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Archive for the ‘literalness’ Category

Our studio at the Evanston Art Center faces south. Needless to say, we greet an overcast sky with a sigh of relief. On a sunny morning, we pull the shades.

When the shades are pulled, the sun coming through the cracks creates a dramatic pattern on the floor. Now, you can ignore that, seeing it as literally what it is, the sun coming through the cracks.

But you can also go into exercise mode.  You can switch your perceptual apparatus to seeing the whole picture.  Instead of labeling what you see (floor, light, people, easels),  you can flatten what’s hitting your retina.  Yes, flatten.  It’s what you do when you paint an object (three-dimensional) on a canvas (two-dimensional).  You create a composition on a flat surface.

Well, you can also do that as a composition exercise—whenever and wherever you are.  As a further aid, there’s your phone camera. You’re never without it. The camera flattens everything you point at into a two-dimensional composition.  Thank you, Mr. Gates, Mr. Jobs, et.al.  You’re never without the opportunity to see at this more conscious level.

What’s extra wonderful about those light strips on the floor is that they appear as the most striking, most important thing in the composition.  They read as positive space.  Ha, gotcha.  It’s always thrilling when your expectations are overturned.  Negative space reads like positive space.  And people, who normally count as positive space, are relegated to the shadowy part of the background.

You may now slide that insight into the light of day.

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

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The shapes and colors in this painting are so simple and straight forward that your first impulse may be to label what you’re seeing.  What is being depicted here?  What is the artist trying to tell me?  Must be something or else there would be more ambiguity, right?  But notice that your efforts to interpret along these lines (lines !) fail. Granted, someone in class saw a black terrier.  Now suppose you take that suggestion and think of the painting as being a depiction of a black terrier.  Try. This will last you a second and then fizz away.

Imagine these shapes in soft pastel colors.  You can even imagine them outlined in neat bold lines.  What happens in your mind?  Nothing.

The effect of this painting relies on high contrast colors. Because of the high contrast, you expect a statement. Your expectation is not fulfilled. Instead you see blocks of color applied with a pallet knife, leaving raggedy edges.  Therein lies your pleasure in looking at this.

Painting in acylic, 36”x36,” by Janice Fleckman

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

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How can something so wrong be so right?

Because you enjoy looking at this drawing you may not immediately see that the shadows are all wrong. How are the shadows wrong?  Can those horizontal scratches even be called shadows?  No, they’re not shadows in the sense that they help define the roundness of the figures.  Yes, they evoke the idea of a shadow.

When you’re looking at this, the “shadows” trigger in your mind the association to three-dimensionality and that’s so satisfying to you that you don’t look more critically.  You don’t even want to look critically because your mind is seduced by the rhythm of the composition.  Those “shadows” emphasize the rhythm. Rhythm in any work of art is hypnotic.  Your mind likes the hypnotic state.

Compare the above, second, drawing of this motif to the artist’s first version.  Your mind is now functioning differently.  It’s now

examining the figures for literal accuracy.  A drawing tells you how it wants to be looked at.  This drawing wants to be looked at as an illustration.

Now go back to the “shadows” version and you’ll notice that your mind has just switched to a different mode.  Your expectations are different. You’re not looking for an illustration of anatomy here. Instead you’re struck by the total effect.  You’re not analyzing, you’re experiencing the whole.  You’re having an aesthetic experience.

Drawings by Jeanne Mueller

The photo we worked with was taken from a book of old photos called “The Way We Were.”

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

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https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/a-good-pout-and-strong-shadows/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/scribble-for-life/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/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/vanitas-flip/

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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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celinefrown

The non plus ultra of drawing is the face. Well, maybe not of Drawing writ large, but almost certainly of drawing students. They approach the face more ferociously than anything else.  It has a way of talking back, you know.

Western Art is full of beautiful faces, meaning idealized faces. It’s hard for us not to be haunted by them: from the Venus de Milo to Botticelli’s Venus to Raphael’s insipid Madonnas to Michelangelo’s pouting Madonnas to Sargent’s celinefrownphotogossamer heiresses.  In the 19th century women started looking more interesting.  Think of Degas and Manet.

Imagine my delight at finding ads for Céline products (handbags, though you’d never guess) where young women, having left the house without running fingers through their shapeless hair and without bothering about makeup, scowl at us.  Take that! Now draw me and don’t make me pretty.

In this drawing by Maggy Shell, notice how powerful the eyes are even though no anatomy is indicated. No eyelid, no iris.  celinefrowneyeThis face & head study goes deeper than mere anatomy.  You understand the anatomy without seeing the face anatomically.  Instead, what intrigues you is the expression. With an uncanny economy of means the artist draws us into the mystery behind the face.

Maggy Shell, Céline Frown, charcoal on paper, ~16” x 14”

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

http://facefame.wordpress.com

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16ribbondrawg

So simple.  A wide, stiffly woven ribbon held up by some poles, the kind you’ll find in packages of blank  CD’s.  The ribbon is meandering through space, making hair-pin curves and casting lovely shadows. In reality it’s merely lovely.  In the drawing (the poles are omitted) the ribbon becomes animated, mysterious and sur-real.

16ribbon1

Here’s another angle. You can draw right now, from this image on your screen.

16ribbon2

We started class with this exercise.

16ribbon1a

Drawing by Maggy Shell, charcoal, ~ 14” x 18”.

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

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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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