Painting in 3D - the Origins of Impasto
This week, I've decided to take you on a bit of a historical whirlwind tour that will help you appreciate just why I've come to love impasto so much! There'll be romance languages and action painting and expressionists, not a stuffy lesson. Promise =)
As I've probably mentioned before, painting didn't always feel right to me. My brushstrokes didn't feel right and I didn't particularly like it as a medium - at least, not until I discovered impasto and the joys of the palette knife. Shortly after I began experimenting with the technique, I began to wonder how it had developed. It turns out that it's got a rich artistic tradition behind it, filled with some of the world's most famous artists and some fascinating living artists too - see the detail above!
For those of you who don't speak Italian (unfortunately that probably covers most of us), impasto is an Italian word that means 'dough' or 'mixture', and when you see an impasto piece so thick and heavy you could use a knife to cut a slice, you'll get why the palette knife enters the scene. It's also fun to say in a bad Italian accent, just FYI.
The technique started with the old masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer, but they used oils and could only build up layers of paint slowly. It captured the light beautifully, but it wasn't until Van Gogh and the French Impressionists that impasto painting really began to get interesting. Van Gogh began using it to show drama and depth and movement in his paintings, as you might remember from the incredibly famous painting Starry Night. Impasto was responsible for the drama that took it from an interesting impressionist painting to a world-famous masterpiece.
Fast forward fifty years or so (I did say it was a whirlwind, remember!) and we start seeing works by artists like Jackson Pollock, the so-called 'action painter', one of the pioneers of the abstract expressionist movement. He used both oils and the new acrylic and enamel paints in his pieces, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities.
He didn't use a palette knife, but instead built up heavy layers of paint by literally flinging paint at the canvas in a number of different ways. It reached a point that some of the pieces became so sticky heavy that they're now causing problems for collectors and preservers, because the paint is starting to actually come away. Somehow, I don't think he would have minded - it's just another action.
Some casual observers think that he was just getting lucky, but he was incredibly skilled in his understanding of paint. The textures he developed with thick, undiluted paints were exactly what makes impasto such a powerful technique for expressing emotion and adding elements that you just can't get any other way.
In the even more modern era, impasto is a popular technique that's used with a wide variety of paints, but modern acrylics offer possibilities that Pollock and Van Gogh could only dream of. That's where the palette knife really shines, and the rest, as they say, is history!
For more impasto pieces made with a palette knife, you can follow my Instagram here instagram.com/trishaknifepainter/ or check out my complete gallery here theknifepainter.com/all/