Saturday, March 5, 2016

Where does your eye go?

The power of the horizon line

By Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

A few weeks ago, while driving up to Flagstaff, I felt as if I were enveloped in a mass of fluffy grey clouds. It was pleasant, and yet, disconcerting. Something was a little off, and I realized that it was because from my perspective, the horizon was so low. My view was all about the sky and its atmospheric effect.

Landscape #715
50" x 60" oil on canvas
 Albert Scharf 
Painters use horizon placement as a technique to convey their story. It can orient the viewers to where the artist wants them to be. A low horizon, like the “cloudscape” I saw, suggests a deep, open space; whereas a high horizon places the emphasis on the foreground. If the horizon is basically in the middle of the canvas, then the eye will be drawn more to color and shapes.

Landscape 802
54" x 42" oil on canvas
 Albert Scharf 
When I was pondering the low horizon line, I immediately thought about Albert Scharf, a Wilde Meyer artist who lives in Santa Fe. Looking at Albert Scharf’s beautiful cloud paintings, you can really sense the vastness of the sky I was feeling myself. When I spoke with him, he said that he finds that clouds are an interesting subject because of what they do to the light, and since they have abstract shapes, he’s not bound by form or structure.

“Clouds have an amorphic shape that enable me to pursue my interest in the emotional content of color,” he said.  “Also, the manipulation of their hard and soft edges gives great energy to the paintings.”


At first, Albert just painted clouds, but he then decided to add the thin slice of land below as a counter balance which, he noted, makes the sky look even larger. This is the effect of the low horizon that intrigues me. You can see how this happens in Albert’s painting entitled “Landscape 802.” (Yes, he numbers all his paintings.)  In “Landscape 715,” he has increased the size of the ground and textured it with a palette knife, which separates the land and sky and gives the painting a completely different look.

Landscape 852
60" x 48" oil on canvas
Albert Scharf 
Although he has seen many beautiful Santa Fe skies in the 30 years he has lived there, Albert does not use local color; rather he prefers to present his ”skyscapes” in analogous saturated hues that transcend through the conscious into the subconscious. “I want to take my viewers to a place where they feel good,” he said. A great example of this technique can be seen in “Landscape #852,” where the sky bursts with hues of pink, gold and violet.

On the other hand, Larry Taylor’s interest lies in the beautiful gardens he paints, so he purposely keeps his horizon line high. He says that it’s his personal preference, “just the way I look at the scene.”
The Well Traveled Path
 35" x 35" oil on canvas
Lawrence Taylor

Since the 1980s, Larry has made periodic trips to England and Wales, visiting the gardens of the British National Trust. The photographs he takes on site are used for inspiration in his paintings. In his work entitled “A Quiet Place,” Larry leads the viewer’s eye up the steps to the horizon, and along the way, we are treated to a gorgeous display of red tulips, purple irises and mounds of golden hued flowers. I just want to walk right into the scene!

Quiet Place
40" x 44" oil on canvas
Lawrence Taylor

“The Well-Traveled Path” is another example of Larry’s technique of getting the viewer to travel from the foreground to the end of a path near the high horizon. His clusters of blooms vibrate with color. Although our eyes are initially attracted to the brilliant red flowers in front, we still want to go up the path and see what’s going on at the house in the background.

Is horizon line placement always important to create drama? Not necessarily. Judy Choate is more interested in perspective and balance when painting her stylized landscapes. The excitement in her work comes from the brilliant colors and somewhat abstract shapes she uses to convey her impressions of the mountains of the Southwest. Judy has observed their interesting formations for years, while living in Sedona, on driving trips, and, now near her home in Tucson.

Approaching Storm
 48" x 60" acrylic on canvas
Judy Choate 
In her large (48”X60” painting entitled “Approaching Storm,” the horizon is actually in the middle of the scene. She catches our eye in a different way, by painting dark shapes in the foreground as a foundation, describing the mountains in warm pure hues in front and in more opaque colors behind. The slash of deep blue defines the horizon and adds more depth. Then our eye goes up to the whirling shapes of the sky.

Judy often lets the shape of a canvas determine her design. For example, in “Approaching Sunset,” the 20”X60” format dictates a wide-angle view of the mountains. We see a piece of the horizon line behind the golden shapes, where the sky swirls upward.

Approaching Sunset
20" x 60" acrylic on canvas
Judy Choate 
Some artists do away with a horizon line altogether. But, that’s another story, another blog!

You can see more work by Albert ScharfLawrence Taylor, and  Judy Choate at Wilde Meyer Gallery.