“The Poet”

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The end of the year is nigh!

The atelier year ends with two opportunities to show work: the Aristides Atelier Show and the Best of Gage. The atelier show is a classy ordeal with wine and cheese, think night at the symphony, and the best works of the year displayed in the fourth floor gallery and hallway. The Best of Gage is an art explosion, think Mardi Gras, with every wall of the building covered with art from all studios and classes inside of Gage Academy. The atelier show is obviously very important for our program. It’s our chance to let the outside world in and show off what we’ve been laboring on for the past nine months. Our show is on May 27, four weeks away, but our pieces need to be submitted in three weeks. Eek. Feels like yesterday I was saying we had six weeks. The final show, Best of Gage, is a month after our show on the last day of the school year. It’s crunch time.

A couple of weeks ago our model Randy finished his session with us and I’ve been inching toward a finish on his portrait ever since. Last week I finally varnished the painting (shown above). Randy is a poet and a longtime friend of our atelier. He and Juliette discussed the idea of a narrative set up for this pose in which he would be sitting in an environment. Just outside the frame of my canvas Randy held a pencil over a pile of paper on the desk in front of him. My classmates got really beautiful work out of this set up. Randy’s pose during this three week session reminded me of a beautiful Carravagio painting, St. Jerome Writing (1606). 

Caravaggio paintings are known for their masterful expression of light and shadow. In the St. Jerome painting this dramatic effect is achieved by using a full range of value (using the darkest darks and the lightest lights and everything in between) with a very dark background and pretty dark “background objects” such as the desk, fabric and books. This allows the objects of interest as well as objects partially peaking into the light to pop out in high relief.

The technique famously employed by Caravaggio is called Chiaroscuro (pronounced kee-ahr-uh-skyoor-oh) is Italian for light-dark, and there’s no one better at it than the 15th century Italians. It’s basically, as I just described, the use of high contrast between darks and lights throughout a whole composition.

With Randy I attempted a similar approach while still remaining true to value relationships I saw. I didn’t go black in the background because the room was not that dramatically lit and I didn’t want to have to make up any information I didn’t actually see. To start I unified the values of the background, fabric and desk to a not-quite Carravagio- background-black but to a pretty dark value. By unified I mean the background and objects are different colors but making them the same dark value unifies the shapes into one overall impression and the darkness allows them to recede back into the painting while the figure stands out.

Caravaggio’s  St. Jerome painting hangs in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. I haven’t seen it in person yet but I’m biding my time. And I’m spending that time hustling! “The Poet” will hang in the Aristides Atelier show on May 27.

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