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That Big Brush

Notice how big that brush is.  And what kind of brush is that, anyway? Is that even a painting brush? No, it’s not.   It’s  a brush used by wall-paper hangers.  Are you allowed to paint with a brush that’s not made for painting?  Yes, Virginia, you’re allowed to paint with any ol’ brush you can find. Or, for that matter, use any ol’ tool you can lift to transport paint onto that canvas.

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) said that when she was getting into the NY art scene in the 50’s, it was taboo to buy your brushes in an art supply store.  You bought your brushes in a hardware store!

I remind my students to use the biggest brush they can. We buy our brushes in packages, yes, in Hardware and, yes, at the bulk price.  The smallest brush I like to see is 3”. 

The artist making this large painting is using only one brush, about 6 inches wide. Notice that she uses this one brush for every effect, from broad fat stokes to thin faint lines. There are two benefits from this loyalty to one big brush: a) the painting achieves a unified look because it’s made with only one tool and b) the artist can work in a more relaxed way. No switching, no calculating, no deciding.  She works gracefully in tune with her instrument. Harmony all around!

See the finished painting in the next blog.

Cassie Buccellato,  Painting on L’huile paper.  (Huile is French for oil.  It’s sturdy, museum grade paper that can take oil or acrylic.)

For Helen Frankenthaler:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhM5nw_skNQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ij5PDIZ1h6k

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Frankenthaler

I love this next video. It shows her pouring paint from a bucket and using a hardware store brush:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9kfufFMRvg

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Our studio at the Evanston Art Center faces south. Needless to say, we greet an overcast sky with a sigh of relief. On a sunny morning, we pull the shades.

When the shades are pulled, the sun coming through the cracks creates a dramatic pattern on the floor. Now, you can ignore that, seeing it as literally what it is, the sun coming through the cracks.

But you can also go into exercise mode.  You can switch your perceptual apparatus to seeing the whole picture.  Instead of labeling what you see (floor, light, people, easels),  you can flatten what’s hitting your retina.  Yes, flatten.  It’s what you do when you paint an object (three-dimensional) on a canvas (two-dimensional).  You create a composition on a flat surface.

Well, you can also do that as a composition exercise—whenever and wherever you are.  As a further aid, there’s your phone camera. You’re never without it. The camera flattens everything you point at into a two-dimensional composition.  Thank you, Mr. Gates, Mr. Jobs, et.al.  You’re never without the opportunity to see at this more conscious level.

What’s extra wonderful about those light strips on the floor is that they appear as the most striking, most important thing in the composition.  They read as positive space.  Ha, gotcha.  It’s always thrilling when your expectations are overturned.  Negative space reads like positive space.  And people, who normally count as positive space, are relegated to the shadowy part of the background.

You may now slide that insight into the light of day.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Here we have a painting (with mixed medium) that feels almost done.  Not quite.  It needs something, but what?  When stuck or undecided, turn the painting in another direction to get a fresh look.  I suggested turning it upside down.

Ah! Now the dense “heavy” part is at the top, which means it is unstable, it has a ways to fall: it has energy. So much better.  But, still, the painting as a whole needed something.

What to do?  The artist snuck out of the studio, walked around the building and came back with a box.  Ha! She plopped it down in just the right spot, the spot that had invited “more.” Voila.

I don’t like to say “perfect” about anything. But the way that box nested there and especially how its left flap formed a triangle with the paintings lines, that was too good to be anything but uncanny. It happens.

In the next class the artist integrated the box with some splashed paint.  Stay tuned.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/black-black-black/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/in-half/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/popping-out-of-the-frame/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/found-objects/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/shapes-and-light/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/exhibit-at-ethical-humanist-society/

 

Painting in acrylic with mixed medium by Terry Fohrman, 48”x24”+.

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Homage to DeKooning

No, your five-year-old cannot do this.*

This painting is called “Homage to DeKooning 7.”  It’s this artist’s seventh painting using this brush/palette-knife technique while varying the color relations between “background” and “foreground.”  To illustrate, here’s an earlier painting in this series.

These paintings are fairly large, 30”x40.”     I think paintings like this, should be seen close up, about two or at most three feet away, so that you feel immersed in the painting.  If you do this and also don’t rush yourself, you will experience a sense of space within the painting that obviously has nothing to do with perspective. You can then reflect on why your brain would conjure up this space sensation when nothing like a horizon or receding Renaissance columns or mountains in the distance are depicted.

