My compositional choices and what I choose to paint are very clear, to only include what’s absolutely necessary. I only paint what is needed; subjects that add to the aesthetic of the piece. I use my artistic licence to ignore the unnecessary or mundane objects or subjects within an image. So I create paintings that adhere to my values as an artist whose aim is to create beautiful images that will appeal to the viewer’s innate aesthetic sensibilities.
I believe it is important to me whilst painting a composition, to think about why certain objects or people are even needed in the piece. For example, if I were painting a landscape which in reality had parked cars littering the street and tourists stopping to take photographs, I’d choose to exclude them from the painting as they do not add to the general aesthetic of the piece. Of course rules are meant to be broken; for example in my work “Hong Kong Memories” the red taxi is a Hong Kong’s icon and was included at the clients request.
If I were painting a landscape to highlight the beauty and serenity of a place, including unnecessary subjects would not fit the narrative of what I was trying to convey.
Many of the great masters have used the same approach in their paintings. John Constable who is arguably one of the best landscape artists in history often only paints a single subject in his paintings whose presence is necessary to tell the story of the landscape. The people in his paintings continue the narrative of the piece, because the location wouldn’t make sense without them. Constable’s special inclusion of a figure adds to the romantic nature of his artwork as well as a feeling of nostalgia. Like his painting ‘The White Horse’, he has included this figure of a white horse and its owner as they are of course, the subject matter.
The Aesthetic Movement championed the notion of focusing on what is beautiful. Whistler, Rossetti, William Morris all adhered to this idea.
‘If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’ Morris 1880
I usually paint from photographs, which assists me to reflect on a composition and decide what to include. In many of my landscapes, much like Constable, I have chosen to include a figure because they add to the aesthetic of the painting, for example, in my piece ‘Temple of Light’. The two people neither of which were there in the original image, add to the composition by means of their colour and position which enhances the composition adding to its beauty.
The same goes for ‘Saturday Night – Sunday Morning 3:24 am’, which features a lone figure. The platform was dotted with late night travellers but to include them would distract the eye from the subject I wished to draw attention to, and whose story I wished to tell in my painting. The figure in the painting has had a late and lively night and now in the early hours, he rests his head in his hands waiting for the last tube home. The simplicity of the station creates a calmness, in tune with the character coming down after a busy night. The litter bin, not allowed now, the colour and form of which echo the tube sign opposite and the round circle lights above. The lines and colours are simple and reflect the calmness of the only important character in the image.
Using one’s artistic licence is important, it is what separates a photograph from a painting; editing what’s in front of you to draw attention to what is beautiful or interesting about a space, and only including what’s necessary enhances a painting and mundane or humdrum scenes can result in an artwork with great appeal.