Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kirchner's "Winter Landscape by Moonlight," 1919

Several weeks ago when I wrote about the Detroit Art Institute, it reminded me of a painting I first saw when I was a little kid (probably age 10 or so). We were on a field trip and there was one painting in particular which made an impression on me. The guide explained the thought behind Expressionism and commented on the mountains and the trees, etc. My young and untrained eyes did not see trees. I had no idea what I was looking at. It was all abstract to me. But I think I saw a mountain because I did recognize the painting when I saw it several years later.

I was in art school in Minneapolis when the Minneapolis Institute of Arts had an exhibition of German Expressionism. I had the opportunity to revisit the painting I had not seen since I was a little kid. My thoughts this time? That I was unimpressed with pink evergreens. I thought the artist could have pushed his color exploration further. Ha ha ha.

I was thinking of past influences of mine and did a search for this painting on the internet. I look at the painting now and my thoughts about it are so different, only took 40 years for it to really connect with me. 

One thing I always have to keep in mind in my illustration work is to keep things simple. I go through this every time when I design, put everything in and then start taking things out. One way to simplify a design is to edit your color choices. This painting is a perfect example of expert use of analogous color (colors that follow each other around the color wheel). The colors used are yellow, orange, pink, purple and blue. If the one missing color from the color wheel was added, green, it would ruin the painting. 

Another thing I keep in mind when illustrating is the direction lines that lead your eye around a design. The control of movement in this painting is brilliant. Those pink trees take you down the slope starting from the upper right corner and then swoop you across the snow and then back up to the other side to the mountain peaks where you're kept up by the yellow clouds that carry you back (they almost look like steps) to the upper right corner, avoiding the ouchiness of landing on those mountain tops. Then it's quickly back down the slope again (once you get to the safety of that tall pink tree) and when you're carried to the other side, you return to the upper right at a slower and gentler speed. In the middle of the painting is a little protected and calm area surrounded by the dark trees. I adore this painting. I wish this painting could live with me. :-) 

That's what I see in it now and who knows, years from now (when I might not be working as an illustrator), most likely something entirely different. :-)


45+ and Aspiring said...

It's interesting to hear how your thoughts have changed over time about this piece. And I always love to hear people explaining art.

I wouldn't want to live anywhere, though, where was there was permanent snow. . . and I am certain I would miss green. :)

Maria said...

45-Oh dear, I better go back and rewrite that sentence. I didn't say I wanted to live "in" the painting, but that I wanted to live "with" the painting, like in my house, hanging on a wall (the painting, not me!). The former is too much like a Twilight Zone episode. Eeeeee. Now I'm recalling that episode, maybe it was Night Gallery. Getting the chills. Must edit now......

Country Girl said...

Wow. I didn't see all that until you explained it, but then I saw it all and was entranced. I need you around when I visit the art museum next time!
This is a dear painting.