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Archive for the ‘Imagination’ Category

George Stubbs (1724-1806) was sought after as a painter of horses, often shown with their proud owners.  His format is always horizontal, since a horse’s body is long.  To show it in its full glory you needed to portray it from the side, in its longest extension. In his paintings of horse and rider, the horse is more important than the rider, even if it’s the Marquess of Wocestershiresauce.

If the owner of the horse wanted to be shown as more important, however, the format had to be vertical.  Now the Marquess of Watever is shown in full verticality and his beloved horse…oh, wait, how can we get the horse in this picture?  Looks like we have to foreshorten the animal.  That means, the horse has to be shown either from the front or the back.  Well, we can’t have the horse’s hindquarters, the whatsit, poking out towards the viewer, so I guess it will have to be the head.

An example of a foreshortened horse is Joshua Reynolds’  portrait of Captain George K.H. Coussmaker.  The wall sign at the Met says, “Reynolds gave close attention to his portrait of George Kein Hayward Coussmaker, a lieutenant and captain in the first regiment of Foot Guards.  No fewer than twenty-one appointments—and at least two more for the sitter’s horse—are recorded between February 9 and April 16, 1782.  The composition is complex and the whole vigorously painted.”  Complex, indeed.  The  horse’s body is forced into a semi-circle, stretching its head to an anatomically unbelievable length. To show that the head is connected to a horse, Reynolds paints in some hooves,  pointing daintily like a ballerina’s toes.  A tour de force, all for the sake of framing the captain in an elegant arch. He must have been a vain, humorless man.

We get an even more daringly foreshortened horse in Henry Raeburn’s portrait of George Harley Drummond. This horse—and I wish we knew the horse’s name—is shown in complete indifference to the proceedings.  She grazes nonchalantly while the aristocrat is posing for his portrait.  Aside from the anthropomorphizing of the animal, the artist has solved the foreshortening challenge in an ingenious, witty and possibly satirical way.  Really, your lordship, the horse’s hindquarters?!

One wonders if the expression “horse’s ass” was in circulation in Scotland in the early eighteen hundreds.  Perhaps the man in the fine boots had a sense of humor—after all, he must have approved the composition—and hung it in his great entrance hall where he positioned himself to greet his neighboring land owners as they arrived for his party, letting everybody know what he really thought of them.

The Met, once again, stays away from the possibility of satire: “The foreshortened view of the grazing bay horse is the most complex part of the composition, though not the most important.  It is curious, therefore, that the animal’s hindquarters should so prominently displayed.”

Exquisitely painted hindquarters, yes.  But the Met is prudishly polite: the horse’s ass is  obviously the most important part of the painting!

Happy April Fools Day to All!

George Stubbs | The Marquess of Rockingham’s ‘Scrub’, 1762

Joshua Reynold (1723-1792).  Captain George K.H. Coussmaker

Henry Raeburn (1756-1823). George Harley Drummond.

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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”

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updrip1

Dripping paint on a canvas conveys the feeling of immediacy and urgency, doesn’t it.  It’s as if you were standing next to the artist while she was painting and you were witnessing the physicality of this gooey substance in its tug with gravity.

Now, paint drips down, not up.  I say that, because we often turn a canvas upside-down to see if that view will work better or, at least, what the new view will teach us.  When a drip is seen upside-down, it may work and it may not.  If the dripping paint is thick, it most often will look disturbing when seen upside down. If the dripping paint is highly diluted and therefore thin, it will run down fast and in a fairly straight line all the way to the bottom edge of the canvas.  It will read primarily as a straight line and only on closer inspection will you see that it’s actually a drip. It will read as a straight line even when the canvas is turned upside-down.

This kind of double take tickles the mind.

The brushstrokes and color blotches look random.  And, certainly, the drips by their very nature are random. But notice, the composition is severely rectilinear.  Notice also, that in the painting process the canvas was rotated more than once: sideways drips.   It’s the coexistence of this grid effect with the drippy-splashy-rubbing paint that makes for deep drama.  We like drama.

