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Archive for January, 2014

14EACshowFeet2

This very fine exhibit opened a few days ago and will be up til Feb 16.  Come in whatever you can throw on to keep warm or slip into your most retro patent leather boots, but do hoof it over to the Evanston Art Center to catch this show.

14EACshow114EACshow214EACshow314EACshow5

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14ElizMorlsPaperBag1

At this stage, I took a shot of the drawing because I thought it might be finished.  Elizabeth thought so, too, but decided to continue working on it.  When she had all the facets of the paper bag carefully drawn (see previous post), she said, “I liked it better before.”

I’ve talked about the “Unfinished” before:  https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/yoko-ono-and-romantic-irony/

An article on this subject appeared in the NYtimes just a few days ago, worth reading:

“The Fascination of the Unfinished, “ by Roberta Smith

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/10/arts/design/the-fascination-of-the-unfinished.html?hp&_r=0

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14ElizMorlsPaperBag2Go to the grocery store.  Come home, unload the paper bag on the kitchen counter and put your stuff into the fridge and pantry. There’s the bag.  Crumple it up some more.  Find it irresistible. Contemplate. Sit down with your drawing board, paper and pencil (charcoal or whatever you like) and draw it.  Lose track of time.  Forget about food.

Yesterday was the beginning of a new semester.  In my drawing class I set up crumpled brown paper bags to be drawn.  Some still life.  Very still, indeed.  A brown paper bag doesn’t look like much. It’s too common, banal, too every-day.  But when you draw it, it can become monumental.

I did a demo using china marker on gloss paper.  I pointed out that:

14ElizMorlsPaperBagAnalysis1.The paper, being crisp , will appear to be faceted, like a cut gem stone. Since light primarily comes from above, the upper surfaces will catch the light. Where the cut goes down, that surface will be in shade. When a surface is broken—when it changes direction—the light also has to change. (Shown in green in the analysis.)

2. Sometimes the bag will buckle into a round bulge.  To create the illusion of roundness in your drawing, you have to create subtle transitions on either side of your core shadow and, most importantly, you have to show the reflected light. (Pink.)

3. The drawing should be done with a soft medium that offers the possibility of going truly black, so that that the drawing as a whole will be quite dense. Use charcoal, china marker or very soft graphite.

4. The overall shape of the composition will be a rectangle, wobbly and nicked, but still rectangular.  The dense, faceted rectangle will sit like a monument on the page.

5. The drawing does not have to be “finished.”  You do not have to work out all the facets of this crinkled surface.  You may discover that when just one section is worked out in chiaroscuro the remaining facets of the bag can be indicated with lively, “juicy” lines and nothing more.  (Orange)

One student, Elizabeth Morales, who is new to the class, produced this carefully worked out drawing, using a soft charcoal pencil and stomp on toned pastel paper, about 24 x 18.  The humble paper bag looks monumental, as if chiseled out of stone. Notice the shadow on the lower left corner where the bag curves up. (blue)

Her drawing follows all the tips I offered during my demo, except the last one about leaving some part unfinished.

We all liked it.  It’s an impressive accomplishment.  Elizabeth said, “Now I’m not sure. I think it may be overworked. Maybe I should have left it unfinished.”

Let’s look at that possibility in the next post.

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14SaarinenClockTowerAfter J. Irwin Miller finished his studies in Philosophy, Classics and Economics at Oxford in 1934 he went to work at the family business in Columbus, Indiana.  The firm, Cummins Inc, manufactures motors. Columbus was a tiny town then. (Currently only 45,000 inhabitants).  Miller knew that in order to attract and keep top talent in engineering and management, he had to get involved in town politics, in creating excellent schools and in architecture.  He even had to build a house for himself where he could entertain the company’s executives, since there wasn’t a decent restaurant in the area where he could throw a Christmas party.  The Miller House, designed by Eero Saarinen and built in 1953, is an architectural gem and has its own tour.

