Texture! by JW Harrington

Color provides powerful stimulation for almost all of us, as I explored in my last post. In a visual art work, visual detail pulls the viewer in to inspect (more about that in a later post).

Texture also draws in a viewer and leads to questions: “Is that surface rough to the touch, or does it just appear that way?” “ Is that area still wet?” “Wait, I see shadows cast by those three-dimensional peaks on the painting, and they move when I change my orientation — so they must really be there in three dimensions!” “How did the artist do that — is there really that much paint on the surface right there?” Texture makes the viewer want to touch the piece, to get that additional sensory information. (To be honest, one of the reasons I buy some art pieces is to be able to touch them when I want to. Oops, there went the possible re-sale value of art works I own!)

I’ve been looking forward to more experimentation with surface texture in my painting. Toward that end, I purchased a lot of “cradled” hardwood panels. “Cradled” means that the 4 mm-thick piece of sanded hardwood is glued to a frame of softwood to yield a rigid, hollow painting surface that is 1.5” thick.

What does this do for me?

The wood surface (especially some more sanding and a layer of gesso) has no grain of its own, unlike cotton canvas. Any texture you see in the painting is what i put there, with nothing added by the support for the paint.

The wood surface is rigid and sturdy. If I load up a really thick impasto, the support can take it without sagging, and the support has no ability to move up and down like the drum action of stretched canvas. So my thick paint and additional mediums will not crack.

The 1.5-inch thickness, with no visible break or distinction between the front and the sides, combined with the visual and tactile texture of the painted surface, gives some implication that you’re looking at a 1.5” thick mass of paint — very impressive!

This first set of paintings on panel are all 12” square: fun to work with, easy to move around, and available at a nice, low price point!

In Through Change and Through Storm, I’ve used a heavy, matte, acrylic gel medium and three shades of deep red to create a rugged and colorful surface, with only two pigments.

In Trace, I’ve used the same technique, on a very different palette of colors. I don’t usually attribute a programmatic meaning to my abstract work, but I’ll admit that this makes me think of Champagne.

More or Less entailed the most profligate use of gel medium and the resultant textures: there are three sequential layers of thick paint-with-medium, built up after each dried, to create this evocative surface. Everyone who’s seen this creates a different interpretation of these forms!

I’ve also played with an acrylic product that creates a thin, transparent layer atop the surface, which I can then paint over, after it dries. I did that to paint Allegory 1 and Vigil, trying to create a slight three-dimensional separation among the figures that are painted atop each other.

Midas actually used a combination of these techniques. There’s a lot of color and pattern under that rich gold, visible upon close inspection. (I want to draw you in!)

Let me know what you think! Follow me on Instagram!

The thrill of color in paintings by JW Harrington

From the start of my time painting, I’ve been a colorist, fascinated by the visual and emotional impact of color.  Form certainly matters as well – as Mark Rothko showed so powerfully.  In my decades of studying paintings, I’ve always wondered – still wonder – why Rothko’s color-field paintings enthrall me.  I’m not alone, though I’ve read quite-good explanations.

Mark Rothko's Yellow Over Purple (1956).

 While Rothko’s paintings seem to demand that the viewer look internally for meaning (and defy that meaning to be “programmatic,” since they convey emotion and introspection rather than a “story,” Clyfford Still conveyed drama in his paintings’ value contrasts and jagged forms.  I see action, even fighting, and if I want I can see narrative.

Clyfford Still’s 1949, No. 1.


I started out painting Color Abstractions, each focused on two complementary colors: 

red and green,

orange-red and blue-green,

gold and purple,

yellow and blue (with a little orange).

Not too much orange, though:  orange is quite powerful, quite jarring.


In closing, I have to acknowledge the master of color and color theory, Josef Albers.

Josef Albers, Interaction of Color (1963), Plate IV-1.


Next: what happened when I’ve added texture to color?




The role of death in life, 8 by JW Harrington

“We humans are, however, not psychologically equipped to fully acquire such equanimity without an enduring sense of significance that extends beyond our own individual existence.  In The Broken Connection: On Death and the Continuity of Life, Robert Jay Lifton described five core modes of death transcendence:

“Biosocial:  by passing on one’s genes, history, values, and possessions, or by identification with an ancestral line or ethnic or national identity that perseveres indefinitely.”

“Theological: faith in a soul and the possibility of literal immortality;  or a more symbolic sense of spiritual connection to an ongoing life force.”

“Creative:  contributing to future generations through innovations and teaching in art, science, and technology.”

“Natural: identifying with all life, nature, or even the universe.”  [One recognizes that one is a tiny part of something that will endure.]

“Finally, experiential transcendence is characterized by a sense of timelessness accompanies by a heightened sense of awe and wonder…. such experiential states are most fulfilling when they occur in the context of one of the other four modes: playing with your children, engaging in spiritual rituals, throwing yourself into creative activity, being immersed in the natural world.”

-- Sheldon Solomon et al. (2015).  The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, pp. 221-2

The role of death in life, 7 by JW Harrington

For the Greek Epicurus and the Roman Lucretius, living with our knowledge of mortality requires that “we become aware of our fear of death, then recognize that it is irrational to be afraid of death.  Dead people are devoid of all sensations, just as we all were before we were conceived.  No one is terrified of the time before they were born, so why fret about death, since it is precisely the same insensate state that prevailed for eons before our time?”

-- Sheldon Solomon et al. (2015).  The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, p. 216