When an artist attempts to depict a particular feeling in a painting, he/she will consider aspects such as light, composition, subject matter, technique, colour and so on. Artists that successfully capture a specific mood in a painting will have taken the majority, if not all, of these details into account. For example, one can study Van Gogh's 'Old Man in Sorrow' and come to the conclusion that there was clear consideration in regard to colour, painting technique, subject matter and light. One can also note that Van Gogh sought to explore a deeper meaning in this painting; behind what appears to be, at first, very simple and meaningless is a profound, darker meaning. He asks the viewer to question the very position the protagonist finds himself, something that one may consider odd - what is interesting about the way the figure sits? The arched-backed man, the centre piece of the painting, portrays the over-riding theme of depression and psychological instability that emanates throughout the painting. These themes were very much a part of Van Gogh's life, but the way in which he uses colour, light and technique to present these concepts is worthy of great admiration.
Another example of this can be found in Peter Paul Rubens's beautiful depiction of the story of Samson and Delilah from The Old Testament. In the story, Samson, a Jewish Hero, falls in love with Delilah but mistakenly tells her the secret of his great strength: his uncut hair. Ruben captures the moment when a Philistine soldier cuts Samson's hair, draining his strength, allowing for his capture. The scene is not only compositionally complex, but it is extremely clever in its portrayal of the mood of the story. The slouched figure of Samson is painted in such a way as to show his ever-growing weakness. He slouches over Delilah completely lifeless. What's more, in the background the viewer is drawn to the statue of the goddess of love, Venus and Cupid - a reference to the cause of Samson's fate. It is clear here, like in Van Gogh's piece, that Rubens paid close attention to light, composition, technique and colour in trying to capture the overall mood of the piece.
Throughout my second year of A levels, my subject focus centred on the expression of figures, the inner-workings of the mind and the ways in which the psychological agony of a character can influence their body language and the ways in which they express themselves. I drew inspiration from Christopher Thompson, a contemporary artist who's work is primarily displayed in the Albemarle Gallery in London. Thompson's pieces typically depict a single character in some sort of psychological despair. The images fascinatingly incorporate dark and light spaces so as to highlight the figure amongst the darkness of the surroundings. 'On a Misty Morning' (Left), for example, portrays a figure contemplating something whilst gazing out over a lake. The viewer is given no indication as to what the figure is thinking about or why he is in the situation we find him. He is the centre of the painting, standing out against the blurred background of greenery. We can consequently identify the man as the most important feature of the painting, as Samson is in Ruben's piece and as the old man is in Van Gogh's piece. Thompson has purposefully drawn attention to the man because he wants the viewer to create their own story for him. This idea, which carefully and fascinatingly reappears in Thompson's other paintings, was something that accompanied me through my A2 studies. Even in Thompson's more elaborate compositions in which more than one character appears, each person is self-contained, cut off from the other members of the story. In each of these paintings, the figures emerge from the darkness or stand out against it. I sought to create pieces that followed this idea, but that also incorporated the anguish of psychological despair.
The psychological is, in my opinion, clearly prominent in the first two of my paintings shown above: 'Lying in the Woods' and 'Contemplation in the forest'. Chronologically, the latter ('Contemplation in the Forest') precedes the former ('Lying in the Woods'). In 'Contemplation in the Forest', we see a single figure sat up, but curled together in a ball. The painting is, colour-wise, extremely bright not only to show the time of day/year, but also to show that it is merely the character that is experiencing this psychological angst. The head-in-lap expression of the character reasserts this notion, but also suggests that he is truly struggling with whatever is bothering him. The viewer is forced to question why the character has no top or socks on. This painting is made up of two images: a photograph of me in my kitchen and my own photograph of Simon's Wood in Crowthorne. I cut myself out using photoshop and super-imposed my body into the image. I used this method instead of actually sitting topless in the wood because it was extremely cold at the time.
Whilst painting this piece, I had to overcome a number of barriers. Firstly, I had to ensure that the figure remained at the centre of the painting. To do this, I had to play close attention to what was in the foreground and what was in the background. I did not want any other feature to compete with the character. What was towards the back of the painting had to be blurred - this was done by feathering with a softer brush. Elements that were closer became stronger, but remained as mere shapes of light and dark. The only piece that is detailed, so to speak, is the tree that the character leans on. One area that I felt needed to be redone during the painting was the grass in the foreground. Initially, this was extremely detailed with carefully painted leaves and blades of grass. As the painting progressed, however, I found that this took focus away from the figure and consequently had to blur this area. One thing that I think worked extremely well was the way in which the trees to the left fade into the distance. This is my favourite aspect of the painting. If I were to change one thing, I would reconsider the colour of the figure; I would tone down the Burnt Sienna that was used for the skin so that it is not as strong. Ultimately, however, I feel the painting was/is largely successful - it depicts the mood that I desired.
As my studies came to a close, my work became darker. I became more focussed on the relationship between light and dark and started to make pieces that were similar to that of Thompson's. My final piece: 'Lying in the Woods' (above) was the end result of my coursework study. In the painting, we see a figure lying face up in a forest. The only light in the painting comes from the moon in the background which lights a path through the trees to the figure's body. Once again, like in the previous piece, I took a photograph of myself inside and superimposed the image onto a photograph of a woodland near my house. The original photograph was extremely bright, so I experimented with changing the colour with paint to darken it. The painting is my favourite of the three that are shown in the gallery above. The figure's mood can be directly compared to the darkness that surrounds him; he is clearly contemplating something, but like Thompson, I did not want to reveal what this was. I started this piece by painting the figure. I continued by painting the sky, the ferns, the grass and finally the leafless trees that sit in front of the Evergreens. I painted the canvas in this way so as to push the sky into the background and to bring the figure forward against the grass and trees. I used 'Hooker's green' together with 'Titanium White' and Black to paint the ferns and 'Raw umber' mixed with 'Titanium White' for the figure's skin. Overall, I feel that the painting was extremely successful as it accurately portrayed the mood that I intended and is, in my opinion, aesthetically beautiful.
For my exam piece, I studied the work and processes of the Pre-Raphaelites. The idea for this project was to 'Reinterpret the Past'. The Pre-Raphaelites's main idea was to reinterpret the ideas and stories of the bible, as well as to reinterpret notions from poetry and literature. This drew me to them. Throughout my exam work, I focussed on their idea of reinterpreting the beauty of nature. My final piece, which is my own interpretation of John Everett Millais's piece 'Ophelia', portrays a teenager who is lying in a bath. This figure, depicted by me, has not drowned, but lies staring upwards, contemplating something which is not immediately obvious. The piece incorporates a flower to the left of the figure, making reference to the beauty of nature that I studied earlier on in the topic. The piece is intended to be Romantic similarly to the original. This is emphasised by the warmth of the skin of the figure and the subject matter. I feel that this painting was largely successful, but if I were to do it again, I would make the figure appear more submerged in the water.