How to Paint Imagined Places
Most painters I’ve spoken to say that it’s somewhat liberating to paint an imagined subject or a fictitious place. Working in such a way does come with its own set of challenges—people often judge such artworks more harshly than works that are more realistic, almost as if they are trying to uncover the secret behind a magic trick. Although discovering how to paint an entirely imagined world can be a challenge, it can be quite freeing to know that there’s no way to fall short of the ‘real thing.’
As a viewer, when I see a painting that isn’t based on reality it is like being set free. No rules apply when it comes to interpretation. That’s how I felt when I came across Philippe Jacquet’s work. A trained architect and self-taught painter from France, Jacquet doesn’t restrict himself to any rational order in his paintings. The places he depicts—coastal scenes and estuaries—are strictly of the mind. “I let the subject guide me,” Jacquet told me through an interpreter. “The places are completely imaginary but they all have the feel of great wide open spaces—the adventure, the escape, and the open.” Boats float in waterless seas, mansions guard vast oceans as if they were lighthouses, sailboats weigh anchor in swimming pools, and houses cling to cliff sides. The human presence in the paintings is clear—often a depiction of the artist’s son—but the atmosphere of them is disorienting because it is so different than the world around us. I feel welcome as a viewer—there’s nothing overtly threatening or forlorn about Jacquet’s environments—but separated from reality.
What makes the artist’s work especially interesting is that the paintings are not all one way or the other. Jacquet knows how to paint the balance between elements of reality with aspects of the natural world that are completely conjured. Plein air painters and landscape artists do the same, if to a more controlled extent—making choices about light effects or merging visuals that come together over hours of painting. In paintings of both real and imagined landscapes, such choices create tension for the viewer, as each one of us has to decide what’s real and how real it is. It’s an enticing prospect, and is a way for each one of us to engage with the work we see.
Jacquet’s paintings are fantastical and a bit sublime. His art shows imaginary worlds, but the inspirations they evoke—ideas about color, space, gravity, and nature—are palpable and quite real. In much the same way when we explore images real or imagined that inspire us, whether they are in the landscape, in the studio, or in our own minds, we come to realize new thoughts and ideas about how to interpret the visual information around us.
Reinterpreting the world is what artists do, and each one of us should strive to do so in our own unique way—whether it involves reality, imagination, or a combination of the two, which is where the ArtistsNetwork.tv workshop, Top 10 Art Journaling Techniques, comes in. If you want to explore journaling in an artistic form, discover new media and materials, and let your inner world out, give this unique video resource a look. Enjoy!