Interpreting Art – Looking at Painting

Art is a language, you may have heard this before and it is true, but not in the literal sense.  Art is more like a piece of music it evokes a response rather than spelling things out like a text book or a piece of advertising. A painting is like a poem and different people can have different interpretations. It’s the ambiguity that makes it so interesting.  But while there may be elements ambiguity there is a way to read art.   Here is an example……
This is a recent painting, I have painted for my upcoming exhibition.    Start any interpretation by just looking carefully at the art.  The size, colour, texture, light and dark, the illusion of movement and so forth. So in this example The painting is predominately reds and oranges. The light is coming from the left. The figure is moving towards the left.  Once you’ve had a good look at the work, move to describe these elements  and what meaning or feeling does that evoke.
The figure is the focal point and she is moving from right to left towards the light.  She is in an implied space not a specific place. A feeling of distance in the picture plane is created by the use of linear devices repeated to create rhythm and movement.  These will evoke different feelings in different viewers. They have the feeling of trees.  She also has a tree growing out of her bag and is seems to be unaware of it.

Thinking Differently - Forward in Space 765x610 oil on canvas by Shana James
Thinking Differently – Forward in Space 765×610 oil on canvas by Shana James

This juxtaposition of unrelated objects was made famous by the surrealists, it is a visual jolt, not what you expect, it’s there to make you stop and think.  Of course the first thing you wonder is why? Why is there a tree in her bag?
Think now of all the associations you have with trees, obviously growth. What else usually rooted in the ground  and reaching to the sky, need the earth and light and water to grow. This tree is uprooted, is this temporary? Is she taking it somewhere to plant it.  Is it growing there in her bag gaining sustenance directly from her.  I think of it as her growth but other interpretations are equally valid.
Movement recurs in this piece both in the before mentioned abstract linear shapes and in the illustrated movement in the figure.  Growth cannot occur without movement and change and sometimes this requires uprooting things.  Her hair blows out behind her and a few leaves drop down, more narrative movement.
What does the colour mean? How different would it be if it was blue or green? The colours are warm and although the composition space has the feel of a landscape they are not the natural colours of landscape in fact quite the opposite.  I think of it as a landscape of the mind, an imaginary space, a place of metaphor.
Literally it is not a landscape but there is a feeling of place in these abstract painterly marks, she walks on a surface like ground or floor.  Why red – is it passion or danger? the blood coursing through our veins.  Orange sunset the changing of day to night, warmth, fire – the changing of wood to heat and light. All these connotations create unconscious associations and they will be different to every one.
The light is strong on the figure and she has a definite direction.
VanGogh said “I dream my painting then I paint my dream”
See more work from this series.
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