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15octpanel

That divide between the green and red fields tempts you to see a landscape with a high horizon. It’s a recurring temptation, isn’t it.  Feels so nice, ah, a 15octpanelnumberslandscape and so you stay with it and think landscapey thoughts.

Then the forms take over. The foremost shapes are the green cross, red rectangle (1) and the two circles (2) (3).   Shapes lying flat on the canvas simply destroy the landscape illusion. Good.  Now you’re sliding into an aesthetic experience. Shapes and light.

Terry Fohrman, oil on panel, 24” x 30”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/exhibit-at-ethical-humanist-society/

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RedSquares

In this painting the red squares are in the foreground.  They appear to float on top of a background of various colors, where the blue mass reads as an integral shape and therefore dominates the other areas of this background.

At its right border (1), the blue is convex, meaning it curves outward, creating the feeling that it is pushing outward to the right. This dynamic is emphasized by the sliver of white (2) which is being worn thin by blue’s intrusion.  The white is concave. It’s a dart or arrow pointing to the right.

RedSquaresAnalysis

Stop, you may say at this point. This a colorful painting, I like it, that’s enough. You’re over-thinking this thing. These blotches of color are not going, pushing or invading anything.  They’re just sitting there.

True.  The PAINT is sitting there.  But the PAINTING is not a physical object; it’s an event in the mind.  The power of abstraction is that even though there is no identifiable object depicted in an activity, the viewer of the painting will EXPERIENCE an activity.  A drama, really, full of tension, aggression, pushing and pulling…and resolution.

We perceive the red squares as floating on top of everything because they have clear edges that do not bleed into the background anywhere; plus, there’s a suggestion of a horizon line at (3).  The painting creates the illusion of spatial depth. It teases you into thinking “landscape.”

Since the red squares are not distributed evenly, we get the sensation that they are drifting from one side of the “landscape” to the other.  From left to right? Or from right to left? My sense is that they are blowing to the right.  Try it.

The drifting reds are not round. Imagine them as red dots and the painting becomes a circus.  Imagine them petal shaped and it becomes sentimental. No-no.  The reds have to be angular to add frisson.  Your mind likes edginess.  Keeps you alert and on your toes.

Why would anybody go to the trouble of analyzing a painting at this length, you may say.  Maybe somebody needs to get out more, has too much time on her hands.  Ha,ha. I’m merely taking the time to articulate what is going on in your mind when you’re standing in front of a painting that grabs you.  At museums I often hear one person say to her companion, I like that.  Well, I’m curious why.  Someone will look at a painting for a long time.  Why?  Well, I’m suggestion they’re swept up by the drama.  The drama is in the mind.

Painting by Jane Donaldson, ~30″ x 40″

Oh, and by the way, if you flip  the painting, the drama changes…errrm, dramatically.

RedSquaresFlip

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15OctRedBlackYellHoriz
It’s something. But what!
I can explain why you would want to figure out what this represents: 1) there are definite shapes, 2) they’re clearly delineated, 3) they’re centrally placed and 4) there’s even an illusion of a horizon. So, of course, your smart, verbal brain gets to work on this puzzle. As soon as you’ve decided that the yellow square represents a structure, a building, say, you can move to the dip on its right and decide that here you have a valley and then you keep moving to the right and you can see an extended city block and, oh dear, this is not working. It’s just not coherent as a landscape at all. Even if you stick to the landscape-cityscape interpretation, what’s underneath the horizontal black mass just doesn’t compute. I mean, what’s that lavender roundish thing and that blue triangle there and then that blue smudge? Your brain now goes into overdrive and crashes. Wonderful! You’re having an aesthetic experience. You have entered the state of pure seeing. Congratulations.
It’s not easy to make art like this. Takes tremendous concentration.
Painting by Maria Palacios. Acrylic on canvas, 30”x 40”
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StreamConsciousness
Picture it large. It’s 48” wide.
You want to see it as a landscape, right? There’s that horizon line from the left, a third of the way down. Above that the colors are blue-ish and atmospheric. So that’s comforting. You’re on your way to an interpretation. Oh, good, you think, I can figure this out. You keep looking. What else can you latch on to, what else can you identify? Errrmmm, what’s the blue blotch, what’s the red trapezoid, what are those black strokes? Frustration sets in. No, wait, there’s that receding white brush stroke, that seems to suggest perspective. Wonderful, a sense of perspective. You keep looking for more landscape clues, but, alas, the landscape reference falls apart, it simply does not hold up. That’s your moment of release, of liberation. Exhale. Now you’re looking at the painting and enjoying it because now you’re actually seeing it.
StreamConsciousnessAnalysisAfter you stop figuring it out and you surrender to looking, you notice the little black splatters. And where are they? They are where the major forms of the composition converge. You missed them earlier. How could you miss these dots? Because they’re nothing. And yet the great big red, blue, and black shapes point to this nothing.
Diebenkorn1I, for one, love paradox. Takes my breath away.
The composition as a whole reminds me of Diebenkorn’s landscapes. Notice how his shapes converge, but on nothing.
It’s an aesthetic that goes way back to the ancient Greeks, who designed the Parthenon so that the center of the pediment facade would be an open space, not a column. We’ll get to that, later sometime.
Painting by Cassandra Buccellato, oil on canvas, ~40”x48”
Richard Diebenkorn, (1922-1993)

