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Archive for July, 2014

CassieWhiteGrayBlueFinish

We had a short session this summer, only five classes. In this limited time period a new student produced two large paintings. You met Cassandra in the previous post. She finished that painting in our third meeting and CassieWhiteGrayBluestarted the one you see here. Knowing that her final colors would be gray–blue-white, her first layer of paint, the underpainting, was orange. Another striking composition! It pulls me into its atmospheric textures and creates a sense of mystery about this “landscape” and that blue geometric apparition in the lower left. Amazing, again.
Both paintings took as their points of departure a large collage that was then cropped to find these powerful compositions to develop into a large painting. This painting measures 36 x 36 inches. Cassie paints in water-soluble oil on canvas.
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CassFirstFinal

I love looking at this painting. It plays with my sense foreground and background. Just when I think it’s the orange shape, the large pink with its engaging texture demands attention. Then there’s the gray and white section, so atmospheric, with just a little black intrusion at the edge to make me wonder what’s going on there. Is the black invading or receding?The green underpainting adds depth of thought and a sense of process.  The division between gray-white-black and pink-orange teases me into reflecting on the history of image making and photography. 
This painting measures 40 x 30 inches. It is the first painting by a person who has never painted before. It was painted in two class periods of three hours each. How is this possible!? Granted, the ambiance in the class is stimulating, the students are bright and motivated, all of them, and I as the instructor enjoy lively conversation. But still, amazing.
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A chrysalis is a hard shell that shrouds the metamorphosis of an insect from its larval stage to its mature moth or butterfly form. It’s not a transformation with larval legs becoming moth legs or larval eyes becoming butterfly eyes. Rather, the larva completely disintegrates and in that DNA mush a new organization happens that we then call moth or butterfly.
A biology teacher and painting student, Barbara Heaton, was fascinated by different chrysalis shapes and the metamorphosis they encase. She wanted to use this motif in making art. We started with the MarcaRelliassumption that the work had to be large and experimented with various materials and approaches, including collaging linen pieces in the form of the chrysalis sections that would then be attached onto a large canvas–reminiscent of Conrad Marca-Relli’s work in the 1950’s.
The artist then abandoned the linen/canvas idea and instead used x-rays of spinal cords she had saved from a medical adventure in her own family. A brilliant, moving and fragile convergence: the chrysalis and the spinal cord. The chrysalis is simply a caterpillar’s way of dying so that a butterfly can be born. Simply and not so simply. It’s a metamorphosis that the imagination won’t just let be, it provokes a poetic look.

14Chrysalis
The x-ray pieces are chrysalis-cut and epoxy-glued to 20 x 18 mylar, which is suspended an inch from the wall with magnets and pegs. In a gallery exhibit there would be four of these panels in a horizontal row, each with a different chrysalis. Exquisite, a moving experience.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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2014EACbiennial2
Critically.
Sure, you can swoon over what you like and when you don’t like something you can say, “My five-year-old can do that.” But to get a good mental work-out, ask, ”What qualities got this painting in the show? Why did they hang this next to that? How do these things relate to one another? What kind of mind am I entering here?” If it’s a group show, ask “How did the juror(s) pick these pieces out of the hundreds that were submitted?”
The Evanston Art Center Biennial closes this Sunday. Just a couple of days left. Go and practice asking critical questions.
In the large gallery, you’ll see that the space is dominated by a sculpture that consists of straight elements. When you look at the framed pieces on the walls circling this sculpture, you can immediately see 2014EACbiennial!that these pieces, though by different artists, echo the linear quality of the sculpture. This doesn’t happen by accident. The jurors wanted to create a harmonious space and used the sculpture as the determining element, on the basis of which they chose the paintings.
When you turn towards the entrance of the gallery, you’ll notice that the art work becomes curvilinear, round, and painterly. This progression was installed on purpose. You can then ask yourself, ”You mean, the jurors didn’t select the best work submitted, but rather chose pieces that would conform to their design of the gallery space?”
As you leave the gallery you walk across a little lobby and then you face a huge painting of a seated figure.

2014EACbiennial3The paint glows. Most of the surface is deep black. Could it be? No, not painting on velvet! Yes, indeed, this is a painting on black velvet. You recall that “painting on black velvet” is synonymous with “Kitsch” and you recall seeing matadors, Spanish dancers and sentimentalized old beggars in the interior decorating section of Woolworth’s, oh, decades ago. But here? At the Evanston Art Center Biennial? Is this a joke? We can’t be sure, but the contrast to the rectilinear constructivism in the other room is striking. It has to be deliberate. So, what relates the straight lined assemblage of brown cardboard to this painting on black velvet?
Wit, possibly. There’s something witty about the cardboard towers in themselves, because, well, they will disintegrate. First, the cardboard will absorb moisture, then it will bend and collapse into a pile. It’s part of the aesthetic of decay, of which we’re seeing a lot in our apocalyptic age. Certainly, there’s no grandeur here, not even seriousness. Maybe that’s what the jurors saw in the painting on velvet, too: a pretense of serious thought, but only a pretense. Constructing towers out of cardboard—how vain. Painting on velvet, ditto. Both are melodramatic and pathetic. If you resist seeing humor in this show, look at the feet in the painting on velvet. Laughter in galleries is allowed.
We’re not in Renaissance Rome any more, Toto. Making fun of grandeur is good for us.
(The jurors for this exhibit were Allison Peters Quinn and Sergio Gomez.)
To read about painting on velvet: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/velvet-underdogs-in-praise-of-the-paintings-the-art-world-loves-to-hate/
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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14Subway
What about that deep red disc in the upper right? Would the painting be better without? Should it go? Should it be in another part of the painting? Does it need a companion, another disc somewhere, at least one? These are the questions that came up as the rest of the class looked at Maria Palacios’ painting. One person said, “It’s disturbing.” And so it is. Your eye keeps moving up there to the right, wondering, what’s that doing there. You can’t quite answer the question, but you know, that without the disks (see it photoshopped out, below), the painting might slide into the decorative category.

14SubwayNoDiskWithout the disc the painting still holds my attention, with its rhythms and progressions. What’s foreground, what’s background? What’s moving, what feels stable?  Fascinating. The painting came about after the artist had made a personal study of Hans Hofmann, the German-American abstract expressionist, 1880-1966. 

Yes, the disc is disturbing, and that’s good. Makes you think. I don’t think it needs a companion because another disk would merely add balance. It could be in another corner, but anywhere else, it would lack weight, would be tame.  Keep it there, in the upper right, where it puzzles and provokes you.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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StLaurant4

To get a fresh view of your drawing, you can enlarge or reduce it on the Xerox machine. It’s StLaurant1best if you make a drastic change in size. For example, here are some drawings by Gaby Edgerton. She made very small studies, only about 1½ inches high. Then she took them to a duplicating machine and blew them up to about 12” high. I’m showing the enlargements here. Where before, in the tiny drawing, you could only see the general form of the drawing, now in the enlargement you can see the drama of her markmaking. Where the small drawings looked rather delicate, now you can see that the lines are bold and energetic.
Working small can be quite easy. If you see your drawing suddenly large and impressive, you may be encouraged to work with greater daring the next time, whatever size you work in.————-

StLaurant3 StLaurant2
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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