Strokes, Swipes and Sweeps: Movement in Contemporary Still Life Paintings

Still Life is a class of paintings that goes back centuries, with well-known artists including Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh. The subject of still life paintings has changed over time, but still life is still an imperative part of contemporary art. And one of the most important aspects of still life paintings is movement. While that may sound counterintuitive, it is absolutely true.

Movement in a painting can be described in many different ways. It can be the aspect that draws the eye to the subject of the painting or the sense of change within the painting that draws you through and makes the painting more active rather than passive. However it is described, movement brings a still life painting to life.

Taking a look at some still life works from modern artists, it is clear that the use of a variety of brushstrokes can create an incredible sense of movement. Seeing the different strokes, swipes, and sweeps draws your attention to the flow of a painting. In some of the backgrounds, you’ll see larger strokes that lead the eye to the subject of the painting. The subjects themselves have much smaller, more refined brushstrokes that do not take attention away from the still life. Having brushstrokes lead the eye can break our normal view of a painting. We may look at a painting like we would read a book: left to right, top to bottom. However, with the use of bold sweeping strokes, it can lead the gaze in new directions, causing a different reaction to a painting.

Studying the use of strokes in a painting can give us a good idea of the process an artist went through to create the piece. Bold strokes can indicate a more wild energy in the painting, leading a viewer to think that the piece may have been created with more energy. Smaller strokes that are more refined make us imagine a process that is more intricate, time-consuming, and thought-out. Using the idea of having a painting slowly reveal itself to the viewer, we can see how looking more closely at the energy and movement of a painting can reveal the intentions of the artist and even the process. It gives the viewer a better sense of connection with the artwork.

To give the viewer a connection and a reaction to a painting is important. Art has always been an expression of emotion and it continues to be in modern day. Using movement in a painting and creating an ebb and flow is critical and creates synergy in a painting, not only within the painting, but between the painting and its viewer.