Artist: Ross Bleckner

I am trying to figure out how I incorporate the cathedral interior influence into the structures in my paintings. The mediums I have been using- charcoal and acrylic sketches don’t seem to be helping me get what i want, so I want to look at Bleckner’s work to look at how he uses cathedral structures in his work, and push me to experiment with new mediums out of the sketchbook.

The book Milazzo, R. & Bleckner, Ross, 2008. The paintings of Ross Bleckner, Brussels: Editions Alain Noirhomme.

Chapter 9: Articulating the Void: Unknown Quantities of Light (1987-88), Knight/Night (1987-89), Architecture of the Sky (or Dot or Constellation) Paintings (1988-93), and Other Series

Bleckner’s part, despite the odds, and no matter how irrational, [is to] to articulate the void,


Architecture of the sky series of paintings is the one I’m interested in – even the name is great!

The circles are ‘ever-widening’ and go down from a ‘focal point’ at the top centre of the paintings.

Bleckner was interested in constellations, cells, dome shapes, light waves.

It is as if Bleckner were trying to come up with images of our world or the universe whose patterns could tell us or show us something about who or what we are in a more minute but objective and scienftific way.


His architecture of the sky paintings reference the Abstract Expressionists but also reference architecture.

the larger or more universal [painting] – the abstract image, the signs or symbols, the transcendent dimension – yields another, more architectural or architectonic in nature.


The paintings are about the AIDS epidemic. The dots in the paintings can be seen as a number of things relating to this, including the a feeling of universal-ness.

The domes are ‘mapped’ by the spots of paint, arranged in ‘horizontal tiers or arcs’.

The dome beckons the gaze of a single individual… upward into a private, sheltering realm. The dome embodies awe, desire, and consolidation… Its insistent, ascending rhythm draws the viewer upward with all the force of desire, and… delivers him into the empyrean.


Empyrean meaning the (the highest form of) heaven.
^ I like the idea that the dome shapes embody feelings.

Bleckner completed these paintings using complicating layers of paint and resin that required specific drying times in the process.

the constellations of ‘mere’ dots, in these paintings, on a universal level or plane, articulate an architectural figure or vision, one that has as much to do with the cosmic, the heavenly or the divine, the transcendent per se, as it does with the gruff ‘patina’ of earthly experience.


^ I love this sentence! My work is also about this play between the ground, the earth, and great heights, with intrinsic meaning and grandeur.

P.121 is an image from a page in his sketchbook – his sketches of structures are similar to the shapes I want to make.

Looking up ‘as the emptying itself into something larger than itself.’ I get what Milazzo is saying when he refers to the sensations of looking up at ancient churches, sky scrapers or the sky itself. I think this sensation is easy to experience when looking at man-made buildings, especially modern architecture. But for me the wonder that comes with seeing vast and grand spaces is a sense of being grounded in myself. And this is especially true when looking up at forest canopies, or buildings with more religious or cultural gravity than modern day buildings.

“I still see myself looking out of the same window,” Bleckner says “still wondering about things in the sky and things I’ll never know… I like to paint paintings that are full of awe.


^ I am so painting things that I am in awe of too!!!

Bleckner goes on to explain that his paintings move from being one thing to the next when one is looking at them: ‘They go from being things in the atmosphere to being nothing at all..’. My work plays with that line between the representational and anything the viewer identifies it with. And as a result I think my paintings also shift in what they ‘are’ as one looks at them.
This is interesting because it is in reading about other artists and works and looking at them in relation to my own do I realise what my painting and thinking is and isn’t about.

Bleckner’s work also reminds me of the medieval model of the universe – where the sky was to seen to have an edge to it, which was the barrier between the next layer, like an onion with the earth at the centre. This idea of the sky being infinite, as we see it today, vs the sky being a closed space really changes how space is seen! – Since when there are edges to a space, a space can feel vast and grand is a way that an endless space can not feel.
Lots of interesting points on P.120 that I could refer back to! But too much and perhaps not relevant enough to write all here.

Domes, as models for the cosmos, are one of man’s attempts to recreate and rationalize the external world. Moreover, they refer to the Ptolemaic vision of astronomy, which holds that the earth (and therefore man) is at the centre of the solar system.


^ What I was just talking about above! Also the use of domes is an interesting take on architecture!

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Architecture of the sky III, 1988
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Architecture of the Sky V
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The Fifth Examined Life, 1989
Oil and wax on canvas, 92 x 72 in.
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Ross Bleckner Untitled, oils, 2014 45.7 x 45.7 cm (18 x 18 in)

So many of his works are interesting, I have included a bunch of his works here to refer back to.

