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Archive for March, 2011

The class is called “Impressions of Landscape.”   In late spring, all summer and early fall, when the weather invites, we hold class outside.  In winter we work either from collages or from photos and always with a big dollop of imagination.

Danielle G. brought in this photo to work from,  a magazine clipping.  She worked in oil and started by mixing blues, partly on her palette but also directly on the canvas. (16 x 20, about)  When the blues and violets created the mood suggested by the photo, she felt she was ready to add the trees.  But first we looked at the painting in this preliminary state from across the room.  It’s very important to do this, to stand way back so that you can see the work as it is in its present state,  instead of as a work in progress.  It turned out that in its present “preliminary” state the painting already had such atmospheric depth and feeling, that we responded to it as a finished work.  Whereas the photo presented a flat stretch of land with trees in the foreground, the painting suggested a view into a valley.  Trees in the foreground would have made no sense.  The painting took Danielle in a different direction, away from her photo.  This work is never about copying, and instead demands that the artist/student always respond to the painting as it develops.

À propos  de blue, in the late 50’s and early 60’s, a French artist named Yves Klein (1928-1962) painted large canvases with an even coat of blue paint.  He produced many such canvases and became famous for them.  So famous, that the blue he used came to be called Yves Klein Blue.  It was actually ultramarine and not mysterious or magical at all.  But at the time, an all blue canvas attracted notoriety at a time of daring experimentation among young artists.   Klein was a pioneer in the development of Performance art and a forerunner of Minimal art and Pop Art.

Danielle’s painting not only provided a teachable moment about Yves Klein, but it also reminded me of the mysterious landscape in Leonardo’s Mona Lisa.  For company, not bad at all.

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

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Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path: Violence, Women and Art. This exhibit will be at the Chicago Cultural Center, 4th floor, Randolph Street entrance, until April 13.  Admission is free.  Adults  should see this, but definitely without bringing children.

Photography and drawing are not permitted.

Two reviews can be found at:

http://timeoutchicago.com/arts-culture/art-design/165325/off-the-beaten-path-at-the-chicago-cultural-center

http://chicagoartmagazine.com/2011/01/off-the-beaten-path-violence-women-and-art-at-chicago-cultural-center/

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This drawing is inspired by the Hubbard Street Dance Company’s performance of “Petite Mort,” by the Czech  choreographer Jiří Kylián, using  Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major  (Adagio) and  the andante from his Piano Concerto in C Major, 1991.  It was a stunning performance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7afrgC5l8I&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0t0UuHvMI18&feature=related

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

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Creating a painting from a collage has a liberating effect, in that the process allows you to experiment freely with color and textural techniques.  You can study the emotional impact of color relationships and the expressive effects of brush handling without having to worry about verisimilitude since you’re not depicting any part of visible reality “out there.”   This 20×16 painting, inspired by a collage, afforded the student/artist Bea K. the opportunity to work with a limited palette of black, white, purple and green. But much of the compelling effect of this painting derives from her handling of edges, both hard and soft, definitive  and transitional.  (See “collage” under Topics.)

The next project, working from a photo of a willow tree and a lagoon, added the challenge of credibly representing a real landscape while at the same time remaining in the painterly mode that governed the earlier collage inspired  painting.

In fact, this new project demanded even greater freedom and experimentation. No element in this painting is the result of coloring-in an outlined form.  Everything is painted directly and that is what makes it lively. The finger of water in the distant part of the lagoon (3) had to be painted with one sure sweep of the brush. The willow tree would only be willowy if the paint were allowed to drip (2 and 5).  The dripping of the paint has its own wildness but at the same time it has to be controlled.

This dialog between chaos and control is repeated in the composition itself.  The spit of land (1) has a definite shape and dominates the right half of the painting while the willow tree (2) conveys total chaos, not only in its organic form but also in the very way it’s painted and it covers the left side of the painting. The parabola shape of the green meadow (1) is repeated over and over:  the sky under the drips of the willow bows (5),  the  sliver of lagoon (3),  and the island on the left (4).   This repetition of a motif, though not obvious or mechanical, focuses the attention of the viewer, like a melody in a song or a refrain in poetry.

