methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Taking a Second Glance

Morgan Tate is a senior at Liberty Bell High School and a full-time Running Start student with Wenatchee Valley College at Omak. She wrote this paper for her Humanities 101 class.

A few days ago, I observed many paintings in our local Confluence Gallery. The one that I will be taking a special interest in, though, was called Ghost Tree/ Hope, by Donna Keyser. It was, in fact, a double sided painting that hung so that both sides could be valued. They were painted on either side of a 6’x2’x2’’ slab of wood that hung from the ceiling by two slender chains. The paintings were done with acrylic, so the texture was mainly “seen” rather than “felt” by the mind.

I will critique this painting by paying close attentions to the elements of this painting: the use of line, color, texture, and composition. Descriptive, interpretive, and evaluative criticism will be used as well, but will not be labeled explicitly as it is used.

Present Tense

The first side I study is the Hope side. What initially draws me towards it is the vividness of its color, and the variety in hues that are used. This side depicts four trees (I believe they may be alder trees) placed along the side of a stream while the bottom two feet of the painting is an earthly black, laced with thin, red roots. The nearest alder takes up the right side of the painting, and its thick, supportive roots delve into the surface of the black earth. To the left of the tree base is a line of stones that not only outline the top of the earth, but also line the edge of the stream. Throughout the painting are signs that autumn is making itself known. Many leaves are beginning to turn, and the hill in the distance is filled with golds and oranges.

The use of line in this painting is a combination of closed and open lines. The primary closed lines are used in the trunks of the alders, although as distance increases, the lines become less clear. Therefore, the nearest alder has the most lines. There are sharp brush strokes that fill the trunk with light and shadow, giving it depth and a sense of strength. Then there are strokes used with a dry brush, so they are somewhat whimsy, and soft. The lines that outline the base roots are unmistakable and very pronounced. The thin roots in the earth are also sharp, diagonal, vertical, and horizontal lines that create a maze in the dark.

I notice the majority to be open lines. The leaves of the trees are done with what looks like a sponge, and so the edges are blurry and textured. To me, it is as if the leaves are quivering with a steady breeze. The top of the hill is hazy and does not have a definite edge, so the line is instead created by the intense complementary colors of yellow gold and powder blue. The greatest open line I notice is where the far stream bed ends and the ground begins again. The swirls of phthalo blue, violet, and lavender seem to seep over the roots of the farthest tree roots. They bleed across the green turf until the green dominates and the blue is gone. There is no definite end and beginning shown between the stream and the earth.

More lines appear throughout the painting from the foundation. Because this painting is created on wood, the natural knots and grooves in the plank show through and give the painting a semi-cracked appearance. Even though it appears shaken in places, the cracks only make the piece stronger. The added texture of the grooves moves me in a way that is hard to explain. Perhaps the cracks are the presence of reality, the inkling that hope is not the handiwork of imagination.

In terms of color, nearly every hue is used. The predominant colors used are in the green of the alder leaves, the blue of the stream, and the red of autumn. Secondary and tertiary colors are also used, although deep browns were not as present. The trunks of the trees use mainly dark yellows and different shades of tan and oranges. The sky is a forget-me-not blue, with no clouds in sight. The blue near the hill-top is a powder blue, and as it climbs upwards, it grows steadily more vibrant.

Yet after sitting in front of the painting for a while, I notice that the red in the painting isn’t easy to catch. In fact, there are simply random flecks of red in different areas of the painting. At first, I think of falling leaves, almost as if the painting is dripping with autumn. Then after observing it longer, I begin to think that the red is actually the leftover of what was on top before. I believe that this concept was influenced by the title of the piece, Hope. Hope is found within ourselves, underneath all the doubts, fears, and misconceptions. The flecks of red remind me of the leftovers of a scratch card when you have scratched off the surface and found what lay underneath. If this painting had been beneath a thick layer of red, beneath doubt, fear, and misconception, then what I am viewing now is the hope that has always been there. The beauty underneath.

This painting is asymmetrical. I notice because the path my eye took when it had scanned over the painting for the first time did not begin in the center. It had started at the top of the nearest tree. Then my eye had worked its way down the trunk, across the row of stones, through the vibrant stream, up the farthest tree, flitted across the hill, and finally had made its way up the blue sky to the top edge of the wood. Even though I follow this path with my eyes over and over, it is undoubtedly inexhaustible. I feel like there something more to find, and I cannot tear my gaze away.

Past Tense

The opposite side of the painting, Ghost Tree, I did not observe for as long. This side depicted the edge of a mountain, or possibly a hill (too close to tell) littered with dark, daunting pine trees, and one blinding white pine tree in the near center. The title of the piece, Ghost Tree, made me think that the white tree was in the place of a great tree that had been chopped down. Yet when I looked at it with no bias from the title, I was brought back to hope again. The white tree was like a beacon that shines, unable to be missed, in the depths of a dark forest. The entire piece, with both paintings, made me hopeful. Not for anything in particular, but simply hopeful. I thought that this piece came near to perfection. The details fit together with the theme and subject matter as well as each region. Both paintings were beautiful, while one was a kaleidoscope of color, and the other a lighthouse in the middle of a deathly calm, black sea. Yet both sides spoke to me with a promise that the future would bring happiness. No matter how dark it might have seemed at the time, or how distant that blinding white tree was, that promise would be fulfilled.