Chapter 10: Examined Life (1988-91) and Other Paintings (1989-1993) seems interesting but not as relevant I don’t think to me. Might be worth reading though?

Bleckner also works in watercolours to convey his intentions. These works are less refined by as interesting if not more:

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‘Untitled’, 2002
Watercolour on paper
30 x 22 inches (76.2 x 55.9 cm)

It looks like he’s used bleach here to remove the pigment? Or perhaps just skilful watercolour use!

‘Untitled’, 1988
Acrylic and Watercolour on paper
16 x inches 12 inches (40.6 x inches 30.5 cm)

These watercolour works seem to support his oil paintings. I can see ideas in the watercolours that have been defined and strengthened in the oil paintings. The lack of control one can have working with watercolour or ink is good for exploratory work because you have to lose some control over the work. Leading to happy accidents and interesting things to unfold.

Implications for my work

I am going to return to the ink YEY!
It seems a bit symbolic or nicely cyclical to be returning to working in ink. AH.
I want to play around with shapes and dimensions to figure out how I can use the cathedral architecture in my paintings.
It seems appropriate to get out of the sketchbook and work in the medium ink to push myself to act on new things in a refreshing medium.
Ink seems the right medium because of how versatile it is, and because I can play with how much I control the ink – maybe bring bleach back into the process?
Anyway, I am not bothered about colour here so monochrome ink will be good, plus Bleckner’s work has an inky quality. I am going to play with the shapes he used in his paintings and see what happens.

Reading ‘Landscape and Power’

Mitchell, W.J.T., 2002. Landscape and power 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

I read the selected chapters of this book over a few weeks, making notes here as I went. I read this book to understand how my intentions and landscape painting fit into landscape painting in history. And also to understand the British (and western) relationship nature, so I could better understand my paintings in relation to those ideas.


Landscape exerts a subtle power over people, eliciting a broad range of emotions… landscape exerts the passive force of setting, scene and sight. It is generally the “overlooked,” not the “looked at,” and it can be quite difficult to specify what exactly it means to say that one is “looking at the landscape.”


“looking at the view” is said instead of “look at that mountain”:

to look at landscape is an invitation not to look at any specific thing, but to ignore all particulars in favour of an appreciation of a total gestalt , a vista or scene, that may be dominated by some specific feature, but is not simply reducible to that feature.


^ This quote above has similar intentions to what I want my paintings to achieve; there is no focus on any individual brushstroke, and the scenes are dominated by one feature – the structure – but the whole painting is not reducible to that feature, instead the painting is about an appreciation of ‘a total gestalt’.

An empty space is not the same thing as an empty place. An empty place is filled with space, as if space were the negative void that rushes in when a place is vacated. It is the spectral absence that “fills” a hollow shell or a clearing in the forest.


^ My paintings are filled with empty space that is defined by the brushstrokes hovering in it.

Seeing landscape “as an instrument of cultural power”.

System, Order, and Abstraction by Ann Bermingham 

Landscape drawing and painting is argued by Bermingham as transforming landscapes into active “sites of specific ideological attitudes and ambivalencies,” in the 18th c. P.78. Bermingham goes on to read placements of objects such as trees in the landscape and compositional tools to suggests things like man’s isolation in nature P.79.
My paintings therefore are a reflection of how I see the natural world. This was proved true when I had my group crit, and there were comments on how spring like and happy the painting looks, which reflected the feelings of spring arriving and the good mood I was in when painting the scene. Pathetic fallacy?

Difference in two paintings (PP.80-1) between a painting of imagination and a painting of sensation. Between a grand overview of a perfect landscape, and a description of ‘internal details’. P.79

The experience of vastness is… internalised and contained by the oak trees rather than extended over the landscape.


^ The oak trees are containing the vastness just like a giant building would contain vastness. You need defined boundaries for this sense of space and vastness to be created. If there is no edge to space, it is vast in a much more unimaginable way. 

Chapter Israel, Palestine, and the American Wildnerness by W.J.T Mitchell

“purification” – landscape as a liberation of the visual consumption of nature from use-value, commerce, religious meaning, or legible symbolism of any sort into a contemplative, aesthetic form, a representation or perception of nature for its own sake.

This purification… is… a modern and Western discovery, a revolutionary liberation of painting from narrative and ecclesiastical symbolism that can be dated quite precisely in the seventeenth century.


^ Seeing where my works sits in relation to history. My paintings are a product of my culture: at the moment see the landscapes I am painting are a purely a celebration of nature for its own sake.

