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Artful Reduction

November 30, 2009
Above Lake Superior by Lawren Harris

'Above Lake Superior' (1922) by Lawren Harris, oil on canvas, 121.9 x 152.4 cm, Art Gallery of Ontario.

On a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario when I was boy, I was captivated by a painting called Above Lake Superior by Lawren Harris, a member of the famed Group of Seven. I had seen it countless times before but on that day I was drawn to it’s bold simplicity. To so successfully capture the power of the Canadian landscape with such simplified forms and strong composition pays tribute to Harris’ strong design abilities. He obviously applied his design skills, honed as a commercial artist, to the canvas. The painting is a remarkable example of artful reduction that continues to inspire me today.

Winter Afternoon, Mount Nemo.  36x48 inches, oil on canvas.  By Jamie Kapitain

Winter Afternoon, Mount Nemo. 36x48 inches, oil on canvas. By Jamie Kapitain

Photograph of Mount Nemo.

Photograph of Mount Nemo.

For my painting Winter Afternoon, Mount Nemo, I captured far less detail than the photograph provided. I reduced the image to the essential trees, branches, and shadows to create a comprehensible experience that causes an emotional reaction in the viewer. I also reduced the color palette to communicate just the key information. The challenge of artful reduction is to use less to create more of a response. When executed successfully, artists can create powerful works like Harris’ Above Lake Superior. Do you have a favorite painting that used artful reduction?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynn permalink
    February 18, 2011 4:14 pm

    I was looking online on Google images for “early spring” and yours was one of the first ones that came up. I looked through your blog a little, I really like your sketches and paintings. Then googled images for you and I saw the Lawren Harris picture. I remember seeing this picture in a book on the history of Canada years ago, and even though it was a black & white photo, it still had a powerful hold on me. I started looking up information on Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven, I collected a few art books about them. Someday I plan to go to Toronto to see the original of this picture.

    • Jamie permalink*
      February 18, 2011 5:59 pm

      Thanks for commenting Lynn. It’s definitely worth the trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see all of the Group of Seven’s work in person. I make sure to revisit the paintings from time to time and I’m always excited by what I see.

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