"Let's Get Physical. I Wanna Get Physical..."

27 Nov 2011

Ugh, after all the holiday eating I've been doing, I should probably go exercise or run laps. But as a warm up I thought I would talk about physicality, power, and movement in oil painting. Maybe this'll be the inspiration I need to get off my duff and workout. Or maybe not.

First of all, I maintain that physical force in a fine art oil painting doesn't have to be interpreted literally with bulging muscles and sweating brow. Degas' dancers are often presented at rest or stretching and this still implies physical action without being overt. And even in the paintings that show more activity, a mere extension of the arms or an arched back is all that is needed to convey the movement.

Dancers by Edgar Degas, 1899, pastel painting. Two Dancers in Blue by Edgar Degas, 1899, pastel painting.
Dancers by Edgar Degas,
1899, pastel painting.
Two Dancers in Blue by Edgar Degas,
1899, pastel painting.

Sometimes the energy and spirit of a sporting event isn't about the athletes' prowess as much as the spectacle of it all. Tafa, a Harlem-based contemporary artist, conveys the frenzied liveliness of big-time basketball games through the crowds that surround the court--the players are all but specks. Every time I look at his oil painting, Game 7, it is almost as if I can hear the roar of the fans. And the way the paint is dabbed on in varied colors that get lighter toward the center of the painting makes me feel like I'm being pulled into the action.

Game 7 (Just Like Nike series) by Tafa, oil on canvas, 56 x 68.
Game 7 (Just Like Nike series) by Tafa,
oil on canvas, 56 x 68.

Yet there will always be a place for painting the human figure pushing its physical limits. From George Bellows' boxers to Steve Huston's work, which features men at peak condition doing physical labor, the ways in which the body can be displayed with a sense of motion have been around for generations. What unites all successful paintings of this kind is that the artists evaluate the body as a composition in itself---with limbs positioned with a sense of direction and dynamism.

Stag at Sharkey's by George Bellows, 1909, oil on canvas, 92cm x 122.6cm.
Grabbing Hold by Steve Huston, 2009, oil painting, 20 x 16.
Stag at Sharkey's by George Bellows,
1909, oil on canvas, 92cm x 122.6cm.


Grabbing Hold by Steve Huston,
2009, oil painting, 20 x 16.

To celebrate how thankful we are to have you as part of our Artist Daily community, we are having a holiday sale right now on our back issue magazines, such as Drawing Spring 2010, which discusses how to draw the core figure with power and accuracy, or Workshop Fall 2009, which has an article from Steve Huston about the shapes, patterns, and relationships he sees when painting the figure. These are the resources that actually inspired today's newsletter--and you can get them in their entirety. Plus you get free shipping on all orders. Enjoy! 


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