Working on different coloured grounds

Coursework 1.2, Creative Arts 1.2 Creative Arts Skills, Creative Arts BA (Hons), history of art, Project 2: Developing Creative Skills, Research & Reflection, Uncategorized


During my recent artistic explorations, I discovered the transformative impact of working on a dark ground on my perception and understanding of composition. As artists, we often focus on individual objects within a painting, overlooking the arrangement of shapes, tones, and colours that encapsulate the piece’s essence. Through my experience with dark grounds, I gained a newfound appreciation for the importance of considering negative shapes, design, compositional interest, and the main subject’s outline and form.

Traditionally, we consider painting supports as white spaces awaiting our creative marks. However, it is essential to remember that using white grounds is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the nineteenth century, artists typically worked on coloured backgrounds. The Impressionists pioneered the exploitation of white ground, harnessing the reflective nature of the canvas to emphasise the brilliance and dazzle of their vibrant, pure colours. The white background illuminated the transparent layers of thinly applied paint and heightened the impact of individual colours when the ground showed through between them.

Working on a dark ground shifted my perspective and challenged me to view my compositions differently. With the darker background, I paid closer attention to the negative spaces and the relationships between shapes and colours. This new focus expanded my understanding of the importance of composition and the role of the ground in achieving a balanced and harmonious piece.

Additionally, the historical context of coloured grounds inspired me to reflect on the evolution of artistic techniques and styles. I felt a connection to the past, knowing I was participating in a practice that has been part of the artistic journey for centuries. This awareness encouraged me to experiment further with different grounds and techniques, pushing the boundaries of my creative expression.

In conclusion, working on the dark ground has broadened my artistic horizons and deepened my appreciation for the intricacies of composition and the power of the ground in shaping our perception. The experience has been a profound reminder that, as artists, we must continuously explore and experiment to develop a well-rounded understanding of our craft.

Artists who use dark backgrounds

Numerous artists throughout history have exploited dark backgrounds to create dramatic, compelling, and visually striking pieces of work. The use of dark backgrounds, or chiaroscuro, allows artists to emphasise contrasts between light and shadow, making their subjects stand out and giving their paintings depth and dimension. Here are some notable examples:

Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Caravaggio was an Italian painter known for his extraordinary use of chiaroscuro and dark backgrounds. His paintings often featured intense contrasts between dark and light, lending a dramatic and emotional impact to his work. Examples include “The Calling of St. Matthew” (1599-1600) and “Judith Beheading Holofernes” (1599-1602).

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)

Dutch painter Rembrandt is renowned for his use of chiaroscuro and dark backgrounds. His ability to manipulate light and shadow created a sense of depth and atmosphere in his paintings. Notable examples include “The Night Watch” (1642) and “Self-Portrait with Two Circles” (1665-1669).

Francisco Goya (1746-1828)

Goya, a Spanish painter, utilised dark backgrounds in several of his works to convey deep emotions and powerful messages. Examples include “The Third of May 1808” (1814) and “Saturn Devouring His Son” (1819-1823), both of which are part of his “Black Paintings” series.

Contemporary Artists

I am constantly fascinated by how artists use dark backgrounds to create depth, contrast, and emotional resonance in their work. The deliberate choice to incorporate dark backgrounds in modern artwork brings forth many feelings, making me appreciate each piece’s emotional complexity and storytelling potential.

When I look at paintings with dark backgrounds, I am often struck by a sense of depth that engulfs me, drawing me into the artwork. This depth creates an immersive experience, allowing me to connect more intimately with the subject matter and the emotions the artist conveys. In this way, the dark backgrounds seem to bridge the artwork and my emotional response, deepening my understanding and appreciation of the piece.

The contrast between the dark background and the brighter elements of the composition also elicits a powerful emotional response. This stark juxtaposition emphasises the importance of the subject. It creates a sense of focus, which can evoke feelings of awe, introspection, or even discomfort, depending on the theme and context of the piece. As a viewer, I find that the heightened contrast often allows me to engage more profoundly with the underlying themes and emotions of the artwork, challenging me to confront and explore my own feelings in the process.

Furthermore, the emotional resonance created by dark backgrounds can be quite evocative, stirring up a wide range of feelings within me. Depending on the artist’s intent and the overall composition, these emotions can range from a sense of mystery and intrigue to feelings of solitude, melancholy, or even hope. The ability of dark backgrounds to convey such a diverse array of emotions speaks to the power of this technique in modern artwork.

In conclusion, my personal reflections on contemporary art with dark backgrounds have made me realise the immense potential of this technique to create depth, contrast, and emotional resonance. As I continue to explore and appreciate the work of modern artists, I find myself increasingly drawn to the captivating and emotionally charged world of dark backgrounds and the feelings they evoke within me.

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