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In the 1920’s Edward Hopper was working part time as an illustrator for the Hotel Management industry. He hated the job since he thought of himself as a fine artist, but he needed the money. To get away from the illustrator’s grind he traveled to Europe three times in that decade.

A generation of writers and artists woke up after the horrible butchery of the “Great War” to realize that the old war-honoring culture of their forefathers had to be thrown out, the whole corseted, velvety, tasseled, lacy, medallioned, epauletted, pious-pompous  thing.   The new generation invented new ways of seeing and thinking.

During his trips to Europe Hopper stayed mainly in Paris. Ah, Paris in the 20’s!  The city was buzzing with Cubism and Surrealism.  Recently starving artists were now being shown in major galleries:  Picasso, Modigliani, Gris, Leger and Brancusi, to name a few.  When you went out for coffee you might spot James Joyce, André Breton or Hemingway at the next table.  So much to see and learn!

Edward Hopper wanted none of it.  His indifference to new ideas was so thorough that, as he later recalled, he hadn’t even heard of Picasso then.

What about the roar of the roaring 20’s. Would he have buttoned his spats and stepped out one night to catch Josephine Baker showing off her knees in the Charleston? Unlikely.

JosephineBaker

But we know he took the train to Amsterdam where he admired Rembrandt’s paintings.

Did he ever hop a train to, say, Berlin to visit museums and galleries there?  He might have been interested in German museums.  But galleries in wild, experimental Berlin showing modern art?

No chance of that.  But let’s imagine he did. Next.

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  HopperDrawing2

The Indianapolis Museum of Art (“Newfields’) reopened on July 17th with an exhibit about Edward Hopper.

I am glad the curators included some of his drawings because they present the most lively work in this show.

The above drawing is dated in the 1950’s.  It may have been a study for the painting “People in the Sun,” 1960.

What fascinates me is that the drawing is lively and energetic, while the painting is, well, dead.

Hopper’s mind as he contemplated a man in a lawn chair looking over a desolate landscape was nevertheless agitated. We don’t know by what–memories or necessary imminent decisions or shocking insights.  It’s an agitated drawing scribbled out in a frenzy of concentration, took maybe all of five minutes.

But the painting looks like sheer drudgery, as if he just wanted to get it done and be finished with it.

Sunning

If the artist intended to satirize the alienation of modern life,  he failed.  I think, the image fails as satire because it lacks wit.

We instantly recognize it as a Hopper because human forms are part of the geometry of the composition.

Let that be my introduction to Edward Hopper at the IMA.  You can tell that I have issues with this show and with the interpretation of this artist.

So far we have some key concepts: agitation, alienation, drudgery, modern life, geometry, human form,  satire and wit.

Stay tuned.

 

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Medardo Rosso

JewishBoyCleveland

The mystery and fragility of this head is shocking.

When you’re strolling through a museum and you come upon a Medardo Rosso sculpture of a child’s head, you will be shocked and breathless.  In your instinctive protectiveness you may throw your jacket over the display case and shoo everybody away.

The vulnerability of the child–not just this child, but every child—is made all the more immediate by the fact that the head is made of wax, more precisely,  plaster covered with molten wax.  What could be more fragile. The child is malleable, quite tangibly soft and ephemeral.

Some of his heads of children are cast in bronze.  Even then, the child is fragile and profoundly mysterious.

Child1

 

Medardo Rosso (1858-1928) was an Italian sculptor who lived in Paris where he befriended August Rodin (1840-1917).

Rosso never attained the recognition that Rodin did. Not surprising, since Rodin gave the Belle Epoque Parisians heroically tormented males and reproductively receptive females.

PenseurKiss

In front of a Rodin, I reflect on what it was like to believe in heroes.

In the presence of a Medardo Rosso, I feel.

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FigureRosso

At the end of class there’s never enough time, it seems, to transition from the rich web of associations that has been spinning in our minds to the rules of the road in the practical world out there. I sometimes forget to take photos of the students’ work and sometimes I’m too rushed when I make the rounds with my camera.

As you can see, the photo of this student’s drawing was taken in haste.  It’s obviously blurred. You can barely make out the head and upper torso of a draped figure.

I do wish I had a clear shot of that fine drawing.

But I don’t regret having this blurry view.  I immediately found it moving.

The feelings of incompletion and ambiguity have been threads running through the past few posts.  Look at this photo for a while and observe what happens in your mind.

There are examples of mystery and “veiledness” that go back quite a ways in Western Art.  My first association was to Medardo Rosso’s heads of children.  Up next.

Drawing by Chelsea. Graphite on paper, ~12″ x 10″

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HoyaCleanMatLine

Look what happened with the sketch we talked about a few days ago.

Two posts ago we said the sketch felt modern because it was unbalanced, incomplete, surprising and edgy.

Now look how the asymmetrical composition –the most fundamental decision the artist made—maintains that modern feeling. Still surprising and edgy!

I think the mat needs to make a clean window, rather than showing the drawing fading out into white paper.

Here it is with fuzzy edges so that you can see what I mean.

