BREEZE; Wind in Art

By Renee Umsted

The wind is a multifaceted element of nature. It’s a gentle breeze on a sunny spring day that brings a cool waft of air to the skin. It’s a strong gust that accompanies the rain in a storm. It’s a mode of transportation that carries pollen across the fields, and it’s an energy force that powers turbines that generate electricity.

Although wind is invisible, its effects are anything but invisible. In addition to the tangible element–the feeling– there is an auditory stimulus. You can’t see it, but you can feel it, and you can hear it, and you can experience how it affects your surroundings. To depict the wind in a visual form, artists are faced with an interesting challenge, and they have certainly produced a variety of unique responses in their work.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa is perhaps Katsushika Hokusai’s best-known work. Born in Japan in 1760, the artist did not create “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,” the woodblock print series containing “The Great Wave,” until he was in his 70s. In the print, wind pushes the water, which seems to almost engulf Fuji.

Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures
Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures

Around the same time, J. M. W. Turner was painting in England. Many of his works portray seascapes or landscapes, and one in particular highlights the role of wind. In “Waves Breaking against the Wind,” Turner shows a depiction of a close observation of the sea from the shore. While there is some confusion about the identity of the object in the hazy background, the force of the wind is obvious; Turner realistically shows how wind causes water to crash together in waves.

The painting stands in stark contrast to Hokusai’s work, in part because of the different media and techniques, but also because of the nature of the wave. “The Great Wave” is a large wave, but due to its defined edges, it appears calmer than the chaotic waves in Turner’s work.

More contemporary artists have also depicted wind in their works. American painter Charles E. Burchfield often depicted landscapes and weather in his pieces. One painting, called “The East Wind,” was done in watercolor in 1918. It shows rain hitting a house from the west and wind coming toward the house from the east. The artist aimed to show his emotions by exploring nature, and he said, “An artist must paint not what he sees in nature, but what is there. To do so he must invent symbols, which, if properly used, make his work seem even more real than what is in front of him.”

Miltos Manetas, who was born in Greece in 1964, was one of the pioneers of computer art. Before he began using that digital medium, however, he painted, drew and created installations. One of his digital pieces is Sad Tree, which showed three trees moving in the wind.

Turkish artist Refik Anadol also incorporates modern technology in his work. He did a project in 2017 called Wind of Boston: Data Paintings, in which he used software to analyze a year’s worth of wind around Boston Logan Airport in the U.S. Combining information about wind speed, gust patterns and air temperature, Anadol displayed his wind-inspired work on digital canvases.

In Anadol’s work, the wind itself is the subject. It is not portrayed as a force acting on something else, but it is the art. Anadol captures the intricacies and complexities of the wind, showing how it moves through the environment.

“In our studio practice we are constantly searching for how to bring novel data-driven experiences to the built environment and also trying to find poetic reasons for how to create connections, to reveal the invisible and make it visible to our perception,” Anadol said.

The pieces included in Wind of Boston differ greatly from the works of Turner and Hokusai. First, Anadol utilized modern technology, allowing him to make dynamic visual art. Second, rather than basing the art on an observation of the wind or its effects, Anadol analyzed and presented the wind itself.

These examples show how artists have interpreted and depicted the wind. Technology, techniques and medium type have facilitated a variety of representations of the natural force, showing its versatility and potential for artistic expression.

The Turner Contemporary will be holding an exhibition called Seaside: Photographed to explore the association between photographers, photography and the British seaside since the 1850s. The museum is located in the coastal town of Margate, a place that inspired many of Turner’s paintings. Seaside is scheduled to begin 25 May and will be open until 8 September.

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