It’s time for another round-up of my ten picks from pastels collected through April. A number of landscapes persisted through the selection process and remained in the top ten – I think they brilliantly show off the many possibilities in pastel! There are also two unusual still life paintings, one amazing portrait and one dynamite figurative piece. So let’s get on and enjoy these astounding pastels!
Sunrise, a time I’m rarely up to see but when I do, I’m struck by the wonder of it all and usually think, Why don’t I always get up earlier?? This painting by Carol Strock Wasson captures the feeling I have at this time of day. It’s a simple subject of barn with a couple of bare trees silhouetted against the brightening sky. You might think of sunrise as a quiet time but this painting vibrates with life in the anticipation of the coming day. The light begins to spread across the land, hitting peaks of snow and edges of branches as it makes it way and I can begin to hear the drips of melting snow heated as it is by the rising sun. The snow on the ground is represented in a mix of colours all of which sit nicely in the same value range. The barn begins to show its local colour as the day breaks. Go and see more of the work of this plein air artist here.
In the previous pastel we were gaining light and colour with the rising sun. Here, colour disappears as the day comes to an end. Sunlight catches the tops of the trees and warms the field in the distance. The sky too is yet filled with light but much of the painting is dominated by cooled shadows left in the wake of a setting sun. Julie Greig has not only captured the effect of light admirably, she’s also filled her painting with the texture of unkempt trees and undergrowth, and of grasses around a creek, all of which makes the whole that much more tangible. There’s a sense of snow in the shaded areas. Here little colour remains in the muted cast yet we are gifted with a zigzag of colour reflected in the water. A hush descends. Although Greig has a website, you can see more of her work on her Facebook Page.
We go from the beginning and end of the day to one with full-on sunshine. The breeze blows catching and lifting my hair while the waves roll onto the shore, shifting the sands and pebbles beneath my feet. I laugh from the joy of a perfect day. There’s a feeling of immediacy in this pastel, the scene observed and recorded. I can know the hand of the artist as it applies the pastel at various angles and with both side and tip. Shireesh Dharap expertly uses the paper colour as part of the whole. It adds to the colour of the ground both in the foreground and the hillside beyond; it also warms the sea and the sky. The sea is that luminous turquoise colour seen only in the tropics. The fishing boats are in. Where are the fishermen? I am also curious about the structure on the bluff – is it a lighthouse or is it the remains of a lookout tower? Check out more of Dharap’s work here.
Here’s another example of a landscape in the warmth of midday. There’s no snow here, only the greens of a summer day. And although the greens aren’t spiced up with a selection of other colours (oranges, reds for example) they speak the truth of what is seen. As with the pastel above, the scene is surveyed and recorded, interpreted in a simple and unfussy way. I like that. The limited palette brings a colour harmony with it which invites me to investigate the subject. By placing deep shadows in the foreground, Espriella has successfully used the device of repoussoir which encourage us to move quickly into the scene. We follow the path to the gate and meadow beyond, passing the pond that reflects the sky in such a reductive way. Birds chatter in the trees, and perhaps a horse neighs up ahead. We walk the field exploring the spaces beyond the trees and eventually our eye is drawn back to our beginning spot. Go see Espriella’s website for more examples of her work.
It’s more difficult to discern the time of day in Silvia Bar-am’s painting. This pastel evokes in me a sadness. I’m not sure why. There’s a feeling of the vastness and glory of the land, of the earth itself, but also a feeling of something more being revealed than a mere chronicling of what is seen. There is the unseen to take into account also. The foreground is warm, the trees expressive and vital but a greyness veils the distant land and sky. Yes, we could say that’s aerial perspective in action but there’s a sense of something deeper being exposed. Certainly this piece is a showcase of much being said with very little. Go here to see more of Bar-am’s work.
We shift from the quiet and colours of contemplation and mystery to the swooning ecstasy of colour! You know that emotion that swells in you when experiencing a sunset where the clouds are transformed into billows of shifting ephemeral colour? This painting is that feeling! Here Susan Mayfield centers her attention on the sunset and the transitory nature of sundown. With exaggerated and saturated colour, she quickly and simply sets down her pastel strokes. Although the title is about the palms, the trees don’t distract from this daily event. Rather they enhance our experience with their dark silhouettes giving us something to measure the colour against. You can see more of Mayfield’s work here.
Speaking of emotional impact, this extraordinary figure by Crawfurd Adamson socks it to me! I’m in awe of his drawing skills. This exquisite pastel shows us a male figure seen from a very difficult perspective. Although fully three-dimensional, I love that you can still see the original contour in places, for instance the feet. The shadows on the body are created with rich colours of reds, greens and browns with the paper colour adding to the mix. The figure is strikingly lit and enhanced by the dramatic colour choices. Pastels are exploited to their utmost with painterly side use and drawing with the tip. It’s applied thinly in some areas and with gusto in others. Enjoy the use of red as light behind the ear, as reflected light along the left leg, as an area of colour moving from background through a lost edge into the right hand, as a glow on the back. Note too the size of this work! See more of Adamson’s work on his website. (I had a hard time choosing which piece to include here!)
From the expressive figure above, we come to the hyperrealism of this portrait by Catherine Creaney. There’s such detailed rendering especially in the textures, from the prickly stubble of the unshaven face, to the softness of the T-shirt, to the crisper fabric of the shirt. The title of the piece surfaces more questions than it solves. Who is this young man and what are his regrets? Are they concerns about something done (or not done) just the night before (a clue offered by the unshaven face) or is he remembering events from a more distant past which he regrets and has yet to let go or rectify? The softly furrowed brow, the downcast eyes, and the shirt rucked up over his shoulders all attest to the unease this man is experiencing. I find that the hard-edged pattern of the background prevents me from full-on sympathy and compassion. Or is the colour – all the greys – telling us that not all is as black and white as it seems on a first reading. What do you make of the background? For more of Creaney’s work, click here.
The next two pieces use the device of a very dark background to put our lighted attention square on the centre of interest. In Nancy Marshburn’s piece, a single pear is our focus. But this pear is rather different wouldn’t you say?! I’m fond of pears both to eat and to paint but this painting makes me uncomfortable. And I appreciate being jarred out of my familiarity with an object. I love the contrast between the realism of the cut pieces of the pear and the rather surrealistic stitching together of the fruit, like fabric or indeed, skin. The softness opposed to the harshness of the sutures adds to the dissonant feeling we sense. It’s real and yet it’s not. The darkness of the background makes most conspicuous, the hooked and pointed end as it ‘re-pears’ the pear. The piece also begs the question, why is this pear in need of repair? You can see more of Marshburn’s work on her website.
Deep beautiful darks set off the beauty of this ceramic container. Its carved flowers and intricate design are meticulously recreated with light and shadow. There’s a subtlety of colour not evident on a cursory viewing and it’s a treat to discover these – like the pink in the rose handle, the yellow in the carved piece in the side facing us, the pale blue reflected near the bottom of the tureen, the pale green gleam on the smooth surface of the cover. These colours are repeated in the more obvious macaroons. There’s a lovely contrast between the cold hardness of the porcelain and the soft delectable cookies. A delicious similarity also exists between the smooth and textured parts of both subjects. The off-centre placement of the main event plus the rather daring dominance of the dark background engenders curiosity about the set-up – where is this arrangement to be found and who will be lucky enough to eat those yummy looking macaroons?! See more of O Neill’s work here.
And those are April’s astounding pastels! What do you think of them? Do you have a favourite? Do tell us which it is and why you chose it. I sure appreciate your additions to these blog posts!
Thanks for joining me on this pastel journey.
Until next time,