Saturday, March 23, 2013

Putting his Own Spin on Reality

The Art of Ed Lucey

The contented cows of California
The most interesting part of my interview with Ed Lucey was his explanation of how he composed a landscape with cows that he was recently commissioned to paint. It is a large canvas—it was sitting on the floor of his studio, ready for delivery—and it caught my eye because I have a weakness for cows as a subject, and because the cows are grazing in the hills of California in early spring when the pastures are still green, another favorite subject.

Although this scene is completely believable, it exists only on canvas. Perspective is the first problem: in the real world, you would never see a view of cows at such an easily readable angle. The artist has gently tilted the scene toward the viewer. I know this because in his source photo the cows are more clumped in a line, overlapping. Moreover, those lovely hills came from a different photo. And the barn, which looks like it has always been there, was originally red, and much closer to the cows. Ed explained that he used Photoshop to try various compositions, and he showed me printouts with the barn in different locations. Something clicked for me when I saw the barn moved to just the right place. Composition is the great strength of this work. Your eye goes right away to the largest cow in the foreground, then follows the cows of diminishing sizes toward the middle; your sight follows the line of cows to the barn, then along the lines of oaks across the hills. The foreground is anchored by a stream that fits into the s-curve of the underlying layout.

It is not surprising that composition is one of Ed's great strengths, since he has a degree in industrial design and worked as a product designer for thirty-five years. Less expected is his romantic use of color. While his paintings represent reality in a general way, sometimes he gets pretty imaginative with color, in a subtle way.

Also, his paintings don't have the precisionist style you might expect from a person with an industrial background. Ed likes a painterly look with obvious brushstrokes. He gets this by using water-soluble oil paints. This was a new medium for me. The advantage of oil paint over acrylic is that it takes longer to dry, giving the artist hours or even days to fuss with it. Historically, the disadvantage was that turpentine was needed to thin the paint and for cleanup; turpentine has unhealthy fumes, so the invention of a water-soluble version is a great boon. Working in oil allows Ed to soften the edges of his shapes, showing the action of the brush and the substance of the paint.

Ed is not an arty sort of a guy; he's more of an information hound. He's more likely to tell you about the many species of eucalyptus trees or LBJ's working ranch in Texas than about what inspires him to paint. When I listen to him, I hear a sort of competitive spirit,  as in bicycle-riding. He's driven to push his skills to a higher level. When he sees that one artist can get a certain effect, he wants to try it, too. "But I like to put my own spin on it," he adds. The same is true of his subjects. Whether located in the country or the city, he depicts what he sees, but he puts his own spin on it, enhancing the good parts, ignoring the imperfections. Ultimately, I think it's that little something he adds to reality that expresses who he is, and that's what drives him to paint.

Here are some iPad snapshots I took in Ed's studio. More accurate photos are available on the SVOS website (see side panel) and Ed's website.

This painting has a strong underlying structure pulling your eye toward the light.

Colorful eucalyptus

The brushstrokes and the working method are obvious.

Realistic interior space with heightened color.

1 comment:

Christine Oliver said...

I love the way you have captured Ed's atyle and approach to his art.I love the commissioned piece with the cows and how deftly you described the "artist's perogative" during the composition of a piece - what to include, what to leave out and what color to make things. Very nicely done.