Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book Review - Inventing the Landscape by Richard Crozier

The cover painting obviously contains a big dose of imagination, but most of this book (5/6 of its pages) is about painting from life. Evidently, if you want to invent the landscape, you need to study it first. And if you want to use your imagination as subject matter, you need to feed it regularly, give it resources that you can call on when the time comes. So, it's not so much about converting your plein-air studies into larger studio paintings as it is about paying attention when you're outdoors and then, in the studio, starting from an impression, a mood or a vision. "My small paintings are seldom made with larger paintings specifically in mind. They are mainly attempts to learn something, or to work with some motif. In my invented paintings, I build off of my many plein air experiences, those sense-memories, without drawing on any specific site directly." It's a slow process compared to painting outdoors; the painting can take months (or even years) to evolve and may change in unexpected ways.

This book is about oil painting, which lends itself to revision (even re-visioning), moving, removing or adding details, darkening or lightening various elements, changing proportions, trial & error, all kinds of playful improvisation.

Crozier is interested not just in the process of creating a painting, but also in processes in the landscape (erosion, the change of seasons, excavations and wildfires) and in the process of creating structure in everyday scenes by changing one's viewpoint or eliminating details, maybe just focusing on light & shadow.

There are 276 full-color examples of Crozier's paintings to illustrate his thoughts, including plein air studies, close-ups of flowers, figures in the landscape, and large (sometimes multi-panel) landscapes.

This is not a how-to-paint book, but rather a book about paying attention and then adding those subtle qualities of memory & imagination to the usual equation of landscape + skill + vision that most plein air painters are familiar with.

~Sarah Judson

Crozier, Richard (with Thomas Bolt), Inventing the Landscape, Watson-Guptill, 1989

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