How about putting in some people, maybe under the tree at 4?  No need.  Birds in the sky?  No need.  The painting does not need any trickery, no sentimentality, no cliché.

The painting is restrained in its color scheme: green, blue, a sigh of pink in the sky, some sepia and a stroke of deep purple in the shadow at lower left.   It’s quite an accomplishment to evoke this delicate mood and at the same time to work with clear formal elements.

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

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Faces from Stalingrad

An excellent source of  subject matter for drawing is the DVD.  You can watch a movie, stop it at any frame and make studies.  I find it particularly interesting to draw faces in this way because I can stop the frame at a certain angle or expressions.  Documentaries are best for drawing, I think, because they present people without makeup and without theater training.

Here are some faces from a 2003 World War II documentary by Filmmakers Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick and Jorg Mullner . I drew five of the survivors , in their 80’s or 90’s,  recalling the horror of Stalingrad when they were very young.

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

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This is a very moving exhibition, at least for me.  I’ve been twice in one week and will go back many more times before it closes May 30.  Around 1500 and a few decades before, this new sensibility emerged in France and it feels like home base to me.  It has a delicacy and grace that I miss in the Italian art of the same period where men are heroically muscular and women are passively dull. By comparison, these French ladies and courtiers enjoyed their playfulness and its possibilities.

I was fascinated as soon as I walked in last Friday. In the second room of the exhibit I was already completely enchanted (sorry, I don’t usually talk like this) by a modanna & child from 1470 called Notre Dame de Grasse.  She’s a girl with a delicate nose, dreamy eyes and a pouty innocent upper lip. The baby, with wavy hair and the same pouty upper lip, is scampering on her left thigh.  With one hand she keeps him from sliding off and with the other she lightly holds on to his foot under the blanket.  But her head is turned in the other direction.  She’s distracted by something, maybe a butterfly or a deer at the edge of the woods.  She is, you see, very young,  a girl of thirteen, no more.  The sculptor must have been very brave to create such a human, fallible, this-worldly image.  1470!

Not only photography, but sketching is also prohibited in the exhibit.  Ouch.  What’s a sketcher to do?  The urge was too great.  I went through the exhibit. Then at the end where the catalogues are laid out on tables, I looked for this little madonna from Toulouse, but she was not reproduced in the catalog.  So, I sketched from memory.  Got some of the basics down.  Went back, for a detail like the book she has tucked under her arm.  Then went back again for a third time.  So, it took three takes.  This is a good exercise, drawing from memory.   Recommend it highly.

http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/current.php

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

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The discussion in the previous post (2.8.11) finds ample illustrations in “real life.”

Here are some of my own life drawings that show the model displaying the neck-meets-jaw angle. Notice that this requires a foreshortening of the face, with the chin being prominent; the nose seen as a triangle (from underneath); the bridge of the nose very short;  the eye, a mere arc; and the forehead losing all of its real height, because it is the farthest section away from the eye of the artist;  oh, and the hair on the top of the head barely makes an appearance.

Pulling this off takes practice, both in seeing and in drawing.   Errmm–has anybody noticed!– that’s the theme running through these posts on technique.  Practice!

(The drawing at the top consists of five  three-minute drawings.  The standing pose, above, is a ten-minute drawing.  The seated pose, left, is a fifteen-minute pose.)

