Can You Outgrow Your Art?

Train Tracks by Valerio D'Ospina, 2011, oil on melamined MDF, 30 x 24.
Train Tracks by Valerio D'Ospina, 2011, oil on melamined MDF, 30 x 24.

Some artists such as Jackson Pollock discover and use their own visual language to communicate with the world, and this singular voice takes them through an entire career of putting oil on canvas. Others—Picasso for instance—pass through several stages of change in their work, whether by theme, technique, or style.

Artist Valerio D'Ospina believes that his own artistic growth is in direct correlation with how he grows as a human being. "My personality, my character, and even my taste and style have been constantly changing throughout my entire life. Inevitably, my artistic needs are involved in this flow of changing," he says.

I identify with D'Ospina's point of view because I think—or hope—that I am constantly growing as a person, gaining wisdom and new abilities. And how can that not impact the art we make?

Just a few years ago, D'Ospina was a graduate student in Florence using a more traditional-classical approach to oil painting. The oil painting techniques that he used are for the indirect way of painting and included priming his linen with rabbit skin glue and gesso, toning his surface to a mid-tone value, making preparatory drawings and underpaintings, and using layers and glazes.

F. Galano in His Studio by Valerio D'Ospina, oil on canvas. Ragazza con tre oecchini by Valerio D'Ospina, oil on canvas.
The artist's early work:
F. Galano in His Studio

by Valerio D'Ospina, oil on canvas.
An early portrait:
Ragazza con Tre Oecchini

by Valerio D'Ospina, oil on canvas.

The approach dates back to the Renaissance but D'Ospina found that painting this way was driving him to photorealism because of its emphasis on refining technique and virtuosity. He knew it was time for a change when he realized that his first sketch of a painting rather than the end result with successive layers and rendering brought him more satisfaction. "The first sketch was faster, gestural, and more fresh. I thought it was a shame to cover all that with the heaviness of the defining layers," he says.

For D'Ospina, realizing he wasn't satisfied with the way he was working meant that he needed to disrupt the habits of his previous comfortable techniques by trying different surfaces, materials, and, most of all, by changing subject matter and experimenting with dramatically different themes. He also started painting alla prima, applying paint straight on the surface without using a pencil drawing sketch beforehand.

Now D'Ospina works on bringing a three-dimensional quality to the surface of his oil paintings and a sketchy rendering aspect to his compositions that still delivers a lot of meticulous detail. He also transitioned from painting more academic subjects to industrial scenes. All of this was uncomfortable for the artist at first, but it was exactly this challenge that led him to embrace a more expressionistic attitude and gave him the growth he needed to find continued satisfaction in his painting.

Naval Field (study) by Valerio D'Ospina, 2010, oil on melamined MDF, 31 x 24. Via Roma by Valerio D'Ospina, 2011, oil on melamined MDF, 18 x 12.
Naval Field (study) by Valerio D'Ospina,
2010, oil on melamined MDF, 31 x 24.
Via Roma by Valerio D'Ospina, 2011,
oil on melamined MDF, 18 x 12.

I'm incredibly inspired by D'Ospina's openness and his commitment to change his painting approach from what he first learned to what felt right to him as an artist. He was honest with himself about what he needed as an artist, and went after it. And that is what we should all do more of! If you want to explore the techniques that allowed D'Ospina to grow and refine his work, it is a great idea to start with Michael Wilcox's book on Glazing and other Old Master techniques. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

2 thoughts on “Can You Outgrow Your Art?

  1. Thanks,
    It looks like two different people painted these works. I much prefer the newer work’s dynamic quality over the photorealism. I’ve gone down the photorealism road and found it challenged me technically but not artistically. Making choices as to what should be left out, have a soft or hard edge, or what should be emphasized or not is not a consideration with photorealism since everything is included. Now that I’ve moved away from that style it is much more challenging to focus on brushstrokes, forms, lines, and other considerations. Maybe it is like life – deciding what to do, not to do, what to focus on…

  2. I think this was a great article. Just like self help books there comes a time for honest self evaluation. The key word is honest. I think his idea of almost making himself uncomfortable is a great thing. We all should at least come out of our mouse hole once and a while and get some fresh air. Wind in our hair and coolness to make us feel a little uncomfortable. You don’t have to change , but how will you know if you don’t try something else.