Mitchell goes on to say that other cultures, such as Chinese, have placed religious significance on the landscape that prevent ‘a pure appreciation of nature for its own sake.’ This is especially common in cultures that have not ‘developed a tradition of realistic or naturalistic pictorial representation.’ P.265.
In these non-Western cultures, a person sees themselves as part of the landscape instead of ‘as a consciously detached viewer’.

Picture and Witness at the Site of the Wilderness by Jonathan Bordo

Discussing ‘the wilderness’ and what it means.

Wilderness behaving like a name tag attached to some one or group or tribe’s intimate and parochial [relating to a Church parish] relationship to the real, to real estate.


The wilderness in a landscape as a denial of human presence?

Western European art from ‘at least as early as the fifteenth century’ is full of landscapes that are marked by human presence, be that dwellings, roads, smoke, ruins, graves etc. Wilderness as witnessed… wilderness

Removing human traces in landscape painting crosses ‘the threshold’ from witnessed to un-witnessed landscape and therefore makes the landscape about the wilderness. P.299

The painting ‘Arnolfini Portrait’ by Jan van Eyck, 1434:

The painting posits both present and absent witnesses… On the one hand the picture carries a delegate or proxy witness to the event (the witness figure in the mirror). On the other hand the picture as witness substitutes itself for the witness. It is the picture that notarises the event… It “arbitrates” because it sees without having to be present.


^Interesting and relevant in making me consider what my painting’s role is as a witness to the landscape. The painting is created outside in the elements of the landscape, so is it less a witness and more of a recording of an experience?

Wilderness – a place for incident without witness? P.309.

The wilderness is a denial of the meaning of the event…

The wilderness also comes to be a frame and topos [argument] of the aesthetic of the sublime, a reflexive specular looking, constituted through a cultivated or practiced relation to pictures, visually testifying to an unpredictable condition.

With modernity there is no wilderness without a picture.

The wilderness might thus be constructed as a monument without a witness.


^ Our human events, both external and internal, are irrelevant when standing in ‘wilderness’?

Reading this book has been very interesting! I want to return to these notes as my project continues. The implications that will materialise interwoven with future works.. we’ll see!
I do now have more self awareness around how my culture and upbringing affects how I paint the landscape; it makes sense that my paintings are so linked with aesthetics, experience and nature as something to witness as external from it, I think you can see that in the painting.
It will be interesting to see if I can challenge my own defaults with this, and bring in elements to the painting. I am thinking here of the interior of cathedrals that I have become interested in.
The implications of drawing religious inspired structures into my paintings; I then could be reintroducing ritualistic, spiritual or religious associations into woodlands. Like a conversation I had last night: the vikings had a lot of rituals in the woods.

I am also fascinated by this idea that for space to have depth and height and atmosphere it must be contained. So Cathedrals act in the same way as woods – they both contain space and therefore create a lot of height.

This book has really impacted my practice!

Artist: Clare Woods

Rubery Hill
Rubery Hill
47 x 68 cm
Enamel on MDF
Cold East
Cold East
122 x 183 cm
Enamel on MDF

These paintings above, Woods says, are painted from many photographs taken at night. She would put use the camera flash to photograph undergrowth.

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Black Vomit
Mistaken Point
Mistaken Point
250 x 1050 cm
Enamel on Aluminium
The Hepworth Wakefield

Woods works from photographs of British landscapes back in her studio.

Visually ambiguous, sometimes disturbing and definitely claustrophobic, it is as though Woods is telling us through her representation of rocks and tangled vegetation about her own conflicted relationship with the rural environment. Having studied and lived in London for many years, she moved to the country relatively recently, and finds she has experienced feelings of alienation from and ambivalence about both city and countryside, but in different ways.

Some of the images are full of foreboding, the encroachment of nature on a human being entering the corridors of ancient rock which threaten to engulf and even devour. Others are imbued with playful pinks and aquas, suggestive not just of seething ecology but of complete worlds encased secretly by the granite.

“I wanted some of the pieces to have a collaged feel and create a world within the landscape. I also wanted the pieces to work with the landscape of the gallery,”

Quote of Woods,

Woods has a strong sense of both working within a pastoral tradition in British art, but of also trying to extend boundaries in how responses to landscape are expressed.

The landscapes of Clare Woods are about as far removed from the sublime as you can possibly get.

Interesting how Woods uses blocks of swirling paint and colour to form semi-recognisable landscapes in her more recent work.
It is interesting to look at her work to understand the atmosphere she creates in the variety of paintings.

