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Archive for December 14th, 2010

A collage can be a work in itself or it can serve as a stimulus for another work in a different medium, like painting.  In my landscape painting class this past term we took the second option.  For a discussion of the first step, the actual collage work, see post for November 15, “Colliding with Collage.”  That class was a revelation to all students because up to that point they had painted fairly representationally.  Now this!  After an intense three-hour session of composing with snippets of color paper, the students were eager to realize these compositions in painting.

To transfer a 3” x 5” idea to a 24” x 30” canvas we used an old, well-established method.  In the Renaissance, the master would make a drawing on a piece of paper.  His assistant then drew a grid over the drawing.  Then he drew another grid on the wall that was to hold the final mural.  A square on the drawing’s grid might be 1 inch wide and might correspond to 8 inches on the mural wall.  Similarly, for my students, the 1 inch on the 3 x 5 collage corresponded to about 5 inches on the 20 x24 canvas.  The ratio was, obviously, not exact, but adjustments were made.  It was a creative process throughout.

I want to emphasize that the 3 x 5 passage was selected from an 8½ x 11 collage. That selection process in itself was quite exiting and revealing. Once the drawing was transferred to the canvas in pencil outlines, color selections and painting techniques concentrated the student/painter’s energies.  This is not a mechanical process.  Never a dull moment.

The work I’m highlighting here is by Beatrice K.  The red as a background will pop up again in other students’ work.  The red was an accident.  I happened to have a supply of gently used red construction paper to recycle—happy grist for the collage mill.  It turned out to be a fortuitous accident. Red is a color that is perceived to move forward. It’s conventionally used as a foreground color. But here it was used as background.  The effect is that it is neither or both.  Our perception of the red shifts, like an optical illusion, between foreground and background.  This makes for a dynamic visual experience.

Let’s look at the painting from left to right.  We can see three over-lapping shapes:  the beautifully nuanced orange-to cream sphere is over the brown squarish patch, which is clearly on top of the purple leaf-shape with the green-orange mirage inside it.  And the next step in this progression into the center of the painting takes us to the red, which must be the base, background color.  But the purple recedes visually and the red pops up, negating our expectation.  This is exiting.

There are echoing shapes.  For example, the purple leaf shape shares the canvas with other leaf shapes, such as the green-yellow one in the lower right corner, and you can easily find others.

There is also a play on edges:  the wonderful ambiguity in the upper left corner with black and white; the purple leaf’s white backlighting; the swan’s-neck shape on the right appears to be on top of the red background when we look at its left edge, but on its right edge,  the red appears to be on top of the white.  Once again, the red is coming and going.  You can also see the interplay of sharp edged and fuzzy, graduated ones. This guides you in out of various degrees of certainty and disorientation.  Without telling you what you’re looking at or what you’re “supposed to think” the painting engages you visually and thereby subdues your need to verbalize.  It keeps you alert, like a hike through new territory.  Even though for the purpose of this little exposition, I used words like “leaf” and “swan,” you will not get stuck in any interpretation anchored in these concrete images.  The excellence of this painting will not pin you down with a facile interpretation.  It will be fresh and offer new mysteries every time you glance at it.

The original collage was chosen on intuitive grounds.  It needed to be realized in paint—and in a large format—to offer up these wonderful mysteries and revelations.  Snippets of paper, ha!  Never underestimate the power of scraps and their coincidental meetings on a studio table.

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