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Inspiration: "Empyrean" by Julio Reyes

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Empyrean: In ancient cosmologies, the Empyrean Heaven, or simply the Empyrean, was the place in the highest heaven, which was supposed to be occupied by the element of fire (or aether in Aristotle's natural philosophy). The word derives from the Medieval Latinempyreus, an adaptation of the Ancient Greekempyros (ἔμπυρος), meaning "in or on the fire (pyr)".

As mentioned in one of my last posts, a few months ago I came across the works of Californian artist Julio Reyes in an Australian art magazine. Hardly ever in my life has art touched me with such force as his paintings did. One of his works in particular, entitled "Empyrean", has stayed with me ever since. For me, "Empyrean" is the most perfect and profound work of art I have come across in my over sixty years of life, and yet I have only ever seen photos of this painting. How impressive the original must be!

Meanwhile, I am trying to understand why I am so fascinated by this work. I am furthermore trying to find out what kind of artist is capable of creating what I consider to be such an accomplished work of art of almost supernatural aesthetics. So I set out to find out, and in the meantime - it seems to me - I have read everything I could find about Julio Reyes and his work. This has resulted in a story that has made a deep impression on me and that will certainly have a strong influence on my further work. However, it is beyond the scope of this blog post and I would therefore like to concentrate in this post on the work "Empyean", with which everything started for me. Perhaps I will come back to Julio Reyes in later posts, because I believe that he and his work will accompany and occupy me for a long time to come.

Julio Reyes created 'Empyrean' in 2019. He chose a rather unusual format of 119.4/61 cm in portrait format. Julio Reyes uses special painting panels for artists as a base, i.e. no canvas. He often works with egg tempera, a very old painting technique in which the colour pigments are mixed with egg and a solvent (e.g. linseed oil). In this painting he used both egg tempera and oil paint in glazed and superimposed layers. So much for the technical data of the painting.

What impresses me deeply about this painting, apart from Julio Reyes' masterful technique and his grandiose use of colour, is the expression of the figure. And this is not limited to the face. I am almost more fascinated by the hands. I hope you don't expect any interpretation from me, because I am still far from being able to grasp and understand this work of art in all its depth, and that is why I am not even trying.

The simple fact is that this painting has exerted an unbroken fascination on me for months and I can lose myself in it again and again. It has an almost meditative effect on me and I like to let myself be carried away again and again into the depths of this work of art.

However, there are also some simple and very concrete insights from my study of this painting so far, and I will try to incorporate these into my future works:

- I have always associated closed eyes with sleep or death. The eyes in the painting 'Empyrean', although closed, are for me neither asleep nor dead. For me, they represent deep rest and contemplation. I will try to paint a portrait with closed eyes in the near future as well to represent or underline the expression of calmness or serenity.

- It has always been my goal to paint paintings that captivate the viewer, trigger feelings and make him or her reflect. The feedback from my first exhibition has shown me that I obviously succeed in doing this from time to time. The power with which Empyrean affects the viewer (or at least me), I am still worlds away from such power and depth in my paintings. It will take me a lot more time to work on this and to get further in this direction. But it excites me and I am on my way. My first painting done under the influence of Empyrean was 'Aedan' (the portrait of a boy). More will hopefully follow.

There is a short video about the making of this exceptional work for me. It provides an insight into the artist's working method and gives an idea of how long Julio Reyes worked on this painting, sometimes with a very fine brush and in many superimposed layers of paint.

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