Matthew Penn combines traditional painting techniques with the latest lighting technology to create portraits that come to life. He relies on ERCO for the spotlight systems, which he tailors precisely to his paintings to enhance their production and the display of his art.
More precise, it seems, than photographs, the whole image in his each of his paintings appears to be emerging from the deep black of the background. The use of bold contrasts between light and dark elements of a picture – known as the ‘chiaroscuro’ effect – is a technique that was commonly employed in art in the late Renaissance period and in Baroque. It was very popular with painters such as Caravaggio, Titian or Rembrandt.
26-year-old British artist Matthew Penn uses this approach to enhance the whole aspect of his photo-realistic portraits and their spatial effect. Penn has come to see the illumination of his paintings as an integral part of his art: “One must understand: the light is part of the art. Although it is not attached to it, it is part of the artwork. It gives the exact effect I desire,” he explains. “I only use ERCO lighting because I believe it’s the best. Also, using LED lighting has the important advantage that there is no UV damage to the pictures and no heat damage either.
“In an exhibition environment we use sensor-controlled lighting, so when a person enters the room, the 3000 Kelvin ERCO Pollux comes on, slowly first, out of the dark and then the 4000 Kelvin spotlight comes on slowly so you get the feeling the picture is evolving right before your eyes. It comes to life. By this we can enhance the visual effects I have created as a painter, spotlighting, say, the forehead, the eyes, the chin and the shoulders of the portrayed person individually, so there are up to four of sets of lights involved to achieve this kind of effect.”
Penn paints only around ten or twelve portraits a year – his painting process requires utmost precision, patience and perseverance. In it, he follows his own style with the confidence and commitment of a true artist: “There will always be dark backgrounds in my work and the highlighted areas in the faces of the people I portray. By sticking to this principle, it will also give collectors the opportunity to see how I progress as an artist over the years within this defining set of rules.”
Credit for image: Matthew Penn Art, Photography: Giles Toller