Hoya

Stay with this question of edges for a while.  See if you can articulate for yourself why you like one version better than the other.  Is it about your perception of space? Do you feel closer to this scene in one version than in the other?  Do you have a greater sense of “presence” in one version than in another?

See also:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/07/23/crop-that-plant-and-mat-it/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/07/16/just-a-plant/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/and-now-a-message-from-the-mat/

Drawing by Sunja Kim.  Graphite on paper, 18”x 12”

 

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VorseMayHeaton565She was an American journalist, labor activist, social critic, and novelist. I came across her recently while checking on literary publications to see what they were up to these days.

Mary Heaton Vorse, 1874-1966, has been recently rediscovered after long neglect.  So I drew her for my facefame blog. While reading about her, I found this quote from her:

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

We can substitute “drawing’ for “writing” and get:

“The art of drawing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

So true.  Thank you,  Ms. Vorse.

 

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Hoya1

Same plant.  More daring.

I call this view of the plant more daring because it’s not centered.

When the object of your gaze is not centered, you’re likely think it is…

not traditional

unbalanced

incomplete

unexpected

surprising

edgy

engaging

modern

Which of these stands out because it contains all the others?

If you say “modern” you might be running a gallery or ready to start one.

If you say “engaging”  your insight goes to the heart of the matter. Because the drawing is incomplete, unbalanced, surprising, etc, you sit up and pay attention. The viewer is challenged to participate in completing the view of the plant.  The art experience becomes a conversation.  That’s how we as moderns relate to art.

This drawing also says “incomplete.”  We see it as a work in progress.  That’s how we experience conversations when we’re in them.

For that reason we want to see the marks on paper as just that, marks on paper.  We can see that more marks may come.  Therefore we want to see the paper as paper with all the sense of potential that that implies: show the unmarked edges when you mat it.   See above.

The sharp edge of the mat, announcing this drawing is finished, conveys a misleading  feeling.  Do you agree?

Hoya1CleanMat

See also:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/07/16/just-a-plant/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/and-now-a-message-from-the-mat/

Drawing by Sunja Kim.  Graphite on paper, 18”x 12”

 

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Just a Plant

Hoya2

You have a plant in your house.  Draw it.

It’s so ordinary.  And so interesting.

The light reflects differently from the leaves. Some leaves appear very dark; some almost vanish in the intense light.

Pay attention to the spaces between the leaves:  the distinction between positive and negative space evaporates.

You’re seeing shapes. Sit still in your quarantine room and see this play of shapes in front of you. Dark, light, dark, light.

Never seen anything like it before. No idea what this thing is called. Words fail you. Who needs words.  You are drawing.

Could it be, that intense focus is our greatest pleasure?

Hoya2

Drawing by Mary Shieldsmith.  Graphite on paper, 18” x 12”

 

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Giamatti1

“There’s really not much to do. I’ve tried to do a little writing. I’ve been drawing again, which I hadn’t done in many years,   that’s been a wonderful thing, actually, having this time on one’s hands, to take up things again….A lot of my life I wanted to be some kind of artist, a cartoonist or some sort of illustrator…

All I can do is sort of weird funny faces…I just kind of do these faces…I got a lot of time on my hands….honestly, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing…I never really took any lessons….It’s been fun to do it again….it’s been a good thing.”

Giamatti is in a Zoom (or Zoom-ish) conversation with Stephen Colbert and he’s saying that this self-isolation has a good effect.  He has rediscovered the pleasure of drawing!

At that point the conversation had a chance of going deeper into how drawing feels in the mind, how it’s developed over centuries, how it’s taught or not taught and such, but this is TV, so Colbert takes the shallow turn and suggests Giamatti could do a graphic novel. That’s ok.

Nevertheless, we had witnessed a subtle moment in American television:   we heard a big star saying to another big star in the entertainment industry that being alone in your quiet room and drawing—that is a wonderful thing.

Yes, it is.

 

You can see that conversation at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9B8ij0GGBI

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103ClassMOIChardin2

Working on a drawing is a kind of conversation.  It’s an interaction between the artist and her materials, her graphite sticks, erasers, paper texture and size.   When you’re in the process you may not think of it as a conversation because you’re so involved, but later, when you’re asked to verbalize what it feels like, you may analogize it to a conversation.  Then the conversation comes to a conclusion and you call the work finished.

You think you’re finished when your drawing is finished.

But then a whole other conversation starts.  Now the mat has to put in its two cents. It says, here or…here? Do you want to have a clean edge with the mat overlapping the pencil marks (see above) or do you want to show how the pencil marks fade into the blank drawing paper (below)?

103ClassMOIChardin1

You can see that the feeling is quite different.

In class I showed both versions. The consensus was in favor or version two, the pencil marks fading into the blank drawing paper. The students had no difficulty articulating why they liked this version better.

Well, what is the difference in feeling?

The question will come up again, soon.  It’s worth reflecting on with more examples to consider.

 

Drawing by  Katherine Hilden. Homage to Chardin. Graphite and white conté on toned paper, 18”x26”

 

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