Painting Light in the Dark

Mixed Media Paintings That Glow with an Inner Light

For many, Ross Bleckner’s art put an image to the poignancy of loss during the AIDS epidemic and made the pain of mourning somehow bearable and beautiful. His paintings are an incredibly moving combination of light and dark, heaven and hell, with a bit of glitz of the 80s club scene in New York City thrown in too. Bleckner uses geometry and repetitive forms to pull his viewers deeper into his vision. His mixed media paintings have always been able to make me gasp at how vibrantly their surfaces seem to glow.

Birdland by Ross Bleckner, 2000, oil on linen, 96 x 96.
Birdland by Ross Bleckner, 2000, oil and wax on linen, 96 x 96.

The Mixed Media

Bleckner often incorporates waxes and resins into his paintings. As a result, the surfaces themselves seem to carry light. He also plays with texture–painting cutout bits of paper and adding them to a painted canvas. It gives the paintings a sculptural or architectural feel—as if you were standing under a dome or portal.

Invisible Heaven by Ross Bleckner, oil on paper on canvas, 1993.
Invisible Heaven by Ross Bleckner, oil on paper on canvas, 1993.

The Shapes

Lines, curvilinear forms, organic forms—Bleckner uses them all. It isn’t one particular shape that is the key, but how he employs them, sometimes repeating them exhaustively, sometimes varying their size to create visual force. The shapes in the paintings somehow corral the light. Instead of diffuse light that seems amorphous, the light seems substantial and carries its own visual weight and power.

The Arrangement of Things by Ross Bleckner, 1982.
The Arrangement of Things by Ross Bleckner, 1982.
Light and Dark World by Ross Bleckner, 1989.
Light and Dark World by Ross Bleckner, mixed media painting, 1989.

The Colors

Notice how colorful Bleckner’s darks and lights are. The shadows are filled with greys, blues, browns and ambers. The lights? Same thing. Tinged with pigments that give them body and depth, the “glow” we are talking about is quite prismatic! He also isn’t afraid to actually use color amidst his dark-light designs.

Interior with dots by Ross Bleckner, mixed media painting.
Interior with Dots by Ross Bleckner, mixed media painting, 1985.
Black Monet by Ross Bleckner, mixed media painting, 2013.
Black Monet by Ross Bleckner, mixed media painting, 2013.

For Bleckner, doing something over and over enhances his message. Pattern is powerful. It is meditation, and full of meaning. And it has me completely rethinking what doodling and pattern-making are all about.

To arrive at powerful shapes and compositions, sometime you have to stop being deliberate and just start doodling in your art journal. Explore this way of working with the ArtistsNetwork.tv workshop, Art Journaling Live 2 with Nathalie Kalbach. You’ll see how pattern and texture make depth and shapes can come to mean so much, symbolically speaking. This combo is sure to propel you forward in your own practice. 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.   

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