Joshua LaRock takes us behind the scenes of his painting, “Bather in White,” which is part of his “Bathers” series that celebrate light and human form.
“Bather in White”
By Joshua LaRock
“Bather in White” is my third piece in a series of paintings I am calling “bathers.” In all honesty, the idea was generated as an attempt to find a contemporary excuse to paint the nude figure. This is nothing particularly new, of course, where there are countless 19th-century and prior works entitled “Venus” for what I would believe to be similar reasons. Contemporary culture is probably more accepting of the shameless nude than in the past, but I do think they can be more difficult to place in collectors’ homes without some sort of accompanying narrative or modesty. At the very least it narrows my market and where all I really care about is the beauty of how natural light drapes itself over the human form. That is what “Bather in White” really is, a celebration of light and the human form.
For me it is always a bit of a surprise how a piece comes together and seems to take on a life of its own. I believe I had seen an image of a marble statue somewhere with a similar pose, but without the drapery, that stuck with me. So when I got a model in my studio I tried out some variations on the idea and added the drapery. My studio space at the time of painting this was small but had many surrounding windows, and the walls were painted entirely white, which meant there was a lot of ambient light to bounce around. While trying to decide what to do, I happened to notice this lovely bit of back-lit light trickling over my model’s collarbone, and I had to go for it. It was a lot of fun to figure out how to control and compress the values for the rest of the modeling to make that effect work.
I paint in layers, meaning that once the drawing is transferred to the canvas I take separate passes over the whole painting letting each layer dry in between. Usually it’s about three to four layers total, but as many as are needed really. This is also where the idea continues to evolve and take shape while there is still time to make adjustments. Throughout the process I am keenly aware of the need to pack in an emotional wallop for my viewers. I may be delighting in the technique or colors from my artistic perspective, but the observer tends to connect with a picture on a much more emotional and immediate level. I find this to be the most elusive and ambiguous part of art-making, because the possibilities for making a picture emotionally significant are so vast, and all too often I find out that a work has missed the mark only when it is nearly completed!
At any rate, for “Bather in White” I found that the resonant feeling arose from the combination of the long narrow format, the neutral pallet and lighting, and her subtle expression and slightly bowed head. Again, I didn’t set out with a particularly clear vision of where the painting would end up, but I just got the piece going and tried to respond to when something seemed like it was working. It’s like growing a plant from seed — a small kernel of an idea, which, when planted and tended, grows and flowers into something beautiful.
Joshua LaRock is internationally recognized as a preeminent figurative artist. His exquisite paintings are an ode to the past filtered through a contemporary life. LaRock’s portraits and figurative pieces alike are memorable both for their emotive quality and for evoking an eerily present feeling. Inspired by Bouguereau and other masters of the past, Joshua imbues a shade of the timeless, drawing the viewer deeper into his personal interpretation of how the world ought to be. Discover more about his work at joshualarock.com; artists can also learn from him in person at the October 2020 Realism Live global virtual art conference and preview his portrait painting workshop video here.