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Archive for May, 2014

14MayWestEggPlus
Here’s the fifth piece in this simulation of a gallery experience. When you go to a solo-show, you get drawn into this person’s sensibility. What kind of perception and thinking is going on here? You immerse yourself in these canvases, you’re puzzled, surprised, delighted, confused. You feel your brain is getting a bit of a scrubbing and you like how that feels. You may walk out more alert, seeing colors and shapes more vividly. Or powerfully moved, challenged to change your life, even. You may feel you should buy one of these paintings, live with it, relive those surprises and challenges, converse with it and let it open you to possibilities. This happens. Art is powerful that way.
Not with decoration. A decorative piece will make you feel comfortable and complacent and, of course, you like that. Helps with digestion, don’t you know. But art is something else. Art is part of how you develop and developing is work.
To get what I’m getting at here, you may need to get messy, sign up for a class and face the process. Get it? Experience! Btw, contrary to popular myth, 14MayWestEggFlipart classes are not relaxing. Slug it out with the Apollonian and Dionysian for three hours and you’ll be ready for a nap. And that’s a wonderful experience.

As the teacher I have the added pleasure and privilege of witnessing the development of my students’ paintings.
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14MayWhatNumber4
Again, the juxtaposition of chaotic and precise forms, round and rectilinear, irrational and rational, spontaneous and planned, fuzzy and delineated, Dionysian and Apollonian. The whole brain, not left or right, the works.
It’s well worth your time to contemplate what happens in your mind and your emotions when the 4 is superimposed here.

14MayWhatNumber
Btw, this swirling action was put on top of an earlier, abandoned painting in such a way that the early rectilinear shapes were left to show as pentimento, letting a shadow of memory and rationality connect us to yet another layer of time.
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14MayPlugByTheSea4

From our Evanston Art Center mansion by the lighthouse, we have a view of the lake and the 14MayPlugByTheSeaStartbeach. The lake and sky always play with color effects for us to gasp at. We get horizontal stripes, basically, and you might think those would make for a boring, too restful, composition. Well, yes, relentless horizontality can be challenging, but a challenge like that gets you thinking about your assumptions.
Bruce Boyer started with this recognizable sky-water-beach composition. Nice, low horizon, very comfortable and serene. Just for kicks we 14MayPlugByTheSeaStartUSDturned the canvas around. Now we have a high horizon with a yellow sky and a sunset-colored beach. Too weird, not realistic at all. Your mind then tries to see this thing as pure stripes: yellow, blue, pink-ish. You try. But the texture in the blue stripe is unmistakably watery and your imagination can’t let go of that association. That association overrides all the color weirdness of the yellow sky and pink beach because the mind really is attached to realism and is desperate to identify something with a name. Ah, lake! The lake is still there. From that assumption, all else falls into place.
14MayPlugByTheSea2But Bruce Boyer does not let it rest there. He needs a twist of irony, some semiotic double-coding, something to jab at your assumptions. Let’s play in the semiotics sandbox and put something on that beach. Something totally disassociated, something not from nature, something rectilinear, mechanical, man-made…the plug appears from nowhere and, behold, it’s just right.

14MayPlugByTheSea3
Well, it’s just right if you get Magritte and have a few brain cells that conduct surrealism for you. If you do, stay tuned. If you don’t, ditto.
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14BoyerSquRecBeforeThat’s how it started. What happens when the conversation starts with rectangles and squares? 14BoyerrectilinearBecause, you know, that’s what this is, a conversation. So, he puts down these rectilinear shapes and colors and then what? Then he goes across the room and looks. Just sits and looks. Listens, might be the better word. Because, the painting tells him what to do next. Suddenly he gets up and puts in lines, like that spiral on the lavender square. Then he lets it dry for a week, comes back, sits, listens/looks, gets 14BoyerrectilinearVaseup and puts in the flowers and vase. Whoa, some realism! Where did that come from? From the conversation, you square! So surprising and so right. Still not there. Let it dry and sit some more. Next week he created the illusion of a fluted column on the left, just enough three-dimensionality in that to keep the vase and flowers company. Now the conversation has come to some insight, can’t diagram, analyze or explain it, but it feels complete. That’s the painting process. Mysterious and so right.———————————–

