Connecting the Composition

Chelsea, the neighborhood north of Greenwich Village, can seem almost empty on the weekend. “That sense of being alone, or almost alone, in the city is a real part of life in Manhattan,” says John T. Salminen, who lives outside of Duluth, Minnesota, but often paints evocative scenes of New York and Chicago. “Technically, the problem this painting presented was how to relate the vast advertising image of the young woman to the bottom 25 percent of the scene, which was an open-air flea market. The figures in the foreground had to be balanced visually with the billboard that covered the upper 75 percent of the painting’s surface.” Another technical problem Salminen faced was the need to create the illusion of depth-of-field within the billboard. He wanted to have the figure in sharp focus, while blurring the background. To create this soft-edged, out-of-focus effect, he briskly brushed the slightly damp background areas with a dry 3-inch brush.

To make sure that the painting didn’t split visually in two, Salminen characteristically concentrated on value. “I worked hard on my grays, made of complementary colors. I also used what many people call ‘mud’—the colors that were left on my palette. These accidental mixtures provided me with unexpectedly rich colors. Before I started painting I decided that the lightest value, the white of the paper, should be reserved for the foreground. The other light values, like the ones in the billboard, were toned down with a greenish-gray wash. I had to do this to help the foreground compete successfully with the striking billboard image.”

Having described the technical challenges, Salminen addressed the image itself in DKNY—Chelsea: “I was drawn to the irony of the juxtaposition: the larger-than-life fashion icon as it collides with the real people going about their business. Usually I don’t dwell too much on content. I have a favorite quote from Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian-American writer and lepidopterist: ‘Great art does not reside in great ideas but in attentiveness to style and detail.’ To me, content is this: Is there something beyond the literal? Can you see beyond what’s actually there?”

“I grew up wandering around the hills and along California’s central coast. I was outside all the time,” says Robert Reynolds. After 35 years teaching at California Polytechnic where he won the Distinguished Teaching Award and the President’s Art Award, he took an early retirement in 1997 to spend more time painting, although he still conducts workshops. His actual and spiritual home is the beautiful landscape of San Luis Obispo, California.

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