On Easter Sunday, Pete Rose (not The Pete Rose) came into my studio and looked at the 36″ x 30″ on my easel. “Where’s that?” he asked. “Nowhere,” I said, “It’s a veduta ideata.” Puzzlement flickered across his face, but not for long. He was in for the Easter eggs. Pete’s six. A veduta ideata is a realistically conceived scene that contains wholly imaginary elements. It’s an Italian word that originally meant paintings of non-existent dungeons, or well-known buildings transferred from one city to another. Canaletto and Piranesi pioneered the form in the 16th Century. These days there’s all manner of visual morphing — insect beings, Martians and transformers acting and reacting in artificial environments. Veduta ideata is alive and well and living in video.
In my case I was bumbling through a pre-named acrylic called “Precious Islet.” Sometimes I title a painting first in order to focus on what I want to get across. I was trying to show the cozy, insular nature of a small island in Lake of the Woods. I know it may sound pretentious, but I was looking for the “essence of islandness.” At the same time the black pines had to be characteristic, the rocks local, the feeling of space and northern light to befit the place. But this was not somebody’s real estate. It was to be no island in particular and all islands in general.
Many artists come to the conclusion that most subjects need some form of modification — idealization, redesigning, solidifying, stylization. Something that we’ve learned from photography is that the plain truth barely flies unless there’s a sub-plot. Human imagination, however subtle or however outrageous — is the killer tool. It can happen with lens, brush, pen or chisel. Artist — omit imagination at your peril. The stuff in the picture may not exist. But if you get it right, the spirit of the stuff will exist in the picture.
Pete found all the studio eggs. “If you want it, I’ve got a chocolate Volkswagen in the fridge,” I said. Pete screamed at the idea. On our way to the kitchen he said, “You can mould anything you want out of chocolate.”
PS: “The real truthfulness of all works of imagination–sculpture, painting, and written fiction–is so purely in the imagination that the artist never seeks to represent positive truth, but the idealized image of a truth.” (Edward Bulwer-Lytton)
Esoterica: A useful exercise is to look at subject matter and try to see human qualities. “Anthropomorphic” means seeing human form in inhuman objects. Trees pray to the sky, brooks babble, bunnies giggle. “When a painter does a work that appears to be false and lying, that falsity may be the truth.” (Michelangelo) “The truth is more important than the facts.” (Frank Lloyd Wright)
America that might have been
by Jerry Lucey, Mexico
I do so much enjoy the idea of creating my own world within my art, since the vast majority are scenes of Americana, I think of it as the America that might have been, but never was. Something in the painting might exist, but then it is transferred in time or place. Most of the basic information has been gathered in my travels of the back roads of the United States and Canada. A lot is a mental file, fond memories. Now, I live in Mexico, but north of the border still dominates my work.
More essential elements kick in
by Jennifer Garant
Being self-taught I did not even know such a term as veduta ideata existed. Just as when you first sit down to talk to someone — you first make a connection on a visual level — then you begin communicating and registering on a different level. This is true in communicating with paintings. In most work there is a certain visual recognition and acknowledgement — then the other more essential elements, if you put them there, take over and form the main basis of appeal.
Danger in pre-naming works
by Odette Nicholson
It seems to me that by pre-naming a painting that is being done strictly from imagination drafted elements might be brought into a position of control. This might defeat the potential truth and beauty by beating them down with facts.
by Janet Morgan
After seeing Emily Carr, Charles Burchfield, Marsden Hartley and others take landscape paintings to wild and unexpected places, I was freed up to respond to landscape in my own way. The watercolors, 26″ by 40″ that I did after spending time in the American Southwest just poured out of me, they are about the feel and mystery of the land, and how people have related to it over time. My Bolivian friend’s term for my landscapes is viajes interior, or interior voyages.
