Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Composing Paintings

Visual composition organizes space in the same way that classical music organizes time. All parts of a visual composition —line, color, value, shape, texture, size, and direction— are subordinated to a main idea. The idea is the intention expressed by the artist.

Compositional arrangements begin in a variety of ways. At times the artist may want to simply convey a mood with a decorative statement. Sometimes the idea is more complex and illustrative, such as expression of a myth, homage to a person, or historic era. Exploration of an elemental relationship, for example, the interaction of a certain combination of colors, shapes and lines can be the source on which to structure visual compositions as well. This aleatoric mode demands that the artist recognize a pattern, rhythm, or movement and what is evoked from that particular arrangement.

In still life composition, the artist arranges objects, choosing the lighting and color to best communicate the intention. In landscape painting, composition is the art of selection. It is essential to choose the vantage point that leads the viewer through the scene in the manner and at the pace intended to create a certain visual experience. In portraiture, a combination of arrangement and selection is required to best express the personality of the sitter.

Artful composition is quite abstract. The best representational painting isn’t judged on how well the artist emulates nature in paint; it is based on distinguished abstract structure. The way in which that structure affects us communicates certain ideas or moods much the same as musical structure does.

Fireworks may seem to be a decorative clutch of flowers and fruit amongst crockery. Compositionally, it is an exploration of the explosive nature of red in a field of its complementary color; and cyclical motion, with its relation to time and space. The whirling movement is balanced by triangular stability; the reverberating red echoes throughout, drawing the eye along melodically while the spots of light punctuate the darkness with a lively rhythm. The experience reminds me of watching a fireworks display, in which one attempts to follow one burst of light but is inevitably drawn to the next.

I “hear” this painting. The snap, crackle, pop against the sough and rattle pleases me. Still a work in progress, Fireworks is just moments from the finale.

Melody Phaneuf is a Boston artist, composing and painting at historic Fenway Studios. She is a regular exhibitor at The Guild of Boston Artists, 162 Newbury St, Boston. More photos of Fireworks in progress and the sight size method of painting can be viewed on facebook~ Become a fan and please visit


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