand moving and adjusting tables and chairs and props and lights so when the grand master of acting enters the stage.

The audience is waiting with baited breath.

The tulips have been waiting to appear. They can now bend and sway in all their glory. The painter has set the stage in terms of color and tone.

Pink meets red, again grey green and blue.

The tulips sit up and look around the room. The painter quietly exits.


Dirty White Abstract Painting by Gary Komarin

Dirty White completed 2015 by Gary Komarin


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