Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Made by Carolyn Cai

A recreation of Barnett Newman's painting of the same name, done n Paint Tool Sai.

Created: September 3rd, 2016



Please view the image in full size for the best effect. It's a large file, and uploading it here seems to kill the quality, so please go to it on Google Drive here:

Zoom in about 3-4 times to see it up close.



Barnett Newman was an important figure in the abstract expressionist movement; he was a leading “color field” painter as well. Newman’s paintings are existential in nature, as he wanted to give the viewer a sense of his place and scale, as well as his individuality and connection to other human beings. He was known for his use of “zips,” which are narrow, vertical bands of color that are used to simultaneously unite and divide the compositional space of a painting.



Vir Heroicus Sublimis – the title is translated as Man, Heroic and Sublime – is one of Newman’s most well known works. The painting is massive in scale at almost 18 feet in length, and it consists of an almost entirely red canvas with several zips of yellow and darker/lighter red tones. Through the use of the color red, Newman evokes a strong reaction in the viewer, seeking to convey his thoughts about the human condition as evidenced by the title.



I decided to reproduce the work. I wanted to copy the image somewhat accurately, but also try and give a sense of what it feels like to stand in front of the work. Obviously, seeing a painting in real life is extremely different from seeing it on a computer. It is impossible to recreate the experience of having the vast expanse of red fill one’s field of vision, since a computer screen is only so large. The most I could do was make the image fill up the whole screen.



I created a digital reproduction of the work using Paint Tool Sai, a digital painting program for Windows. (I have a Mac and had to use a virtual machine.) The dimensions of my canvas are proportional to those of the painting, but scaled down significantly. Nevertheless, the image is quite large. I painted the background with slightly varying shades of red using a textured brush. I then created the zips on a different layer, also with a textured brush, and as in real life the zips have some variations, i.e. the paint is not completely evenly deposited. The zips were repositioned after I painted them, and I also took the liberty of making some color adjustments throughout the process.



I believe I was able to capture the style of the work accurately through use of “simulated” paint. However, I feel that, by nature of using a digital painting program, my process was not accurate. It was extremely quick and simple to fill the canvas with color and achieved the desired effect of having varying colors and textures in the background and zips by using some preset brushes and adjusting the size as needed. I also did not have to think too much about the colors and initial placement of the zips, since I could always change them around later. This contrasts with what Newman’s process must have been, as he would have had to slowly paint the entire canvas, as well as think carefully about his color choices and composition, as it is more cumbersome to undo actions in a traditional medium. In this sense, my reproduction does not carry the weight or the significance of the original. Perhaps next time I would create an original Newman-esque work, and try not to rely on the affordances of the digital painting program so much. 

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A recreation of Barnett Newman's painting of the same name, done n Paint Tool Sai.