Monday, December 8, 2008

"Odyssey By Train"

"Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art."
~Ansel Adams

"Odyssey By Train", oil on panel, 2008 is the first painting that I have completed in an ongoing series of works inspired by Chris McCandless' photographs that he took over his two year transcontinental journey. Chris' parents have been so kind to let me choose paintings that are particularly moving and might translate well into paintings. I am so thankful to them for this wonderful gesture.

I was particularly moved by this picture when I first saw it. It is a portrait of Chris, even though he is not directly in the frame, he is there in every corner. He composed this shot, saw how the light hit his backpack, and wanted to document his undoubtedly hazardous but exhilarating time jumping freight trains on his way to Alaska. I love subtlety, and generally avoid painting direct emotion or narrative. I like the viewer to interpret it according to their own perception of the piece. I think this is why so many of Chris' pictures appeal to me, they are beautiful vignettes of such a special time, in very special places that he wanted to capture.

I love that this picture was in black and white and I wanted my painting to be in black and white as well. It really lends a moody quality to photographs I find, when they are shot in a monochromatic format. It is evocative. Our eyes are not distracted by colours but simply focus on forms, light and the balance of values within the shot. 

When I saw this picture I knew immediately that I had to paint it. I did not alter it much at all from Chris' original picture. I did darken the buildings outside ever so slightly so that they were a bit more discernible but other than that it was painted verbatim, in a manner of speaking. I happen to think that he was an amazing photographer and it is shots such as these that are proof of that. There is a great sense of chiaroscuro in the light falling into the car and across his pack. 

I do not use black from the tube. We were specifically instructed to always mix our own blacks at art school and besides, mixing black from scratch is wonderful. It contains all colours, and thus you can achieve subtle variations in colour within the black, if that makes sense. This piece is painted on panel...wood panel is quickly becoming my favorite support to paint on. It is hard to hide brushstrokes, which I love. It favors texture and your paint strokes are not hidden within the weave of canvas, as can sometimes happen.

If you are not familiar with Chris' story, Jon Krakauer's novel Into The Wild paints a fascinating portrait of this remarkable young man.

"My favorite thing is to go where I have never been." ~Diane Arbus

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