Jun 032008

I was putting off a more detailed discussion about Frank Gardner’s light technique mainly because I couldn’t quite get my head around it. I haven’t yet seen such light in contemporary work published on the Internet, but it did remind me of some works by a known Armenian painter, Martiros Saryan . Starting from there, I realized that these landscapes deliver the natural phenomenon of sunlight in an untamed, radical fashion, which in comparison to the cooler artwork of most North American artists may appear as a deliberate intensification. Either way, such treatment of light endows the works with a strong oriental flavor. This is a very crude comparison, but in some ways, Mexico to the US is like Armenia to Russia (for instance, both are sunlit and south of their respective nations).

One of the purposes of this light is to convey the heat, and the sense of heat. The artist achieves this by withering the palette (I would guess with tint), by playing with value and paying close attention to shadow/light interchanges, when such are there. (I would also guess that varnish plays a role in building this light.) Eventually, the effect is so convincing that when viewing a painting that depicts morning time below), when the sun hasn’t scorched everything yet, one can almost experience the freshness of the air and breathe more freely. The colors are damper and darker; the heat hasn’t raised all the dust into the air.

To capture vast space without overloading the viewer, the artist keeps things simple in terms of composition and color. I think these choices benefit the theme: hue harmony and compositional flow take precedence over small detail in panoramic landscapes, and particularly so in small paintings. Yet there are subtle elaborations, sophisticated color overlaps and gradations that reveal a tendency towards maximal precision. As a result, I found myself struggling to make out the buildings from the town contours, and the trees behind the meadow (the painting below). By giving the viewers the impression that they indeed could, the artist may have achieved his main goal.

To conclude this series of reviews of Frank Gardner’s work, I would like to say that I find his use of light, though at times harsh for viewing, emotionally exhilarating. Thematically, some of his Mexican farm paintings exhibit a gentle romantic pastoral streak (when the workers appear from afar, moving away from the viewer) , while others are more realist (when they work right in front of the audience, moving towards it). Finally, his work displays such a clear compositional vision and unity of design that if asked to describe it in just a few words, I would say: “He always gets his point across.”

  One Response to “Frank Gardner: Mexican Landscapes”

  1. I completely agree.

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