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Archive for March, 2013

13AleLilaDrawing

It must be a resort.  The chairs are standing randomly on sand.  She’s elegantly but casually dressed and she’s enjoying 13AleLilaPhotothe sunshine.

The drawing derived from this old family photo could have been more representational.  The artist/student, Alejandra Podesta, certainly has the skill to work out the anatomy and the perspective problems.  But she chooses not to go that academic route and, as a result, produces a fine, expressive drawing. The drawing seems to breathe and reflects the grace and ease of the woman in the photo: notice how “open” it is (pink circles) and how the arched chair forms repeat and create a graceful 13AleLilaDrawingMarkedrhythm (green lines).  The discontinuity of the lines  or “openness” creates just enough ambiguity to invite us into the composition to complete the thought of each (circled) passage. We don’t need any more information.  More specificity would rob the drawing of its expressiveness, which I, for one, feel conveyed in the discontinuity of the lines and the rhythm of the arches.

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

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13PattyBlueGalapagosSome students in my painting class like to start with a photo taken during their travels.  Here’s one from the Galapagos.  Texture, shapes, lines, a bit of blue.  The photo itself looks pretty abstract already, but the ocean at bottom right gives it away as representational.

In order to help her disassociate the image from its literalness, Patty rotates the photo 90° counterclockwise.  She tapes it to the top of the easel, dips a 1” paint brush into some thinned sepia and draws the main lines on the photo onto her large fresh white canvas.   At this point, it’s safe 13PattyBlue1to say, she may still be thinking rather literally, her loyalty latched to the Galapagos photo.  The more paint she puts on the canvas, the more her loyalty will shift to the canvas and away from the photo.  The paint takes over.  Easy to say.  In fact, paint comes with all sorts of frustrations; it just does not do what the sunny, equatorial photo does.

The challenge is to let the paint take over.  One way to move in that direction is to reach for the big brush.  How about this one here, brand new and clean and THREE INCHES wide.

Take a deep liberating breath. Ooh, now we’re paintin’!

Patty’s painting is not finished, but I like it already.

13PattyBlue2

My students graciously put up with me when I consider their painting finished long before they themselves think it’s done.

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13CynthiaBridalBold

The model for this charcoal drawing was an old photo, probably 13CynthiaBridalBoldPhototaken in the 1920’s. Cynthia worked from the well-preserved, 7” high oval original.

The emotions that inevitably accompany family photos can serve either a) as fuel to keep you working at the drawing or b) they can get in the way and overwhelm you.  The class was divided along that line about half and half.

One of the people whose work was fueled by the emotions emanating from these oldies was Cynthia, who produced this strong drawing. The couple is handsome, but the artist did not glamorize them.  It’s their wedding photo, but she did not sentimentalize them.

13CynthiaBridalBoldGroom

There are three elements in this drawing, as in the photo:  man, woman and bouquet. Notice that the flowers are worked out in greater detail than the people. The outer half of the man’s face is not attended to at all. The woman’s face is asymmetrical, problematic and suggestive of

13CynthiaBridalBoldFace

complexity.There’s a dark objectivity here, alienation even, reminiscent of the faces by Matisse and Picasso.  This is good.  Staying away from the pretty and the flattering and allowing yourself to drift into irony and alienation is good because it makes you think.  Cynthia’s drawing comes out of a modern sensibility: it roughs you up a bit, because it avoids the clichés about weddings, happiness and destiny.

13CynthiaBridalBoldFlowers The drawing as a whole, showing the bride, groom and the flowers,  sets up all sorts of tensions.  The drawing is so strong that each of the three elements (man, women, bouquet) can also stand on its own. I’m showing these individually because each deserves close study. After looking closely, go back to look at the whole drawing, shown at the very top.

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13BoyerLesRondes4flip

This does not work, does it!

It looks comical to me, like an attempt at an abstract painting based on oh-well-let’s-put-some-shapes-together.  Isn’t that what abstraction is, just shapes that don’t represent anything?  Soooo, wrooooong!  If it were a matter of throwing some shapes together, then this thing would be good.  Nice shapes, good colors. But so off, so mindless and heartless. The eye just does not want to move through this flipped version.

