This painting came up online as “related“ to whatever I was looking at and instantly took over all my attention. I wish I knew who painted it. Hell, I wish I painted it.
I’m fascinated by its combination of non-specific and thoroughly descriptive brushstrokes. Considering that the majority of the marks are nothing but marks, there’s still a lot we can conclude about the subject. For example, we know it’s a landscape, and a snowy one, at that. But look at those big dark rectangles. What, exactly are they? Some of them come together as a stream. Others might be rocks or tree stumps. They don’t display the features of these elements of landscapes, but they're located where we expect to see such things. I can feel my brain straining to get those marks to hold still and act like believable landscape stuff. And they do! Somehow, the context is sufficiently established that a big, dark rectangle is all we need to see to accept it as a cluster of trees.
So much for making sure the viewer knows what they’re looking at right from the start. This viewer, for one, would much rather be invited to have a role to play in the interpretation.
Let’s go down the list to see if we can begin to understand what the artist did to establish enough context to get his or her marks to come to life.
Composition and Value
Those few diagonally arranged darks in the center go a long way toward creating a feeling of space. The washes above the “stream” get lighter and less complex as they climb to the top of the page, contributing further to that sense of depth.
The biggest shapes, those two dark mid-value patches of woods on either side, are full of clues as to their identity. I think they would be patches of woods even out of context. Compositionally, they frame the scene and direct us into the open area in the middle.
Looking at the arrangement of shapes of different values, it’s clear that this is a rather simple composition. There are only a few shapes, overall, and they resolve neatly into light, middle and dark. I think this simplicity plays a part in getting us to do so much of the work of assigning identity to the non-specific areas. A more complex composition might just be too much to ask.
The limited palette, like the simple composition, signals that we will not be distracted from the job of getting the whole painting to hold together.
I notice that the lights and the darks are mostly hard-edged. The majority of the soft edges in this painting occur among the middle values. What do you make of that?
Here's another one: