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Archive for the ‘Illustration’ Category

PinesLake1

If the concept of negative space eludes you or you don’t quite see what the big deal about it is, consider this painting.  Notice how the lake pushes against the pine trees.  I don’t mean the actual lake, of course.  I mean the surface on the painting that represents the lake.

Notice how this technique flattens the 3-dimensional landscape into a 2-dimensional surface.  That sounds so banal, doesn’t it, and the word “flatten” sounds so blah.

But the visual thrill of this technique is undeniable.  Even after you have it figured out, your mind loves playing this game:  now it’s foreground, now it’s background.

PinesLake2

Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) excelled at this.  I’m grateful to him for making the modern way of seeing so accessible.

Why am I bringing up Fairfield Porter now?  Because of a bit of junk mail.  When I got the L.L.Bean catalog in the mail yesterday, I immediately thought of Porter.  At first glance I thought L.L.Bean, an East coast company,  was using one of his paintings on their cover. Was this a passage from a Fairfield Porter landscape?

LLBeanCatalog

Porter was born in Winnetka, Illinois.  He moved to the East coast to attend Harvard, then stayed and became a celebrated East coast painter. His influence in this painting on the catalog cover is undeniable.

Could the artist be from the East coast?  I looked for the fine print on the inside cover.  Yes.  The artist is Anne Ireland and the L.L.Bean cover painting, inspired by the Maine coast, is titled “Changing Weather.”

Moral of the story: 1) see if you can switch negative space to positive and 2) notice how interesting your junk mail is.

 

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night-windows.jpg!Large

You won’t learn anything about existentialism in this post, existentialism being the de rigueur ism to bring up when you need to sound smart in a conversation about modern art.

Instead of being smart, let’s play a game.  Let’s imagine you stumbled upon an exhibit at, say, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where the paintings of Lionel Feininger (1871-1956) and Edward Hopper (1882-1967) were shown side by side. (That’s a game good museums actually like to play, which is what makes them so exiting to go to.  At the Art Institute of Chicago, for example, paintings are moved around frequently so that you can see a familiar painting next to new neighbors and therefore gain new insights without anyone lecturing you about anything.)

GaberndorfII1924

Feininger was a prolific artist, who early in his career worked figuratively, even as a caricaturist and cartoonist,  and later tended to work with linear forms in his compositions.  In the 1920’s, when Hopper was visiting Europe, Feininger was teaching at the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and then in Dessau.  There’s no chance that they met, given Hopper’s disinterest in modern art.

No matter.  They were contemporaries, working with architectural forms in their paintings. It’s only fair to put them side by side.

The first thing you notice is the figure in the Hopper painting.  Now try to imagine the painting without the figure.

night-windowsCOPY

It doesn’t hold your attention, does it?

Look at some Feininger compositions.  Do they need a human figure to grab you?  No. These compositions are engaging and absorbing as they are.

Gelmeroda

Hopper seems to be primarily interested in geometrical patterns, but because what he comes up with is flat, hard-edged and obvious, he adds a figure to focus your attention.  The figure inevitably looks isolated and alienated, which makes for a facile match with existentialist jargon.

new-york-office copy

new-york-office

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In the 1920’s Edward Hopper was working part time as an illustrator for the Hotel Management industry. He hated the job since he thought of himself as a fine artist, but he needed the money. To get away from the illustrator’s grind he traveled to Europe three times in that decade.

A generation of writers and artists woke up after the horrible butchery of the “Great War” to realize that the old war-honoring culture of their forefathers had to be thrown out, the whole corseted, velvety, tasseled, lacy, medallioned, epauletted, pious-pompous  thing.   The new generation invented new ways of seeing and thinking.

During his trips to Europe Hopper stayed mainly in Paris. Ah, Paris in the 20’s!  The city was buzzing with Cubism and Surrealism.  Recently starving artists were now being shown in major galleries:  Picasso, Modigliani, Gris, Leger and Brancusi, to name a few.  When you went out for coffee you might spot James Joyce, André Breton or Hemingway at the next table.  So much to see and learn!

Edward Hopper wanted none of it.  His indifference to new ideas was so thorough that, as he later recalled, he hadn’t even heard of Picasso then.

What about the roar of the roaring 20’s. Would he have buttoned his spats and stepped out one night to catch Josephine Baker showing off her knees in the Charleston? Unlikely.

JosephineBaker

But we know he took the train to Amsterdam where he admired Rembrandt’s paintings.

