A Critique with Vincent

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had an individual critique with Vincent Desiderio. This is the reason that one comes to school in New York City: to have an opportunity to interact with world class artists like Vincent Desiderio. I am really extremely fortunate to have had such an opportunity.

This was actually my third critique of the year with Vincent. The previous two dialogues were more on the level of composition and conception, which were equally illuminating. If I may summarize his opinions, he believes that Art is one of the few places left for one to exert an individual voice. Which means that painting, which the art world has been trying to destroy since abstraction became institutionalized, is one of the few truly human venues left. In a digital world where literally everything we come in contact with on a daily basis is mass-produced, it is a compelling—if romantic—world view. However, subscribing to such an idea means working to create paintings which are worthy of evoking the human, or rather, not producing works with any taint of banality or sentimentality. A worthy endeavor to be sure, but necessarily much more difficult than simply making a pretty picture.

Today’s discussion was less theoretical, but no less useful. I’m writing about the experience partly to help the advice I received to gel in my own mind, and partly because I know there are many people out there who would love to have had the experience.

Some of the thoughts:

  • The essence of color is in the half-lights, these areas need to sing
  • Need to think about the color of the light as well as the color of the environment
  • The half-lights will be reflecting pools of the environmental colors and often quite chromatic (think Delacroix)
  • For this reason, it is critical to get a background tone in very early on in the under-painting. It is impossible to paint the half-tones without knowing what the ambient hues will be
  • This is also why wipe-outs immediately look ‘good’ the lights are separated from the darks and the half-tones are the same chromatically as the ambient color
  • Despite evidence to the contrary, no great painter ever worked on true or even monochromatic grisaille. (I mentioned the Ingres painting in the Met that is described as an under-painting, but Vincent claims that the work was done to be used for creating a toned engraving and not as a painting)
  • Think about working in a “chromatic grisaille”
  • Temperature changes are one of the most effective ways of creating volume and getting forms to turn, you cannot leave this to the latter stages of the painting. Work on getting the temperature changes from the start. Warm lights will usually have cool shadows and vice versa
  • Capitalize on temperature changes to get forms to come forward or recede
  • Chalkiness and muddiness can usually be traced to the light and shadows having homogenous temperatures, e.g. cool light and cool shadows
  • Use your brightest light to organize the rest of the painting hierarchically
  • Pump the contrast, paintings should jump off the wall in terms of value
  • Trying to make brown ‘old-master’ paintings is inaccurate pastiche; the old-masters never made dark paintings—they were full of light. Paintings should not be dark, they should be illuminated
  • The use of a limited palette may be a form of reductivism and is not based on actual historical studio practice. It’s alright to start with a limited palette but you should quickly move on to a full palette
  • Work the entire canvas at once, it all has to work together chromatically, tonally and hierarchically. You cannot do this if you work piecemeal
  • Work in robust opposition to the ground tone, if the ground is dark and transparent, put in a background that is light and opaque.
  • Even with indirect painters, 90% of the painting is direct painting

Obviously I need to take some time to digest and formulate a new strategy for continuing my painting. I think a trip to the Met is in order—I need to see how much of this I can corroborate with the ‘old-masters’ and thereby internalize and make it part of my own studio practice.

Vincent Desiderio has been termed by Donald Kuspit as a ‘new old-master’ and one of the artists who is going to save the art world from itself. There’s a new monograph of Vincent’s work out as well: if you aren’t familiar with his work, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

– Jeremy

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