Friday, September 27, 2013

Vincent Thomas Bridge #16 - Part 1 - The Story

"Vincent Thomas Bridge #16 (Tribute)"
oil on panel, 2013
18" x 24" (45.72cm x 60.96cm)
commissioned, private collection

Here is part 1 of 2 on a recent commission and one that proved to be very challenging.
Today the story, tomorrow the challenges.

This is the third incarnation, the first two versions were scrapped and wiped out.
Since there is a strong personal story behind this commission it was important to get everything right so I had no problem tossing the first and wiping out the second.
Sometimes you know early on when a work is not going to pan out. Better to get out early than to keep digging the same hole deeper.

This is my favorite view of the bridge, from up high on Knoll Hill, and the most revealing of its great boomerang serpentine curve.
This bridge of curves was a challenge to paint however. While most bridges are straight (yawn), any curves being a part of suspension cables and arches, the Vincent Thomas Bridge's greatest feature's are its curved roadway and its steep approaches which much rise high for ships to pass underneath then dramatically fall to meet the opposing dock. And done in a relatively short distance.
This view I painted coming up one approach shows the other side plunging at what seems like an impossible angle. This is the Vincent Thomas bridge.

First though, a little bit of history.
Opened in 1963 there was much controversy. It was originally ridiculed as a "The bridge to nowhere" but is now an integral part of the LA Harbor. Of the three large bridges in the harbor it is the only one that will remain. The Commodore Schuyler F. Heim and Gerald Desmond Bridge are currently being replaced.
That only adds to its stature. It was born out of adversity and is the only survivor. It took 19 years and 16 pieces of legislation to get it built, all championed by then San Pedro Assemblyman Vincent Thomas, for whom the bridge is appropriately named after.

The painting:
It is a tribute to a former bridge painter whose ashes were mixed into the paint used to paint the near tower, the San Pedro tower as the bridge painters call it. In fact bridge painters have a strong personal connection to 'their bridge', their identity is very much wrapped up in it.
You can see how weighty the subtext of the painting was already getting and I hadn't even started yet!

I needed to somehow represent its history and its very personal story, all by means of paint on a surface.
This did help guide me in several decisions even while contemplating the painting long before breaking out the brushes.

The clients wanted:
The classic view showing the entire bridge.
Shown from the San Pedro side of the channel so the San Pedro tower was most prominent due to its personal story.
A sunny day with blue sky.
And the signature iridescent green paint of the bridge.
OK, sounds easy enough ...

I wanted:
Everything... yep... everything.
That means all that IS my work plus all of the above history and story.
Not as easy.

I was happy enough to paint this view, even knowing ahead of time that very often panoramic shots of iconic structures lose their power as you pull back. I would have to find a way to instill in the painting all of the above without ending up with a typical postcard type image, one that is watered down or not very interesting to look at, doesn't say much and doesn't have that extra quality it would need to make the bridge alive. Most people who strongly identify with a structure think of it as a living entity.

I too wanted the San Pedro tower to be slightly more prominent to suit the personal story behind this commission but not just by virtue of its view. I would need to figure additional ways to do this but done in a subtle manner. It is easy to overdo a concept like that and before you know it you have a cheesy, corny, overwrought painting (a postcard image).

Both a sunny day and a bright tower. This worried me from the beginning since, as an artist, I knew I was working with two competing elements.

I always have some idea of the direction an artwork is going to go, at least enough to begin, but this one had some stumbling blocks right from the start, hence the first two failed attempts.

The layout (view) wasn't the problem. It was putting paint to surface, but not from a technical point of view, I can do that.
It was the way I began (the first two). I work in layers similar to a watercolor approach and sometimes the first few layers are crucial to its success. You begin wrong and you'll never arrive at the finish.

It's like going left when you should have gone right.248


  1. Nice work! I painted the bridge a few years ago for the San Pedro Brewing Company.

  2. Thanks Steve, I love the Vincent Thomas Bridge, see it every day. She is a challenge to paint with all her curves! I'll have to see your version of it next time I am down near SP Brewing Co.
    Nice mural work on your site.

    Keep painting...