The first building Miller commissioned was the First Christian Church, in 1942.  He hired Eero’s father, Eliel SaarinenTribuneTower1922Saarinen (1873-1950), a Finnish architect who by that time was well established in this country.  Saarinen had won the second prize for his entry in the Chicago Tribune design competition of 1922, a design whose influence is  evident in many skyscrapers built in the 20’s in American cities.  Saarinen was a modernist:  let’s do without ornaments, please!  He was also an architect with visual wit and courage.

Just picking a modernist to design a church in rural Indiana was itself an act of courage.  How did Miller get away with this?!  Must have been his wealth, the reputation of his company and his convictions about the power of art, architecture and modernism.

The church that Saarinen designed looks more like a factory or an athletic center than anything the Hoosiers would have associated with their Christian tradition.  Instead of a steeple, there’s a square brick clock tower!

14SaarinenChurchOutsideBut then comes the really good part:  the clock is placed off-center on the tower. I took the architecture tours in Columbus last November and when I saw this (it was the first building on the tour)  I just lit up.  Asymmetry!

First you see the whacky clock and then the tour guide makes sure you also notice that on the building itself there’s a cross that is also off center.  It was part of her job to point this out, but she wasn’t thrilled by asymmetry, that was clear.  I was.

14SaarinenChurchInsideInside the church, the altar wall is blank except for a large thin metal cross that is also, you guessed it, off center.  Not only that, it’s off center to the right, which hits you with an extra frisson.

The reason altars are traditionally symmetrical is that symmetry conveys stability: nothing changes here, don’t worry, you’re safe and comfortable among like-minded neighbors.  Saarinen’s design says, not so easy, folks, there’s work to be done in our thinking, our politics, our society, and you are the ones who have to do it.

Miller’s depth of political and social thought came to the fore a bit later.  In 1950 he co-founded the National Council of Churches. He was involved in civil rights legislation and the March on Washington. He led religious delegations that met with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to push for the legislation that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Learning about this did not surprise me, because I had seen Saarinen’s asymmetrical clock and his placement of the cross.

Miller started a foundation in the 1950’s that henceforth paid all architects fees for new public buildings in Columbus. Public buildings, mind you, not extensions of his own corporate holdings. He specified that the buildings be designed by great architects, because, he said, “Mediocrity is expensive.”

The result?  This little town in southern Indiana offers an architecture tour with sixty-one modern buildings, fifteen modern sculptures and two modern bridges. Just to drop some names: Harry Weese, Richard Meier, Kohn 14SaarinenChurchHenryMoore Pederson Fox, Cesar Pelli, Eero Saarinen, Eliel Saarinen,  Kevin Roche, I.M.Pei,  and Ralph Johnson. You’ll recognize the sculpture in front of Saarinen’s asymmetrical church: Henry Moore.

Well, I’m planning on going back for my own tour at my own pace.

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13HaroldPitcherCornerAt a distance, you’ll look at this painting and say, oh, a little pitcher, there.  And you might very well be reminded of Chardin, who in the 18th century painted humble kitchen objects and scullery maids. Or you ChardinWater-glasswould think of Morandi who had a cart in his studio filled with cheap pots and cans that he’d acquired at yard sales.  So, you’d say, that’s an odd placement for a pitcher, down there in the corner.  It’s not even a still life, really, there’s no setting for it, no context, it doesn’t cast a shadow and, again, what’s it doing down there in the corner.  You walk up to it. You notice the rich texture of the “background,” a pulsating green and blue.  As much as you want to stay looking at this atmospheric shimmering, you can’t help but move your attention to GiorgioMorandithe lower left corner because there’s an identifiable object there and your mind loves to identify things. There’s your pitcher.  It’s there and it also isn’t there.  You notice that it has no outline at all.  It exists because the blue-green “background” is pushing against “it.”  There’s nothing there, really, it’s just that the blue-green stopped taking over the canvas and did so in the shape of a little pitcher.  At that point you either have an aesthetic experience or you shrug and walk away.  If the experience, you’re lucky and you had a good day.

Painting with Pitcher, 20” x 24”, by Harold Bauer, student in my “What Would Mondrian Do” class at the Evanston Art Center.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, 1699-1779

Girogio Morandi, 1890-1964

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