I am in the process of getting a couple of interviews and posts that may take me a few more days to get posted. In the mean time I wanted to throw out some ideas as a topic of conversation. I am convinced that the many excellent painters commenting recently will come up with far more thought provoking material than what I could alone.
A number of people have commented they would like to see a discussion on what exactly defines perceptual painting. There seems to be a wide range of opinion about how you could define perceptual painting, how strict the definition should be (or not be) to be considered pure perceptual painting. I thought it would be a good idea to get a conversation going about this topic. To have a thread that specifically addresses this topic in depth. In this blog I have tried to show the range of possibilities in the works from some contemporary painters working from direct observation as well as those who work with a variety of sources.
Maybe to pin down a definition of perceptual painting it would be easier to say what it isn’t rather than saying what it is. But even that can get blurry if you stare at it long enough.
For instance, It is generally agreed that performance art and installation art tends not be be confused with perceptual painting. However as we have seen, looking at Cindy Tower’s Industrial paintings you start to see a possible way to merge perceptual painting with performance art.
Clearly, perceptual painting shouldn’t be confused with abstract painting but what about paintings like those of Eric Aho, who often paints plein air but some of his work becomes almost completely abstract. He emphasizes the underlying gestural, abstract design and recognizable observed forms are difficult to discern at times despite being done from life. deKooning painted landscapes outdoors that were completely abstract and with no apparent relation to what he was looking at. Does that count?
Paintings made from imagination is another area where you it should be a cut and dry case of not perception. But what about paintings like Charles Burchfield’s watercolors of the deep forest where he painted in plein air some wonderful sensations of nature not usually seen without first taking some mind altering substance?
Clearly photorealism tends to be more about the copying of photos and photographic detail and has the look of a photographic realism. Some perceptual painters, like Rackstraw Downes will include an almost photographic exactitude in the rendering of details but has the look of life and doesn’t seem photographic. Some perceptual painters use photos to further refine work that had been started from life, perhaps to further refine details that had the larger space, light and masses of tones worked out beforehand from direct observation. Perceptual painting purists would object to this practice, saying it invalidates the truth of the visual experience, which is of primary importance. That drawing and painting should only come from the close observation of nature for it to be truly considered perceptual.
In a recent comment here John Lee (a great perceptual painter by the way) said: “Perceptual Painting may aim for this ‘pure’ response, painting as one Sees (I am not in any way trying to sully that notion!)…but if we think about Monet and Giacometti as BOTH desiring to paint it as they see it, we get 2 different concepts. Monet wants to see in terms of color patch/color spot/brushmark/juxtaposed flat notes of color….while Giacometti wants to understand form as a complexity of planes in space, realized through LINE. Line is a concept for the one, Color Patch for the other. Is it really possible to be ‘pure’ in painting?
I think that question would be a good starting place for a discussion. Anyone care to share there .02?
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