November 5, 2010
Justin Wisniewski Week: "Lucien"
This is a painting I finished the year before going to graduate school. It is a portrait of my dog, Lucien. He really did not enjoy posing for photos and thought he was in trouble for some reason. I remember taking many photos of him but I never quite got the perfect one and I had to use pieces and parts from a few different images to make it the way I wanted. When it comes to photographing dogs, you often have to take what you can get.
Like yesterday's piece this one also has a more melancholy tone--someday I hope to make another, more upbeat painting of him. I remember working to create what I wanted to be an interesting blue color right at the very beginning and then I mixed the warm, pale gray color to go with it. I knew I also wanted to use some pure blacks and tiny areas of pure white which is something I do in almost all of my paintings. I like to have full value and temperature variety.
I try to paint areas of pure black as if they are an abyss. This is why this painting has thicker light areas and very thin dark areas so that the texture of the paint itself does not catch the light from the room.
For the last two years I used this image on my business cards which was very helpful when I wanted to take photos of strangers' dogs. When people saw my dog painting they often wanted their own dog drawn or painted as well. I'm even working on a commission of an old, Scottish lurcher right now that I'm really enjoying.
Regarding the blacks, I admit this piece makes use of them in a strange way. Because the composition is so loud there existed the possibility for great tension between the shapes of the composition and the visual image of a dog most people have in their minds. Strict realism seamlessly integrated into a strong and perhaps unexpected composition is one of the things great paintings are made of. Because the image was so straightforward integrating it into a dynamic composition was a challenge.
And I really struggled with this composition. Just like in the "No Spring..." drawing from yesterday I wish I had integrated some of the compositional aspects better. For instance, I simply could not think of what the large, curved, black shapes could be (while maintaining plausibility and not taking away from the focus of the piece) and I struggled for a long time to think of something for the blue shape as well. Near the very end, I settled on some bars or beams (?), which came from the backside of a futon couch. The floor and door idea also took me a very long time to think of and paint in. Essentially, I fell in love with the composition because of how the shapes composed and interacted with Lucien as well as with the format, and I didn't consider the difficulty of integrating the other shapes when I painted them.
Other than that, I am very happy with how Lucien himself turned out. He is a black dog with a white chest and sort of a white ring around his nose, so looking at this painting after not seeing it for two years was strange to me. I'm pleased with his face and the foreshortening on his snout as well as the slightly warmer tone to the light areas of his head. I am also happy with the brushwork on his chest and snout.
I hope to exhibit this work at the Royal College of Physicians exhibit in Edinburgh next month.