I’ve been looking at a blank white wall for several years with the intention of doing something about it. Now, I will. Personally, I think one should NEVER have blank white walls unless you are a renter and the landlord demands it, or there is so much visual activity in the space that the white wall is a resting place for the eye. When I drive up the West Side Highway at night, past the many high rises of “Trump City,” I am astonished that almost every apartment has white walls. They must all be rentals. I think there are possibly two apartments in that series of buildings where I can detect color on the walls—people who live dangerously! But in my house, my upstairs hallway, a space with a staircase, a window and seven doors, is entirely white — a blank canvas waiting to be transformed. I could just paint it an appealing color, but then the space would be dull. I’d like it to be a space worth slowing down in and staying a while.
So I will paint a mural. Because it’s the second floor, I want to work to create a view from a height—to create a landscape that the viewer looks down on. This means that the horizon line can be placed very high up on the wall. It also means there can be detail in the foreground, layers of landscape in the middle and a distant vista.
A beautiful example of this sort of image is Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters In The Snow, 1565. Bruegel takes the viewer into the space with the hunters and their dogs leading from the left. Our eyes bounce back and forth from the dark tones of the hunting group and the trees to the tiny figures on the frozen river (fishing, skating, curling, hockey!?). There is a sharp delineation of space when the foreground snows ends against the rooftops and trees below. There is so much detail in this image yet it all holds together as a composition. The overall tone is cool blue-grays and white with spots of orange warmth in the dogs, the building walls, the fire and — nice touch, the twigs in the center foreground. I love the detail of the dog’s spiral tail—I’m partial to spirals. There are multiple “stories” going on in this painting—the hunters, the fire tenders, the birds above, the skaters— it could be extremely busy, yet it all hangs together due to Bruegel’s sense of design.
Here is another example of high viewpoint-horizon landscape by James A. Jeffreys, Boone and Grape Streets, Manayunk
, 1938 (Collection of Michael J. Ettner
the author of a wonderful blog: http://www.mikeettner.com)
. What a great hill for sledding! You can imagine the fun of taking that curve. Jeffrey’s contrasts curves with verticals, and the diagonals in the distance. The industrial world has slowed down for a snow day.
But I’m not planning on creating a wintry scene. I’m shooting for late spring/summer. My desire is to create a scene that is an homage to the Hudson Valley region. I dream of living in a modernist cube of a house in the woods, with walls of windows, looking out on the forest, and with a distant view of the river. Not that I don’t love where I live now!—a very walkable and lovely place... So I plan to incorporate the beautiful Hudson River and some other things I love about the region: the rock outcrops in the forest, the ferns, the wild wineberry, the old stone walls.
Here is my blank canvas. Hopefully, in the coming days I can transform these walls, if not into a Bruegel or a Jeffreys, into something better than a blank white wall.
Coming soon: sketches and painting progress