View Full Version : Mercury Distracted SxS

Alex Wisniewski
01-02-2012, 03:11 AM
It was seeing a catalogue from a Salvador Dali exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London in 1980 that was instrumental in my decision to pursue painting as a career. It was as though a window on my subconscious had been thrown open. I focused my attention on learning this visual language, applying Dali’s ‘paranoiac-critical-method’ and studying the other surrealists; Magritte, Tanguy, De Chirico, Earnst, Delvaux, etc as well as the Masters refered to by Dali; Velasquez and Vermeer in particular.
My attraction was, and still is, that surrealism offers a vehicle to express what I could not express in words. The tenuous and intuitive connections between ‘things’ ... those metaphors which make complete sense at the fringe of reality, but appear absurd at face value. Contradictions and paradox are the substance of this irrational world. The use of traditional, realist painting techniques further heightens its impact.
In the subsequent years I explored this strange world in many paintings, some with tongue-in-cheek humour, some with seriously sinister overtones, and some for the pure joy of the imagery. It became obvious that too much analysis is not a good thing. Quite often the actual relevance of a painting wouldn’t be clear to me until the process had been completed and I’d look at the finished work.
‘Mercury Distracted’ is the first of these to be recorded in its developmental stages, at least the physical act of painting it, I had been working with the idea on and off for months before then. It began as an allegory of America’s obsession with, and dependance on, oil and ended as a study in the power of desires and the consequences of pursuing them. Mercury is poised on the brink of a decision ... will he pick up the genie-lamp and have his every wish fulfilled? ... or will he realize that to do so would mean the loss of his demi-god status and return to his origins?
In the end it’s not necessay to know the answer, just as it’s pointless to look for any logical foundation or explanation of the painting beyond the initial tentative ideas.

The backgound underpainting has been done with very wet acrylic, brushed on in strips of graduated pre-mixed colour then blended with large, soft brushes. Two thin layers gives a more even result. The sky has a final third layer applied at this point.
The computer generated figure was printed at 1:1 scale in a program called ‘Poser’ which allows for precise control over lighting, perspective and position of the model. A tracing has been made using a soft white chalk pencil on translucent paper and transfered to the canvas. The shadows of the figure have been underpainted and the headland has been sketched in.

The figure has been underpainted, leaving softened edges on the back of the head and torso. This edge will be gradually blended into the background once the lines are established.
The idea that the figure is a generic male generated in software seems apt to represent Mercury, the mythical messenger of the ancient Greek gods. It was the Greeks who gave us the classical canon of proportions of the universal man, as well as the mathematics required to run my computer.

The foreground structure is sketched in and the darks roughly modelled in thin acrylic (ultramarine blue and burnt umber). The shape itself is derived from a photo of a rhinoceros used on the cover of a 12” vinyl album called ‘Lone Rhino’ by Adrian Belew which I often listen to while I paint. Here I’ve used its hindquarters, morphing into the ground, as a counterpoint to the cool colours and a compositional anchor. It also echos the transmogrification that Mercury is undergoing.
The water line is positioned to mirror the rhino form on the right. bending to smoothly connect to the line of the figure’s left thigh.

The rhino form’s mid tones and lights are developed and the figure’s shadow is roughed in.
The water line and foam pattern is established, with attention given to the distortion on the right side of the figure. I want Mercury to look like he’s been extruded from the elements, leaving an optically distorted wake. The lines and tones of the figure will graduate into background more evenly as the painting develops. At this point, I’m still undecided about the skin colour and am using the sky/ocean pallet.

The background cloud pattern is introduced, with a strong linear pespective centred on the figure’s head. I’ve used the golden mean ratio (approx. 1:1.618) to position both the horizon (at 0.618 of the painting’s height) and the vanishing point of the cloud pattern (at 0.618 of the width). This gives me a solid foundation to the structure of the painting, the position of the figure is also placed using this ratio.
The seagull, an oblique reference to Mercury’s symbolic heal wings, is blocked in. This is a favourite motif which appears in a number of earlier paintings. Its role here is to provide some dynamism in an otherwise calm scene as well as a symbolic connection.

The seagull is completed. Again, two coats give a smoother and more dense finished surface, especially in acrylic.
The object of Mercury’s distraction ... the golden genie lamp is blocked in and the tassle attached to it’s handle is drawn in and loosely painted. Along with his role as messenger of the gods, Mercury is also known as the patron of merchants. Apparently his message service also included freight and the buying and selling of desirable goods. What greater motive would he need than the potential profits offered by a wish-granting genie to leave the godly realm and manifest in the physical?

Darker tones are painted into the ocean, swell lines and waves drawn in, further clarifying the distortion on the figure’s right. An island is introduced on the left horizon.
The foam line is given a thin shadow and a warm highlite, creating a sharp distinction between ocean and beach.
Mercury is caught at the moment of decision. His desire is strong enough to stretch the membrane of reality, but not to hold it there permanently. If his attention releases from the lamp, he’ll be drawn back into the elements to his mythical occupation. If he chooses to grasp the lamp, his umbilical connection will be broken and he will have to manifest physically to enjoy the fruits of his desires.

Breaking waves and foam details are added. The two lines of white water to the right of the figure further heighten the optical distortion.
Some warmer sand colour is used in the middle ground foam.
The clouds are further refined with highlites. I apply cloud colour with a ‘dry’ brush, the paint itself is vey liquid but applied in small amounts and rubbed to a soft edge. This is where the fast drying time of acrylic paint creates a challenge. There isn’t as much time to acheive a softly blended edge as oil paint allows. If too much paint is put on the surface there’s not enough time to blend it out before it starts drying and leaving hard edges. Painting in layers, as well as using very liquid paint (50% water), are the key.

The beach is given form and and painted in four or five tones. I find it most effective when working on surfaces like the sand to work from dark to light, with a similar dry brush techinique as used in the clouds. The figure shadow and rhino-form shadow are deepened and rippled to match the sand pattern.
Another warmer layer of colour completes the rhino-form, tweaking the detail and smoothing out graduations.

The genie lamp and tassle are detailed with stronger contrasts of tone and hard edges. A technique I use to enhance hard edges is to paint a thin light corona around them, in this case a lighter tone of sand colour outlines the form, softly blended out. This heightens the distinction between object and background.
Finally, having decided that Mercury’s skin colour should be silvery and somewhere between flesh and sky, his form is given its finished surface and the graduated transition between his form and the background is smoothed.

01-02-2012, 08:20 AM
Excellent WIP, thank you for sharing your efforts and techniques, greatly appreciated.

01-02-2012, 11:23 AM
THanks for sharing your WIP, I love to see how it evolved!
Your details are amazing, love the clouds too!!
Excellently done!:thumbsup:

Alex Wisniewski
01-02-2012, 11:30 AM
Many thanks idylbrush and OkeeKat,

I hope this was the right place to post this. I'm still navigating my way around here. I have to say it's a pleasure to share something that's been so important to me for so long with people who are appreciative.

01-02-2012, 11:52 AM
Yup this is the right place.. as long as its one new post a day thats fine.
its good to give each painting its own thread.. more views that way, rather then adding new to an old thread viewed already,less likely to be viewed again and your added paintings missed.
I enjoy seeing the progression, it helps me learn more, other techniques
I'm self taught and always learning new things every day!