Land Marks II, ©John O’Grady 2015
Oil on canvas 8″ x 8″ x 0.75″. This piece is sold framed 11″ x 11″ x 1.5″ (see below).
I have visited The Courtauld Gallery in London on a few occasions. It is one of those art collections where I could spend days if not weeks. They have one of the finest collections of impressionist and post impressionist work but save your eyes, for lying in the bowels of the building in subdued lighting is the jewel in the crown: the gothic and medieval icons.
In the minimally lit atmosphere, the gold leaf glows. One can only imagine how a believer must have felt when faced, in a dark corner of a church, by the radiating light and vibrant colours of a Fra Angelico.
Not too far from the Courtauld, on the other side of the Thames river is the Tate Modern where the Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals are displayed in their own cathedral-like room.
It takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust in the darkened room and start experiencing something quite strange. The monumental paintings, like the small icons, seek to induce a spiritual experience and yet they achieve this in a different way. Here, you are drawn in by the inner light that starts to glow in a quiet whisper.
I have only recently found out that Rothko was an enthusiast of the light in Fra Angelico’s work and after viewing these two artists’ paintings, it starts to make sense.
Mark Rothko spent many years seeking and refining a way to imbue his work with an inner glow that expressed as he called it ‘the big emotions of tragedy, ecstasy and doom’. I don’t know whether he achieved these or not but I know I have experienced a strong emotional response when standing in front of his work, particularly the Seagram Murals.
What he did without the use of gold leaf was to make the colours intone a beautifully mournful song. It is quite extraordinary. He allowed colours and tones to shade gradually into one another and thus produced softened outlines and hazy forms very much like Da Vinci did with ‘sfumato’ (to tone down or evaporate like smoke).
He also used delicate glazes of colour to build luminosity into his lozenge shapes and cool and warm colours that move forward and recede. It is all technical but through his enormous efforts, his hand and mind’s eye were unified to transmit his vision.
In making this piece, as I layered a glaze of scarlet lake and violet paint over the brown of burnt sienna in the lower part of the painting, Rothko’s paintings’ inner glow came to mind.
Then, I scraped back to reveal the yellow orange underpainting and created lines and landmarks.
Above this focal point, a fine mist of puce colour intensifies the glowing, other-worldly quality as if the mountain has a life force within itself.
I would love to hear what you think.
Lately, John, your work leaves me searching for words. This is pulsing with life, and mystery.
Rather than moving more simplistically from hot to cool, the palette starts out in the foreground with blue and violet, growing warmer as the eye moves back through the landscape before landing on those veins of light and heat, as though something molten glows beneath the surface and yearns to be expressed. The land speaks to us here — looks almost ready to erupt. The mountains grow cooler again, and the sky, almost like an onlooker, is impassive and receptive. There is a sort of yin and yang balance at play. There is respect and reverence for the subject.
Your references to Fra Angelico and Rothko are right at home here. You seem to be breaking through barriers with every new painting. It’s exciting to watch this process. Thank you for inviting us in.
As always I read your comments with great interest and your insights into the painting have a beauty that leaves me searching for words. Thank you for your words of encouragement on breaking through, we’ll see where it takes us, fingers crossed!
Many congratulations John – the technical skill required to get the depth and glowing warmth is hard to imagine. It has a mysterious and elemental quality and like all of your paintings is full of atmosphere.
As per my previous comment I always look forward to reading your thoughts on any painting I make, it gives me food for thought for work ahead and a viewpoint that I don’t often see myself, this allows me to reflect on what I have done. So thank you very much and for your super commentary on the painting. I am working with glazes at the moment to try and achieve more depth and variety in colour, so hopefully something good might come out of it.
hi John, I found you via your comment on Eoin’s site. I like how it feels here, an artist quietly doing his work in a beautiful setting. No hard sell, just making beauty and craftsmanship available.
I really responded to this painting and to what you wrote about the various ways you were moved by the Rothko and Courtland exhibitions. I went to the Courtland last year and for some reason was disappointed. It was a grey February day and they were getting ready for some event. I think I had other expectations.
Your painting reminds me of Ed Sheeran’s song for the movie ‘the Hobbit’- ‘I see fire’. The colours are wonderful.
Thank you very much for visiting my site and subscribing, glad to here that you feel at home. I am sorry to hear about your experience at the Courtauld, I have only good memories myself. Thank you for your compliment on the painting, quite a few people have seen ‘fire’. kind regards John’