Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2012

Traditionally, flowers are a sentimental subject in art.  The perfume of the cliché hangs over them. The viewer’s mind goes soft.  Oh, how pretty!  Oh, how boring.

Still, there it is, a luscious amaryllis.  It helps, of course, that it’s presented with a twist: just plopped down on this heap of cloth with the plastic stem coiling and creasing, like a cheap garden hose.   This is good for the imagination.

In her drawing,  Maggy S. is working in china marker on gloss paper, about 14 x 11. On gloss paper the china marker can be scraped off with a razor blade, but only to a limited extent, making for a pretty focused drawing process.

The artist puts down the amaryllis in red and then starts to work the background in black, keeping the texture lively. The flower is readable as what it is and the stem coils clearly, though it alerts us right away to the possibility that what we’re facing here is not all plain, up-front and literal.  Now, what to do with the black!  If she fills in the black as background, which is what she actually sees (please go back to the previous post to see the still life set up), then the whole thing will become too literal—red flower on black background, get it!!—and the drawing will fall flat.  But if the black “background” goes beyond being merely background and takes on a life of its own, we may be getting into art.  The artist restrains herself from filling in the left side of the page with black and just leaves that to the imagination, with two results:  1) The white on the left sets up tension in relation to the black on the right. 2) The black now moves through the page in an s-curve of its own.  This black s-curve echoes the s-curve in the flower’s stem.  Just seeing this is thrilling.  Because of that, the drawing may be considered finished.

Given their sentimental association in our history, flowers present a challenge to the modern artist.  But many of our mentors-in-modernism have approached the subject with plenty of irony and grit.  You may want to look up paintings of flowers and still lifes by Cézanne, Redon, Schiele and Van Gogh.

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »

When I set up a still life for my drawing class I do fuss with the drapery and the objects, but not in the way you might think.  I make the fabric crinkly and energetic.  As for the objects, the more absurd the association between them, the better.  What I mean is that when the objects don’t tell a coherent story, the mind doesn’t slide into some conventional sense of “beauty” and instead really focuses on shapes and the spaces between them.  This is a subversive idea, isn’t it!  You spend your whole life straining to achieve coherence and non-absurdity and you’re proud of your skills in that department.  Now you find yourself in a drawing class and this normal-looking instructor encouraged you to go subversive.  Well, boys and girls, that’s the dirty little art secret:  you have to throw that grenade.  You have to add a twist; you have to invent;  you have to have an idea; you have to slip us a surprise.

Here then is Karen G.’s take on this still life.  To start with, of all the parts of the still life she can pick on, she chooses a bit of corner drapery  (#4) and the stem—only the stem—of the amaryllis.  It’s a plastic amaryllis (towards #1)  with a thick coiled stem. The choice of this portion of the still life is itself already wonderfully daring.  In the drawing, we won’t know what the coil represents, it will be an absurd—because disconnected and unnamable—shape.  The stem ends at #2.  But because we can’t see the flower, we don’t know what this is and it looks like a tube inserted in the hilly cloth.  At this stage of the drawing, the space at #3 is empty.  What to do?  After two hours of drawing, Karen’s imagination has stepped out of the everyday literal perception of objects and into its proper domain: invention.  She invents the coil at #3.  Makes it up out of thin air.  Now we have a coil entering the hilly shape in the front and exiting in the back.  This creates a paradox, in that we can see clearly what’s going on (because of the quality of the drawing) and at the same time this construction does not occur in real life and flies in the face of our expectations about still lifes.  The viewer is momentarily stumped and is drawn into contemplation of this paradox. A paradox, however, is not the same thing as a mess.  Notice the echoing of the same shape, a diamond, at 3 and 4 and just to the right of 2.  The drawing draws you into art.

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”—Oscar Wilde

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art for two more performances, January 28 and 29.  I saw them last night. During the intermission I scribbled in my sketch book. These performances leave me speechless.  Best to just let the pen make some marks.

(The sketch book I used is one of my self-made ones.  See post for November 11, 2011, “Make Your Own Sketch Book.”)

It’s a small theater, but you may still try for a ticket or two:

http://www.mcachicago.org/performances/now/all

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »

When you walk into the minimalist show at the Museum of Contemporary Art and you find yourself looking at tiles on the floor, a pile of bricks, a huge piece of paper tacked to the wall with a black rectangle on it, a piece of iron with a tube leaning against it, a broken cabinet painted white, and so forth and you wonder what these things are trying to say to you.

