Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On the Road: When is a Painting Worthy of an OPA National Show?

While talking to a friend, I mentioned that I was planning to go to Santa Fe today to take in some of my favorite galleries. She reminded me that the OPA (Oil Painters of America) National Show is still running at Sage Creek Gallery, and she urged me to go. Well, I didn't need much urging! It's a rare chance to see so much great art in one building.

I actually made three rounds of the show and spent a couple of hours doing so. I looked hard at the work of the OPA Masters and other pieces that particularly struck me. I did think a few seemed of questionable merit - duds always seem to slip in, whatever the sponsoring organization - but overall, the work was top-notch. I haven't received my copy of the catalog yet, but I'm looking forward to spending even more time with these paintings when I do.

Before I left, I stood among these fine pieces and pondered the grand issue of Quality. What is it that makes a painting worthy of this kind of national show? 

I observed that it's three things: Exciting composition, exciting color, and exciting brushwork. If you wish, you can boil this down to one thing: Drama.

- The paintings that worked the best had strong designs. Lots of value contrast, and with all the shapes in a balanced yet dynamic design.
- They also had complex color schemes that were harmonious yet vibrant with tension. Complements and split-complements, while keeping one color family dominant, worked well.
- Finally, the brushwork itself created a rhythm of thick and thin paint, and of opaque and transparent passages.

And what didn't work? Some of the paintings that I felt to be the least successful were what I call "snapshots." The compositions felt as if they'd been snapped by a tourist on the run with a point-and-shoot camera. (These seem to be popular now, especially in street scenes with figures.) Others were quiet little landscapes or still lifes. Most were real gems, but to truly appreciate them required more time than a judge might have.

Here's one of many that I liked, "Summer House" by Gabor Svagrik. The image is from the Sage Creek Gallery website, www.sagecreekgallery.com. (The color is richer and more intense in the original.) In addition to meeting the three points above, it also has an exciting drama implied by the contrast between the orderly dooryard and the jungle-like chaos beyond the fence.

I could post many, many more pieces, but if you visit the Sage Creek Gallery site, you can see them all.  

Okay, that's it for other people's work! Next time, back to me.

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