Chiaroscuro is an Italian term that literally translates as “clear-dark”, although within the world of art, it is more usually referred to as “light-dark”, and references the use of strong contrasts between darker and lighter colours or shades in images, be they paintings, drawings, sketches, photographs – even video and film in the modern era – and which is intended to give a sense of volume and three-dimensional depth to an image through the use of lighter contrasts within the subject of the composition, and the broader contrast between the subject and the background.
It’s a technique that is all around us in art (just look at almost any portraiture or painting by the European painters of the Renaissance, for example or modern photographic portraiture or even graphic novels), and its use extends into visual mediums such as the stage, and more latterly, advertising, television, and film (for example, Francis Ford Coppola uses the technique extensively within The Godfather trilogy – just take a look at this still of Al Pacino from the first film in the series). However, it also doesn’t have to purely the contrast between “dark” and “light”; Andy Warhol, for example, utilised the technique extensively through his use of really bold colours contrasted against lighter tones rich in brightness.
In music, Chiaroscuro again emphasises contrast, combining a brilliant sound referred to as squillo with a dark timbre called scuro to produce a sound that has considerable depth and warmth. It is perhaps most notable in its use within opera, although again, many compositions, from classical through to the modern era also use it.
I mention all of the above, because it is the richness and depth of contrast suggested by Chiaroscuro that Vita Theas embraces in her exhibition of the the same name that opened at Aneli Abeyante’s La Maison d’Aneli arts centre on Wednesday, May 26th.
Set within a space created by Vita that enhances the idea of contrasts (dark brick wall and heavy wood roof timbers over which sits the inverted bowl of a glorious sunset itself beset with darkening clouds lit by the lowering Sun, the marvellous murals she also presents on the walls – look at the sense of movement contrasted with the relative calm of the ships beyond in the “waterfront” piece, for example), this is a collection that embraces the idea of Chiaroscuro in art, image, and life.
From monochrome images – perhaps the “simplest”(if such a word might be employed) expression of the use of contrast through to avatar studies that reflect the use of chiaroscuro both in modern photographic portraiture (Lost, If Only…, Hope), to pieces evocative of classical portraits of the likes of the Dutch Masters (And Then He Was Gone), this is a collection that also celebrates the broader use of the technique in landscape photography (where again, we might not actually be aware the technique is present) pop art (the quite brilliant Warhol-esque Seduce), and more.
These are images that also illustrate the essential vitality of life that is evident through contrast. As Vita herself notes, the interactions of light and shadows, brightness and darkness, warm and cool colours and shading, all work together to give these pieces a visual and emotional depth, a reminder that chiaroscuro isn’t just a technique, it is a part of the fabric of life. Just take a look (again) at And Then He Was Gone and both Regret and the exhibition poster; all three present a powerful sense of emotion through the contrast of pose and background, or that between the overlaid focal image and backgrounds.
A truly powerful and evocative collection, Chiaroscuro offers an engaging selection of art that can be appreciated for its visual appeal and composition and for its ability to get the grey matter working.
- Chiaroscuro, La Maison d’Aneli (Virtual Holland, rated Moderate)