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We like drawing the face looking straight at us.  It’s easy that way because all the features are aligned symmetrically so that as we draw, we can orient ourselves without getting lost.  But a full frontal view is limited in its expressive possibilities.  We all know from our everyday interactions with people that people tilt their heads as they speak and look at things and that a little tilt conveys attitude and emotional meaning.  Those of us who are privileged enough to participate in life drawing know something else:  the model stands on an elevation and as we draw her/him we look up at the face, seeing the jaw from underneath.  When the model reclines or twists, we also see the face and neck from this foreshortened angle. That angle is quite beautiful, if I may use that old-fashioned word, but also quite challenging, because it presents us with both subtlety and at the same time a definite anatomical geometry.  To avoid the issue, students tend to just ignore what’s in front of their eyes and instead draw a full frontal , standard-issue face.  That makes for a sad drawing.

It was time to face the underside of the face, where the neck meets the jaw.  My presentation  started with a face on a lampshade.  As we tilt the lampshade back, we see the underside of the nose, which becomes triangular, and the underside of the lampshade, which becomes an ellipse.  The stem of the lampshade is now roughly in the middle of the ellipse.  We rotate the face to the left and move the stem to the right, and, voila, the analogy to head-with-neck becomes obvious.  An aha! -moment for all students.  The demo was clear, but it turned out to be a little harder to put into practice. But by now we know, don’t we, that practice is the thing!  The muscle that wraps around the neck-tube, extending from the back of the ear to the sternum in front, is called the sternocleidomastoid. A fun word to stay, but a bear to draw.  So—surprise, ha—the neck is not exactly the simple stem of a lampshade, but seeing the analogy does help you visualize what’s going on.

Practice!

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

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Is this woman being rescued by this man?  Did she just faint, overcome by the beauty of Carl Andre’s  steel tiles on the floor (lower left)?

This is a museum scene.  Specifically, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, a week ago.  The Luna Negra Dance Company performed in the gallery space that day–interacting with the exhibit pieces–and I happened to catch it.  I filmed part of the performance with my little pocket camera.  (See link at end of this post.)

Seeing professional dancers bopping, banging, hugging, lying on, sliding and slithering around art work in museum galleries in the middle of the day was a special treat.  But actually, for me, the museum experience always involves observing other museum goers.  I have a romantic, modernist sensibility. That means that the question “What Is Art” is always an issue.  When I observe other people in museums and galleries, I always wonder if they’re thinking “Is This Art?”  I wonder how they relate to these objects and what expectations they bring with them when they enter the museum.

In the 19th century skyscrapers were called “cathedrals of commerce” and museums were called “cathedrals of culture”   or  “cathedrals of art.”  Doesn’t that sound like ancient history!  We don’t hear that kind of  cathedral talk nowadays.  People who expect to encounter the sacred and find a pile of gravel on the floor, are either offended or they’re prompted to redefine the sacred.  How about Félix Gonzáles-Torres’s hill of candy in the corner, where you’re invited to take a piece.  Where’s the grand cathedral feeling in that?

Modern and Contemporary Art requires the reaction of the viewer for its completion. It doesn’t give you the answer, it doesn’t reassure, it doesn’t confirm your old assumptions.  Instead, it asks questions.  In that respect it’s actually rather Socratic—talk about the ancients.  A visit to the art museum gives your brain a work out. The MCA is very explicit on this topic.  On one side of the wall: “Without you;”  on the other side: “I’m nothing.”  The YOU here is the audience, the museum goer, the art observer.

A Robert Irwin piece has this quote next to it>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Consciousness, perception.  Big words?  Abstract concepts?  No, it’s where we live.  Everybody. The MCA looks more like a playground than a cathedral.  That’s good, because if we’re going to reflect about perception and consciousness, we better be relaxed.

Get off your knees.  Hop skip jump.

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

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Drawing with pen and ink is liberating (see post 1.29.11) but drawing with a stick is like flying.  By stick I mean something like a shish kabob stick.  The pen limits you to moving only down or sideways, and if you’re too wild, it will sputter and balk on you. But the humble stick knows no restrictions.  It will dance along with you any way you like to move—up, down, sideways, fast and slow.

These drawings were made with a stick dipped in non-waterproof sepia ink.   The poses were ten to fifteen minutes.

 

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

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