Did he ever hop a train to, say, Berlin to visit museums and galleries there?  He might have been interested in German museums.  But galleries in wild, experimental Berlin showing modern art?

No chance of that.  But let’s imagine he did. Next.

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  HopperDrawing2

The Indianapolis Museum of Art (“Newfields’) reopened on July 17th with an exhibit about Edward Hopper.

I am glad the curators included some of his drawings because they present the most lively work in this show.

The above drawing is dated in the 1950’s.  It may have been a study for the painting “People in the Sun,” 1960.

What fascinates me is that the drawing is lively and energetic, while the painting is, well, dead.

Hopper’s mind as he contemplated a man in a lawn chair looking over a desolate landscape was nevertheless agitated. We don’t know by what–memories or necessary imminent decisions or shocking insights.  It’s an agitated drawing scribbled out in a frenzy of concentration, took maybe all of five minutes.

But the painting looks like sheer drudgery, as if he just wanted to get it done and be finished with it.

Sunning

If the artist intended to satirize the alienation of modern life,  he failed.  I think, the image fails as satire because it lacks wit.

We instantly recognize it as a Hopper because human forms are part of the geometry of the composition.

Let that be my introduction to Edward Hopper at the IMA.  You can tell that I have issues with this show and with the interpretation of this artist.

So far we have some key concepts: agitation, alienation, drudgery, modern life, geometry, human form,  satire and wit.

Stay tuned.

 

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Giamatti1

“There’s really not much to do. I’ve tried to do a little writing. I’ve been drawing again, which I hadn’t done in many years,   that’s been a wonderful thing, actually, having this time on one’s hands, to take up things again….A lot of my life I wanted to be some kind of artist, a cartoonist or some sort of illustrator…

All I can do is sort of weird funny faces…I just kind of do these faces…I got a lot of time on my hands….honestly, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing…I never really took any lessons….It’s been fun to do it again….it’s been a good thing.”

Giamatti is in a Zoom (or Zoom-ish) conversation with Stephen Colbert and he’s saying that this self-isolation has a good effect.  He has rediscovered the pleasure of drawing!

At that point the conversation had a chance of going deeper into how drawing feels in the mind, how it’s developed over centuries, how it’s taught or not taught and such, but this is TV, so Colbert takes the shallow turn and suggests Giamatti could do a graphic novel. That’s ok.

Nevertheless, we had witnessed a subtle moment in American television:   we heard a big star saying to another big star in the entertainment industry that being alone in your quiet room and drawing—that is a wonderful thing.

Yes, it is.

 

You can see that conversation at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9B8ij0GGBI

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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

 

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This painting by Oskar Kokoschka leads you to guess that the flowers might be Black Eyed Susan, Delphinium and Hedge Rose. But you’re not likely to insist on botanical precision.  The painting tells you right away, at first glance, that this is not about illustration.  You know that walking up to it, so that you could study the flowers at close range with your nose almost touching, will not reward you with botanical details.

The reason you know that is because you recognize it as a modern painting. The closer you look at a modern painting, the less detail you get.

Now look at an 18th century painting. This portrait must have pleased the uniformed sitter because it documented not only his smooth features but also his elevated social class:  he could afford to pay someone to do mind-numbing meticulous work.

Notice that the close-up gives you details, ermmm, submissively fussed-over details.  This, to the modern sensibility, is lifeless.  When you look at this, do you feel…confined?

 

Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980).  Blumenstillleben, 1959, oil on canvas, 89cm x 70 cm

Jean Baptist Lampi the Younger. “Daniel Mecséy de Tsoor ( 1759-1823),  oil on canvas 112x91cm.

 

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A drawing can go through many stages of development. The artist may not aim for mimesis or may not have a particular style in mind at all.  The artist may try one kind of markmaking here and another style  there.  The drawing may develop with a progression from dark to light or various degrees of precision.

The drawing can be called complete even though it contains visual contradictions.  Let’s look at contradictions.

In the above drawing, the markmaking in A is vibrant and lively. The background to the objects on the table seems to shimmer. In B the markmaking is the opposite, it’s mechanical and tight.  This dense, dark stripe representing the table appears to have been made by a different hand, in a very different mood. The contrast between A and B does not add drama to the image as a whole. Rather, it looks arbitrary and therefore the drawing feels unresolved.

In modern art we often find contrasts, inconsistencies and contradictions that are witty.  Consider the following two examples.

