Saturday, May 28, 2011

Visual Reality

I'm working on a wonderful painting - two little girls, sisters, holding hands, in a field of flowers. Whenever I paint people, I'm always amazed by one very profound fact: if I paint a person exactly they way the look, it will never look like that person. I know. It's very strange. I've examined this anomaly from a variety of perspectives. I can line up a building from graphs and copy it exactly and it looks exactly like the exact same building. I can line a person up from a graph and copy it exactly and it looks like a deformed freak.

Whaddup with that? To paint a person who looks like a person, this specific person, I have to draw not just that person, but that which is not that person. The girls' faces take shape by painting the sky behind them, not just the shape of their features. It's not a matter of painting precisely they way they stand, or the tilt of the head, but the imprecision of it - there is a spirit there that colors a person that is beyond the reach of physical technicalities.

The smile is dead on exactly the smile on the girl's face, but it's totally wrong until the sky behind her open mouth fills in and then the smile takes a substance it hadn't felt before. There is no obvious pink right there on her cheek in the photograph and no blatant highlight in the middle of it, but it is there and she doesn't look at all like her self until that is added.

I always surprise myself regardless of what I paint. I learn something about the subject. I learn something about myself. I learn something about God. In landscapes, in animals, in people, in every living thing, there is something more than the physical parameters of the thing. If you only capture the image, it will look all wrong - only when you reach in deeply to capture the spirit will it look anything like itself.


  1. It's the two-dimensional counterpart of the Uncanny Valley effect:

    Nana, Queen of totally USELESS knowledge.

  2. don't know if I agree that it's the same thing. The exact duplicate in paint just doesn't look right, like there's an ephemeral quality that adds something to a person's appearance separate and apart from their pure physical matter.