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Archive for the ‘Left-Right’ Category

16octheadhands

“It’s disturbing,” someone in the class said when I put up this drawing by Maggy Shell.

Yes, it is.

The artist may not have deliberately pushed the drawing towards  16octheadhandsphotothe “disturbing” sign, but the assignment was to draw half of the face in deep shadow and that may have prompted her to go for it.  With that instruction, it’s easy to see something creepy in the photo to start with.

She chose to:

-push the figure against an edge of the paper. Drawing against the edge really does make a drawing edgy.  If she had positioned the figure in the middle, as it is seen in the photo, the image would have become balanced and not disturbing.

-tilt the head. When people are calm, their heads sit straight on their shoulders.  Tilting the head is a sign of skepticism or flirtatious submission. We can rule out the latter here.  What’s left is skepticism, which is definitely on the edgy edge of the continuum.

-follow the instruction to put one side into deep shadow.  Yes, she did.  Oh, how disturbing.

-draw the hands in a skeletal manner and against a deep black background.

“Disturbing” art came into vogue with the Romantics around 1800.  The notion of the sublime gave you goose bumps—certainly uncomfortable:  Caspar David Friedrich, The Wanderer Above the Mists, 1818.

cdfriedrichwandererabovethemists1818

And what about dreams—oh, so disturbing: Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781

johnhenryfuselithe_nightmare1781

If you think Maggy Shell’s drawing is edgy and disturbing, consider the horizontal flip.  Now, that’s  spooky.  Why is that? We’ve seen many horizontal flips on this blog that demonstrate how position on the page conveys feeling.

16octheadhandsflip

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16oct27

When we put it up on our Is-It-Finished? stand, many in the class gasped.

16oct27shapeThis is a large painting, 48” x 36”.  The primary colors, red, yellow and blue, are allowed to drip and splash, creating a sense of depth, particularly in the red.  In the right half of the painting, there are  patches of gauze. Paint was dragged over them, adding to the illusion of depth. The white edges of the gauze, only intermittently seen, are delicate and mysterious.

On the right, the yellow sweeps upward and threatens to dominate the whole painting, but it is  subdued by the fine lines of the threads which rise and then fall loosely over the yellow.

This painting is an example why modern art has to be experienced in the original.

16oct27flipInterestingly, the left-right flip doesn’t work.  Does it?

Painting by Jan Fleckman, 48”x36”, acrylic on canvas.

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SquareCherryblossoms

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better…

See if you can apply our last discussion (https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/the-drama-of-concave-and-convex/) to this painting.

This painting is different in three important ways: The square format pushes you into thinking abstractly. There’s no hint of a horizon line. The color contrasts are more subtle.

If the pink squares were pink dots, the effect would be frivolous, even more so than the idea of red dots  in the last painting. They have to be square!  Btw, the squares were made with linoleum, in a printmaking technique.

Many painters think pink is a problem.  That depends upon how it’s used and next to what.  And in what shape!  Pink squares drifting here across orange and turquoise tickle your retina into bliss.

See an earlier vindication of pink: https://artamaze.wordpress.com/?s=pink

Painting by Jane Donaldson, 2015

Once again, the flip creates a different dynamic. In this case, a sense of balance and stasis.

SquareCherryblossomsFlip

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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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Steenwijck2

I would like to have met Harmen Steenwijck. I wonder if anybody in Delft, where he was born, or Leiden, where he died, knew how witty he was.

In 17th century Holland artists had to invent themselves and their art.  A hundred years earlier the members of art guilds were kept busy with commissions from the Catholic Church: murals, tapestries, candelabra, gold smithing, marble carving and all that.  Then in 1517 a monk named Martin Luther said, let’s not do that anymore, well, not directly but in a round-about way.  The religious debate got very political, of course, with the Protestants storming Catholic Churches and smashing everything from stained glass windows to statuary to paintings.  In Holland, newly stripped down and whitewashed Catholic Churches were converted to Protestant Churches that tolerated no imagery or decoration.  But, hey, what about us artists!  What do we do now?

Dutch art became secular and humanist.  It became modern!

