May is here, by date anyway if not by weather conditions (I’m still bundled up in fleecy sweaters!). But the beginning of a new month heralds another blog of ten amazing pastels, pastel paintings that have grabbed me for some reason over the past month. Have a look.
Ah the imperiousness and certainty of youth is definitely on view here! The viewpoint from below enhances this characteristic as does the placement of the head high up on the paper. There is something about this young man’s teenage moodiness that reminds me of Russian portraits from the turn of the last century. The colours used in this portrait – primarily variations of browns – also engender this feeling of a time past.
The face is the main event, pulled out as it is from the looseness of the background. On the left, the profile is almost carved out with a hard edge while on the right side, the hair melds into the lighter brown of the background. The analagous palette of warm yellows, red, and browns unify the whole and serve to keep our attention on the face.
The seriousness of the model, partly seen in the downturn of the mouth and slight tension around the eyes, generate a curiosity in us – what does this youth ponder? Or is he just thinking, “I have better things to do than this!” I like the combination of painting and drawing in this piece. And as an art historian with a particular love of drawing, I ask you if you noticed the vestiges of a hand that suggests the original idea was to show the model with crossed arms? I love these small remains of the initial idea.
Check out more of Susan Putnam-Jenson’s work here.
From the gravity of the first portrait we come to this one, lit with a smile that radiates love. That smile, who is it for? For children? spouse? humanity? This is the face of a woman who has come this far through the ups and downs of life and still looks forward, demurely, with acceptance and hope. You can see this in the gentle tilt of her head, the lift of the lips into a half a smile that may break open any minute, the crinkle of smile lines around her eyes.
The artist has also captured the fleshiness of her nose, the softness of her cheek, the coarseness and wave of her hair, the details of eyelids and eyes. On the right, the face is in high contrast to the darkness of hair behind it whereas on the right, the hair is lightened and blends into the cool background.
The distinctness of the flower on her blouse makes sure we move around the painting rather than remain mesmerized by her eyes and smile, following her glance out of the picture. This detail also tells us more about this person – she’s unafraid to wear bold patterns despite her reserved disposition, and she’s also a nature-lover. The dominance of muted cool greens surround and set off the warm colours of the model’s face, colours that reinforce that feeling of kindness she emits. This piece celebrates and makes a star of this unassuming yet gently giving woman.
I couldn’t find a website for this artist but you can check out him out on Facebook.
With this portrait, I’m fascinated by the perfection and clarity of the face against the abstract and colourful background. Her mask-like face reminds me of Greek sculpture from the classical period where often the eyes were hollowed out or at least, shown without irises. Yet here we don’t have the glum and severe aspect of that sculpture. Instead we have the warmth of flesh and blood with a sweet tentative smile.
And yet still I feel the notion of a mask. The surfaces are so smooth and glow with a sheen one might find on polished wood. We all wear a mask of some sort at times. And this mask hides the turmoil of our hearts and minds. This turmoil is revealed here in the shapes, intense colour, and evident marks of pastel in the background. All this is in such contrast to the calm purity and finish of the face.
Along with the abstracted background, the underpainting too offers a sense of excavation. Like many Greek and Roman sculptures, this face and figure too have been excavated from the mess and chaos surrounding them. The underpainting also reminds us of the hand of the painter, that all the pastel marks that coalesce into a face, are merely illusion.
Check out more work by this artist here.
I was drawn to the mysterious push and pull of shapes in this painting. You look and as you look, the shapes begin to take on some specificity – a wing, an animal head, a thigh, a torso, raised arms, a lily, other world creatures. These forms emerge and then dissolve as the eye moves on. A shape moves forward but, as another is seen, the first retires. Hard and soft edges as well as the play of colours – the advancing of warm ones and the receding of cool – support this perception.
The diagonal movement upward is made steady by shapes that connect to the sides of the painting as well as by the hidden mysteries in the darkness on the lower right. And then we are back at the base of the work to start our ascent again. There’s a feeling of emergence..or is it a feeling of escape? You could also read a descending (falling) motion rather than an ascending (leaping) one.There is a sense of theatricality about the piece.
The warmth of colours banishes some of the disquiet related to the darkness. By leaving the edge of the black support visible, the artist brings us back to the paper surface, negating all illusion of depth.
You can see more of this artist’s work on her website.
Another mysterious piece that begs the question: what is this about? It’s not very large but it has the feeling of immensity. Three horizontal bands of varying widths – two dark, one light – make up this painting. It’s an abstracted landscape, where sky meets land at a distant red-marked horizon. The rising sun throws out rays that illuminate strange metallic-like plant forms. When you look beyond this perception, you can see that the artist has made marks in grey on black. Some of these grey strokes are flecked with a lighter pastel and this instantly returns the lustre of metal.
The sky above is full of curves and swaths of cool colours with soft transitions. This is in profound contrast to the earth below with its harshness and sensation of drought and death. The light ahead blinds us. The red line at the horizon unnerves us.
The whole thing is unsettling yet the stipples of light create a kind of route for us to follow toward the glow in the distance. But underneath some of the grey marks we also see strokes of red lining the path. What are we to make of these? The hardship of blood, sweat, and tears? This won’t be an easy passage. Do we step forward or stay static with no hope of change or growth? A difficult decision we all have to make at some point. Yet we are prompted and encouraged to take the step.
