The Figure in John Salminens Watercolor Paintings

The Figure in John Salminens Watercolor Paintings

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Recently I shared with you four architectural watercolor paintings by John Salminen, as seen in this beautiful new collection of his work, Master of the Urban Landscape. With more than 150 paintings to view, it seems like another sneak peek is in order! Today you’ll get to take in four of John’s paintings that somehow incorporate the human form, along with his reflections on each piece. Enjoy! ~Cherie

The Human Form: Watercolor Paintings by John Salminen

I often include figures in my work to provide a focal point and a sense of scale. In this context, the people tend to be anonymous. I suggest people rather than paint portraits of them. The figures succeed based on the credibility of the gesture as opposed to detail.

Occasionally, however, a person or group asserts itself individually in one of my paintings and exhibits a presence too strong to ignore. These people become the reason for the painting. They are no longer incidental players in the scene but instead command the spotlight. Gesture remains important, and details invite a more personal response from the viewer.

Times Square Cops
The design principle of repetition can be used to visually unify a painting, but repetition that is too predictable can become boring, so it’s necessary to add variety. The New York City policemen in this painting represent the best combination of repetition and variety.

Lushan Market
I was invited to China to represent the United States in the Lushan Mountain Watercolor Festival. More than 4,000 Chinese high school and college watercolor students from all parts of China attended, as did a group of master artists from China and other parts of the globe to serve as their mentors.

Lushan is perched high above the Yangtze River basin in the Unesco World Heritage Site of Lushan Mountain National Park. This very traditional area, rich in history, was the summer headquarters for Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang government. Chairman Mao used Chiang Kai-Shek’s house there as a holiday home, and it was a frequent meeting place for the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

It is currently home to many people and temporarily “home” to Chinese visitors during the hottest months of the year. Early in the mornings, markets emerge, and the population shops for anything and everything imaginable; by noon the markets disappear again until the following day. This particular market was hidden in a maze of alleyways and staircases, and as I chanced upon it, I saw this scene. I was drawn to it for a very mundane reason. The man in the foreground was cleaning fish, and scales were flying everywhere, offering the potential for energetic marks on the surface of the painting that could help define the busy chaos of the Lushan market.

I was honored when the painting was awarded the Allied Artists of America Gold Medal in the National Exhibition in 2011.

Closing Time
My first job, at age sixteen, was shining shoes in a barbershop. Many barbershops have not changed much in the ensuing years, and when I saw this one in San Pedro, California, it took me back in time. The business was closed for the day, and I photographed it through the plate glass window. It was all exactly as I recalled–the shaving cream dispensers, the bottles of aftershave lotion (witch hazel and English leather) and everything else that was reflected in the large mirrors. I first painted the scene as it appeared but felt the need for more information. I added the barbers to form a transition between the business day, filled with sound and laughter, and the empty shop I saw through the window. I titled it Closing Time.

On the Train
I was initially drawn to this subject because of the strong design elements within the subway car. My purpose was to re-create the abstract nature of the reflected light patterns, but as the painting progressed, the seated figures began to speak in a more assertive manner. As part of my working routine, I frequently put down my brushes and sit back to look carefully at the painting from a distance. Although I always start the painting with a plan, sometimes the painting itself suggests an alternative direction, and that was the case with On The Train. It began as a design-based painting but took on more content as the human aspect grew. In the end, I was pleased with the balance between form (how the painting looks) and content (what it says).

Watch the video: John Salminen, Watercolorist (July 2022).


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