When I think of a painting featuring water I usually think of a traditional land or sea scape. Something like a lake nestled amongst tree littered hills or salty ocean waters lapping up along the short cliffs of a picturesque seaside town. But there are so many opportunities for some really awesome paintings beyond this common subject. Our good friend H2O behaves in all sorts of interesting and wonderful ways within its environment, just waiting to be fully appreciated with a dab or two of paint.
Turning on the water in the kitchen sink and placing your hand under the faucet to test its temperature, I'd say a pretty common occurrence for many people, one of those normal things that is given little direct notice. With an impressive attention to detail Linnea Strid gets up close and personal with this everyday event and allows the viewer to study what otherwise is often glanced over and forgotten. It is so beautifully and convincingly painted I can almost feel the cold water splashing out onto my own hand.
Linnea Strid, Let it Flow, oil on plywood
Since water is itself translucent, it is best depicted through the ways it plays with the light and color around it. In Strid's work above for example, if it weren't for the white highlights in the water where it splashes onto the open palm, it would blend almost completely with the fleshy colors of the skin. And that funky, abstract configuration of color that is the flowing column of water from the faucet makes a distinct contrast with the even changes in the tones and highlights that make up the hand. In the blurred background, we can see where the water has splashed down onto the bottom of the sink, a gray metal that is interspersed with reflected tans and oranges (which appear also around the rim at the top), giving a colorful balance to the overall composition.
Strid's next painting depicts one of those split-second moments that are often lost before you even got a chance to adequately look. But thanks to photography, such a moment can not only be saved, but also studied and painted with incredible realism long after the moment has passed. Here she zooms in extra close on elegant water droplets, some reflecting the fleshy arm color or green background, all with tiny white dots of highlights giving more dimension and roundness to these odd, organically suspended shapes. My favorite though is that tall, dark shadow on the subject's arm imitating the drops in front of it, giving even more tangibility to an almost abstract subject.
Linnea Strid, Cry You a River, oil on plywood
Instead of using paints Dirk Dzimirsky uses charcoal to create a black and white image that is deceivingly photorealistic. Another split-second moment, water droplets are splayed haphazardly across the air while fast falling streams drawn with impressive crispness flow down the subject's face, drawing together and dropping off at his chin. In a relatable and instinctual reaction, he scrunches up his face and eyes against the onslaught of water. Also check out the especially photograph-esque extreme differences in focus between his face and his shoulder and neck in the background, similar to Strid's blurred grey metal sink.
I have to hand it to Dzimirsky for creating such an incredibly real (and gorgeous) image. Staring at this piece for an extended amount of time has made me want to towel all that water off his face or shake his head for him so he can open his eyes and breathe in dry space for a bit. This poor guy. Can you imagine being forever stuck in an immobile state of cringeing from a constant flow of water running down your face? Bah!
Dirk Dzimirsky, Drawn Face VI, 2009, graphite on paperThe past few works have all been stilled images of water in various energies of motion. Alyssa Monk's painting of a girl behind droplet-ridden glass is a more still, and therefore, calm environment. Some of the drops are painted in such a way that you can tell by the tiny highlights they are more water heavy at the bottom as gravity tries to pull them downward. And then there's the larger ones that have become too heavy for their own good and have become streams that fall down the glass leaving trails of tiny white dots behind. These remind me of watching rain on a car window as a kid, sitting in the back seat on a 4 hour long road trip (aka eternity in kid time), and following those streams with my finger.
Alyssa Monks, Smirk, 2009, oil on linen
Monks' second painting below forms a layer of fog as if looking through the glass after a hot shower. The streaks from the quick swipe of a hand form an imperfect frame for the face, the colors and shapes of which are still a bit off as the distorting wetness hasn't entirely left the glass. The foggy areas show varying levels of thickness and translucence, some of the thinness due to downward gliding, heavy drops that have snatched the clinging fog down with them. Also check out the lower right corner where the side of her palm presses against the glass and a subtle oval of water clings between it and her relaxed fist. It is all the way off in the corner, almost forgotten when viewing the picture, and is so terribly lovely in itself.