The drips obeying gravity—as they were created in the first place—look less exiting.  Or do they?

updrip1-copy

Veronica Sax, painting in acrylic on canvas, 30” x 30,” November 2016

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16novwindow

Your mind naturally associates to “window.”  But look, there’s no view to the outside, which is why we walk over and stand in front of a window.  This is pure window.  Like a Gothic stained glass window, except here there’s no story to be instructed by.  Pure light, which, come to think of it, is Gothic Architecture’s metaphor for the divine.  Well, I’ll stop just short of calling this painting divine, but allow me to say, it’s glorious.  You allow and you agree, of course.

You can’t stop looking at it.   As you celebrate windowness and you’re grateful for the invention of glass with its capacity to transmit and reflect light, you’re mind does wander.  You start looking at the quality of the brush stroke, the transitions from one luminous color to another and then there’s a little quirkiness that holds your attention.

First, notice that your eye does not dwell on any of the four corners.  That’s because there’s no detail in the corners, they’re filled with blocks of color and some blurry lines.  It’s true those lines do guide your eye there but only briefly and then they move back inward. Our eyes evolved to find details and movement interesting.

Where do we find details and movement?

16novwindowfingerwalk

What are those funny little red dots?  Looks like footprints.  If you have the privilege of looking at this painting up close, you’ll notice that they are fingerprints.  The artist must have dipped her fingertips into the red paint on her palette and then walked them across the canvas. As the paint was transferred she went back to the palette to dip in again.  Her fingers walked diagonally upward on the canvas from right to left.  Pure invention.  What a delight!

It’s nice to be reminded that we’re a species that invents.

You can see this painting by Veronica Sax at the Evanston Art Center’s Studio Show til January 29.

https://www.evanstonartcenter.org/exhibitions/eac-student-exhibition

Veronica Sax, Not, Just… Acrylic on canvas, 40”x 30”

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16octconfetti

What’s going on here?  Why is this image intriguing?

There are three elements in this image. The most basic one, if you isolate it, is the round form in yellow, which is near-centered, near-symmetrical, vaguely suggesting something with a head. The second element, the black, by weaving in and out of the first, negates its organic illusion.  The black lines branch off and suggest tree-like growth.

The third element is the specks of color that appear to be floating through the pictorial space.  Your mind wants to simplify them and therefore assumes they are all the same size in that space. Since they are actually of three different sizes (on the canvas) you make sense of them by seeing them as floating in three different planes. The smallest specs, for example, are interpreted as being farthest from the viewer and the large specs are on the plane closest to you as you look at the painting.

If the specks were of fifteen different sizes, or sixty two different sizes, your brain would not be able to organize them and you would, therefore, not perceive spacial depth in the painting.

The painting presents a puzzle, but not a puzzle that you solve.  Once you see how you project your expectations into the painting, you haven’t solved anything.  You’ll still be floating in that space.

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

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

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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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16septdanstilllife

Dan Goffman never likes his work. He can see that his drawings are not realistic.

But I’m fascinated by it. Could that be because I’m a modernist.  I respond to composition.  Realism?  Not so much.

Ten years ago Dan Goffman suffered a stroke which resulted in partial paralysis and aphasia.  He’s a historian and author with a long scholarly bibliography. Drawing was suggested as therapy and now he draws every day.  I have his permission to show and talk about his work.  “If I hadn’t had the stroke, I wouldn’t have discovered that I can draw,” he says with wry humor.

20160922_144150What you see in this drawing is far from a depiction of objects on a table.  You throw away the realism check-list and instead your eye wanders through this pattern of shapes, textures and negative spaces.  Of all the things he could have focused on, he chose these shapes from the still life set up on the table. They sit on the page with an uncanny sense of rightness, balance and economy. Any concern about “realism” or more “detail” would have ruined the drawing. Do we need the three-dimensionality of the oranges and that bowl?  No.  The ellipse in the upper right corner is enough.  Notice how your eye briefly rests there and then keeps moving through the composition.

Drawing by Dan Goffman, graphite on paper, 30” x 22”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/reading-a-shape/

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

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