"Turn It Up" stands out not just for its evocative imagery but also its choice of medium: a 48" circular tondo, a form that harks back to the Renaissance era. This choice of canvas instantly sets the painting apart, making the viewer aware that they are about to engage with something distinct.
Upon engaging with the artwork, one is immediately greeted by a palette of soft, subtle colors that seem to whisper rather than shout. The muted tones, however, do not detract from the intensity of the scene — they amplify it. There's a gentle rhythm in the palette, with colors flowing seamlessly, enhancing the overall unity of the piece.
At the center bottom of the tondo, almost dominating the foreground, is a cluster of sheep, rendered in large imagery. The scale of these animals in comparison to the rest of the painting lends them an almost monumental presence. Their stoic stances, juxtaposed against the serene backdrop of the field, creates an immediate emphasis. The choice to depict the sheep in this manner might hint at themes of innocence, tranquility, or even obliviousness.
Yet, this tranquility is dramatically contrasted by the events unfolding in the background. Positioned centrally, atop a flat plateau mountain, a fierce fire or perhaps a volcanic eruption takes form. The form and line of the erupting flames or molten lava are in stark contrast to the gentle curves of the peaceful field and the still sheep. This juxtaposition makes the viewer ponder the balance of life, the suddenness of change, and the dichotomy of stillness versus chaos.
The erupting scene is painted with just enough abstraction that it could be interpreted as a fire, a volcanic eruption, or even a metaphorical representation of pent-up emotions, societal upheavals, or environmental warnings. The ambiguity invites the viewer to bring their own interpretations and experiences into their understanding of the piece.
Thematically, "Turn It Up" offers layers of narrative. On one level, it speaks to the unpredictability of nature — the calm pastoral life can be disrupted without warning. On another level, it could allude to internal battles, the contrast between external composure and internal turmoil.
MICHAEL PRETTYMAN is a contemporary artist and scholar of comparative religion. He has been a maker his entire life. He is permanently at home in his work, creating a sprawling body of paintings, essays and lectures that bring together his interests in contemporary representational painting within the corpus of world wisdom texts and ideas found in cross-cultural eschatological traditions. Michael’s art practice is concerned with postmodern iterations of classic representational painting as informed by esoteric spiritual practice and study. He pursues his material practice as a meditation, whether it is in drawing, painting or sculpture. He has trained in classical drawing, painting and sculpture at The School of Visual Art, the New York Academy of Art and received advanced instruction in thangka painting at the Tsering School of Art in Kathmandu, Nepal. He has studied Tibetan Buddhist meditation and thangka painting in India, Nepal and in monasteries in Massachusetts and New York. He has a master’s degree in theology from the Harvard Divinity School. He has exhibited drawings and paintings in New York, Hong Kong, Barcelona and Almaty, Kazakhstan.
He has permanent mural installations in the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Gardens, The Bronx Zoo, and St. John’s Church. Michael teaches Religion and the Visual Arts at Hunter College in New York City, and lectures widely on creativity, spiritual practice, mysticism and ideas of the divine. He is currently working on a book about creativity and spiritual practice, as well as body of paintings addressing the Anthropocene Sublime. He lives and works in New York City.