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Archive for March 13th, 2012

How did this painting come about?  How did the artist start?  What was the inspiration?  What was the goal?

Ivan Tshilds started with a small photo of a mountain ridge and a red sunset. This was actually a fragment he had isolated from a larger photo.  His canvas was about 24” x 20.”

He rendered the photo literally, but without any detailing or fine brush strokes.  This first stage went very fast and the result was boring:   we read a photo differently than a painting or drawing, with different expectations and different associations.

To take it out of the literal, he clarified the horizontality of the composition.  In this second stage, the painting consisted of horizontal stripes; from top to bottom:  purple, blue, orange and green.  This was the decisive step, because once he freed himself of the intention to produce a sunset painting, he was able to work with the painting itself, reacting to colors and shapes as such.  In this mode, the search for meaning continues, but is not tied to pre-ordained, outside references.  The task turns into an adventure.

He tuned the colors in relation to one another and their widths.  In the next class I brought in a large reproduction of Matisse’s   “Port-Fenêtre à Collioure,” 1914, a large painting, which consists of vertical stripes plus a drab charcoal colored horizontal element at the bottom.  Ivan’s painting seemed to need a counter-stripe to pull everything together.  At first he experimented with such an element, but the effort failed—only in the direct sense. Instead, seeing his painting with this possibility, he experimented with and found other, more subtle ways to link the stripes. Notice how, in his painting,  the small “intrusions” relate to one another and cause the eye to move through the whole surface.  This way of thinking also lead to faint lines, a kind of “marbling,” that ignores the color boundaries and also serves to unify the composition.  Doesn’t that sound like an adventure!? The painting took over and came alive.

But wait, there’s more. Remember, he’s been working on this painting with the stripes horizontal. When he thought he had it finished, he felt he needed yet another fresh look at the thing and so he turned it sideways.  Seeing a painting in a different orientation helps you catch patterns and biases that you had gotten used to and therefore stopped noticing.  Now comes the surprise:  his painting works better with the stripes vertical.  Agree?

Why is that?

(The book I brought in for the Matisse is “The Shock of the New,” 1980, by  Robert Hughes.  Superb writing, highly recommended.)

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