The hand fits perfectly over the face, as when a woman is surprised or embarrassed. But hand and face are from different worlds, different contexts.  So they fit together in one sense, but are mismatched in another.  We smile at this surprising juxtaposition.

 

Collage, a quintessentially modern art form, lends itself very well to creating contradictions and witty juxtaposition.

 

 

It’s easy to play with photographs by collaging together disparate elements.

Place a cassette over a face and, voila, the two holes will read like eyes. As moderns we know that all images, symbols and myths are human inventions and so we chuckle when we see the invention process being made so obvious.

 

 

 

 

Back to the class drawing of the still-life.   This student/artist gives us a very credible rendering of reflected light and deep shadow of the cup at C.  As in the previous drawing, the ellipse is not “swinging” but is drawn slowly and carefully and therefore it falls flat.  Practice. Practice. Practice

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

We will talk some more about this cup and the demanding but swinging ellipse in the next posts.

More at:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/untitled-xii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/plug-by-the-sea-side/

Aphrodite by seph

Videotape Eyes by Rebecca DiLiberto.

 

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While we were analyzing Bellini’s Madonna of the Trees, someone in the class said, but these paintings were not made to be analyzed, they were made as objects of devotion.  That is true, but as artists we have to analyze how these objects of devotion were constructed.

You can see how strongly this drawing emphasizes the horizontal and vertical axes.  The drawing has conviction because of that.  In a weaker composition the psychological focal points would be the faces.  But here, without that easy emotional appeal, the drawing holds our attention by the force of that vertical and horizontal intersection.

It would be great to see Bellini’s sketches for this painting.  In the Renaissance, preliminary drawings for paintings and frescoes tend to be more energetic than the final product. It’s uncanny. The paintings will  look  16th century and the sketches will look modern.

The last element added in this sketch was the background scribble in the upper left, over the woman’s right shoulder.  I say “background,” but it’s no less important than any other scribble in the drawing.  I think those last lines, without representing anything or being part of the figures, make the drawing complete.

Without them, we would merely have an attempted illustration. With the “background scribble” we have a complete page, where, in the modern sense, positive and negative space are equally worth looking at.

Jeanne Mueller, graphite on paper, ~14” x 12”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/04/22/bellinis-pleasing-tricks/

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When you’re being paid to get a message across, composition is your friend.

Florence, ~1500.  Sandro Botticelli has been commissioned to make a painting in which a baby—quite literally–is the message. The culture Botticelli lives in is built around this theological message. He’s well acquainted with the usual cast of characters, will assemble them again for this painting and he knows he has to work out a composition that makes this baby the focus of attention, again.

Botticcelli yawns, takes out his sketch pad and draws straight lines and arches.  Those are the most important tools for his composition and really all he needs: straight lines and arches.  The arches will enclose the space around the baby.  The straight lines will converge on the baby.  Botticelli concentrates on his scribbling for two minutes.  Gotcha, he says.  He means the viewer.  The viewer’s gaze will not wander, will constantly be led to the point of convergence, the baby. The client, who is powerful and wealthy, better pay him well for this fine work.

It was the custom for a master like Botticelli to have assistants that were trained by the master to specialize in rendering specific parts of a painting. One student might specialize in painting drapery, one in skies, and one in vegetation.   When the master’s name is followed by “and workshop” we can’t be sure that the master actually worked on the painting. It may mean that he only drew the initial sketch (called “cartoon”) with the all-important composition lines and then assigned his assistants (his workshop) to flesh it out on canvas.  It may mean that he painted only the faces and hands and then turned the painting over to his trained assistants.  But it may also mean that the workshop crew had been trained so well by him that they could work in his style without him being present at all.

As for creating the cartoon, that was the main job and usually performed by the master. But, as you can see, once you knew where the focus had to be—and that came with the all-pervasive theology of the time—you reached for your composition tools and, voila, the thing fell together: arches and converging lines.

What about anatomy?  Well, anatomy has to become subservient to composition. Joseph’s left arm is too small and Mary’s right forearm cannot be attached to an upper arm. Both  are squeezed into place somehow. St. John’s right leg is not attached to his pelvis.  The bodies of the two adults are hulking and humongous in relation to their tiny heads.  The new born weighs about forty pounds. But no matter. We accept it all.  Why? Because the composition tells us so.  Enveloping arches and converging lines focus the mind.  The mind loves that.

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