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Archive for July, 2012

 In the 50’s a New York postal clerk named Herbert Vogel (1922-2012) hung out with Abstract Expressionists in the Cedar Street Tavern.  He tried painting himself, but felt he wasn’t any good.  He gave up painting and became a collector.  After he married Dorothy, a librarian, they lived on her salary—in a one bedroom apartment–and spent his on contemporary art, primarily emerging conceptual and minimalist artists. They got to know the young artists and closely studied their working methods and thought processes.  In 1992 they donated their collection of 4782 pieces, by then worth millions, to the National Gallery and galleries in all fifty states.

In 2008 Megumi Sasaki documented their obsession in “Herb and Dorothy”.   Did someone say “obsession”?  Maybe it wasn’t an obsession or an addiction.  Maybe it was love.  Meditation?  Wisdom?  Greed? Quest for fame?   Watch the movie, highly recommended.

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If the heart-shaped leaves of the philodendron were outlined more clearly, we might be moved to pat the artist gently on the back and congratulate her on having such good dexterity and a love of botany and in general being a good girl.  But we wouldn’t spend any time really enjoying the drawing.

This drawing by Alejanda holds our attention because it takes us in and out of clarity.  Now you see the leaf, now you don’t.  Now you’re rational, now you’re free-associating.  Here you know where you are, here you don’t.   It’s a trip, as people used to say.  But instead of feeling fooled, oddly enough, you feel that the work is truthful:  this is how it is with the mind, it goes in and out of focus.

It takes courage to work like this, with the wisdom of ambiguity.

The artist/student used the Schwan Aquarellable pencil on gloss paper and a plain old damp paper towel for the smudging effects.

A second drawing from the same motif followed, this one done in china marker.  Even though this medium was used without any smudging technique, the artist again  plays on forms with a love of ambiguity.

Two fine drawings in one class period.

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This drawing conveys a sense of depth even though at first sight it may appear to be a simple line drawing.  I don’t mean depth in the sense of perspective.  There’s none of that here.  I mean depth in the sense of complexity of perception.  The subject matter is easy to read.  It’s a plant in a pot and on the table next to it is a figurine.  What gives the drawing depth is the variations on the theme of black-gray—and–white.  All possible combinations are documented, as if in an encyclopedia: white on gray, white on black, gray on white, gray on black, black on white, black on gray.  I doubt that the artist/student, Monte, set out with an encyclopedic intention.  If he had, the work would probably not be as intriguing and fun to look at.  It’s a smart, witty drawing.  Uncanny, once you see the play on values, the technical term for shades.

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This was the black lace-up boot on some crumpled up cloth, what artists in their rarified line of work are allowed to call “Still life with boot and drapery.”

So you have this boot in front of you and you think you have to draw it because, well, obviously that’s the object you’ve been given to draw.  A duh moment.

When Maggy had drawn the boot and surrounding drapery, the boot looked good, but the drawing didn’t.  Meaning, the page of her charcoal marks, didn’t “work,” meaning it was not fun to look at.  What was fun to look at, however, was her markmaking.  So,  let’s not give up on this thing.  She played with cropping by placing strips of white paper over her large drawing, trying to find a window that could stand on its own.  Voilá!

This is an invaluable step in your art making and in no way a judgment that the original drawing was a failure.  Look what it contained!  You just had to find it.

Now, this is fun to look at.  “Fun” is a sloppy word, isn’t it, but what it means is that your eye loves the texture and your attention is held by all these alignments and echoes.  Notice, also, that the page falls into quadrants (see also post 6.30) and that the vacancy at upper right (orange) adds tension to the other three quadrants.

Yes, but what IS it?  It’s an image that plays with me.  Why would I want a boot instead!

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When John McEnroe interviewed Serena Williams at Wimbledon (a couple of years ago?) he started out by asking her opinion of the clothes he was wearing (grunge).  That’s because she is known to be a fashionista and a designer herself.

We can be sure her semi-finals outfit at Wimbledon this year was one of her designs.  Two colors: white for the dress;  fuchsia for the headband, the wrist band and the underpants.  Now, Serena, what WERE you thinking?

And, dear girl, what WERE you listening to as you were putting this ensemble on paper?  Must have been some rapper.  Was it Fifty-Cent? Only rapper language can get to the bottom of your inspiration.

I know it’s a hard life, being way up there among the tennis players.  Several hours of practice with your coach every day. Then you go to a fancy dinner and a hot night life spot and then all that bench-pressing and then you have a photo op… with such a schedule, who has time to study composition!

Composition?

One of the topics we deal with in composition is “grouping.”   When you look at this cluster of shapes, you don’t just see disparate things. Your minds tends to look for patterns and associations and to see groupings whenever possible.  You can group the circles together, or the triangles.

Or in the next example, you group the black circles and you group the white circles.  You see two constellations.

If Serena had made the pants white, the pants would relate, or group with, the dress and we would not notice them as a separate unit.

But we do see them as a separate unit, as part of a grouping of four items: headband—two wristbands—round bottom.  It’s a constellation and it stands out.  All the more so because of the color, a hot pink.  When we watch Serena on the court, we see one, two, three, four and among these the greatest is…

This has to be intentional.  Serena wants us to look at her bum, as they say in the greater London area.  Or as the rappers say, ass.  As in, kick ass.  British athletes probably don’t say, “Righteeoh, I shall wield that racket with utmost force and aplomb and, as it were, kick bum.”   They probably also say, kick ass.  We can be sure that Serena’s buddies talk like that.

By this unfortunate design, she has transformed her statuesque, regal presence into a cheap joke.  Thus the picture of grace, power and concentration is sicklied o’er by trash-talk.

Composition is a tricky thing. What’s intentional?  What’s a happy accident? What subliminal associations can be formed in this, say, landscape.  Those are questions that involve the perception of groupings.  What associates to what?  You always have to squint at your work and ask, hmm, is this what I want the work to associate to.

You can argue that with Serena’s hot pants, it’s a moot question.  Intentional or not?  I vote intentional. Notice that her jacket doesn’t have any fuchsia trim.  If she had wanted more color, the jacket would have been the place.  So, yes, the  kick-ass pants, , are intentional.

(Here’s my caricature of Serena Williams from ten years ago. I guess I’ve been a fan for a long time.)

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I invite everybody who’s curious about how in the world the art of caricature can be taught to try to imagine the sound track as I scribble out these drawings. (The brown paper is 3 ft high and I work in markers.)   Each student has the identical photocopied face to work from.  It’s fun.  But we also get a work out. When you decipher the terms interspersed in the scribbling—philtrum, fusiform gyrus, prosopagnosia, epicanthus, gestalt—you’ll realize that there’s substance in this course.  Actually the substance is where the fun is.

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Same gloves as before (previous post), same old pot.  But what a different feeling!

While Linné’s drawing holds us with its tense composition, Gaby’s drawing grabs us emotionally.  She places the pot in the middle of the page and the gloves on left and right, giving us a rational anchor in symmetry.  Nice, thank you.  But the drawing quality itself does not make nice.  Her markmaking is frenzied. We can recognize the two objects on either side as gloves, but they might also be agitated organism.  It’s a compelling double-take, given that the glove is an analog of the hand.

Somehow she managed to make the whole thing look monumental (and I can’t quite analyze that effect), making the gloves surreal and spooky.  Notice the urgency of the deep black scribbles on either side of the pot/tower.  There’s something ominous about that background. (Maybe that’s where the illusion of monumentality comes from).

The whole page pulsates.   I keep looking at this page, drawn into its life.

The drawing, about 12” x 14”, was done in Aquarellable Pencil on gloss paper.

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