The other day I was having a conversation with Laura Macky and she was saying how she wants to start looking at paintings and artists from other times, or something to that effect. When I was doing my fine art degree it was just something we had to do, Art History. It was an important part of learning, to look at the work of other artists, and not just in the medium you were working in. They were all important, painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers, drawers, all of them. Everytime I would start working on something new, one of my tutors would tell me about another artists to go and look at. It was an interesting process, looking at the work of those would give you ideas for your own work, and sometimes reading about them would help you understand what it was that you were trying to do. It is something I miss about Uni, having someone to introduce new artists to you.
Since then I’ve heard other artists saying the same thing. I was listening to something on Joel Grimes one day and he said how in art school it was something that you did, and how much you could learn from it. It is something that I still do today, and it is still important. We can learn so much looking at paintings from other times.
It is good to know what sort of work you are interested in, for me, I’ve always been drawn to work that tells a story. Work that draws you into the image.
Edward Hopper, for me, was one of the biggest influences. He told stories with his paintings. I know they were all set up, and he could do things that we as photographers couldn’t, unless we really set the scene up. It was something that made me stop loving photography for a few years until digital came in. I liked how painters could invent their realities, in a way you couldn’t with film photography. Of course, now, digital has changed that a lot and it is possible to to do it so much more now. Artists have been creating their own realities for centuries.
Anyway, getting back to the story telling. I have started realising that it is something I want in my images, I like the idea of story, or giving a place something. Perhaps that was part of the reason why I disliked landscape photography for so long, because I couldn’t find the story in it, not like the painters did. Recently I was watching Ian Shive, an American National Parks photographer and he was saying that you have to find the story. Work out what you want to say with the image. That makes sense to me. I have started noticing the way I approach landscapes has changed after hearing that.
Rembrandt was a master of painting scenes, painting what he saw. His images tell you something about the way people lived, good or bad.
Vermeer did the same, setting up scenes that were about every day life. Though, many paintings do depict people in everyday situations, there were others painting and adding different stories and different types of drama into their work.
George Stubbs painting of the horse being attacked by a lion, is so powerful. I think all of us have seen different depictions of this. Our National Gallery of Victoria also has a sculpture of it. This is theatre in paintings. We don’t need to see the moving image, we know what happens, and the emotions are still there.
You have to mention Turner and he landscapes, seascapes and the intense drama that pulls you into the image.
Of course, putting drama into his landscapes was Ansel Adams, a master of the landscape. He used darkroom techniques to turn something ordinary into some extraordinary. Someone many of us look up to.
So, by looking at paintings you can see how the artists manipulated scenes through their brushes and paint to create something very powerful. They did have the artistic talent to put there what wasn’t there, to invent the lighting, and to remove what they didn’t like. It is something, that seems very frowned upon in the world of photography. I don’t listen to that, I do what the masters did, when I can, I create the reality in my image that I want to create, send the message that I think is important. You often don’t see the reality in my images, I play with it, change the lighting and make the reality the one I want you to see. For inspiration I look at paintings and study what they have done.
Getting to galleries and seeing paintings is a great thing to do, but one place I have always enjoyed visiting is Art cyclopedia, an online gallery of sorts. Whenever I hear of a new artist, it is one of the first places I go to. It will give me information about the artist, and where you can find their work. I also like how you can look at movements. Unfortunately I don’t think the site is being kept up to date anymore and a lot of the links no longer work, but if you are interested in a particular styles it can be a good place to start. I was looking at landscapes yesterday and found a couple of new artists, and I have some of their work here for you.
I am going to put some paintings, and photographs from artists that have been massive influences on me, and who I often turn to when I need inspiration. Do you find inspiration in paintings? Which artists are you drawn too? What type of artwork draws you in?