Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Vignette formats: Abraham & Girard


What are some of the different ways that artists use the vignette format (i.e. an image that has a pictorially dissolved framing edge)?



At the moment I am contemplating a portrait of a young man, shown below, by a Japanese artist whose name is sadly unknown to me. In one sense this delicately handled ink painting exemplifies the most common use of the vignette format (i.e. a pictorially dissolved framing edge); namely, to draw attention away from less significant details in the composition and to focus attention on the critical feature—here, the young man’s face. 

Anonymous Japanese artist
[Portrait of a Young Man], date unknown
(upper left) view of the whole scroll
(upper right) detail
(lower) view of rolled scroll
161 x 56.5 cm (scroll); 105.5 x 42.5 cm (image)
brush and ink on silk
Condition: good condition with minor signs of handling.
I am selling this hand-painted scroll for $256 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.

This painting has been sold

Detail of Portrait of a Young Man
Detail of Portrait of a Young Man
Detail of Portrait of a Young Man
Detail of Portrait of a Young Man


Looking at the vignette treatment in this painting from a slightly different mindset, the pictorial softening of the portrait’s peripheral boundaries also exemplifies a seldom discussed, but nevertheless significant and often occurring perceptual conundrum: the vignette format creates a spatial disjunction between the image and its viewer. By this, I mean that the spatial realm depicted in the image (i.e. the three-dimensional space in which the young man is portrayed) is divorced from the spatial realm occupied by the viewer. From my experience of looking at this painting, for instance, I see the portrait as alternating between visually hovering above the painting support and appearing to sink into the support as if the raw silk were cloudy mist.

This phenomenon of spatial disjunction created by the vignette format is less likely to arise if the portrait were formatted without the vignette treatment. To demonstrate the difference, compare the above portrait with a similar ink painting, Portrait of Chikuin, shown below (again by an artist that is unknown to me but if anyone can help I will be very thankful) composed without a vignette treatment. From a personal viewpoint, the latter portrait presents the figure in an open field of space. My eyes see this open space as an extension of the space that I occupy even though in pragmatic terms the blank space in the painting is clearly not the same as the space surrounding me.


Anonymous Japanese artist
(If there is anyone that can help me identify the artist I will be very grateful.)
Portrait of Chikuin, date unknown
(upper left) view of the whole scroll
(upper right) detail
(centre) view of rolled scroll in original tomobako (signed storage box)
(lower centre) recto view of the tomobako lid
(bottom centre) verso view of the tomobako lid
162.5 x 47.5 cm (scroll); 88.5 x 355 cm (image)
brush and coloured ink on silk
Condition: good condition. There are moth(?) holes hidden from view on the underside of the top support and minor signs of handling. The tomobako is missing an internal scroll support and there is damage to both ends of the box.
I am selling this hand-painted scroll with its original box for $260 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Detail of Portrait of Chikuin
Detail of Portrait of Chikuin
Detail of Portrait of Chikuin
Detail of Portrait of Chikuin

The perception of spatial disjunction arising from the vignette format is even more apparent when the background beyond the image is black. In Jake Abraham’s digital image of a rifle (shown below), for example, the transition to black on the left and right sides of the image not only draws attention to the filigree metalwork on the rifle’s firing mechanism, but the transition perceptually suspends (i.e. “floats”) the image in a spatial void. Going further, this particular vignette treatment also creates the effect of optically bending the gun so that its middle section appears to be gently bowed towards the viewer for one moment and then bowed away from the viewer in the next instant.


Jake Abraham
Still-Life, Rifle, 2013
Digital image

This curious phenomenon of seeing the gun as suspended and flexing forward and back with each glance is different when the image dissolves into a light-toned background as shown below where the original tones and colours are inverted (i.e. the original image is turned into a negative). To my eyes the light-toned background presents the gun in a shallower space. Moreover, the middle section of the gun now appears to bow only towards me rather than the involuntary illusion of flexing forward and then backward as is the case with the black background.



