San Diego artist Danny Griego finds that incorporating “urban line” in his paintings makes them much stronger — and mimics the way many of us see the world. How so?
Lead Image: “9’-2”,” by Danny Griego, oil, 9 x 12 in.
“I really love to paint urban elements,” says Griego. “I love how they help to shape and define a painting, especially when nature is mixed into it. The way man-made structures integrate with nature is of particular interest to me.”
The artist is very clear about the impact he feels urban lines play in his art. “Using urban line makes my paintings stand up to attention,” says Griego. “Urban line mostly dominates in my paintings, meaning that they are sharper and more defined than the organic lines of nature. They are needed, like a straight line in a figure drawing or a portrait helps support and give structure. The two, the use of urban lines and organic lines of nature, can create interesting shapes or abstractions in a painting.”
He explains, “For example, a large open space like the sky might take up a large portion of the painting, but it can contrast against an architectural element. The architectural elements can be large shapes or small, and within these shapes a lot of subtle and interesting things can happen — other shapes, value shifts, color changes, etc. In my two paintings ‘‘9’- 2”’ and ‘Urban Haze,’ this holds true. The architectural elements are dominant, pretty much silhouettes in value, but the urban line it creates against the sky is interesting to me: very straight, dark and high-contrast. Man-made. Using urban line in this context — because it contrasts so strongly with the sky —creates that familiar view or feeling that one gets while passing underneath a freeway bridge or seeing billboards at a distance. It’s a slice of urban.”
Griego feels comfortable with either element — nature or urban structure — holding primacy in a composition. “‘Pacific Highway Glow’ and ‘Marston House’ show the use of urban line, but rather than the sky taking up a large portion of the painting, it’s the architecture that dominates,” he points out. “The negative shapes of the sky are secondary, but still there is a play with abstraction. Architecture is the star of the show, and the soft, organic forms of nature complement it well. With these two paintings I like the concept of ‘towering.’ For me, this means that the viewpoint is from below and looking slightly up. Using urban lines in this mode, with slightly exaggerated perspective, can make the viewer feel like they are being sucked into the painting. And if it reads well from across the room, then you know you’ve had some success.”
So far Griego has used urban elements as strong players in paintings, whether they are primary or secondary in importance to the composition. But he also uses smaller items to give a landscape a little oomph. “Urban lines in a painting can also be subtle, and can be placed within the main value or mass of the painting,” Griego says. “I like how telephone poles, for example, create points where they are anchored into the ground. It’s a design element that to me creates an armature in the painting, especially when there is another line anchored diagonally into the pole from the ground, which creates a triangle.
“In ‘Urban Trail Head’ you can see an example of this. In ‘Trail off Curlew Street’ the man-made element of the pole and the lines from the ground to the pole are at opposing angles to the sloping landscape. Another triangle is created here. Without that straight pole at that particular angle, the painting wouldn’t hold together as well. The house on the left is another opportunity to contrast straight lines with nature, which adds variety and breaks up the mostly organic feel of this painting.”
Evidently, this predisposition to incorporate urban elements in landscapes is hard-wired into Griego’s art brain. “I’m not quite sure why, but I constantly scan for it when I’m out and about,” he says. “I drive along and file mental notes in my head for future paintings based on this. Hopefully that’s safer than texting and driving!”