Artist: Pieter Jansz. Saenredam

This is the painting that I saw and sketched in Edinburgh’s Scottish National Gallery. The use of perspective, space and height captured is wonderful. The more I sketched the painting in the gallery the more I realised it had parallels with the structures in my work.

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Pieter Jansz. Saenredam The Interior of St Bavo’s Church, Haarlem (the ‘Grote Kerk’) 1648

It states on the National Gallery Scotland website that although the painting was based on lots of precise perspective drawings, Saenredam “deliberately distorted the proportions of the pillars and vault to increase the sense of monumental scale.” This decision is the reason the painting has such gravity.
Standing in front of the painting and looking straight forward, I could see the scene from the eyes of someone in the cathedral. Looking up at the painting I could really feel the sense of space and height. I’m not sure if the painting was hung at this height deliberately, since my individual height happened to cause this experience, but nevertheless it was is effective way to experience a painting.

Saenredam’s paintings of church interiors and town halls demonstrate his remarkable eye for architectural detail and his sophisticated use of linear perspective. He achieved a sensitive balance between topographical accuracy and pleasing design in his finished works, which were the result of meticulous preparation through carefully measured drawings.

National Galleries Scotland website

Digital sketches looking at these cathedral paintings. Trying to understand the shapes; why and how they work. I think it would be beneficial doing more linear sketches like these in my sketchbook to explore the shapes more. It is making me reconsider the shape of the structures in my paintings.

Artist: Alex Katz

Katz, A. et al., 1999. Alex Katz, Torino: Hopefulmonster.

Painting ‘Reflections’ 1994 (p.170).
I am interested in the blocks of colours, and the marks made on top of the blocks of colour. This work has a limited colour palette, and is abstracting its subject quite extremely.
Katz believes the ‘all-overness in a lot of the big landscapes’ comes from art.
I interpret ‘all-overness’ as meaning a quality where every inch of the canvas is equally important and there is no focus on one point or subject, the whole is the focus point. This idea makes sense since he goes on to talk about Pollock and Baroque paintings which he says ‘don’t have much of an image, they just have motion.’
This idea of all-overness is present in the painting ‘Reflections’ .

Paintings ‘Dawn’ 1995 and ‘Dawn III’ 1995 (p.200-1).
Idea of painting with consideration of the light and atmosphere, and prioritising that over brush marks or anything else.

Painting ‘Autumn I’ 1999 (p.260).
Love the use of yellow as the background. Impactful light and atmosphere created. Katz seems to use a lot of this colour in his work.
The colour is overwhelming considering the size of the work.

Painting ‘Dark Green’ 1997.
Interesting use of one sap green shade for background, which acts as a colour indicator as well as a suggestion of distance where no paint has been applied on top.
This makes me consider adding more ‘blocks’ of colour in my work.

Painting ‘Lawn Party’ 1965 (P.52).
The trees in the right hand top corner have been painted wonderfully. They are painted four colours; light yellowy-white green, dark sap green, light grey, blue-grey.
Katz paints the leaves in blocks of shape and dots of the same colour surrounding the blocks. It’s a very pleasing way to paint trees and more specifically leaves, simply.
This is reinstating how successful block areas of paint can be.

Sylvester, D. et al., 1997. Alex Katz : twenty five years of painting : from the Saatchi Collection., London: Saatchi Gallery.

Painting ‘May’ 1996, oil on canvas, 305x610cm, p.26.
This is more like the work I have been doing – the brushstrokes are fractured and there is movement in the work. Instantly, the scene looks far more alive and spring/summer like than other works.
More fragmented brushtrokes seems to indicate more life and energy than bigger ‘block’ of paint.
One thing I have been considering in my painting has been how to convey these still, wintery, bare woods, when my painting language has been very energetic and fragmented etc. Perhaps bigger areas of still paint would work for stiller landscapes. This is something I cannot learn more about without experimenting!


Paint applied in blocks appear ‘stiller’ than small separate brushstrokes.
Try adding more blocks of colour maybe as the first layer of painting to map out the landscape.

My paintings have a quality of ‘all-overness’ in my paintings; where the whole canvas is the focus point.

Artist: David Hockney

The history of pictures begins in the caves and ends, at the moment, with an iPad.


I saw a retrospective of Hockney at the Tate Britain a few years ago and the landscapes in it really stuck with me, especially the colour palette used. His work has been a subconscious influence ever since so I want to read more about the work and examine his paintings in more detail.
I am going to focus on Hockney’s landscapes that he began to make at the start of the century. I am interested in the colours and marks made, and how he paints en plein air.

