Abandon and Control: Robert Liberace's Contradiction in Oil Painting?

Oil painting by Robert Liberace.
Oil painting demonstration by Robert Liberace.

To listen to Robert Liberace talk during one of his demonstrations, sometimes, fleetingly, it sounds to me like there is an occasional contradiction. The most recent example I can point to is when he talked during his most recent demo about drawing and painting with both "abandon and control." Well, how do I do that? But when I watch him paint, I begin to understand at least how he does that. (I'm a long way from figuring out how to effectively do it myself!)

This oil painting was done in class at the Art League in Alexandria, Virginia (developed further since my last blog), and is a good example of that abandon and control, as is his demonstration in his DVD, The Figure Sketch in Oil.

His first marks with oil on canvas amount to a thin, very fluid line. From my perspective, his gesture is fluid, loose, and yet powerful. From there he adds shadow. Even with the addition of the first pass of shadows, the painted sketch still seems to me to be really fluid, full of motion. Rob seemed to be shaping the form, taking care to pay attention to the width of the light, the width of the shadow, and still, critically, maintaining that initial dynamic gesture even with his straight lines.  

In my own paintings, at this point I find that I have to really focus to maintain the oil painting techniques that give me that gesture—the one that made me want to paint that pose in the first place. Rob says that you may want to start over if you find yourself at that point and repeatedly stresses the importance of maintaining the strength of the gesture throughout.

As the shadow shapes take form, the concept of both abandon and control make more sense for me. In the demo, Rob carefully, but quickly, shaped the shadows, both form and cast shadows.  Both the bones and muscles began to appear, especially the scapula and vertebral column. The control was initially represented by the care he put into laying in the shadows. (Jon deMartin, an instructor of mine at Studio Incamminati reminds readers in a recent Drawing magazine article that it is critical to keep a clear distinction between light and shadow, and that halftones are part of the light, not part of the shadow.)

When adding color, Rob added the "most obvious color with the largest presence," applying it sometimes with hatching strokes and sometimes blocks of color. He used the half tones to note the plane changes, and turn the individual forms.

He did all that maintaining his initial gesture. Truly using both abandon and control!







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One thought on “Abandon and Control: Robert Liberace's Contradiction in Oil Painting?

  1. Hi Judith,

    You articulate an interesting perspective but very true. Thanks for sharing with us. You are absolutely correct about his statements concerning shadow and gesture. I always come away learning a great deal from every one of his sessions even if my canvas doesn’t seem to indicate that I did!

    Coty Dickson
    Great Falls, VA 22066