Painting naturalistically can be interpreted to mean various things but generally it is understood to mean getting close to the subject in terms of imitation, likeness or sense. The interesting thing about how we perceive naturalness in painting is that it is ultimately subjective and based on conventions. There is no 'natural' way to paint only conventions. We always use a convention, 'a style' -to portray the subject, whatever it is we are perceiving directly with our senses and being. So the question then becomes is any style more natural? Is using a photo-realistic approach (where brushtrokes are hidden) more natural than a more impressionst version? or are they equally naturalistic? Is photography any less a convention and hence more natural a mode of representation than painting?
I don't think so, all are equally modes of representation of the natural so can never be 'more' natural just better at getting the point across.
Let me take a different tack. When we speak of the abstract expressionist movement we also assume a kind of naturalism; one of the materiality of paint. I refer to the sense of a 'naturalness' of gesture as in spontaneity, the paint does what it does. In order to speak the languange of the late modernist painter the work needs to become more like paint -ie: have many of the physical characteristics visible and obvious - the drips, the strokes, the bleeding and no illusionism . So this becomes a sort of matter of factness of paint - to the point where some work is just a matter of the paint just 'being' as opposed to representing - or the representational aspect of being paint becomes a monosyllabic utterance - "here I am .. paint, colour,form!" if it is representing.
Now this is not 'natural' strictly speaking - since it's man-made but because the paint is less manipulated and the convention is less sophisticated and more a child like 'naturalness' we then have an equivalence between the paint and the non man-made ie - natural world, say like
the pattern of moss or strata of rock or decay, etc.. as to say the painting just happened naturally..
I now want to extend this convention of painting the natural out to copying machine made images as well ie; photography and film, after all what is more natural than a reaction of light on chemicals.
The confusion here is we tend to view the introduction of photography in painting ( pop art for example) as antithetical to modernist gesture and abstraction I described above, however it seems to me repeating a machine (camera or printing press) process is just as 'natural' as far as painting conventions go. You are still using a non man-made process an 'it's not-painting-painting' convention. The abstract expressionist or the 'non-objective' painter uses a language that only exists as a negation of the convention of (traditional) painting the same way the photo-realist does.
Now what interests me is what happens when we 'copy' or paint a photo or machine printed image with a restricted ability to get a likeness -either by limiting the scale or restricting the medium.. so the (failed) attempts at creating a likeness become very apparent, but more than that the 'mistakes' incorporate the matter-of -factness and 'naturalness' of non-obective painting. The aspect of 'happy accident' that is so intrinsic to that modernist language. What you end up with is something like
the above watercolour - an attempt to render a photo in watercolour as stylistically 'neutral' as possible.
Where I find this gets interesting is when we then take this finish product and use it as the starting point. It becomes the subject of another painting. Why is this interesting you ask? Let me explain first by summarising what I just discussed.
Basically we have various conventions of naturalism:
An imitative one - Academic painting from the 19th century best exemplifies this.A sensory one - the impressionsts
A physical one - Abstract Expressionist and Modernist ready made,photo-realism falls into this by virtue of imitating the photographic process of representation.
On top of the last one - the 'physical' I would like to propose another -A 'meta' naturalism -a naturalism of the process of naturalism. By this I mean painting which takes 'naturalism' as a subject. This is my current aim in my work below is the result of the approch I just described, based on the painting above.
Gummo Bay acrylic on canvas 23 x 30''