Alyssa Monks, Window, 2009, oil on linen
Strid's model sitting in a bubbly bathtub retains her modestly be curling up knees to chin, giving an opportunity for not her body to be the focus of this painting but the unique way her hair falls around her tilted head in varying levels of wetness. Much of her hair is adequately soaked with water and looks perfectly smooth and almost silky as it forms to the shape of her head and along her back. Other areas have divided to form clumpy strands, exemplified by her dark roots of her semi-grown out hair dye. Then there's that area next to the ear, strands that have gotten more mussed up and various individual hairs stuck between two clumps as if they don't know which way to go.
It's interesting to compare this girl's long wet hair here to the eyebrows, eyelashes, and facial hair of Dzimirsky's black and white subject from earlier.
Linnea Strid, Embraced by the Silence, oil on wood panel
The untouched water that disappears into the background remains smooth and undisturbed. These vague streaks of light blues and whites bring balance to a foreground that also lacks perfect lines and flat colors. As a result there no clearly marked horizon line which keeps the focus purely on the subject and her gentle push forward through the water.
Antoine Renault, Bain de Soleil, acrylic
Samaniego's painting below shows the same basic action, this time within disjointed waters undulating with no direct purpose. White foamy splashes line her back and arm as the shifting waves collide with her skin. And towards the foreground swirls of fleshy and dark colors once again reveal the rest of the figure's body beneath the surface.
This horizon also fades into misty obscurity. But here the subject is turned completely away from us, heading straight towards the horizonless abyss. And with her back towards us, looking at this painting creates for the viewer the illusion of following directly behind her in her journey forward, but the ambiguity of the background gives no hint as to where you are going, making this journey all the more mysterious and intriguing. In Renault's painting above the viewer is watching, here the viewer is participating.
Arturo Samaniego, Pilgrimage, oil on Belgian linen
So here's another painting of a girl moving gently through the water, but stylistically it is very different. Firstly, we see the girl from above instead of at water level and large brushstrokes and thick, expressive, energetical lines of color twist and turn to create wave-like effects in the water. I love this kind of painting. I love the bright colors. I love the incredibly expressive strokes, some bold and thick and others more precise, all in just the right places.
As much as I enjoy all of the works in the post, I have always been more attracted to this kind of painting. One that puts more emphasis on expression and color than realism. But I would never say one of these styles is better than the other, it is purely a matter of taste. Which style do you prefer?
Samantha French, Just Below, 2013, oil on canvas
Zooming out and above, the painting below focuses on the splashes, expanding ripples, and curbing waves that come with waving your hands around in circles on the surface of the water. The white splashes of water that encompass the subject form a nice contrast among the colorful waters of the rest of the painting and bring your eye straight to our focal point and to the center of the action.
What I particularly love about this piece is the bright greens, blues, and yellows that make up the water environment, so different from the bright blues and aquas in Samantha French's work directly above, and different still from the more murky greens of Samaniego's water above that. Even more different is the grays and whites that make up the water droplets and bubbles seen in the works at the beginning of this post. Funny how we can discern each of these vast changes in color as representations of water and how the intensity and hue of the colors effect the overall mood of the painting.
Antoine Renault, Rayon vert, acrylic on canvas
Surfing in action. And talk about splashes and waves here. The water at the most disrupt and chaotic of the wave is almost completely white and bursts towards the viewer with an abundance of energy. Because she is surrounded mainly by varying shades of blue, the contrast of the reds and yellows of the tanned skin of the surfer bring your eye straight to her and her upside-down reflection on the water's surface gives balance. And the rock or land mass on the far left, which contributes to the slanting line (made up of the white splash, surfboard, and horizon) that cuts this image almost perfectly in half, is just enough to give a more tangible space to the action environment.
Antoine Renault, Quincy Davis, acrylic
Renault paints another great splash of water below. This one is a force of energy and excitement that pushes up towards the viewer and claims itself as the subject of interest. But whereas in many of the paintings I've shown in this post the water has reacted to the subject or environment, here the kids, our subjects, react to the splashing water. But this is not the only interesting aspect of the painting. There's the splotchy puddle reflections on the pavement. The dark green shadow on the left made by the burst of water. And the different ways the boys react to the barrage of water.
Antoine Renault, Jeté d'écume, acrylic
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to opportunities and ways of painting water. I hope you enjoyed this particular snippet.