Light

Light

Friday, March 14, 2014 - 16:22

Australian sunlight is a knockout. It is bright, ferocious and like nowhere else in the world. I realised this in January, on my first morning in Adelaide for over a year, as I woke to a room submerged in sheets of white light. It was in stark contrast to the softer, grey skies and subdued hues of Europe I had grown accustomed to over the last year. Unlike the gentle caresses of its European counterpart, Australian light punches you square in the face. 

Light is hugely significant when it comes to painting. This is because sunlight greatly affects colour. Every Australian can relate to the crisp white trunk of a eucalypt as the sun crashes against its bark at high noon, or the long blue shadows of the late afternoon. Time of day, season and position of the sun in relation to the object being viewed alter the colours of whatever scene is being painted. 

Light has been a source of fascination for many great artists. The French impressionists were some of the first artists to champion the practice of painting outdoors "en plein air". Working in natural light gave their paintings a brightness of colour and immediacy that marked a departure from the sobre landscapes of previous eras. Monet went further still, and made painting after painting of the same subject at different times of day. His haystack and Rouen Cathedral series are some of the most incredible studies of light ever undertaken. 

The impact of light on colour did not go unnoticed in Australia either.  The Australian impressionists, influenced by their French counterparts, also worked outdoors and were the first painters to truly capture the light and colour of the Australian landscape. The colonial artists before them had worked in subdued and sobre tones, painting Australia as if it were Europe. The Australian impressionists revised their colour-scheme to a blue and gold palette, which Arthur Streeton described as "nature's scheme of colour in Australia". 

For my own part, it has been an interesting experience painting Australian landscapes after having spent the last year working on French scenes. My colour-scheme has changed significantly. I mix a lot more white with most of my colours and have found that priming the canvas with a high-keyed cadmium yellow helps capture the feeling that the entire scene has been suffused with bright Australian sunlight. 

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