I was unable to locate a website for this Paul Holmes! Here’s his Facebook profile for now.
A much smaller piece than the one above, it too gives the impression of being much larger than it is. This landscape is also divided into three bands running across the painting. Here the horizon is low and dark but without the edginess of the previous painting. A storm is brewing but we head for safety drawn towards the warm colours of the setting sun.
The boldness of marks in the clouds creates their fullness and sets them roiling. So many variations of grey can be found there, all of which intensifies the band of pinks and yellows of the sunset. It is the clouds that are the focus of this painting with the small amount of land in silhouette grounding us and giving us a context for a narrative. With so little used to describe the scene, we see a road (double yellow line), cars coming and going (two dots of red, two dots of light), trees, bush, and telephone poles.
With the telephone cables, we see the power of the diagonal line to bring us into the picture. Without these, the picture remains static. The texture and variety of marks and colours in the clouds keeps me looking and coming back for more.
Sadly I was unable to locate a website for this artist and so I offer his Facebook profile.
Speaking of mark-making, here we initially see only the dibs and dabs of pastel in an abstract piece. And then, as we start to examine the work, it resolves itself into a landscape – we see grass, ferns, reflections in water, a tree, leafy cast shadows. If we relax our exploration, it all dissolves back into the purity of colour and mark. I’m intrigued by this momentary cohesion of shapes and colours into a subject. The more we look, the more the whole thing moves from abstract towards a traditional landscape which then separates into shapes and colours again. It seems this painting reveals how, as artists, we see the world – flipping back and forth between form and content.
Analagous colours of yellows, greens, and blues, run through the whole gamut of values from dark to light. Hard and soft edges, big and small shapes, the diagonal from upper left to lower right – all these are aspects of picture making and also, illusion-making. The artist has, with elegant simplicity, offered us the essence of nature.
See more of Amy Gamble’s work here.
Fearless is the word that comes to mind when I see Tony Allain’s work. He has the ability to take complex scenes and strip them down to their core essentials. He then takes these elements and offers them up to us with bold strokes and a full range of values – from the deepest black to the purest white.
Here you can see how values and dominance play the main role in his work with colour being the secondary actor. And with that limitation, the nuggets of pure colour pop out at us, drawing our attention without effort. These are enclosed with line and gestural marks. And all of it takes up only about a third of the painting’s square footage.
The painting has a high horizon line and most of the area below it is left in a state of simplicity. Bold wide swaths of colour give us the info we need to recognize the beach at low tide (which inhabits almost two thirds of the piece). Complete minimalism is seen in the sky where it looks like Allain has left the paper untouched. Even the pier itself is shown with the most minimal of indicators.
Movement is created by the lines from the boats as well as the angle of the pier. The two ropes from the boats create a roadway of exit for us as well as a place of entry. A skilled draughtsman, Allain doesn’t get caught up in the details yet manages to suggest the intricacies of masts and rigging. Minimal marks for maximum effect.
You can see more of Tony Allain’s work here.
I am totally charmed by this piece. The little girl opening (or closing) the white umbrella kept bringing me back. The action gives movement to the picture and points our attention to the figures slowly making their way up the hill. We’re stopped by the sharp dark shadow that attests to the heat of the day. We follow the shape of the shade across the painting to the detailing of what looks like concrete blocks stacked and either loaded or just unloaded from the cart. A indistinct figure at the far left arouses our curiosity as to what he/she is doing but soon we again look at the young girl.
She stands, toes slightly turned in, concentrating on what she’s doing with the umbrella. The umbrella is decorated with a floral design which seems a perfect reflection of her pre-puberty innocence. She wears what looks like a lacy transparent dress over a white bathing suit or underclothes. Who is she? Is she related to the woman who strides forward ahead of her?
All the figures have their faces hidden which not only gives them anonymity but also a universality – of people going about their daily lives. Notice how the artist balances the simplicity of background directly behind the girl (which shows her up beautifully) with the details in the upper half of the picture.
I could find no website for this artist so put you in touch with him via Facebook.
I was drawn to the warmth and interesting shapes of this pastel by Rick Stevens. At first glance, you notice the big colourful shapes, rounded and piled up in a higgledy piggledy way. They’re partially held together by a backdrop of orange. And then you notice the dark vertical line near the bottom of the piece which seems to wind its way upward and sprout green shapes that could be leaves (or not). Two thin lines echo the dark one and create a frame for the whole, containing it. They reinforce the upward movement but also ground it.
I can’t help but sense landscape elements – tree, leaves, earth, sky, distant hills. It’s our natural world and yet not. An alternative view would be one looking down from the air at fields and villages or watching a computer game in action. The more you look, the more you see and the more you can create possibilities about what you are seeing.
I am enthralled by the textures and overlays, the lines and squiggles, the shapes – large and broad, small and intricate, the bright colours. In this painting, the form is as important or more so than the content.
For more of Rick Stevens’s work go to his website.
So there’s my choice of amazing pastels for this month. You know I want to hear what you think about them. Did any jump out at you? Were you surprised by any? Did you look more closely at any of these amazing pastels after your first glance? Do please leave a comment 🙂
Have a question regarding anything pastel? Why not set up a 15-min call with me – it’s FREE!
Until next time,