Just the facts
by Lisa Spreacker, Mukilteo, WA, USA
Your six year olds’ question of ” where’s that?” reminds me of an anecdote in The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. It seems the little boy asked, “How do you write (a story)?” Taking him at his word she gave him the blow by blow process. Then, with the exasperated sigh of a child used to being misunderstood he said, “No, do you write with a pencil or use a typewriter?” When someone asks about my art I usually try to find out what they mean before I answer. Do they want the truth or just the facts?
Changes from the mind
by Lynette Byers
Today I received the first of many, I hope, of your letters. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was very pleased. I have been trying to paint a picture exactly as I had photographed it and was having some problems. Now I can’t wait to get back at it and put in some changes from my mind.
by James Preston, UK
Most of the excitement for artists involves the effect that their imaginations might make on commonplace subject matter. This is what keeps us alive. But the general collecting public has long since preferred the conservative images. They haven’t traditionally wanted too much mind stretching. Even the so called avant garde collectors pretty much buy what they are sold — assured by agents and dealers of the safety of collecting “unsafe” art. There are times when I think things are changing for the better, but in a mistaken world with mistaken motives it is only minor.
by Nu Nu, Hong Kong
The way to create effective veduta ideata is to allow crossover ideas to come in. Crossover ideas come when you sit back and allow your mind to “play” with a subject. Very often I will copy a female image from a fashion magazine and then make moves to say enlarge breasts and narrow waists. From there it is easy and possible to give her the head of an insect or the appendages of a crab.
Paintings from memory alone
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
I knew that there was a name for my style of painting! “veduta ideata” Or as I would say, not knowing this term, it was “out of my head.” I prefer to paint in this manner over any reference aids. I find the challenge of making something look realistic from memory alone is the most rewarding. Just as one studies a photo for detail, I’ll study nature, then lock it into my memory and use it in future paintings.
Keep painting thin and flexible
by Liz Reday, CA, USA
One of my teachers, the great painter Joseph Mendez, pointed out that in the initial stages of laying in the composition, everything should be as thin and flexible as possible so that corrections can be made, shapes moved, drawings altered until that final composition is right and good to go on to the next stage. In the words of Ms Frizzle of The Magic School Bus, “Get messy, make mistakes!”
No bullfighter here
by Jane Dunne-Brady, Silver City, NM, USA
Approaching one’s easel as if one were a bullfighter is a very male take on doing art — a ‘conquest’ type of mentality, an attitude of “I’m the one in charge here and I’ll do it my way!” While I’m sure there’s room for that in art sometimes, I prefer a gentler approach, in the line of “The Zen of Seeing,” where one becomes one with their subject matter, with their materials, with the very act of making art. Bullfighting may be a lot of fun for the matador (although I’ve been to one and was both grossed out and deadly bored), but the end result of a bullfight is that a fine animal gets killed. I don’t want to ‘kill’ my paintings, my subject matter or my art making sensibilities. I want to be one with all of them.
Bugs interfering in studio
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
I have a bug issue. I’m painting in a studio space that has a canvas roof and many entry spaces for birds and bugs. The birds that have nested haven’t been a problem thus far, but the bugs are a challenge. They seem to be attracted to the oil paint. I am not bothered while I’m painting, but when I return to the studio the next day there are bug body parts, wings and such stuck in the paintings. Do you have any thoughts about this?
(RG note) On one oil-painting trip I had a friend so concerned about my stuck bugs that he tweezed them out–and called himself a professional debugger. Subsequently I leaned that some paint thinners, including turpentine, attract them–particularly mosquitoes. The switch to a Grumbacher product called Grumtine cut them down remarkably. Gamblin Colours and other colourmen have odourless or lemon-smelling thinners. Paintings left in bug-infested areas at dusk and dawn will pick a few under any circumstances. Bring oil paintings inside at night. For plein air painters a bug or two adds authenticity. Birds, on the other hand, give a joyous presence to a studio. Encourage them, for they may not always be with us. Some cut down the bugs. Yesterday morning a white-crowned sparrow came in to my studio. After a while I caught him against the glass and set him free in an attempt at good Karma.
Stare in Piedi Nell’Osservatione Silenziosa
oil painting by
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