The best painters understand that they work to create an illusion. The sleight of hand that comes along with painting art representationally can be especially compelling when it hides in plain sight—when artists take on subjects that are almost diametrically opposed to the flat surface of their canvases and make paintings that resonate as powerfully as the subject itself.
Movement and physical action are exemplary subjects for such formal play. One would expect them to be the downfall of brush and pigment, but when treated with innovation, the power and force of motion can actually be amplified. That kind of innovation is found in the work of many painters working today.
Gary Ruddell’s Streaky Motion
Gary Ruddell teases out the speed of motion of the human body in his painting Birth of Modernism, which features a figure whirling a bright yellow hula-hoop around his neck.
The environment is abstracted, and so is the figure, whose cyclonic motion blurs his edges. His wide stance, jutting right leg, and the forward thrust of his torso all attest to the extreme power and force of his motion. His head is a streaky smear, and the hazy yellow halo around parts of his body and shadow seems to suggest that the energy he’s generating is too much for the picture plane to contain.
In Jade Reaction, artist Alexandra Pacula showcases the frenetic energy of a cityscape whizzing by. With each gestural mark of paint, the artist creates the optical effects one experiences when moving quickly through a neon-lit city at night. As you bounce around, the object of your eye appears to, as well. Pacula’s syncopation of motion is, however, studied and deliberate. Taking even one element away from the composition would leave a remarkable void.
Eric Zener’s Water in Motion
Eric Zener takes viewers poolside in Portal No. 2, just as someone or something has created a picture-perfect splash on the surface of the water. The cause of the movement is of little significance. Instead, the focus is on the light effects of water in motion. To that end, the artist shows the water’s movement in several ways: a transparent screen through which we can see reflections of the blue surface of the water and the green of the trees and shrubs beyond the pool’s lip; a frothy build-up of bubbles in the center of the splash.
Dabs of white paint indicate far-flung stray droplets of water, and brushstrokes pulled across the wet surface of the right side of the splash give a sense of the water’s movement.
Maybe not the stuff of rabbits out of hats or quavering assistants sawed in half, but transporting an object from three-dimensions to two is a masterful illusion to master when painting art in a representational style.
Giving viewers of your painting a visual path to “travel” is also an essential painting skill. It allows you to get as close to actually transporting your viewers as possible. It is the difference between a painting you simply see, and one you experience.
If this resonates with you as powerfully as it does with me then consider adding Johannes Vloothuis’s Paint Along 34: Create Visual Paths in Your Paintings to your list of go-to art technique resources so that you can pursue the many avenues of your creativity with confidence and success. Sign up for Paint Along 34 now and enjoy!