The Vanitas genre can be seen as a link between the old life-is-a-vale-of-tears theology and the new humanism that stressed living deeply with the reality of death.  But notice, that while theology preached hellfire-and-damnation, this new thing, humanism, gave you images to contemplate and it let your mind roam.

We still had to work with symbols.  Symbols furnished and cluttered our minds way into the end of the 19th century. But you could play with them.  These symbolic objects in your collection didn’t talk back like lace-collared Burgers who sat for a portrait.  You could arrange these things any way you wanted.  You played.

HarmenSteenwijckVanitasBlog

Harmen Steenwijck played. Some of the objects he shows in his still lifes were very expensive, like the Japanese sword, the sea shell, and the antique vase. In his Vanitas paintings they symbolized the futility of wealth.  The sea shell, expired life.  Then there are more common objects to represent the pleasures of life, like pipes and books.  The just extinguished candle is an obvious symbol of death and the skull takes the cake in this department.  Now, since he was painting an image with a message and everybody knew what symbolized what, why didn’t he just paint a shelf or a cupboard, with these things arranged one next to the other?  Wouldn’t that get the message across?

The message, yes.  But nobody would be attracted to the painting.  To pull viewers in and hold them emotionally, he needed to arrange the objects in a compelling composition.  Unlike portraits, still lifes were not commissioned.  A Vanitas, like other genre paintings, had to appeal a collector’s eye and tickle his mind.

In the painting shown at the top of this post, Steenwijck clusters all his symbols into a wedge at the bottom, balanced by the silence in the top triangle where a ray of light dramatically aims for the skull.

Steenwijck2lines

It’s a daring composition.  Spend some time with this painting and you’ll find that the empty gray wall in the background turns out not to be silent at all. It becomes eerie and ominous.

What we get with Steenwijck is a modern feeling for pictorial space.  There is no such thing as negative space or unimportant space in a painting.  That wall is not “empty,” it’s not “nothing.”  It’s an essential part of the drama.

This is an intriguing painting. But still, if he had painted the mirror image, that shell perched so precariously on the tip of the table would have gained so much more tension and character.

Steenwijck2flip

Harmen Steenwijck, 1612 – 1656

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Vanitas

This drawing has four of the standard elements of a 17th century vanitas image:  skull, book, mirror and hint of a plant.  All are symbols of the passage of time and the futility of holding on to anything.  Hence, the category “vanitas.”  “Vanitas” is a genre that the Dutch painters of the 17th century often worked with.  More on that in the next post.

As I looked at this drawing on my screen, I felt conflicted between looking at the skull as the major element and at the mirror image as the focal point.   The skull won.  But the skull is not as interesting as the mirror image, is it.  So I flipped the image in Photoshop.

VanitasFlip

Ta-tah!  Here the skull is still the most poignant element in the drawing—it’s the strongest and most complete symbol of mortality.  But look what happens to the circular mirror with the partial profile of the skull.

VanitasFlipAnalysis

Here the compositional lines lead UP to the circle.  The circle holding the skull reflection now has an upbeat, optimistic feeling.  This goes against the vanitas theme, which is supposed to be a warning against pride.  Forget pride and preaching.  This drawing, seen in the flip version (flip!), is ironic and witty.

We’ve seen in previous posts how flipping an image will change how it feels.  Same information, very different feeling.  But this vanitas drawing, flipped, is uncanny.

Drawing by Jeanne Müller, graphite, ~16”x20,”

VanitasSetUp

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16FebArches
These cropped forms suggest some architectural element, with variations. Or, maybe, chair backs. In any case, something well designed, serious and possibly monumental. At the same time, unstable and meaningless. If they are structures, you can see that they lack bracing but are, nevertheless, solid. They’re grand in some way. And there are many of them, this we can infer from the cropping.
This, therefore, is a painting that at first glance suggests clarity of statement. But if you fall for its seduction, you’ll soon chase yourself in circular thinking and you end up not “getting” it at all. This is a good thing. You’re looking at art.
Painting by Harold Bauer. Oil on canvas, ~30” x 24”
16FebArchesFlipNow let’s flip it horizontally. Oh, look! The flipped version seems much friendlier, more accessible. It lacks the gravitas of the original. I would not ponder this version, I would consider it “lite,” a bit decorative, merely clever.
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