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Archive for September, 2011

Don’t leave home without it.  We think our lives are hectic but actually we spend a lot of time waiting.  At stop lights, in line at a store, and in theaters before the performance starts.  When waiting, you can just turn on your visual mode.  Wherever you look, there are strange sights.  Turn on your camera. Click.

I had such a wait before the performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Millennium Park in August.  It was hot and humid and people were busy sweating.  It could have been unpleasant, but I switched to visual.  I focused on Frank Gehry’s billowing band shell, on the tree line, on the tops of heads.  But, as so often, the most interesting things are right in front of you.

It’s not that this couple was interesting as a couple, it’s that zooming in gave me a composition that I want to look at, over and over.  I took four shots and am posting this one.  No cropping or color adjustments were involved.

I hope that others will also be drawn into this image: the curiosity about the couple, the carnival colors, the zig-zags of the fabric folds, the Y-shaped crease of her flesh echoed by the Y-shaped fold of his shirt; and the uncanny way our attention converges on the bolts:  the shoulder strap, the red V between the man and woman, the density of shapes at that point above the bolts.  The bolts.

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

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In the 15th and 16th century, if you wanted to make it as an artist, you had to be good at painting flesh: muscles and bosoms, etc.  In the 19th century we got into landscapes.  In the 20th, we expected to be surprised and even shocked and we now take it for granted that art gives us something new, a new perception.

Here are a couple of drawings from a still life set up that offered all sorts of subjects, including  an apple  nicely poised next to a pitcher.  But the pitcher-apple  combination is a trope in still life studies.  It’s more exiting to draw…a garden hose. That is, if you see a coiled up garden hose as an interesting subject.  Seeing is the first step and it can take students many months, even years, to experience the pleasure of shapes in banal objects and then to summon the courage to draw something so banal.  And then to have the skill to make a compelling drawing of …a garden hose.

Another exiting take of the still life is this one, showing the studio stools underneath.  They provide a severe counterpoint to the rolling hills of drapery.  They also allow a peek of the drapery completely in shadow—another counterpoint to the drapery on top.  There’s drama in this drawing. When you choose to include the underside of the “real” subject, you don’t have to know exactly how this will work out.  You just have to have a feeling for the not-so-given, the not-so-obvious, the not-so-comfortable.  This makes you a modern artist.

(Click to enlarge the images.)

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

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In my drawing class, I like to create still lifes that don’t follow the classical model of decorum and grandeur.  My still life tends to look more like the left overs of a garage sale.  I do arrange the objects carefully and tug at the drapery to make it dramatic, but the whole thing is a mess only a poet could love.

Gabrielle, a student/artist, chose an enigmatic passage out of the already incoherent set up.  Of all the stuff—vases, shoe, balls of twine, crockery, flowers and garden hose—she chose this book peeking out from under some lush red velvet cloth.  That’s all, just this partially hidden side of a book and replica of a book, at that.  This is a two-and-a-half hour drawing.

Clearly, it’s not an illustration of this book and the velvet.  If it were, we would have to see more of the context.  As it is, you don’t know what this represents.  Now, that became the issue at the end of the class.  Should the drawing represent something and therefore have more information? Or should it be left as it is, enigmatic, suggestive, mysterious…and formally complete?

I do think it’s formally complete.  In one sense, it’s a visual trap, it’s got you going in circles. Slowly, convulsively up at the left;  fast, brittle and clean horizontally in the middle;  sleek and gooey and face-like on the right. These contrasting forms play off against one another to create tension.  But at the same time the whole thing is like a bit of pastry, circular and irresistible.

Yes, it’s finished.

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

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At first glance, this painting by Charlene W. may seem self- indulgent.  And it is, it is self-indulgent in the sense that it goes wild with color and transgresses against our sense of realism. Well—we’ve been here before—who cares about realism.  We’re not hired to document the Hapsburgs’s holdings in lumber.  We’re painting because we might stumble upon some way to document our sheer excitement at the sight of shapes and the way light plays on them—and the way colors play on canvas.  You can see that Charlene got into color.  She was standing on the Evanston Art Center’s grounds and looking at a cluster of trees.  Very ordinary trees, by the way, and none of them were blue or purple.  Nor were there nearly as many as she put into the painting.  She invented. She invented for the sake of color, rhythm and—let’s call it—exuberance.

The exuberance is, however, reined in by compositional restraint.  Notice the faint suggestion of a horizon at the top.  The tree trunks are all vertical; no tree is sinewy or leaning.  And then there’s the X formed by the yellow light going from upper left to lower right; and the repetition of the dark trunks on the lower left and then on the upper right which cause the eye to move up, from left to right.

And what does the dotted green line indicate?  It goes through the most prominent tree trunk and indicates the Golden Section.

Without these compositional elements,  the painting might very well look too riotous and non-communicative.  If you enjoy looking at it, it’s probably because it comes at you from both sides, the rational (structure) and the emotional (color and texture).

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

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The lake has presented us with oceanic drama lately.  A student in my landscape painting class said, it’s like being on Cape Cod.

My little palm sized Sony does its best, but fails at recording the dramatic impact, the roar, the wind, the chill, the sheer excitement.  All I get is a composition.  Lines and texture.  I’ll take it.

Now look at these two versions.  I just flipped the photo horizontally in Photoshop.

Same information: two people walking on the beach.   But what a difference in mood!  Can you see that one is emotional and gloomy;  and the other tells an optimistic but shallow tale?

See also post August 14:  George Innes, “Going Home.”

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Buzz—Zone—Energy.  Whatever you call it, something extraordinary happens in a painting and drawing studio.    And, for now, I don’t even mean the results on paper and canvas.  I mean the change in the way your mind works.  Students have often told me,  that at the end of a three-hour class they SEE things differently.  The drive from is distinctly different from the drive to.  Street lights are still street lights but they are also unexpected disks of color against, say, a gray/brown rectangular pattern of buildings.  Tree trunks and telephone poles appear to be rhythms; foliage appears as texture;   the horizon becomes a defining line; a lawn will look like a water color wash.  You still drive safely and you find your way home just as you do when you go grocery shopping, but the drive from the art class has another dimension.  Art makes you aware of form.  It’s quite thrilling. It’s transforming, transcendent, transfixing, transmogrifying, transmitting, transporting, transposing,  translating.  Art puts you in a trans mode, hmmm.  It’s also transient, alas, and transgressing.  It’s a gas.  It’s a trip.  It’s like totally awesome.   I don’t understand why art classes are not filled to overflowing.

Above, my landscape painting class on a rainy day, when we were inside and working on color, values and composition.  Notice that the trees in the painting and the hair of the artist/student take on the same form.

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

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