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Friday, 6 October 2017

Spotlight: Earth, Fire, and liquid sunlight

How will the sun set? How will it rise?
What are your pigments, and do they change with the seasons, as light does, and the fruits and vegetables brought from nearby farm holdings, and displayed on market stalls?
What is the palette of Autumn? If Autumn has an element, it seems to be Earth tones, yellows and browns of leaves and fields, before Winter’s pale air and freshness. 

'Autumn Sunset', Brian Pier, oil on canvas
Autumn also has fire: blazing reds of berries and maples, mottled apples, and the smell of bonfires.
 
Summer and Autumn harvest clearly inspires extra-terrestrials to do a bit of imagery too, typically choosing wheat as their medium.
Cley Hill, Wiltshire, 18th July 2017
Tintoretto was the son of a dyer. He used carmine, the insect-derived pigment, rather early in the pigment’s history, and overtly unblended in paintings such as ‘The Miracle of the Slave’ (1548) for his pinkish-reds which, at the time, would have had novelty appeal as well as visual drama.
Indian Yellow, was once produced by collecting the urine of cattle that had been fed only mango leaves. Dutch and Flemish painters of the 17th and 18th centuries favoured it for its luminescent qualities, and often used it to represent sunlight*. Indian Yellow’s apparent glowing quality may have had something to do with the unusual way it was applied at the time, in pure form between layers of clear varnish rather than as regular oil paint. However it had another peculiarity. Colours fade in direct sunlight: “photodegradation”. Ultraviolet rays break down chemical bonds, fading and bleaching colours, and this can be seen as part of natural decomposition, returning to earth, and returning pigments to less intense, more dusty hues. 
The odd thing about Indian Yellow is that its intensity faded more in darkness than in sunlight. A painting left in subdued lighting would later appear dull, whereas one which had stood resplendent in a brightly windowed room would retain its glowing vibrance. Which is chemically mystifying, but may make some sense when we consider that sunlight nourished it from the beginning – thin cattle in the baking sun of India, and as foodstuffs go, you can’t get much more sunny than mangoes. Mango leaves are designed specifically to catch sunlight, and turn it into mangoes. It seems no surprise that, as a pigment, sunshine yellow fades in darkness, but thrives in light. Like most of us.
It is by taking in light that we see paintings. 
Have fun choosing your palette, considering your pigments, and touching the paint, the powders, the apples on the market … all that comes from light, and makes you glow. 

* Indian Yellow is now made synthetically, from magnesium euxanthate, the original methods having been deemed to constitute animal cruelty in the late 19th Century, and the import and its small industry vanished soon after.

Sources : Wikipedia, of course
Crop circle Cley Hill, Wiltshire, 18Jul17: Wrekin crop circle 2012, 400m: The circle appeared on the weekend of 21st, 22nd July 2012, with confirmed reports from local farmers that it appeared between the times of 2300 hours on 21st July and 0600 hours on the 22nd July. Read the full article via shropshirelive.com at: https://www.shropshirelive.com/2012/07/26/mystery-crop-circle-appears-by-the-wrekin/
Crop Circle from above – Photo: Jim Holmes Copyright 2012

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