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ART articles: distortions in painting

Deliberate distortions of nature are used by artists to create a more expressive and expressive picture. These distortions can be exciting or funny, but they always prompt the viewer to think.

Visual art has many goals, and one of them is to make the viewer see familiar things differently-through the eyes of the artist, not their own. Distorting nature is one way to achieve this goal.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) once said that there is a very fine line between an accurate image of a face and a caricature. Many of his portraits are not so far removed from the works of modern animators: their characteristic facial features-nose, chin, etc. – are deliberately exaggerated, so that the character is recognized almost instantly. Artists who use this technique do not just convey what they see, but pass the image through themselves.

Often this results in a special style that helps you recognize the work of a particular artist. For example, the style of the Dutchman van Gogh (1853-1890)can be recognized by exaggerated characteristic bright colors, a high horizon line and body swirling strokes in the form of flames.

At the end of the XIX century. symbolists rejected the rule of the Impressionists to depict nature truthfully and began to use various invented images and forms to Express their ideas.

The images of the Surrealists

Another goal of fine art is to confuse the viewer. For example, Surrealists painted pictures in which the distortion of objects was in the order of things.

► The figures in Gustav Klimt’s painting (1862-1918) “Three ages of a woman” (1905) are shown in unnatural poses so that they can fit on a vertical decorative panel.

Some of these paintings were fantasy from beginning to end, others were images of the subconscious mind and looked like dreams.

In the paintings of Salvador Dali (1904-1989), images are easily recognizable, but familiar objects are placed in an unusual context and therefore appear distorted. In “the Permanence of memory” (1931), he takes a familiar object — a metal pocket watch — and distorts it, causing it to flow gently from a tree branch, as if it were liquid. Images of this kind evoke various emotions – from surprise to disgust, but you can’t ignore them.

Artist’s right

The artist chooses what to depict in the picture. Just as it is acceptable to remove a Telegraph pole from a composition that interferes with the beauty of the landscape, distortions are allowed to achieve the desired effect.

Previously, this was often used by court artists, portraying some nondescript Queen or Princess more attractive by using small distortions — for example, reducing the large nose. In this way, the artist improved the appearance, but the portrait still resembled the original.

If you have not used distortions in your work before, it is better to proceed with them with some caution. Experiment with distortions by performing the following experiments, which can bring amazing and exciting results.


* Write a self-portrait with a reflection on the convex shiny surface of a large silver or chrome spoon. While you are painting the portrait, hold the spoon in your free hand. The reflection will remain similar to you, but the facial features will be flattened or elongated depending on the curvature of the surface.

* The impression of a distorted self-portrait is worth trying to write. You may unconsciously add an emotional element, giving your facial features a sense of sadness, anger, or comicality. Most often, this can be done using the eyes, which are the most expressive part of the face. Being in the center of a distorted portrait, they will have a very large impact on the viewer.

• You can also write a still life reflected in a tureen or teapot. This is much easier to do, because the distortion of objects will be mostly horizontal.

The use of distortion

Since the mid-nineteenth century, distortion has been widely used to increase the power of the image. Surrealist Rene Magritte (1898-1967) painted a green Apple that occupies the entire room in the painting. What was meant by the big Apple, the small room, or was it an attempt to combine two elements of the composition in a strange way?

The Cubists Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) often depicted objects so that all surfaces could be seen at once. However, it is important that these items are familiar to the viewer, otherwise they will not understand what the artist wanted to show using complex distortion.

In the anti-fascist painting Guernica (1937), Picasso deliberately distorts all elements of the composition to Express his disgust for the Spanish civil war, but all elements of the composition remain recognizable.

Expressionist art is also based on distortions. With the help of too bright colors, they caused strong emotions in the audience. The painting “Scream” (1893) by the Norwegian painter and graphic artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) gives the impression that even the sky is in pain, because the shape of the brushstrokes that indicate clouds echoes the face of an irregularly shaped screaming person. In the 30s of the XX century, German expressionists aroused the public’s anger by attacking the audience’s emotions with “freaks”. This applies to the works of Francis bacon (1909-1992), who often showed people in unnatural, distorted poses.

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