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The painter Françoise Gilot met Picasso in 1943. They lived together from 1946 to 1953, dividing their time between Paris and the south of France, where they paid frequent visits to Matisse, who lived nearby.  Her book Matisse and Picasso, a Friendship in Art (1990) gives us a glimpse into how hard everybody worked.

Both Picasso and Matisse are world famous and immeasurably wealthy by this time.  What impresses me as I read this book is that neither of them is interested in fame, interviews or paparazzi.  During their visits they talk about art. Matisse is working on an extensive project for the Vence Chapel, designing textiles and murals. When Picasso and Gilot get home they are back at their easels, painting late into the night.

At the beginning of the chapter entitled A Merry-Go-Round of Objects we see a photo of objects often used in Matisse’s still-life paintings.

MatissePots

Gilot writes:

In the twentieth century, with the decline of historical and religious painting, the end of the Symbolist movement, and the freedom of choice in subject matter, still lifes reached equal status with other themes or nonthematic works, and great painters renewed this form of art and brought it to new heights. 

From the start Matisse recognized the importance of still lifes in his own development.  He copied one of books and a candle from a composition by Chardin and others from deHeem.  (p.145)

 

Being an artist is so easy. All you need is a few ordinary pots and the perseverance to paint all day and late into the night.

 

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954

The Red Onions, 1906

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973

Françoise Gilot, b. 1921

 

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CloseUp3email

In 2002 the photographer Barbara Bordnick published “Searchings. Secret Landscapes of Flowers.”  In this large-format book, the close-up photos of flowers measure 10”x14.” They are astonishing. You know it’s a flower and the flower’s name is given.  At the same time you are obviously looking at something other than a little flower–you’re imagining landscape formations or some atmospheric effect.

Georgia O’Keefe, famous for her huge paintings of flowers said, “If you look, really look at a flower, it becomes your world.”

These flower photos make excellent subjects to work from, to practice drawing fluid lines and the shading of round forms.

Here’s a student work in graphite, about 12”x18.”

FlowerLarge

When the color photo is Xeroxed in black/white, it’s easier for the student to see the tonal values, since part of the work has already been done by eliminating color.

CloseUp3BWdrama600

The book is easy to get online and it’s inexpensive. You can also find some of these flower images at

https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ALeKk02oupxlpD-j3izaofSkMqzO847GNQ:1593207610303&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=barbara+bordnick+flowers&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi1j6ntuKDqAhVFOs0KHQzqA2sQ7Al6BAgCEB0&biw=1536&bih=848

SearchingsBarbaraBordnick_

 

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

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In 1915 Matisse, at the age of 45, painted his variation on Jan de Heem’s “A Table of Desserts.”   The Dutch still life, 80 inches long, depicts heaps of fruit and pies on an enormous table, accompanied by a lute and decorative objects, in front of some architectural structures that are partly obscured by, what else, a swath of red-maroon drapery.  The image is a fantastic, exuberant invention. You can say those grapes are so realistically painted, they make your moth water.  Not to mention that gashed-open pie.  Imagine standing in front of this huge painting, being entranced by its realism.

Now shake your head and tell yourself to wake up.  This is not realism.  Every object in this painting is painted to seduce you into thinking it’s real, but the whole pile of stuff, wall to wall, is assembled in the most contrived way.  Ask yourself what it would take to construct this scene out of three-dimensional material.

So, it’s not realism.  It’s a construction.  And all the more wonderful for being an invention!  That was 1640.

Now in 1915 Matisse sees this painting at the Louvre and feels so drawn to it that he has to do his own riff on this fantastic composition.  He will paint his own invention inspired by de Heem’s invention.  Why not!  It’s the 20th century!

Matisse’s painting is also big, about 6 feet long.  I saw this a few years ago when the Art Institute of Chicago had a Matisse show.  Breathtaking.

Let’s play with this.

Stare at Matisse’s painting so that you see only

-the yellow areas

-the blues & greens

-the red bits

-the black

-where lines converge

-curved lines

-straight lines

This takes time.  Don’t rush. Do this over several days.

Now notice that yellow, orange and red come forward in the picture plane.  The cool colors—blue and green—recede.  Practice seeing that. Stay with it.  Some colors come forward, some recede, and what you get is a sense of depth. Foreground, background, transition. It’s powerful.

He does this without any of the techniques perfected in the Renaissance, which he knew very well.  No perspective, no chiaroscuro.

When you look at Matisse, you’re contemplating the painting and your own contemplation. It’s a bit much, isn’t it.

Ah, Matisse!

 

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954

Jan Davidsz. de Heem, 1606 -1684

 

https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/table-desserts

 

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

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Copying an admired work of art is a highly recommended exercise for any art student and for any artist at any age.  We know that as a student Matisse spent many days at the Louvre copying paintings,  by Chardin, for example, and that he continued the practice as a mature artist.

Or take Picasso.  In 1957 Picasso—at the age of seventy-six—did more than fifty variations (“riffs”) on Velazquez’ Las Meninas, a painting he greatly admired.

http://www.blogmuseupicassobcn.org/2015/11/the-inhabitants-of-the-museum-las-meninas-2/?lang=en

So when we took Chardin’s Still Life with Peaches and Mug (Cup) as our subject for study we were following an honorable tradition.

One of the students in that class copied and then riffed on the motif by plopping a hand full of peonies into the mug.  Peonies?  Or a riff on peonies?  Pure invention!

You may think the peonies are a decorative embellishment, an indulgence of prettiness.

But I think this is witty. I see drama. It’s the centripetal vs the centrifugal.

The cluster of fruit with pear and peaches reads like a classic still life, perfectly executed as if were a 19th century submission for entrance into the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It is serene and balanced, rendering the spheres convincingly three-dimensional with faithful observation of shadow gradations and reflected light.

If you try to stay centered in this serenity, good luck, because the turbulence at the right is coming to get you.

The petals of the peonies are as exquisitely articulated as the peaches, but they are of a different vitality.  Where the round fruits say “centripetal density,” the peony petals are centrifugally chaotic.

Notice that the flower petals do not touch the fruit. The student/artist shows us these ordinary objects arranged on a shelf, fruit and flowers, but they are of two different domains. The knife cuts right through the divide. If the flower petals overlapped the fruit spheres, this “still life with fruit and flowers” would be just what you’d expect, harmonious.  It would be uneventful.

At its best, the work of copying an admired painting is not an act of obedience, but a conversation. My guess is that Chardin would enjoy this conversation and would encourage more of “le riff” on his paintings.

Drawing by Selina, graphite on paper, 12”x18”

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You’re visiting your dear friend Chelsea for tea and catching up.  Her house is as interesting and welcoming as always. You love the nuanced color combinations, the witty juxtaposition of antiques and glass-with-chrome and the good jazz coming from the far corner of the bookcase.  Then you notice a new art work.  It’s a still life nicely framed with a generous museum-grade 4” mat.

Two possibilities:

One, you’re taken aback, you don’t know what to say and you try not to stare. You think something has happened to dear Chelsea. She seems like her old self, speaks in complete sentences, with her usual intelligent sense of humor, shows interest in your life, remembers everything and converses as gracefully as always.  But what’s up with that drawing there?  It’s not finished!!!  How could she!  What kind of person frames an unfinished drawing!!  How irresponsible! Uncivilized! Disrespectful!  Better watch her closely.  Has she been drinking? Was she on something all these years you’ve known her and now suddenly she’s gone cold turkey?

Two, you’re thrilled, excited, inspired, uplifted and liberated by this incompletion. You and Chelsea smile quietly. No need for verbalizations, for explanations, for theories or for questions.  It’s all there. Conversation flows, cups tip and click.

Later, alone at home on your computer, you review the last few posts of the artamaze blog. You scroll down at the other drawings of this kitchen still life with peaches, pears and cup.  At the sight of every one of these drawings you jump up and shout out loud, “FRAME THAT!”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-1/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-2/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-3/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/15/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-4/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/16/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-5/

 

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

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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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The idea of “incompletion” is so rich and stimulating that I want to stay with it even more.

This drawing is 7-1/2 inches high, made by an unknown Italian artist in the 17th century. Notice how fast and scribbly these lines are.  We are witnessing an artist thinking intensely and concentrating on the assigned theme.

Forget the client. The artist is not concerned about the client or anybody else liking this page.  He is completely focused on the challenge of making this hang together.

This is why I love drawings—so called “preliminary“ drawings—above all, more than the painting that would be produced from it.  It’s through the drawing that you enter the artist’s mind.

Look at the forcefulness of the lines:

These marks, made over three hundred years ago—spring from a modern sensibility.

 

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

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This drawing is jumpin’.

In a River North Café in Chicago I once asked the drummer of a jazz group that had just completed a set, what they call it when they’re really playing well.  He said, “We’re jumpin.”

So, this drawing is jumpin.

It has no parts.  Just sweeps you up, like a good jazz piece.

You can look at the round forms and recognize the reference to round fruit but at the same time you also see the whole drawing.  Ditto for every element in the drawing.  Even the ellipse on top of the cup.  Behold the swinging ellipse!  That’s some jumpin ellipse you got there.  But it, too, is a seamless part of this jazzy drawing.  I can hardly talk about it, just want to throw myself into this compelling agitation.

Wait a minute, you say, this has parts.  Well, yes, of course it has parts but each part is so well integrated into the whole, that I don’t get stuck on any one part.  My eye moves through the whole page, over and over.  To stay with the music analogy, when you listen to music you don’t hear notes, you hear…music.

We haven’t talked about the knife yet.  Notice how in this drawing the part of the knife that’s closer to us is in focus and the part that recedes into the peach’s shadow is vague.  Not only is this how we see things in reality, but, in the drawing, if the whole knife were equally outlined (in focus), it would dominate the whole drawing. The still life is not an illustration of one thing. Everything hangs together.  It’s jumpin.

I invite you to use this drawing to review what we said about these still life drawings in the past four posts.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-1/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-2/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-3/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/15/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-4/

 

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

http://www.katherinehilden.com

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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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Notice the smooth broad strokes in the objects on the table and in the table edge itself.  This effect is created by using the broad side of a graphite stick, not the tip.  With one well-placed stroke the artist can state the whole shadow of a round form, as in these fruits and a little less so in the cup.  It’s an elegant, classical technique. Notice also, that the contours of the objects are partly given with bold lines (at the bottom) and partly by having the background push against the form (at the top), a contrast that adds drama and three-dimensionality to the form, as we’ve seen earlier.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-mug-and-knife-1/

As for the background, if you review the three drawings we’ve studied so far, you’ll notice that they all have backgrounds that don’t go to the edge of the page and in that sense they make the drawing look unfinished.  You can see that in this drawing, too.

Whether a work is called finished or unfinished is a touchy subject. Who makes that call?  It’s a function of expectation, isn’t it?  Now, why would you expect that dark, agitated markmaking in the background to go to the left edge?  If it did, you would call that finished.  But, this “unfinished” left side has tension and mystery.  I, for one, love the suspense.  It draws me in, as if I were looking over the artist’s shoulders, entering his process.

What about the cup?  As in the previous drawing, the cup is not as convincing as the peaches and pear.  Once again, we’re looking at the ellipse. The cup swings a lively ellipse, but it deviates from your expectation of symmetry.  Can you therefore call it “imperfect,” or even “bad?” What if you just exhaled and allowed yourself to be amused?  As with the “incompletion” in the background, you are invited to enter the process.

Process is a central concept in modern art.

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of the cup, I invite you to look at the following pottery pieces.

https://www.google.com/search?q=irregular+shaped+pottery&tbm=isch&ved=2ahUKEwi0_LzimbbpAhUN9qwKHeMXAZ0Q2-cCegQIABAA&oq=irregular+shaped+pottery&gs_lcp=CgNpbWcQA1CBpgFYx7kBYO3MAWgAcAB4AIABXYgB2ASSAQE3mAEAoAEBqgELZ3dzLXdpei1pbWc&sclient=img&ei=jbe-XvSBMI3sswXjr4ToCQ&bih=808&biw=1425

Since clay work is so very tactile, it will be easy to empathize with the physicality of its process.  Practice seeing clay that way, then perhaps seeing a drawing in its physicality will become easier.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-1/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-2/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-3/

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

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All the drawings in this set of still lifes are fascinating to me. This one holds my attention because it reminds me of what happens when an advanced artist gives a demonstration of what children’s art looks like and then makes very sophisticated marks anyway.

The childlike quality in the above still life is in the solid outlines that give us the shape of all the objects, the peaches, the pear, the knife and the cup.

This linear quality is also characteristic of “naïve and outsider art.”  For examples of naïve and outsider art, have a glance at:

https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ALeKk02O67wXC744byY8TUXLuzOheKvrlA:1589400179685&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=naive+and+outsider+art&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjhtfaI0bHpAhUNeawKHeLoA9IQiR56BAgLEBI&biw=1429&bih=808#imgrc=Z7rnQEFwh9FHWM

Notice that all these images  were meticulously, slowly and, one can even say, compulsively drawn. (The exceptions are the images from  mondoexpressionism. They are too loose and painterly to be in that category.)

Now look again at our still life drawing.  Does this feel slow or fast?  Fast, right?  You can tell that it was sketched with a sure hand and a feeling of urgency, like an artist’s quick sketch on the back of an envelope to lay out a composition to a fellow artist.  The artist brought a degree of self-confident abandon to the background scribbles and the table texture that is not found in naïve art.

It’s interesting that we can see a quick, lively ellipse (not naïve!) in the cup, but the ellipse is too rotund for that distant a view of the cup.  The cup also expertly renders the reflected light and the deep shadow.  At the same time, I want to ask the potter if she was tipsy when she threw this tipsy cup.

What we get in this drawing is something like “fine art technique meets naïve.“

Next, apropos tipsy cup, let’s talk about perfection and im-.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-1/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-2/

 

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

http://www.katherinehilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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In the next few posts we will see drawings by six students. The motif was a still life showing everyday kitchen objects.   We were working from a photo of a famous painting by a famous 18th century French painter– to be introduced after you’ve seen all six student drawings.

I’m showing the drawings first because I would like you to not compare the drawings to anything. Let’s see if we can look at what’s actually there on the paper instead of “what it’s supposed to look like.”

At (1), energetic markmaking.  This area reads as the background and as such is supposed to be “nothing.” But notice that it pulsates, it’s agitated, which injects energy into the whole drawing.  Squint a little and try to imagine the drawing without that “background.” Imagine it white. Blah.  Now imagine it solid, flat black, without the texture of the markmaking. Blah. There, you see.

At (2) the shape of the pear is articulated not by an outline, but by the background pushing against the contour and thereby indicating the shape of the pear.  This is an advanced, a subtle way of seeing. A simple, beginner way of seeing is to draw a heavy line to delineate the object.  What we have here instead is the complexity of seeing the interaction of foreground and background.

The articulation of the round form at (3) is accomplished by a contour line (at the left where it overlaps the pear) and by the background pushing against the upper arch. It’s a simple round form, but if you run your eyes over its perimeter, you’ll perceive it as a complex, three dimensional form.  That’s because it’s not simply, consistently outlined.  If it were, you’d read it as a flat disk.  You can apply this way of seeing to the other round forms in this drawing, too.

The light is coming in from the left. Therefore, on the right side of the objects we see reflected light on the objects and also the deep shadow that the objects cast on the shelf. (4)   Because of this technique these two objects, peach and mug, appear most palpably solid.   This technique of reflected light plus deep shadow was developed by Renaissance painters in the 15th & 16th centuries.  It is an exaggeration of how we perceive real objects in real space, but in pictorial space the effect is dramatic and mesmerizing.

The ellipse (5) is something we practice in just about every class, at the beginning, to get that hand swinging. I say “swinging” because you have to do it fast, otherwise it comes out stiff and lifeless. This takes a lot of practice,  because when you’re working on a drawing you’re likely to be over-cautious and that means, you’ll draw it slowly and therefore, sorry, lifeless. We can see that this ellipse was drawn slowly, but for now let’s encourage more practice and move on to notice how the shadow cast on the inside of the cup makes the three-dimensionality convincing.

And now, the edge of the shelf/table at (6).  Notice that there is a progression of three spaces, from left to right, from short to longer to very long, each indicated with different pencil marks.  This is an invention of the student/artist, not a reproduction of the original 18th century still life. It’s ingenious because it creates movement, like a crescendo in music.  Soft, louder, loudest.  Even though it indicates a plain ol’  table top, a restful horizontal line, it’s not static.  Pure invention! This can happen in beginning students, without suggestions from the instructor.  To me, the instructor, this is deeply moving because it means the student was so absorbed in the drawing process that this effect emerged intuitively—out of intense involvement in the process.

More to come: the ellipse, the concept “still life,” markmaking, positive & negative space, movement in composition, the concepts perfection and not so, incomplete, rhythm…

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/the-ellipse-is-in-your-hand/

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

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