In a previous post, Azure and Asphalt: Ownership of Style and the Meaning of Originality, I introduced the series and discussed how original work can sometimes define the treatment of a subject for generations. I exhibited several works from this series in October of 2014, and the response was excellent. Nearly all the pieces sold, so I was encouraged to keep exploring the theme.
The ongoing challenge with this series has been to strike a balance between the atmospheric and abstract effects that I’m so interested in, and the kind of detail that urban landscape typically demands. If I focus solely on atmospheric effects and glaring light, without any orienting details, then I lose all association to the subject. (I want to lose some association, but not all.) If I focus too much on detail, then I could easily lose sight of the “big picture,” the overall abstraction and color impression. The “azure” of the series title speaks to effects of light, while the “asphalt” refers to the details and subject.
In my book Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice I wrote that “the landscape painter doesn’t necessarily have to be in the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon to find good source material. With an eye tuned to the visual language of painting, worthy subjects can be found almost anywhere.” Azure and Asphalt is a case in point. Nearly all the paintings are inspired by views found in my own neighborhood. (The Way Home and The Way Home, Study in Azure were based on similar views in Edmonds). For those familiar with the Seattle area, here is my vantage point: as you descend Market Street into Ballard, you are heading northwest. If you look off to the left, directly west, you’ll see a dense array of gray streets and rooftops, with the ship canal in the distance. Ah, but add a little sunshine a few hours before sunset, and all the streets light up. Distinct vertical, diagonal and horizontal patterns are formed, which become the underlying framework of these compositions.
In addition to color studies, I also generate digital studies. These are photos altered in Photoshop using various filters that simplify detail and emphasize basic shapes. They are a very helpful way to suggest what a simplified, painted version of the subject might look like.
Each of these stories features examples from the Azure and Asphalt series.