Skies / by Jeannine Cook

After the many glorious days of cloudless skies and brilliant sunshine, today was cloudy and grey. A bit of a shock, in a way. The change in the light and the sense of space was marked.

Skies, for an artist involved in any depiction of the natural world, are so important. Their role in setting a tone, a mood in any painting or drawing, is key. As a child of Africa, where the vast skies arch brilliant and endless, I love the wide vistas across the salt water mashes of coastal Georgia because here too, the sky is so expansive. Such views allow a sense of liberty, an expansiveness of soul that are allied to a sense of the infinite vastness of nature, of space and those countless galaxies far beyond our world. All these feelings are often filtered through the art one creates, in spite of oneself. In essence, it is "painting about something", versus "painting something". Whether the something is the light, the space, or much more complex philosophical concepts, the sky is central to the art making.

John Constable believed that the sky was "the key note, the standard of scale, and the chief organ of sentiment" in a landscape painting. This 1824 Seascape Study with Rain Cloud, (on the left), a plein air study on paper is an example of his famed quick art done to record skies and weather conditions. The right hand painting is the famed Deadham Vale 1802 depiction of rural England, where Constable used the sky to set the whole tone of the landscape, to flood it with northern light and give it a gentle expansiveness that is memorable.

Despite the ever-increasing divorce between man and nature that we are witnessing today, there are still many artists who are enthralled - nay, obsessed - by skies and the wonders of light, clouds and atmospheric effects. Graham Nickson, the British-American artist who is Dean at the New York Studio School since 1988, had a wonderful exhibition at the Jill Newhouse Gallery in 2009, entitled "Italian Skies".
This is one of his Italian sky paintings, Sarageto III, 2008 (courtesy of Jill Newhouse Gallery)

Another artist who has done some marvellous series of sky paintings is Jeffrey Lewis, who teaches are at Auburn University. He works in encaustic, and his series of paintings are lyrical in the extreme.
One such painting is Towards Ontario, Eventide, shown on the left hand side , courtesy of the artist.
He speaks eloquently about the emotions that theses skies inspire in him and what he seeks to convey in his paintings.
Photography too is a wonderful medium to celebrate skies, the light that emanates from them, and thus also the passage of time. One artist who has devoted much of her life to exploration of these subjects is Erika Blumenfeld, a Guggenheim Fellow and photographer. She discourses at length about such research and work in a recent fascinating interview with Art Interview, and clearly shares the same deep awareness of skies and their influence on all of us below their domes.