The artist made famous by his “Arrangement in Gray and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother” (Better known as “Whistler’s Mother”) was a painter of nocturnes. Frederic Remington painted haunting, intriguing, mysterious nocturnes as did Van Gogh. What is “The Starry Night “if not a nocturne. Vincent did many other brilliant night scenes as well. The night is a fascinating time to many artists.
There is nothing as seductive, sublime or beautiful as the night. Paul Williams expressed a sense of awe and love for the night when he wrote the lyric “What’s so amazing that keeps us star gazing?” In that continual spirit of wonder I choose to look at the night sky as often as I can. We don’t know exactly why we are fascinated even comforted by the sight of the stars and the moon. Often we are prividgled to see the moon accented with a cluster of clouds in a unique arrangement.
These natural compositions sometimes lasting so briefly that they are gone in seconds never to be repeated in exactly the same pattern again. I do know that just looking up and out at the heavens can relax and renew the spirit. Yes Paul; it is still amazing. Perhaps it is the possibility of seeing something never seen before; something that at the same time has been seen and shared by every human being that does compel us.
Within the last few years I have painted a series of works that are exclusively black and white and are nocturnes of a sort. There is a paring down to basics in using black and white exclusively that gives a kind of purity and even sacredness to the work. The essence of all painting can be found in the interplay of light and dark. The technique is identical in a black and white piece; there is simply the lack of color. Ansel Adams created his “Zone System” for rating a black and white photograph. He believed every good photograph had every tone ranging from a pure or complete black to complete white while including every gray in between. I’m attempting to do a similar thing with my nocturnes.
I was showing recently in a group exhibition where I displayed all black and white paintings and black sculptures. A woman remarked to her companion as they passed my work “Well; Picasso had his Blue Period…” I can take that kind of assessment.
The reflection of traffic and neon light on dark wet pavement during or just after a rain storm is as spectacular and nuanced as any light show in any venue you would want to see. The night cafes, bars and theatres and those travelers that are their patrons continue to color the night and make it unique. The night offers much to those that embrace it whole heartedly or even occasionally. It is a gift and a necessity as is the day. The balance of light and dark is essential to life and to works of art.
The night is not just a time of the gothic or horror but a time of quiet and reflection. In painting an opportunity to depict not only light but a surprising vastness of shadows within the darkness, depth and distance.