The first sight of a truly great work of art is like the opening bars of the Star Wars theme – a kind of thunderclap for the soul. It puts all your senses on high alert and then draws them all together into a sensitized awareness that keeps you looking and sensing. That’s what I experienced when I recently saw David Schab’s “Glass of Water and Lemons.” I don’t want to over-analyze this painting, but it’s so good it deserves some detailed description.
The composition is so simple you might think doing it was easy; however, I know better. Simplicity is not easily achieved; you have to distill out the extraneous elements and emphasize the important features. The problem is choosing the right ones. I don’t think that can be learned; it comes from instinct.
Consider, for example, how the background elements are simply colorful geometric shapes, while the glass and the lemons focus our attention. The eye falls first on the glass with its faceted reflections and then travels up and down over the two lemons. By placing the most interesting textural elements slightly up and to the right, they create a dynamic tension that stimulates a visceral response, a subtle feeling of tightening in the gut and lifting in the heart.
Most of the painting is comprised of primary colors, in two or three different intensities. This combination keeps the entire image harmonious and integrated. The color treatment of the glass is quite sophisticated; all the colors surrounding it have their reflections in it according to their position and size. The handling of the upper rim of the glass is especially deft; it’s divided up between distorted reflections of the colors behind it and simple reflection from the light source coming from the left. This set of reflections is continued down the sides of the glass and into the bottom interior. These not only keep the glass interesting but also serve to tie it into the rest of the composition.
The lower lemon has a small area of a secondary color, green. This color and the fuzzy edge around the peel tell us this lemon is rotting; but how fortunate is this decay in terms of artistic value. It serves as an additional focal point due to its contrast with everything else. I’m imagining that lemon as just yellow, with no green, and it doesn’t work nearly as well. The green just gives the whole thing a little more “punch.”
the yellow and blue backgrounds are simple blocks of solid color with minimal texture. Remembering my own experience with the two (count ‘em, two) oil paintings I’ve done I know you can see a transparent layer you laid down one day run and streak in a very ugly manner the next day, if you don’t get the mixture of pigment and medium just right. Schab clearly has technical mastery of the medium so the paint works as a thin wash as well as thicker layers on the brown, blue and red shapes. For the lemons and the glass, the paint is not impasto but just thick enough to be rich and sensual.
So, in conclusion…
This painting is a perfect illustration of the saying, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” My breakdown above of the factors in its beauty only describe it as if from a distance; its real importance is in the impact the whole has on our aesthetic perceptions. Like a thunderclap, it wakes you up and then makes you want to just sink into it with your eyes and stare at it for hours.
Aaaaaaand the fact that I even did this post confirms my belief that once an art teacher, always an art teacher. I just can’t stand the thought that people might not appreciate this painting for the stunning work of art it is. To see more of Schab’s work, visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/dawid.schab or his Website at https://davidschab.com. Look for the green translate button at the lower left. (You’ll need it unless you speak Polish.)