David Hockney from book Hockney, D. et al., 2017. David Hockney, London: Tate Publishing

Hockney studied the use of optical devices in art history and determined that ‘the camera homogenises the world and discourages active looking’. P.172
His thesis on that topic: ‘Secret Knowledge’ (2006).

Hockney paints the landscape from memory and observation.

‘Artists thought the optical projection of nature was verisimilitude*, which is what they were aiming for,’ [Hockney] said: ‘But in the 21st century, I know that is not verisimilitude. Once you know that, when you go out to paint, you’ve got something else to do. I do not think the world looks like photographs. I think it looks a lot more glorious than that.’

*Verisimilitude means the appearance of being true or real.

^ I completely agree with this statement, painting from life is superior to painting from photograph for my work.

Paintings on Pp.176, 177, 180.
Looking at the paintings it appears Hockney has a very decided use of colour. He seems to work in blocks of colour with varying shades of the same hue. This can be seen with this painting (p.176):

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David Hockney A closer winter tunnel, February-March 2006 oil on canvas, 6 panels 190.5 x 381 cm overall Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased with funds provided by Geoff and Vicki Ainsworth, the Florence and William Crosby Bequest and the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation 2007 © David Hockney Photo: AGNSW

Colour edit of painting highlighting four different colour palettes taking up space.

Simplifying shid further you get:

Colour palette of four different sections.

These block colours work well together! Which makes the painting harmonious.

There also appears to be very clear shapes in the painting that lead the eye towards the horizon and are pleasing even with basic block colour shapes.
I could think about this in my work – placing ‘blocks’ of colour that work well compositionally (I think I started doing a bit of this when working on this body of work last year).

Essay: Ways of Looking, and being in the bigger picture by Andrew Wilson

Hockney thinks that naturalism is not real enough, naturalism as being ‘artifice rather than truth’. (p.214)

Masaccio is named as a painter that paints scenes ‘that the viewer somehow feels an amplified connection to a pictorial world that they take to be ‘real’… artifice temporarily falls away and we believe what we see. Moreover, we fail to distinguish it as effectively an artificial construction.’

If this is actually the case, one result of perspective would be to remove any separation between the viewer of the painting and the painting itself


This is interesting because I have been using perspective in my work to to trick the viewer into seeing height and depth.


Try more colour blocking in my paintings.
Blocks of colour for different areas and sections of the scene in front of me.

Another way of thinking about perspective: multiple-point perspective is a way of removing the separation between the scene in the painting and the viewer.

Artist: Richard Smith

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Painting, 1958, oil on canvas, 1520 x 1221 mm

I saw this painting at the Tate Modern over the Christmas break and was immediately captured by it. The vibrancy and warmth of the colours pulled me in. Then the depth, energy, movement of the brushstrokes kept me in front of it; taking in the whole painting.
The painting reminded me of the kind of work I was making first year second & third term.

The richness of the colours is due to the use of oil paints, which seem to always create a richer hue than acrylics, even when thinned.

The way the paint has been applied appears kind of structural – see photoshopped lines over image of the painting.
The flat canvas has the illusion of depth and dimension.
This dimension is created in the pure colours of yellow. Possibly because the different shades of yellow imitate highlights and shadows of a structure, and add the illusion of depth.

Around the time of the making of Painting Smith was also developing a growing interest in the physical and mental properties of environments generated by the mass media.

Tate website:

Learning what the subject and focus of Smith’s work was, shows how subjective his work is. I see this painting as a link to my landscape paintings, and I’m sure other viewers would find equally personal links to their own lives in the painting which doesn’t reflect Smith’s intentions.

Richard Smith, ‘Piano’ 1963
Piano, 1963

This area sits in the grey space between painting and scultpure, although Smith insisted that these works were purely paintings, since a canvas has three dimensional sides so it is already not flat.

The ink lines and rough brushstrokes have remind me of how I’ve been working, and the play with structure and illusion in his work is something I’ve been interested in. Could this be a prompt to work with three dimensions in my own work?

In series: Sixteen Pieces of Paper ‘Interval’
MEDIUM Screenprint on paper
DIMENSIONS Image: 392 x 372 mm
ACQUISITION Presented by the artist 1976

The direction of these marks creates strong movement and to me, the sense of wind rushing through something. I want to try this idea of direction of marks in my own painting. If brushstrokes are angles upwards, or in flat planes or shapes, how does that effect the space and the level or movement?