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photo of paint texture

The Power of Texture

photo of paint texture


Every great painting or work of art has extraordinary techniques and features. From the brilliant rendering of an enigmatic expression in a famous portrait; to vivid, unexpected Color combinations that stun the viewer; to Patterns that mesmerize and calm the viewer…all of these attributes collectively add up to the overall impact an artwork can have. Is it memorable or forgettable?

Visual art terms separate into the elements and principles of art. Color, form, line, shape, space, and texture are the elements of art. The principles of art include scale, proportion, unity, variety, rhythm, mass, shape, space, balance, volume, perspective and depth. As in music, it is the artist’s choices of instruments, materials and techniques that create the final, unique composition.

Art materials are vital decisions each artist makes to express their ideas. Paint, clay, bronze, pastels, chalk, charcoal and ink are a few examples of artistic materials. Art techniques are often defined by certain periods in art history, by a particular culture and/or by what materials were available at the time. Understanding art techniques will help you define and determine how and why a particular culture created the art.

Another feature used skillfully by the best artists throughout history is Texture. When one stands back to view a great work of art, then moves in for a closer look…those beautiful sunflowers at a distance become thick, masterful daubs of paint that look nothing up close like the end result.

Different artists use different textures to create their work. Some artists use smooth, sleek textures to create a feeling of calm or serenity. Others use rough, jagged textures to convey a sense of chaos or unease.

Different mediums have different ways of expressing texture. For example, in painting, an artist may use a dry brush to create a rough texture, or a wet brush to create a smooth texture. In sculpture, an artist may use different tools to create textures that are either coarse to the touch or sleek. The way an artist uses texture can greatly affect the physical and emotional effect of the piece.

Circa 1844, J. M. W. Turner finished a painting remarkable for its impression of emotion, depth and motion on a static canvas, “Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway.” Using a highly textural technique applying thick impasto with a palette knife, working from a dirty palette, Turner created a dramatic, three-dimensional surface that captured atmosphere, light and shadow and indelibly marked his influence as a precursor of abstract painting.

Texture can be used to great effect in both abstract and representational art. In abstract pieces, texture can be a thick application of paint that conveys the feeling of motion and emotion. Like Vincent Van Gogh, who used the impasto technique when he lived in Paris. In his works, you can see the thick paint strokes that give the paintings a three-dimensional quality.

Robert Rauschenberg was a brilliant pop artist, technical innovator and material eclectic who embraced all three roles throughout his six-decade career. Besides making history in 1964 as the first American to win the Venice Biennale, he is also recognized for his groundbreaking “Combines,” which he produced from found objects and crude materials like sheet metal, wood, newspaper, fabric, tires, and umbrellas, creating mixed media works that are highly textural and tactile by design.


Diamond Dust

On very rare pieces, Andy Warhol used what he called “Diamond Dust” on certain artworks. It is a very unique texture not used by many artists at the time. Warhol, always innovative in the way he approached art, was always looking for different techniques and his use of this scintillating, textured medium is an exciting example. Warhol had his own custom blend of Diamond Dust created as a combination of ground low-grade diamonds and glass (that actually sparkled more than the real stones), and he and his assistants would sprinkle this quickly onto the wet ink, as they only had so much time before materials dried. This added a very unique and interesting texture to specific artworks, which differentiated him from other artists even more.

Texture is a versatile tool that artists can use to create a wide range of effects. So the next time you’re looking at a piece of art, take some time to notice the different textures used by the artist and how they contribute to the overall feeling of the work. Some artists really work their surfaces, building up layers of paint, then sanding away, revealing the ghostlike pentimenti beneath.

If you’d like to discover more about texture in art, reach out to Henry on Pop Art. Henry is a world-class Blue Chip and Contemporary Art expert who can help you find the perfect piece for your collection.

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