By Jason Dowd
As an instructor at Laguna College of Art and Design, I tell my students that in order to find fulfillment in art, they must seek what truly inspires them. Once they apply this fundamental inner reflection, supported with course instruction, the desired results are palpable.
Art inspires me. Continuously seeking the works of past artists is both a privilege and a joy. Experiencing old masters’ works helps guide my artistic senses and continue the tradition of painting. The late 19th century Dutch artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema inspired “The Comedy of Life, the Death of Caesar Augustus”. Alma-Tadema’s masterful style, attention to detail, and grand vision engaged my curiosity of Ancient Rome.
Caesar Augustus was a vigorous leader that strove for peace and unity among his empire’s citizenry while expanding the empire’s reach. Chris Scarre’s poetic description of Augustus’ death sparked a creative image: “His true legacy, however, was the institution of Roman emperor. Tact and discretion had created a basis for imperial government far stronger than could have been forged by naked power alone. At the end, on his death-bed, Augustus joked about the play-acting which had been involved. He called for a mirror, had his hair combed and his jaw set straight, then asked his friends to applaud as he departed the comedy of life; he had played his role well.” (“Chronicle of the Roman Emperors”)
The die was cast. Immediately, I saw an image in mind that had to be painted. An artist knows that feeling when true inspiration strikes, and quickly the process took a life of its own.
I do not make many preliminary sketches, usually one or two, as the picture is mentally forged. Further historical research, models, props, and use of computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop help me set the scene. Friend and fellow artist Erik Tiemens suggested Google Sketchup, which allowed the virtual sun’s coordinates to be set for Nola, Italy where Augustus died, on August 19, AD 14 at 3:00 pm. Creating precise lighting is particularly satisfying. The reference stage took approximately two months to complete. The final painting began shortly thereafter.
I used the Indirect Painting method to create “The Comedy of Life, the Death of Caesar Augustus”. Indirect Painting is the practice of layering paint, allowing each layer to dry before a new one is applied. Rembrandt, for example, built a surface with impasto (thick) paint, then once dry, he continued “glazing in the pits” with thin, transparent applications of oil. This process produced the rich depth and glowing light for which he is well known. My painting is founded upon this tradition. For a visual guide of the process, please visit my blog at Light Nature Art.
The question of time versus patience was put forth many times, as “The Comedy of Life, the Death of Caesar Augustus” spanned two and a half years. It is mainly our perception of time though that has changed. The indirect painting process was used for many centuries, yet fewer and fewer people identify with lavishing such quantity of time on a single effort. I respond that it is a unique joy to savor such an experience, explore its essence, and ultimately share that expression with others.See more Jason Dowd masterpieces.