(click above for larger image)
For the past few years Gamblin, the artist’s oil paint company, has sponsored a painting competition. The competition focuses on Torrit Grey, a color Gamblin makes by combining all the pigment caught in the Torit-Donaldson filtration system Gamblin uses to keep the air clean from the (sometimes toxic) pigments. Basically Torrit Grey is a combination of all the colors Gamblin produces. The resulting grey is rather dull & it’s hard to believe it’s the synthesis of all the (or a good part of the) spectrum made by Gamblin. Other details of the competition have to do with using Torrit Grey, black, & white oil paint only. This will/should produce a value only painting. Value can be black & white & every shade in-between. Colors can also have value; say a light–green to a dark-green. Essentially artists are being asked to create a black & white painting.
Making a black and white painting got me excited to enter the competition. I have used very little white paint in the painting; most of the white is just the primer/gesso showing through the Torrit Grey & black. Considering its small size (1 sq. foot), this painting took two months to paint—give or take a day or two. As of lately I’ve been painting in a somewhat photo-realist vein & I can’t say I’m a strict photo-realist, rather I work in a photo-realist style. For the subject of this painting I used a photo where I arranged the objects, rather than photographing what-ever chance or circumstance presented. Usually when an artist paints a still life with a skull & or objects symbolizing mortality & the ephemeral aspects of life, it’s a still-life yes, but it can be also be called a vanitas painting. The vanitas theme was popular in 15th & 16th century Holland. Vanitas paintings are said to be statements on the vanity of life, the transience of life, & indeed the end of life. They are reminders of our eventual end & can urge us to celebrate the moments (the momentary aspects) of life as well. The term ‘vanitas’, is after the biblical quotation from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (1:2): ‘Vanitas vanitatum… et omnia vanitas’, translated ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. A vanitas painting is a moralizing painting, something to learn from, a way of illustrating the frailty of life & how attachment to material things is somehow an empty fulfillment. This idea is not without contradictions, take for example the notion that the painting itself might become valuable someday & then it might in turn become a vanity statement itself because of its precious & unique qualities. With my vanitas painting I’ve selected little things that symbolize some activities/interests/passions that are important to me & that fit into the tradition of vanitas painting; such as a (plastic) skull (to represent mortality), apples (to represent food & its fragility), bubbles (to represent transience & the fleeting moment). Other inclusions were just as symbolic, as in the I-pod (to represent music), books (to represent learning), paintbrushes (to represent my love of art) orbs (to represent the mysteries of life) &c. &c. &c…