By Petar Meseldzija

Every seasoned painter who has reached a certain level
of craft and understanding knows that  the absence of paint on the
canvas can
sometimes lead to the best results. Little patches of not covered canvas, either
white or with an imprimatura, or a transparent underpainting,  bring light into the painting making it more
vibrant and lively.  The absence of thick
paint allow light falling onto the painting to reflect through the layers of
paint. This creates a feeling of painting being  flooded with light, or an impression that the
painting itself emanates light. When it comes to painting, there are a few
basic elements that, when approached and applied properly, usually lead to a
successful piece; things like composition, tonal and color arrangements, the
expressiveness of the application of paint, the presence (suggestion) of light
in the painting, etc.  Most people react
to the aspect of light in the painting as something that appeals to them more
than any other aspect, regardless the subject matter or a type of light
depicted. Consciously and unconsciously, we yearn for light!

Many painters, old
as well as contemporary, have applied this technique often achieving wonderful
results characterized by the impression of lightness, airiness and
effortlessness. But the ability to properly apply this technique comes with
experience (surprisingly… ) for only through practice is one able to master it and
therefore make the painting more extraordinary, instead of just creating a
feeling of unintended or artificial “unfinishness” . This absence of paint has
to be organically woven into the painting as a whole.  I think one of the best examples of the power
of this principle is the work of Rembrandt. Unlike the wide spread notion that
the main quality of his work is to be found in the thick and expressive impasto
parts, in fact the true secret of his work lies in his transparent and vibrant shadows. 

Needless to say, in order to see the full impact of this technique one needs to analyze the original paintings. 

Gustav Klimt, Pallas Athene

Anyway, for the less pragmatically oriented  souls among us, who are inclined to search for
the clues “ behind the physical canvas”, here is another explanation.

After all, why using the paint if you can reach your
goals without it. Why speak, when silence has already spoken. As one
progresses, one learns how to free himself from the unnecessary, and therefore
burdens himself only with what really matters to him.

Although many of us, in one or another way, eventually
become aware of the idea of the power of ABSENCE, or “acting by not acting”, it
takes many years to fully accept, incorporate  and eventually apply it properly in one’s
work. It seems obvious that one of the main obstacles is not being able, or not
willing to believe that in order to create a really extraordinary impact, one
does not have to always “shoot from all canons”, so to speak. This brings me to
the related subject of the overuse of  elements and details in a painting. Again, it
takes time and experience (professional as well as life experience) to realize
and truly accept that all that abundant presence of forms and details, sparkling
glitter and glamour on the surface, not necessarily reflect the essence of
things. Moreover, it is not unwise to conclude that –  the more glitter on the surface, the greater
the possibility that the things are hollow and empty from inside.  This principle of compensation is very indicative
and often points out towards the notion of substitute, a substitute for
something that is missing, something more fundamental. 

Gustav Klimt, Unterach on the Attersee

Ilya Repin, a detail from The Zaporozhian Cossacks write a letter to the Sultan of Turkey

Paja Jovanovic, a detail from The Coronation of Tzar Dusan

Rembrandt, Selfportrait