In the movie “Tootsie” Dustin Hoffman is sitting at a bar.  He’s in his get-up as a woman.  A man sitting nearby stares at him.  Hoffman reaches deep into his bass register and snarls, “waddayoulookinat?”

That’s what minimalist art is saying:  What are you looking at?

When you are looking at Carl Andre’s thirty-six Zink and Lead tiles on the floor and you are asking yourself “what am I looking at,” your answer is “I’m  looking at thirty six metal tiles.”   Period.

When you are looking at Tony Conrad’s rectangle on that huge piece of paper and you can’t see anything inside the rectangle, you can step back and enjoy the rectangle.  Period.

Richard Tuttle constructed an octagon in 1967 and stretched some purple cotton over it, calling the work “Purple Octagon.”  The color has faded in these past three decades, but there it is, hung high on the gallery wall.  What is it?  It’s some wood with some cloth stretched over it.

There’s a piece in this show of such great value that it’s entirely encased in Plexiglas, the way the Mona Lisa is encased in bulletproof glass at the Louvre.  This piece, by Pinky Palermo, is a long thin vertical rectangle with two colors, both ordinary cloth bought cheaply at a store sometime in the 1960’s.  I didn’t get a photo of this major work. I remember the colors as hot pink and some drab green, with a seam about three-quarters of the way down, the pink being on top.

What makes this work and others like it “major” is its sheer minimalism, i.e. it’s extreme way of confronting you with “waddayoulookinat .”  Minimalist art says, “if you’ve came here to find symbolism, heartfelt expression, passion, meaning—and of course you have, because this is ART—then you can just fuhgeddaboudit.   Forget about meaning in art.  If you want meaning, go find it in your real life, in reality, in the physicality of the objects that surround you.  What you see is what you see, no more.

The minimalist blip happened in the art world in the early 1960’s.  What did we have before then?  We had Abstract Expressionism.  Ah!  The artist was a hero, elbow-deep into his existential pain, anguish, angst and despair and dashing paint on his huge canvas.  The act of creating was agonistic, a struggle always, and we the viewers of the works empathized with the gestural drips and slashes and felt in the presence of meaning in the making.  Well, how long can we have art like that?  A couple of decades, thank you.  After that, we need to have our retinas and our minds scrubbed so that we don’t become complacent.  That’s the modern sensibility.  We love the shock of the new.  Wakes us up, reminds us that it’s all made up.  There’s no “progress” in art, there’s just a new angle every now and then.

Is this tongue-in-cheek?  Is this funny?  Of course, it’s funny.  It full of irony, the way a mind, to be considered adult, has to operate on a current of irony.

Minimalism trashes meaning and the quest for meaning.  Ordinary objects, made without any special skill, are now enshrined in museums and are worth millions of dollars.  Why?  Because they are considered to be art and as such, by definition, have meaning.  Oops, didn’t you say that they have no meaning  and are not to have meaning projected into them?  This impass becomes apparent when you read the wall texts next to these pieces. To compose these paragraphs the curators needed to generate some verbiage.  “What are you looking at?” will just not do.  This is, after all, an art museum and we do have this notion that art has to do with meaning.  And so we get funny flirtations with the quest for meaning, for example, that some object on display offers  “thrillingly beautiful and poetic moments of clarity.” Sorry, Mr. Curator, beauty and poetic moments are what minimalism was against, throwing all such attempts into the deception-and-illusion bin.

I would advise you to read the texts on the walls with a sense of humor.  You will learn nothing from them.  But allow yourself to get irritated by them, the better to see the actual work, the way the chorus in a Greek tragedy acts as a niggling nuisance, the better to help you focus on the pratfalls of the protagonist.  If you happen get to the MCA in time to catch a tour, be sure to ask the guide the obvious questions.  Let’s not be sanctimonious about this. No wool over the eyes, please,  we’re moderns.  And, hey, we’re doing minimalism here.

Make a point of walking on Carl Andre’s tiles, as you are encouraged to do, and see if you can “feel the different densities of metal through our feet.”   Not in your mukluks ,wedgies and booties, you can’t.  Where’s the bench where you take off your shoes so you can go barefoot and “feel the different densities” of the metal?  Ask the guard, in a matter-of-fact—a  minimalist—tone  of voice.

