Behind the Scenes of Back Pasture with Barn in Sheffield
Oil on Canvas, 29“x40“, Painted in 2003
Available at the Laurel Tracy Gallery
Back Pasture with Barn in Sheffield is a view from the pasture behind his summer studio, which is located in the barn seen in the painting. The painting includes a variety of trees, from the apple tree in the foreground to cedar, pine and walnut. In the middleground, you can see the barn where Francis lives and paints in the summertime.
Francis first calls attention to the colors of the pasture and trees and notes that they are not simply a selection of shades of green. There is a variety of color created through color-spots, for instance, the pale greens of the apple trees and the rust colors in the cedar trees. With the color-spot way of painting, here everything is taken by sight from nature.
In this painting, we have dual aspects of painting - work done from sight and also geometry. In considering the role geometry plays within a work of art, we will look at the Golden Section Ratio. The Golden Ratio is defined as the division of a line so that the ratio of the smaller segment to the larger segment is the same as the ratio of the larger segment to the sum of two segments. The Golden Ratio was known in the Renaissance period as The Divine Proportion.
In this painting, Back Pasture with Barn in Sheffield, the dark trunk of the apple tree in the foreground of the painting divides the painting into a short section on the left and a longer section to the right hand edge of the canvas. This division of the width of the canvas is in the Golden Ratio. The same ratio occurs between the dark trunk of the foreground apple tree and the light trunk of the first cedar tree to the right, and that cedar’s trunk to the right edge of the canvas. The Golden Ratio can also be seen in such smaller details of the painting as the placing of fence posts and the trunks of other trees.
The use of the Golden Section organizes harmonically the placing of shapes on the flat surface of the canvas but the picture also communicates sensations of depth and space. Viewers can picture themselves at the left of the painting walking through the orchard, through the fencing and out past pastures towards Canaan Mountain in the distance. Such sensations cannot be accomplished by a photograph which unselectively takes in everything. The photograph cannot create the guideposts necessary to communicate sensations of depth.
Francis states that you are not viewing an illusion of depth so much as you are experiencing sensations of depth. Representation is a tool used to create sensations of depth, space, movement and 3 dimensional form. These are psycho-physical sensations. They are ideated, not actual. As an example, when viewing this painting you can feel the warmth of the sun on the trees even though you are not actually feeling it.
To experience such sensations, you must be in front of the painting and become part of it. In allowing time to absorb all of the elements you will also come to see and respond to the proportional relationships. You do not need to know the mathematics to see these harmonic proportional relationships in the painting.
Golden Ratio proportions are present around us. They can be found in nature and sometimes in man-made structures. You can see them in the proportions in the growth patterns of plants and in the spiral shapes of shells and pine cones (see the Fibonacci Series). Francis uses the Golden Ratio in many of his landscapes and still lifes but not in the nude or clothed figures, in which he is concerned with the individuality of the human body.
As an artist, Francis may spend a hundred 3 hour sessions, creating a single painting. A true appreciation of what is involved in a work of art cannot be had by someone viewing it for only a few seconds. Francis notes that when a painting hangs in a persons home and they live with it and contemplate it, they develop a relationship with the subject in a way that can never be accomplished by walking past a painting hanging in a museum or art gallery. The appreciation of art takes time. You need time to engage in it and become a part of it.
You can see 23 Francis Cunningham originals at
the Century Masters Exhibition October 2 - November 20 at the Century
Association in New York.
Please email if you would like an invitation to the Opening Reception October 2, 5pm-7pm.