14BoyerrectilinearVaseFinal
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14BoyerMitosis2
The works produced in my class, from one student to the next, all look different. I’m actually very involved in each student’s work process, but at the same time (I’m proud to say) the overall feeling in the class is one of intuitive play and experimentation.
In the next three or four post, l’ll show the recent paintings of one artist/student, Bruce Boyer.
Above is a finished painting, 30 x 40. Below, the first layer, which took one class period of three hours, is 14BoyerMitosisalready puzzling. For example, by virtue of their color the two orange areas relate to one another, but the one on the left, triangular in shape, appears to be in the background, the deepest background in fact; the one on the right, the round one, occupies the top plane. When we look at this painting our perception becomes purely visual. That’s a good thing.
The second layer is somewhat anticipated while he’s painting the first, but the triangles, rectangles and strings of the second layer position themselves of their own accord.
Even though I was a witness to the painting process and I have an image of the first layer to refer to, the final painting draws me in with its multiple associations and illusions of depth. I just want to look at this thing. It frees the mind to all sorts of possibilities. A good thing.
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14BlueBlackSplashAllowing paint to drip is part of the modern sensibility. You can see it in Picasso and Matisse, for example. It was shocking a hundred years ago, but not anymore. We moderns are invigorated by the physicality and the sometimes unruly behavior of the paint. We interpret it as a metaphor for energy and vitality. Modern painters may even chose to deliberately splash paint on the canvas.
Now, splashing paint is not as simple as it may sound. If you want the splash in a particular part of your work, you’ll soon discover that it actually tricky to achieve this. After all, you’re flicking a paint-loaded brush. Among the variables are: how high you swing the brush, with what movement, at what speed, and at what angle. It soon dawns on you that if you’re going to incorporate splashing in your painting, you need to—oh, this sounds ridiculous—practice splashing.
Maria Palacios, one of my painting students, made just this discovery recently. She has since moved on to experimenting with different techniques, but when the urge to splash strikes her again, I will set up a long work table for her and cover it with brown paper so that she can practice her swing. That will be revelatory.
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14StillLifeBosMaggyDBecause these boxes are not big (about 8-10 inches long), there was a Stage Set for every student, who 14StillLifeBosMaggyEcould move to get different angles of the thing. During this class, Maggy did two drawings of the same box, from slightly different angles. As in the previous class, she saw forms, this time playing with the repetition of triangles and trapezoids.
Her second drawing is shown here, top. This is fun to look at. It’s witty, in that some things are clearly stated, and some leave you guessing. You can tell 14StillLifeBosMaggyCthat she had worked through some possibilities and was committed to abstraction. Her first drawing of the same motif, at left, is more tentative. I recommend that students plan on doing more than one drawing, where the first one allows you to get your bearing on this subject in front of you and the second one will therefore by drawn with more conviction and daring.
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14StillLifeBosMaggyBWhen you’re drawing the stuff of still life, there will be no hurt feelings. No box, bottle or drapery rag will accuse you of being shallow or insensitive or getting the proportions wrong. Not only is this, then, an 14StillLifeBosMaggyAinvitation to scribble away with abandon and produce new, improved markmaking, but it’s also an opportunity to see form, i.e., to go for abstraction. This is what happened with Maggy’s Stage Set with Circular Forms.
I find this drawing daring and exhilarating. Notice the tilted round container at lower left: it’s the only thing drawn with the illusion of three-dimensionality. All its shadows and reflected light are academically correct so that it looks convincing in the classical sense. Everything else in this composition is texture and a play on forms.
The z-curve as a suggestion of drapery exists in its own abstract world. You want to be reminded of drapery? Fine. But this line asserts itself for its own pleasure and as a counterpoint to the rectilinearity on the other side.
It may seem simple. How hard can it be to put an s-curve on a piece of paper! Well, not physically, that’s nothing. But to be so in tune with your drawing that you can see that this z-curve in that part of the drawing will be just right, for that you need to be having a good day at your drawing board.
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14StillLifeBoxGabyCHow long does it take to draw a still life like the one in the previous post? Three hours. This does not mean that graphite is being deposited on paper uninterruptedly for three hours. Much of the time is devoted to looking, considering, deciding, trying. The big decision, of course, is when to stop.
I tend to like a work at a very early stage of its development. That’s probably because of my love of abstraction and so a few lines on the page already speak to me. As for the love of incompletion, that’s an attribute of a romantic sensibility. I’m one of those.

14StillLifeBoxGabyEIn this second “stage set” Gaby again produced a fine drawing, this time with more delicate markmaking and with more devoted attention to shading . I’ll show it here in two stages, the one that starts the post being the final one. Final, not only in the sense of three-hours-are-up but also in the sense of “it is resolved.”

What’s particularly effective in the drawing is how the rectillinear edges on the left were worked out to contrast with the round billowing forms on the right.

14StillLifeBoxGabyD
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14StillLifeBoxGabyAOf all the possible ways of displaying still life objects, my favorite is to create a proscenium stage with a small shipping box. I take off all the labels, paint the inside white and assemble a cast of small white bottles, hand-cream jars and other round objects. The whiteness keeps the artist/student focused on shape rather than drifting off into topical colors. (This is how artists used to be trained: from plaster casts of body parts, all white-white-white. )
The box is propped up at eye level to the artist, showing the depth of the box and, therefore, inviting the working out of perspective and deep shadows.
To soften the rectilinearity of the box, I drape a scrap of fabric or ribbon over one side.
It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it. But it’s actually quite a chunk of universe. Any number of technical and imaginative issues converge here. I’ve talked about all of them in previous posts. What I want to stress here is that this set up invites seeing and playing with abstraction. In this and the following four posts we’ll look at this invitation.

14StillLifeBoxGabyB
One artist /student, using the Stabilo pencil on gloss paper, drew with loose, quick lines that convey great energy and intensity. The round object in the front was actually a sphere, but left Gaby left it looking like a disk, without the shading and reflected light that would have rendered it three-dimensional. Because of its flatness—its self-consciousness as a shape– it invites abstract thinking in the viewer, which then affects how the whole composition is seen. If the still life had been rendered more photographically, the viewer would be judging it on its verisimilitude. But the loose markmaking and that white disk in front take the mind in a different direction, saying, let’s play with shapes, see how the round forms are being repeated here. How liberating!

Our drawing class, a ten-week term at the Evanston Art Center, always starts with three or four sessions with a still life. A still life is the most forgiving subject. It inevitably involves pottery, some plastic fruits and flowers and drapery. All this can be represented faithfully and classically or you can take liberties with how well-crafted that pot is or how plump the pear. And a crumpled piece of cloth is the most forgiving thing of all. Because of the benign disposition of the objects in front of you, you can experiment with and indulge in all sorts of wild drawing techniques, which we call markmaking. This is the time to experiment with drawing tools, papers, and different ways of “leaning into it. “
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