One wall text, titled “Building Blocks” does get to the heart of the matter.  It states that the art work “encourages us to look more carefully and thoughtfully at the world around us.”  Aye and arrrrgh, ye moderns, reality is all ye got and all ye need to know.

So then I went to the coat check, did the scarf and mittens thing and stomped down the icy steps into a Chicago snow storm, paying attention to the impact of reality—what else is there!—and  loving every neutrino passing through my bones.

http://www.mcachicago.org/exhibitions/now/2011/273

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »

I often think about Rembrandt and what he didn’t have.  He didn’t have central heating, for example, which is why he depicts himself bundled up all the time.  It was cold in Amsterdam much of the year.  He also didn’t have electric lighting to extend his work day. He painted by candle light. Imagine that. He was also a printmaker and did that without paper towels.  He had assistants, but still, imagine that.

Rembrandt didn’t have paper towels and he didn’t have aquarellable pencils, either.  He was a tireless experimenter and I’m sure if had had aquarellable pencils he would have used them.

A few weeks ago in my drawing class I gave a demo on how I use aquarellable pencils.  I work on gloss paper, which has two properties:  water does not seep in and certain pencils, like china marker and the aquarellable, glide easily on the surface. The aquarellable lines, as the name implies, can be made to bleed with water.  I particularly like the feathery effect made with a damp paper towel sweeping over the line or along the line.  The pencil is called Stabilo 8046, made in Germany by Schwan; it also has the words “paper, glass, plastic metal” on its side.  I use it for the drawings at http://facefame.wordpress.com

One of my students caught the bug and has been working with the Stabilo to great advantage.  Shown above is Gabrielle E.’s drapery study from last week’s class. The soft edges and blending effects are created with the sweep of a damp paper towel.

Art materials don’t have to be “classic” or expensive.  Forget bona fide art supplies.  Draw with a twig, a blade of grass, a shish kabob stick, the end of a used up brush, a paper towel; paint with a housepainter’s brush or a kitchen sponge.  Rembrandt used something called a reed pen, which at its finest was made of bamboo, but could also be a homemade tool made of indigenous reeds that grow near rivers and ponds.

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »

This painting is almost finished.  Almost.  The eye flows nicely through this atmospheric, impressionistic bit of landscape. We’re not stuck on any part and that’s good.  The four red blooming dashes in the lower half circle nicely around the middle.  Oh, the middle.  What’s that there?  A red smudge, not as articulated as the four but relating to them by virtue of its color.  Ermmm, that doesn’t work, can’t have that in the middle of the painting, such an important focus of the work, and besides it destroys the pattern of “the four.”

Notice that when that red smudge in the middle is subdued, the painting feels resolved.

Elaine C., Untitled, oil on canvas, about 14”x 18”

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »

Once again, a student has made a donation to the Evanston Art Center in my honor.  I feel indeed honored and grateful.  Turns out, this is a student who studied with me a while ago and then didn’t sign up for the more recent term because of a time conflict, but has become an avid reader of this blog.  That’s good, too. I do hope these posts are of some use.

Let me add something from the classroom here.

During our last drawing class in December, we had a model. I often draw along with individual students, and I stroll through the room and quietly point out problems with their drawings, but I also have some quiet time for my own little meditations.  I like to look  out at the lake, for example.  It’s a major presence, always interesting.  That day the water was calm and slightly bluer than the pale gray sky that was brushed with a pink haze.  Outside, bare trees on one side of the window and on the other, inside, the skeleton.  I framed a shot.  Nice, I thought, the death of winter is upon us and here we have the skeleton to underline the metaphor.  That thought didn’t last long.  I caught myself in this cliché.  How trite: bare trees, skeleton.  So, I zoomed in a little, noticing how the radiator echoed the bone shapes.  That’s better, now we’re playing with forms. The forms create a correspondence within the picture frame.  This creates a centripetal force in the image and keeps the attention from wandering to verbal references, as in the first frame.   So now I’m getting warm.  One more frame.  I really zoom in. Now the skeleton is barely there (sorry) and the radiator is more rhythmic than functional and it really relates to the bones now.  On the top we have a couple of color dashes and in the middle we have—what?—nothing, a black mystery. There’s not enough information to tell us where we are.  That’s good.  Your mind does not wonder. No narrative, just these peripheral shapes holding your focus.

Seems to me, this last frame gets to the point better than the first frame.

All this took no more than two minutes.

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »