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Archive for January, 2017

I16novleanphoto encourage my students to draw the whole figure rather than one anatomical part at a time.  Drawing the whole figure right from the start means scribbling and making quick adjustments when you notice that what you’ve put down on paper doesn’t hang together. Scribbling is messy.  Now, remember when you were in third grade and your teacher encouraged you to be messy?  No, you don’t, of course not.  This veneration of neatness that’s taught so early is hard to overcome.  But you can’t make art worshiping in that shrine.

16novleanclassdemo

The pose in the photo is so dramatic that if you approach it one bit at a time, you’ll inevitably make it stiff. When I introduced this photo in class I first did a demo drawing with everybody standing around me.  It took a couple of minutes and it’s a mess.  But you must admit, it isn’t stiff or boring.  It doesn’t pretend to be finished.  But I hope it conveys the excitement of the artist getting into the process.

Jeanne Mueller worked with the Aquarellable Pencil on gloss paper.

16novleanfinal

This means she was able to change lines and shadings by just swiping the paper with a damp paper towel.  Notice what major changes were made before she arrived at the finished drawing.  Notice also, how the invented background of stripes transforms the drawing from an illustration of a figure into a complete composition.

At right is the earlier, more literal  version of her drawing.20161110_145040

Jeanne Mueller, Aquarellable on gloss paper, 17” x 11”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/how-it-sits-on-the-page/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/drawing-sculpture/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/ptolemy-in-ulm/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/take-the-a-frame/

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

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16janbabel

You want to interpret this, don’t you?  It’s clearly something.  Your first impulse is to see something in the middle that is set on a black background.  It could be a monument with inscriptions.  It could be a building with wobbly sides.  You can keep on guessing, but whatever it is, it’s big.  This interpretation is odd, since there’s nothing in the image to compare it to, that would establish size.

You may even find this “structure” vaguely threatening.  But if your eyes drift to the edges of the painting, all illusion-bets are off.  At the edges you can see that what you’re looking at is paint brushed on a flat surface.  So you sigh with relief.  But then your attention immediately drifts back to “the thing” in the middle and the puzzle starts all over again.

If that weren’t enough, you can clearly see that the thing in the middle is not painted on top of the black, but the black impinges on the thing.  Therefore, you can’t really see this thing as the foreground, as the object of the painting.  Now what?  Can you call the black the foreground?  Oh, but that would be  so counter-intuitive.  Yes, indeed.  There’s no final answer.  That’s why you’re captivated by this painting.

Karen Gerrard, acrylic on canvas, 40” x 30”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/inventing-an-alphabet/

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

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16novcodeyellow

In my peripatetic reading, some years ago, I came across this suggestion about how to look at art:  Instead of thinking you’re going to judge the painting, stand there and imagine that the painting is judging you.

That may sound ridiculous.  Try it anyway.

You can start with this painting. How is this painting judging you?

When the tables are turned this way, you’ll notice that you’ve been judging art by rather arbitrary, inherited standards; that you like it that way; that these standards make you feel smart; and that this realization is embarrassing.

Currently, I’m reading From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present  by Jacques Barzun.  In this section (p. 167) he’s mainly talking about writing in the 17th century, but what he says applies to the visual arts, too.

The first modern critics did not spend all their time discussing tragedy.  Other forms of poetry enjoyed their minute attention, most often in the light of Horace’s precepts.  Applying such pre-existing standards was the very definition of criticism until the 19th century.  The process was analytical and judicial.  A sort of stencil was laid over the work and the places noted where the right features showed through the holes.  The more points scored, the better the work.

Now, ANALYSIS, the breaking of wholes into parts, is fundamental to science, but for judging works of art, the procedure is more uncertain: what are the natural parts of a story, a sonnet, a painting:  The maker’s aim is to project his vision by creating not a machine made up of parts but the impression of seamless unity that belongs to a living thing. 

Painting by Karen Gerrard, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”

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

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notblackwhite

Working with a center line, whether vertical or horizontal, challenges the painter. How do you prevent this thing from becoming static?  How do you overcome the invitation to symmetry? How to you create movement?

In this painting the challenge is heightened by the choice of black vs. white. Now look what happens at the dividing line between the two fields. At (2) a large round shape that straddles both fields attracts your attention by virtue of its size, circularity and texture—it’s glued on burlap.  At (1) and (3) lines cross the divide.  These are powerful because the eye finds lines irresistible and traces them wherever they lead.notblackwhiteanalysis

The blue line at (3) gracefully sweeps upward towards the right.  At the light red dot (4) it traces an orbital path.  Because the red rectangles at (6) suggest a stable architectural element (perhaps a window), they add a rational anchor to a universe in which amorphous planes float randomly.  At the same time the red dot perches precariously on one corner (4).  This becomes the focal point of the painting, deeply satisfying and at the same time restless.

But wait, there’s a twist in the plot.  When the artist submitted the painting to the Studio Exhibit she reversed it.  Notice that the focal point in this new orientation is one of those amorphous shapes (5). The effect is edgy.

notblackwhiteshow We are deprived of the satisfaction we found previously in the red dot perched on the corner of the red rectangles. In this orientation, the red dot and the red rectangles are resting on the bottom edge, not going anywhere. They’ve settled, they lack drama.

It’s a brilliant painting.  Buy it.  Hang it, not over your couch, but in front of it. Sit.  Look at it in one orientation, then next week turn it over and look again.  Allow yourself to be unsettled. Get to know your perceptual quirkiness.

The Studio Exhibit at the Evanston Art Center will be up til January 29.

Terry Fohrman, Not Black and White.  Acrylic on canvas, 24” x 48”

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

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16novscintillatevertical

I love not knowing what to say about a painting.  It’s a sign that I’m really looking.

The top layer of this painting consists of the horizontal dashes.  The effect is two-fold.  Because they’re on top you feel you need to look at them.  But when you focus on them you realize there’s nothing to look at.  This makes you focus on the layers under the dashes.  But the dashes obscure that layer.  You soon realize that there’s no clarity in the lower layers either.

The reason you don’t give up is that the effect of this layering is scintillating.  The painting shimmers, not like metallic kitsch, not at all.  It shimmers epistemologically.  As soon as you think you’ve grasped it, it slips away.  There are certain brains that love this effect.  Count me in.

Keven Wilder.  Oil on canvas, ~40” x 30”

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

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16octheadhands

“It’s disturbing,” someone in the class said when I put up this drawing by Maggy Shell.

Yes, it is.

The artist may not have deliberately pushed the drawing towards  16octheadhandsphotothe “disturbing” sign, but the assignment was to draw half of the face in deep shadow and that may have prompted her to go for it.  With that instruction, it’s easy to see something creepy in the photo to start with.

She chose to:

-push the figure against an edge of the paper. Drawing against the edge really does make a drawing edgy.  If she had positioned the figure in the middle, as it is seen in the photo, the image would have become balanced and not disturbing.

-tilt the head. When people are calm, their heads sit straight on their shoulders.  Tilting the head is a sign of skepticism or flirtatious submission. We can rule out the latter here.  What’s left is skepticism, which is definitely on the edgy edge of the continuum.

-follow the instruction to put one side into deep shadow.  Yes, she did.  Oh, how disturbing.

-draw the hands in a skeletal manner and against a deep black background.

“Disturbing” art came into vogue with the Romantics around 1800.  The notion of the sublime gave you goose bumps—certainly uncomfortable:  Caspar David Friedrich, The Wanderer Above the Mists, 1818.

cdfriedrichwandererabovethemists1818

And what about dreams—oh, so disturbing: Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781

johnhenryfuselithe_nightmare1781

If you think Maggy Shell’s drawing is edgy and disturbing, consider the horizontal flip.  Now, that’s  spooky.  Why is that? We’ve seen many horizontal flips on this blog that demonstrate how position on the page conveys feeling.

16octheadhandsflip

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

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16octhead

We say “the whites of their eyes.”  But the highlight on the upper eyelid 16octheadeye(1) is whiter than the white of the eye (2). It’s not easy to give in to this fact.  After all, no one ever said, “don’t shoot until you see the highlight on their upper eyelids.”

This drawing from a photo does not resemble the 16octheadphotomodel, but that doesn’t matter.  Resemblance comes much later.  And in any case, resemblance may not be the goal.  The model/photo serves as inspiration and what happens in the drawing process is more important than likeness.

As you look at this drawing notice how important the shadow cast over the eye ball is for the expression and your conviction that this is a real person.

Drawing by Maggy Shell, charcoal, ~ 16” x 14”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/eyes-no-eyes/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/2778/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/andre-carrilho-and-the-mythic-window-to-the-soul/

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

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