This is what makes abstraction—true abstraction, not simplification—endlessly fascinating: you’re looking at the games your mind plays.

*I’ve actually heard a man say “my five-year-old can do that” in front of a Picasso at the Art Institute.

Paintings by Bruce H. Boyer.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/25/black-dot-anthropocentrism/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-ii-stretch/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-iii-rack/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-iv-asperatus-clouds/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-v-blue-rectangle/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-vi-back-and-forth/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-vii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-viii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-ix/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-x/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/untitled-xi/

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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We have some Twachtmans at the Art Institute. They are snowy landscapes, often with a rivulet. Above, “Icebound.” White-white-white.  White in a painting can be daring because it tends to read like “nothing,” like blank canvas.  But that’s exactly what I find so exciting.

Then there’s this Twachtman at the Cincinnati Art Museum, “Springtime.”

 

I gasped. Can you see the brushstrokes suggesting those trees?  Brushstrokes like that don’t “just” happen.  But, of course, they did.  Just.

Twachtman was born in Cincinnati of German immigrant parents, then studied in Munich with Frank Duveneck, born in Covington, Kentucky also of German immigrant parents.

Read all about it!

https://www.wikiart.org/en/john-henry-twachtman

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_Twachtman

https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1940.html

Duveneck was a dynamic teacher and artist. Twachtman found his love of white-white-white by himself.  Here’s Duveneck:

Read about  Duveneck:

https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1258.html

http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/list.php?m=a&s=tu&aid=391

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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This is the café in the Cincinnati Art Museum. The desirable spots near the window were all taken and I had to content myself with a small table against a wall. Oh, well. It was not a spot to be seen in but a spot from which to see.  You can practice seeing anywhere.  And behold, here I had a scene with back-lighting.

Back-lighting creates a stark lighting contrast.  It simplifies forms.  Dark-light.  Positive space-negative space.

The first image, above, illustrates a woman sitting on a bar stool, absorbed in her reading.  In the composition she is centrally situated and framed by the window in the background. The picture is about her and invites the viewer to wonder what kind of life she might have and what she would be reading.  The pitcher, more in the foreground, might nudge the interpretation towards trite symbolism.

The second image is more edgy. The woman is not central to the composition

anymore. She now occupies a small area to the left.  Most of the pictorial space, about two-thirds, consists of blocky rectangular planes. The woman is still the psychological focus, but these rectangular shapes not only dominate the pictorial surface but seem to impinge on her presence, with the top layer actually pushing against her face.  This tension and imbalance makes picture #2 more engaging than #1.

Now look what happens in #3.  At the center of the composition we have negative space —that is, nothing. It’s a narrow gap separating the human form from the rectangular.  Almost.  If the gap were uninterrupted, it wouldn’t be so interesting.  But the hand holding the booklet bridges the figure to the rectangular mass on the right. The back-lighting here separates foreground sharply from background, dark from light. Therefore, we are not invited to psychologize about the woman. Instead we’re free to roam through the composition, noticing gradations and transitions, alignments, contrasts and echoes.

The pitcher? Yes, it echoes the shape of the woman, but it doesn’t lead your imagination into the ol’ 19th century odalisque motif. It’s as flat a shape as the cross-section of the bar, thanks to the back-lighting.

And…that sliver of light between the bridge of the nose and the window frame.

My salad came. I slid my little Canon back into my pocket.  My seeing exercise might have taken thirty seconds.  It’s only when I had time to look at these three photos on my computer that I noticed these intricacies.  That’s another exercise in seeing.  Took, oh, better part of an afternoon.  The pleasure of seeing.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Not Exactly

The shapes and colors in this painting are so simple and straight forward that your first impulse may be to label what you’re seeing.  What is being depicted here?  What is the artist trying to tell me?  Must be something or else there would be more ambiguity, right?  But notice that your efforts to interpret along these lines (lines !) fail. Granted, someone in class saw a black terrier.  Now suppose you take that suggestion and think of the painting as being a depiction of a black terrier.  Try. This will last you a second and then fizz away.

Imagine these shapes in soft pastel colors.  You can even imagine them outlined in neat bold lines.  What happens in your mind?  Nothing.

The effect of this painting relies on high contrast colors. Because of the high contrast, you expect a statement. Your expectation is not fulfilled. Instead you see blocks of color applied with a pallet knife, leaving raggedy edges.  Therein lies your pleasure in looking at this.

Painting in acylic, 36”x36,” by Janice Fleckman

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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