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June 12, 2013 / pleinairman

More on Natural Divider Diptychs

A Walk in Springtime 12×24 oil

Path to the Sea 12×24 oil

A few weeks ago, I wrote about what I call “natural divider diptychs.”  I’ve been playing more with the concept lately.  Just as a reminder, a natural divider diptych is a wide painting that is divided in half by a natural object, such as a tree, with each half  working as a complete painting as well as contributing to the unified whole.

Traditional diptychs are indeed two separate paintings, often hung together on a wall.  I’ve always felt that treating a beautifully panoramic landscape this way weakens it.  However, by using a natural divider, one that is right there in the landscape, the integrity of the scene is maintained.  Furthermore, the divider creates a certain amount of necessary tension and adds interest; nor is it any longer just wasted wall space.

Or, at least, this is how I feel about it.

In the first painting, “A Walk in Springtime,” the figure on the left is taking a walk, and the right half tells us the walk is by the sea.  She is following the water’s edge through the woods.  Light spilling in from the right over the water also illuminates the left and the figure, unifying the two halves.  Without the central tree, the painting would still work, but the addition adds a dark, mysterious quality to the piece.  If you block off one half of the painting or the other, you will see that each half is composed to function as its own painting.

In the second painting, “Path to the Sea,” the figure on the left is seated, gazing out toward the right half.  Again, light spills in from the right, illuminating the left panel.  Color and subject serve to unify both halves – the pink tones of the apple trees and the bright spring greens.  Also, as with the first painting, I feel that the central tree adds a note of  mystery and drama.

Enough about the diptych concept.  What about the rule of not placing a dominant feature in the center of a painting?  I’m breaking that rule.  In both cases, the tree – which isn’t necessarily the center of interest, but it is a point of interest – is centrally placed.  But, I think it works.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Meanwhile, I shall continue to explore this idea.


Leave a Comment
  1. John D. Wooldridge / Jun 12 2013 9:41 pm

    It's a very interesting idea and one I might try to play with some! The only downside I see is if the dividing component plays a much more dominant role than intended, the concept of the diptych will be lost. I think the top piece works better than the bottom in this regard. The tree in the bottom piece seem to grab too much space and crowds the rest of the work.

    On the topic of placing items of interest in the center, I am all for breaking this rule! Remington seemed to break this rule a fair bit as well! “Moonlight Wolf” for example puts the wolf almost dead center.

  2. Kathy Johnson / Jun 13 2013 1:15 am

    I think the first painting with the tree trunk works better than the one with the evergreen tree. The evergreen seems to take up too much of the painting, or maybe it's that it is too similar to the tree on the right. The tree trunk seems to disappear — the evergreen holds my attention too long.

    Anyway, that is just my opinion.

  3. Susan / Jun 13 2013 2:57 pm

    I agree with the above comments about the evergreen in the 2nd painting – it bothers me. What about removing the tree on the right side, and moving the evergreen a bit to the right? It would still act as a divider, but would be more subtle. Just a thought… maybe that negates the whole idea of a natural divider diptych?

  4. ML COLEMAN / Jun 13 2013 4:31 pm

    Perhaps the divider could be less centered
    so the resulting pieces of the diptych can be either equal or unequal in the eye of
    the viewer. Options?


  5. Michael Chesley Johnson / Jun 13 2013 5:20 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! That second painting with the fir tree is an interesting problem, since the fir tree does attract a good deal of attention. It might not work so well as a natural divider. Thin trees might be best! ML – less centered might work, too!

  6. violetta / Jun 19 2013 1:23 am

    Maybe if the central tree was not so symmetrical i.e. uneven branching. Interesting project.

  7. Paul's Blog / Jun 20 2013 12:24 am

    I would agree that the deciduous tree makes a natural divider, but the fir soaks up room and draws attention to itself. Love the way you do theses Michael, you are pushing the envelope and still producing a beautiful painting.

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