Digital inversion of Abraham’s Still-Life, Rifle

A plausible explanation for this phenomenon rests with the principle of tonal perspective: features in a composition that are dark tend to advance towards the viewer whereas those that are light tend to recede away from the viewer. In the original image of the gun this means that the dark tones at the peripheral edges appear to advance and, as a consequence, visually bend the sides forward. By contrast, the light area at the centre of the gun recedes and, as a consequence, visually bends the gun backward. In the next glance, however, the eye is attracted to the dark shadows of the filigree at the gun’s middle and, upon seeing these dark accents, the middle area of the gun is perceived to advance and this optical illusion bends the gun towards the viewer. With regard to the digitally inverted image, its centre is darker than the edges and consequently the gun flexes in only one direction: towards the viewer.

For many digital artists the way to achieve focal transitions from sharp focus at the centre of a vignette to blur at its outer boundaries is to use stock blending tools; for example, Photoshop’s Smudge, Blur and Gradient settings. Although these tools enable the digital artist to create amazingly subtle transitions of focal clarity, they are not designed to employ line to render changes of focal resolution in the way that analogue artists are accustomed (see for instance the earlier post, Dotted Lozenge). This in itself is not a problem. After all, each generation has fresh ways of doing things. What can be lost when using these tools—but does not have to be—is the notion portraying the transition from in-focus to out-of-focus through a progression of critical stages.

To illustrate what I mean, consider Alexis François Girard’s (1787–1870) Manière de crayon [Crayon manner] line engraving shown below, Here, two faces of a mother(?) and her child are rendered in sharp focus as these twin portraits are the centre of the vignette (see first and second detail below). The next stage in the transition is the lighter toned and slightly less focally resolved (i.e. faded) rendering of the child’s outstretched hands on the left side of the print matched on the right side with equivalently pale rendering of the child’s hair (see third and fourth detail below). The third and final stage—and for me the most fascinating—is the much coarser treatment of a fringed section of cloth that is wind(?) ruffled and overlapping the back of the child’s head (see fifth detail below). For me, the faux crayon marks portraying the cloth not only connote a final phase in a transition of focus, but they also create a foreground of out-of-focus details. If I may push my reading of the transition even further, the coarse crayon-manner of these marks frames in three-dimensions a spherical field of space of diminished focal acuity surrounding the two faces that lie in sharp focus at its centre. Of course, such a vision may not be shared by all viewers. Nevertheless, the point I wish to make is that a focal transition using line may be malleable enough to represent what may be very difficult spatial concept to illustrate using digital blending tools alone.



Alexis Francois Girard (1787–1870)
4ème Etude tirée du tableau de l'Entrée de Henri lV dans Paris, peint par F. Gérard
Manière de crayon [Crayon manner] engraving on wove paper
52 x 69 cm (sheet) 47.7 x 56.2 cm (plate)
Condition: superb impression with some foxing and signs of light handling. There are two remnants of archival tape from prior mounting on the back.
I am selling this engraving for $168 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and will be shipped rolled in a tube. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.


This print has been sold

Detail of Girard’s 4ème Etude [Fourth Study]
Detail of Girard’s 4ème Etude  [Fourth Study]
Detail of Girard’s 4ème Etude [Fourth Study]
Detail of Girard’s 4ème Etude [Fourth Study]
Detail of Girard’s 4ème Etude [Fourth Study]

In the next post I will discuss another useful principle to enhance the formatting of images: repoussoir devices.

2 comments:

  1. It’s a pleasure to comment upon this admirable performance wherein you have expressed the clarity in penning perfection about the subject. Simply, hats-off to your in-depth knowledge & impressive content quality. We will wait for more of your future updates.
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  2. Thanks for your very kind comments. I enjoy the challenge of putting my thoughts into print. James

    ReplyDelete

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