Now consider the original.  What a relief!  What an engaging composition!

13BoyerLesRondes4

(See previous post for clues to the genesis of the painting.)

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13BoyerLesRondes1This painting (oil on canvas, 40” x 30”) took three class periods to complete, that’s about seven hours.  The artist started by putting down the colors he wanted to work with, reminiscent of the rich sepia and ochers of the Renaissance, he said. Rectilinear shapes fell into place, hinting at the Golden Section. This is not surprising when you have the Renaissance on your mind and one of the recent topics under discussion in the class had been just that, the Golden Section, its history and uses, briefly of course.

13BoyerLesRondes2The working method adopted by the artist, Bruce Boyer, was to sit back from the easel at a distance of about six to eight feet and look at the painting in progress. Then he would get up and quickly add something.  He had discovered, he said, that the painting tells you what to do.

The painting tells you what to do! 

 

Well, how hard can that be!?  Consider this: In the theater, actors will tell you that the hardest thing on stage is to listen.  So it is with painting.  Listen!  This takes tremendous 13BoyerLesRondes3concentration. My students often tell me that after three hours of this work, “I’m ready for a nap.”   It’s hard work.

I’m showing this painting in four stages and without commentary.  I invite you to study the process—the conversation.  Listen!

 

——————————————————————

Next , the completed work. Bravo!

13BoyerLesRondes4

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13GabyGrandparents2

Students very often think that a drawing is a one-shot deal.  The standard class time is three hours and that should be enough to work out the still life set up on the table or the model on the stand. They tend to think this.  But I try to encourage them to develop certain drawings.  A three-hour graphite drawing, for example, can be imagined in another medium, in charcoal, in an aquarellable pencil or with a watercolor wash. Or it can invite an emphasis on forms derived from shapes that are only faintly suggested in the first drawing. The first drawing might have too much detail and may invite a bold, simple linear quality instead.

Here is a drawing inspired by a family photo from the forties. Gaby actually worked from a Xerox enlargement, 8-1/2 x 11, because old photos tend to be quite small.  The second—developed–drawing is shown above. Notice how version #2 differs from version #1, shown below.

13GabyGrandparents1

The second drawing departs from the literalness of the first which already had moved away from the literalness of the photo.

13GabyGrandparents1linesThe developed drawing (#213GabyGrandparents2 lines) unifies the figures by making the lines where they touch ambiguous. By creating contrapposto lines in the shoulders and midsections (pink), the artist makes the two people appear as one, an ingenious invention that adds emotional intensity and compositional focus. The woman’s hemline in version #1, while very energetic(green), cut the figure abruptly and kept her from relating to her sailor.  Can’t have that.  Gaby eliminates the triangular  pleat work and lengthens the skirt, all in the interest of harmony.  The result shows the couple as graceful and heroic.

Are you allowed to do that?  Yessss! Because you’re creating a work of art.

13GabyGrandparentsPhotoIf you’re commissioned to duplicate an old photo, you better not think this way.  Just hunker down and scribble away.  But that’s not what we do here and certainly not when we develop a drawing.

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RenoirPianoFlip

Let’s try to save this painting.  In this L-R flip you can see that the dominant lines all move from left to right, in other words up.  Connect the candles and your eye moves up.  The keyboard and the music sheet move up.  The trim on the dress draws your eye up.  Since we feel “up” as, well, “up,” this flipped version carries some optimism with it.  The woman’s hands are still the same dead pink blur, but the lines draw our attention to her rosy cheeks and we’re temped to feel some hope for her life taking a more energetic turn.  But, no, I see no hope here.  The plant in the upper right–which could serve as a symbol of life, after all–is dead dead dead.  The whole figure defines a dreary triangle, immobile despite the little ripple at the bottom—too little, too late, too far down in the composition and therefore, plunk, also dead dead dead.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was admired by his contemporaries for his depiction of female flesh.  Even my favorite art critic, Robert Hughes, admires Renoir nudes for their “pearly luster,”  or some such phrase.  We’ll have to look at those some other time.

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