How do we "see"?
Here are two figure studies I created from direct experiences with live models. For each painting, I used only four tubes of paint: Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ochre, Black and White.
Any other sense of color created is an optical illusion. For example: I used no "blue" or "green"
paint, but these colors appear to the viewer's eye.
[Marissa by John Paul Thornton]
I literally began the painting with the single slash of light falling on the cheek below the shadowed eye socket. It was the lightest light that I saw. From there, I worked around the face, carefully observing and mixing the exact color and value of each plane change.
The light fell upon three distinct areas: The upper cheekbone, the collar bone and the breast. The breast itself was conceived as a simplified form of warm and cool color. Notice the dark accents which create the illusion of depth, and the sense of gravity.
For me, the most exciting painterly challenge for artists is the fusion of the three great languages of optical phenomena: Realism, Impressionism and Abstraction.
Optical Realism refers to the way light and dark describe forms, causing them to actually appear to our eyes, (particularly when we are focusing on a specific small area).
Impressionism refers to the way things appear to our eyes when we are not focused on them. Forms blur, begin to fall apart or shimmer.
Abstraction refers to the way forms lose their definite structure and recognizable clarity, (especially when they are in our peripheral vision).
Try this: look closely at your hand. Now focus on your index finger. As you are focusing on the clarity and texture of your digit, notice how your other fingers are not quite as sharp. Take it a step further: While still focusing on your index finger, notice how other elements radiating out from your focus are becoming blurred, unrecognizable shapes.
Of course, if you refocus to another finger or the various peripheral parts of the room you are in, then this new focus will become the clear realistic aspect, with other aspects suddenly becoming impressionistic and abstract...
Here's an example:
[Patricia By John Paul Thornton]
With my painting of Patricia, I began with the brightest sheen of highlight on her skin. This area of realism is most in focus and solid. From there I spiralled out, with each spiral becoming more impressionistic. This is the way our eye sees, focusing on one small area, with the areas in our peripheral vision becoming less sharp and defined. Her receding back and ribcage dissolve finally into abstraction according to the way my eyes experienced her.
Here is my area of greatest realism, and my area of focus.
Though her feet were closer to me than was her hip, her feet were not my intended area of focus. I painted them more impressionistic, in a kind of calligraphic shorthand. Individual accents of darkness give weight and clarity to form, while other edges soften and fuse to the surrounding background.
Finally, as my focus was not on her shoulders or head, I painted them as they appeared to my eye, as abstract shapes. This approach all depends upon what I choose as my area of focus. I could have chosen her ear, her toe, or an object in the room near her, and the whole painting would shift into a new combination.
This is how the three great languages of painting may exist on the same canvas simultaneously.
The other elements of creating came from my heart, from a place of emotion. A perception of their skin, their subtle movement, their breath, their physical presence... all of these components are quite personal. They are the ingredients of the most religious and sensual painting moments. However, to quote Picasso, "Art is never Chaste."