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Wyeth3
Oh, Wyeth, I thought, I don’t like Wyeth. I had just walked in at the 7th Street entrance, said hello to some Dutch masters, Helen Frankenthaler, De Kooning and Jackson Pollack. And then there was a sign pointing to Andrew Wyeth watercolors. I was familiar with his paintings, admired them for their composition and austerity, but, really, Mr. Wyeth, all these individual brush strokes for dried grass. Hill and hills of brush strokes for dried brownish grass. Oh, well, I shrugged to myself, I’ll just go in and have a quick walk through.
My jaw dropped at the sight of the first piece, a pencil sketch he did for Wind from the Sea (1947). Then he worked out a watercolor of the same motif, the curtain blowing in the window. Oh, my!

Wyeth1

His watercolors are wild! The brush stokes—big brush!—are furious, ruthless, raggedy, dripping, bleeding, dragged dry. The watercolors are large, about 20 x 24, and each looks as if had been done in a frenzy of concentration, in maybe 15 minutes. Here’s the quote I took down from one of the walls:
“I break loose…and there are scratches and spit and mud…that’s what gives them some quality.”
Some quality, indeed. And yes, he ripped into the heavy paper with a knife or razor blade, he stressed the paper to the point of wrinkling, and the mud was passionate mud. He probably did spit and sweat.
Then why are his paintings so, well, fussy. Individual blades of grass, individual threads on torn curtains. Maybe, after breaking loose in a watercolor or two, he got out his tempera and oils to calm himself down.
I have no idea how long I was in that gallery. I lost track of time.

Wyeth2
Drawings and watercolors often don’t reproduce well in art books. The immediacy, the “spit and mud,” is lost in reproductions and prints.
What a revelation this exhibit was! It closed two days later. I will hop on a plane the next time someone puts up a Wyeth watercolor exhibit.
(Photography was not allowed, of course. I’m pulling images from the web here. Again, these only hint at the passion of Andrew Wyeth. I could not find the pencil drawing or the watercolor he did for Wind from the Sea and, in any case, no reproduction would do. Shown above is the tempera painting.)
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HaroldSwoive
It’s not quite white, has some grayish texture. But we’ll call it white because it’s so dramatic against the blue. This painting started as a landscape and got more and more geometrical and crisp. The white swirl is pure invention. Brilliant. If this were painted much larger it would be brrrrilllllianttttt.
Painting by Harold Bauer, ~20×16. Oil on canvas.
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CassyBlue
This painting started with dripping paint, not with any plans to create a landscape. But the line where the blue stops suggests a horizon and then with that reference, the drips can be interpreted as a row of receding trees. The dash of orange suggested itself because as the complementary color to blue, it would heighten the intensity of the blue. So, yes, it can be seen as a landscape with mountains, trees and possibly a sunrise. And it’s paint. Paint! It’s both. But because your mind can’t focus on both at the same time, it goes into overdrive and that gives you a high. That’s the high of modernism. Aren’t we lucky!!
Painting by Cassandra Buccellato, oil on canvas, 36×36.
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