The Paintings of James Gillick

27 04 2010

James Gillick is an English artist based in Lincolnshire in England. He is a Catholic and largely self taught (although he has the advantage of coming from a family of working artists). His Catholicism informs his work and he consciously paints in the baroque style . I am particularly fond of his still lives.

When we look at any scene, we do not take it all in, in a single glance. Rather the eye, which has an angle of focus of only about 15 degrees roves around the scene, gathering information that is stored in the memory. We tend naturally to spend more time on those aspects of what is in front of us that we are most interested in and so we have most information about those areas.  Those areas that are of less interest we pass over quickly. At any moment, the image on the retina of the eye has a central region that is in sharp focus, and has the greater colour. Peripheral vision is, in contrast, blurred and depleted of colour (the cells in that part of the retina can only transmit tonal information). The reason that we are not conscious of this is that the picture we see in our mind’s eye is supplemented by information given to it by the brain and which is supplied by the memory. If the memory does not have information about this particular scene, then the brain will supplement the picture, so to speak, with what it feels ought to be there based upon what has been seen in elsewhere. This is usually pretty reliable, but not always. (Illusionists manipulate this, for example, by tricking the mind to supply a picture of something that isn’t there.)

The naturalistic painting of the baroque period (the 17th century), developed a balance of focus and colour that mimicked this natural way of looking at things. The assumption behind it was that mankind is hardwired to appreciate the hand of the Creator in his creation and if the artist works in harmony with the way we see, then the well painted artwork will similarly, through its beauty, point us to the ultimate source of inspiration of the artist. Those areas that are of primary interest in the composition are rendered in sharper focus and contain more detailed information. Similarly, most of the painting, which the artist intends for us to see in peripheral vision is depleted of colour and rendered in monochrome (usually sepia). When this is handled skillfully the artist controls the passage of the eye over the canvas using the interplay of sharp contrast in tone and sharp edges, and supplies greatest detail and colour in those areas that are naturally of greatest interest. They are also the areas that contain most colour.

The academic method of drawing and painting, which was the basis of the baroque style, is gaining ground again, but this baroque balance of focus and tone is not always understood, and even more rarely properly applied. (I am likely to be making this point many times in this blog.) However, James Gillick (who interestingly did not learn his craft one of today’s ateliers of Florence or the US) is certainly someone who is pointing the way to something good for the future: his muted palette and sharp contrast of light and dark is sensitive to the methods of the Old Masters. You can see more of his work at .




4 responses

27 04 2010

Gillick’s work is quite beautiful. I have always been attracted by the still life. Here’s a link to the still life video work by Sam Taylor-Wood that I mentioned at our animated dinner last week I hope you find it interesting. I remember also during the dinner conversation, that you mentioned some of what you speak about above, concerning the periphery of what the eye sees as being in black and white – I only heard the conversation peripherally ;), but was wondering if the venerable Dr. Krzystolik (Magda) was a part of that conversation, and what her opinion was on the matter – what wonderful connections that I did not even imagine appear among ones friends without planning!

10 05 2010
The Paintings of Henry Wingate « The Way of Beauty

[…] inferior to that of the period 200 years before (see previous postings on this blog here, here and here, for more information on this). However, portraiture, and especially that of the Sargent and the […]

19 05 2010
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[…] baroque landscape artist, just as I described in my piece about still lives – here – paints in such as way that it gives us information in the way that we naturally look to […]

21 06 2010
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[…] describe form, in characteristic baroque mode. I have written more about this in articles hereand here. Look, for example, at the mantle. This is intended to be seen in our mind’s eye as uniformly […]

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