Lately I’ve had the night scene bug. Those of you who know that I avoid going out after dark might be surprised by this, but there you have it. Some of my favourite painters capture that moment just after sunset, when there is still a glow at the horizon but little colour left elsewhere. Naturally, I have tried to take such a picture but I’m too lazy to carry and set up a tripod and our house does not address the west. As a result, my “Night Scenes” iPhoto event has fewer than a dozen examples, half of which are blurred past any useful stage. What to do?
I suppose that if I understood the basic principles of painting a night scene, I might be able to transform a scene, so I have been sitting here and looking at the masters, ancient and contemporary, of this art. Who’s the best?
Well, Edward Hopper is unequalled at his graphic depictions of often solitary city people glimpsed through cafe windows late at night, probably during The Depression; Hopper’s warm palette of clean primaries makes me happy, although often guiltily, given the stark loneliness he portrays. Watch for his ledges, where the light spills out. Two other Americans, Linden Frederick and John F. Carlson, accomplish the same objective by painting farmyards empty even of animals. Their work is haunting in its simplicity.
The modern city, on the other hand, seems almost festive. Hsin Yao Tseng, a precocious child of thirty, paints symphonies of lights, often reflected on wet pavement. So too Jeremy Mann’s cities look intimate and beautiful, studded with the rubied tail lights; he is an elderly 37. Note to Self: go downtown with a tripod. Perhaps a camera too. Find a teenager to run into traffic and set up. Start thirty years ago.
My only blinding insight in addition is that they all paint the night sky in a significantly lower value than buildings and trees. Not much to go on, but a start. Getting old, Harry.
The painting here arose from a lakeshore scene at the beginning of sunset. The greens have disappeared but light still fills the sky and water. Too early. What I am craving right now is that breathless moment when the world glows cobalt just after the sun sets. The one I posted last December was on the right track but I ruined it.
I guess if I hope ever to reflect that deep blue loveliness on the canvas, I should make a point of remembering to go outside and simply TAKING A GOOD LOOK. That approach worked out all right for Tom Thomson, don't you think?