Painting the Four Elements 4: Fire

The Matchmaker by Gerard van Honthorst, 1625, oil, Utrecht Museum

The Matchmaker by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1625, oil, Utrecht Museum

Would you be surprised to realize there are so many ways an artist can paint fire? It has been an essential element for  human use for thousands of years. Maybe that’s why these four elements of water, air, earth and fire touch a chord in our being, and why artists paint them. The tiny hint of flame is barely seen here in the center of G. van Honthorst’s The Matchmaker composition, yet it commands the focal point, illuminates the lady, and back lights the gentleman in the dark foreground.

St Joseph, Georges de la Tour, 1642

St Joseph, Georges de la Tour, 1642

In the 1600’s, painting effects of candlelight became very popular. The La Tour painting named St. Joseph is also called Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop. Candle light mood is soft, warm and comforting.

The El, New York, 1894 (oil on canvas) by  Childe Hassam,(1859-1935)

The El, New York, 1894 (oil on canvas) by Childe Hassam,(1859-1935)

Gaslight is flame. In the late 1800’s, America was lighting up the night with gas street lights seen in this evening cityscape by painter Childe Hassam. He was an American Impressionist, very prolific at that, producing over 3000 paintings, and other media works in his lifetime. (Wow.) I relate to him, because he began his career as a children’s stories illustrator, like I did, and later painted cityscapes, like I do. After those similarities, he and I part ways. But I’m now interested to know more about him.

Chief Niwot Encampment at the Creek, Karen Gillis Taylor, detail, 2012, acrylic

Chief Niwot’s Encampment at the Creek, Karen Gillis Taylor, detail, 2012, acrylic

Meanwhile, in the mid 1800’s, the Arapaho plains tribes built their campfires in Colorado. Fire was an important part of everyday life, and I enjoyed portraying this peaceful scene. The rosy colors in the upper left background echo the foreground campfire warmth. Is there another encampment just over the hill? What kind of fire might be back there?

Lava Flow, Karen Gillis Taylor, color sketch for abstract painting

Lava Flow, Karen Gillis Taylor, color sketch for abstract painting, 2013

It’s the modern era, and fire comes in many forms. In Colorado we know only too well of nature’s forest fires started by lightning in the dry seasons. This color sketch, Lava Flow, for a new abstract painting is about another side of nature, erupting volcanoes in the Pacific islands. Fire is like the other 3 elements an artist might contemplate as incredibly interesting subject matter to paint. It’s both comfortably warming and terribly frightening.

When we consider how the 4 powerful elements of nature humble we humans, it can be mind boggling. And also tremendously beautiful and fascinating.

This subject might be a good starting point for creating images of wonder and challenge. Which of the four elements do you find the most fascinating?

Candle in Espresso Cup, oil on board, Karen Gillis Taylor, 2005

Candle in Espresso Cup, oil on board, Karen Gillis Taylor, 2005

Seeing my two very different painting approaches side by side brings to mind a question:

Should an artist paint in two different genres, the abstract and the realistic? Upcoming blog post is in the works…

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One Response to “Painting the Four Elements 4: Fire”

  1. Leslie Ann Clark Says:

    yes yes! if an artist wants to paint, they must not be stopped! Paint what makes your heart sing! Anything and everything! Let the paint fly!

    Like

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