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Archive for May, 2011

Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika (1760–1849):   “Since the age of six I have had the habit of sketching forms of objects. Although from about fifty I have often published my pictorial works, before the seventieth year none is worthy.”

He started his famous 46 woodblock prints of views of Mount Fuji in1826 when he was sixty-six years old and worked on them for seven years. (Originally there were 36, but due to popularity, he added another 10.)

He learned about and reflected on his art all his long, energetic  life:   “At seventy-three I learned a little about the real structure of animals, plants, birds, fishes and insects. Consequently when I am eighty I’ll have made more progress. At ninety I’ll have penetrated the mystery of things. At a hundred I shall have reached something marvelous, but when I am a hundred and ten everything I do, the smallest dot, will be alive.”

Hukusai rocks!

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Top: Self portrait at eighty-three           Bottom:  Kajikazawa in Kai Province

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Elaine C. painted this small painting (about 12×16)  from a collage, which itself measured no more than 2”.  It’s small, but is intensely painted and packs a punch.

Some notes: the “background” color is a true black;   the dark mass at #1 is a deep plum color.  At 2 & 3, it was crucial to create a subtle, transparent transition between the colors. The reds in 4 & 5 could not be the same, one being dark, the other emerging into a bright red at the top and they had to appear like a duo without being parallel.  The angles of 4 & 5 had to be carefully tuned, as well as the angles of the two short reds at upper right.  The wedge at 6 is more yellow that the photo captures here and the texture is tapestry-like.

This feeling of “emerging” or “vanishing” comes through in all the contours. The color fields are all defined by not being defined,  with the edges being fuzzy to some degree.  The power in this painting derives from its duality:  The shapes are definite and bold, and the colors are complementary (red-green, yellow-purple), but the contours are transparent and nuanced as if the shapes were in a state of flux, either emerging into clarity or disappearing in a mist.  To achieve this refined painterliness is no easy task.

Oh, and what does it represent?  Clearly, it’s abstract, it’s a play on form and color, freely invented.  But is it possible to not be drawn into this landscape and be absorbed by its mysteries?

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

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Representation in painting became superfluous and problematic shortly after the invention of photography in the 1830s.  By the end of that century artists, though trained in the discipline of representation, turned to abstraction and highly subjective experimentations with form and media.  Being a dyed-in-the-wool modernist, I share their sensibility. When I do representational studies I have no intention of exhibiting them.   I do them for myself, for the sheer pleasure of drawing.   In my life drawing group I sometimes experiment with materials that are difficult to control and sometimes, like earlier this week, I go with the intention of working representationally, of studying the anatomy and getting it right.

Well, not quite.  I gave myself an extra challenge–can’t seem to get away from the modernist involvement with the mess of the materials.   I had prepared the gloss paper (that I like to work on, 11 x 17)  with a thin wash of acrylic in sepia.  Then I drew on that with black China Marker, which I’ve talked about here before.  China Marker is waxy and cannot be erased.  The only way to remove a line is to scrape it off with a razor blade.  Now, when this is done on prepared paper, the thin acrylic layer also comes off, exposing the original white of the paper.  The effect of that is that the scraping, while functioning as the removal of the undesired line, is at the same time attracting attention to itself.  The scraping becomes part of the working process itself, in fact a kind of celebration of erasure.

You can be sure, that nobody in the 16th century was allowed to think of erasure in this complementary light.  But we moderns (and postmoderns) see  process itself as occupying center stage.  The work is not so much about the result, as about the work-and-thought process itself.

It’s an idea that still meets with a lot of resistance, a hundred and fifty years later.  What developed in my life drawing session was disconcerting at first, but then it was exciting because I saw the philosophical implications of negation there.  It reminded me of Mark Tansey.  My exposing the surface of the paper and embracing the scraping process as integral to my work, is peanuts—literally just scratching the surface—compared to the work of Mark Tansey, who makes his monochrome paintings by scraping away the paint he applied to the canvas in the morning of his working day when he started making the painting.  He paints by removing paint, he actually unpaints.  Since oil paint dries in about six hours, that’s all the time he has to finish his unpainting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Tansey

http://www.orbit.zkm.de/?q=node/275

For readings on negation as a philosophical topic, see Mark C. Taylor’s books.

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

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There’s no doubt that this painting represents a landscape.  We can’t quite place it on the map or the globe, but the clues are strong enough. We relate to the line at #1 as a horizon.  #s 2 and 3 echo #1 and suggest a receding horizontal terrain.  These three lines form a reassuring reference in an otherwise rather heaving topography.  There are two reddish hills, partly seen in cross section (5), like geological strata made visible by, let’s say,  a road being cut by dynamite. But the comforting references to horizon and hills end there. At #7 we lose the sense of a horizon.

In the upper regions of this landscape we’re on another planet altogether.  There seems to be a light source behind the cross-sectioned hill (4), but its diffusion is abruptly cut off by diagonal boundaries.  In the upper left, at #6, a conical shape of the same color as the two large hills pushes down out of what we want to believe is the sky.  At right, an orange leaf shape floats.  We are disoriented and the earlier reference to a horizon has become weak and arbitrary.  The painting persists in the viewer’s mind as a landscape, but not literally, more imagined than real.  The looping line (follow the pink dots) flaunts this notion of abstraction.  It is pure surface play.  It says, look, this is a painting, a play of the imagination.

This is a large painting, about  18 x 45 inches.  It engages the viewer with its double take: landscape with hills vs. invention with looping line.

Now comes the catch.  The artist/student, Ivan T., did not paint it in this horizontal orientation.  He painted it vertically.  It evolved as a landscape illusion, geological, but something more like a crevice in rocky terrain.  That’s catch number one.

Catch number two is the fact that he was actually working from a collage, not a landscape at all.  The collage was completely abstract.  In the act of painting, the collaged shapes became more and more layered and the play of forms and edges took over.

What makes this work so rich is not only that it departs from the literalness of a landscape but that it is engaging in both orientations, horizontally and vertically.

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

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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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