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Archive for the ‘Roundness’ Category

MunchAnalysis1This is the first stage of a painting.  Notice that it repeats the same V-shape over and over.

In the next stage, a black shape was added (1). For now, ignore  (2) and (3), which were put in  at the very end of the work process.

Munch copy

Notice that (1) repeats that V-shape.  When I saw the painting at this stage,  I said to the artist, “looks a little like a tree.”  A strange little tree, to be sure, with its sinuous trunk and just two short branches, but still, the shape says “treeness.”  Maybe a tree with its branches “reaching” up.  The word “reach” suggests a personification of the tree.

Personification is very tempting. The artist dipped his brush into the black paint again and deftly placed a dot between the “branches.”

MunchFinal

That small dot radically changed the game.  Try seeing that black shape as a tree now.  Impossible.  Try seeing it as something other than a woman with her arms raised.  Try harder.  Can’t be done.

Not only are you seeing a woman with her arms raised, but this shape and association now dominate the painting to such a degree that you feel compelled to interpret everything else in the painting in relation to it.  The tree dominated over all the other shapes and the puzzle at that stage  was how to fit it into the rest of the painting. But thanks to this little dot the black shape’s humanoid association will not allow your mind to wander away.  It’s absolute and absolutely uncanny.

This is what we do in art.  We look at how our mind and imagination work.

After this jaw-dropping black dot appeared, the artist tried to subvert the tyranny of that black humanoid shape by painting in a large yellow disk and a little white rectangle.  What does that do?  Well, now we have to acknowledge these also and fit them into some interpretation.  (1), (2) and (3) are now competing for our attention.   The humanoid can now more easily be seen as a shape among other shapes.  It’s a relief, isn’t it.  But the humanoid still dominates.  No way around it.  Were wired to zoom in on hints of our human shape, however sketchy, distorted or bizarre.

Painting by Bruce Boyer. Oil on Canvas, 30”x40”

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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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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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RedSquareSwoosh
In the last post we talked about the convergence of shapes on that cluster of black dots. As you looked at that painting, you probably also noticed that the convergence occurs on the golden section.
In this painting, 36” x 36”, the convergence is in the middle. This is a daring composition. It’s hard to make something so balanced—divided into four quadrants!—so dynamic.
It’s uncanny how the large red area, taking up a quarter of the painting surface, is actually subverted by that pale blue disk in the upper right quadrant. A circular shape, no matter what color or size, will dominate the daylights out of any composition. At a distance, the red will catch your attention, as you can see in this shot from the Studio Exhibit.

IMG_7192
But paintings get looked at from afar and from close up. Once you’re about five feet away, the drama in this painting engages you. Even though it has a rigorous rectilinear division, it feels like a vortex. The blue disk keeps pulling you back up and then you fall back in. The vortex is three-dimensional because the dark gray square appears to be in the distance, behind the plane occupied by the red.
The Studio Exhibit at the Evanston Art Center, 1717 Central Street, is up til this Tuesday, September 8. A terrific show!
Painting by Cassie Buccellato, oil on canvas.
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FourPots
You might think that this is a sketch, to be elaborated on later. You might think this is a hasty scribble on the back of an envelope, a reminder of the rough composition so that the artist would later work out details and make a “presentable, salable work of art.”
So wrong.
To be able to see like this!
This is a very advanced form of seeing.
FourPotsPhotoAIt’s not about documenting the shape of the pots. The photo does that. It’s not about proving that you’re diligent, that you put in the time and now you’ll price the drawing according to the time you slaved over the drawing. There are people who think like that. So master-servant 16th century. And if you think your five-year-old can do this, well, you need to come to class.
What makes the drawing so great is the form. Not the shape of the pots. The form of the drawing! Seeing form is like reading between the lines in a story, reading deeper than the narrative. It’s seeing through the shapes, seeing deeper than what’s illustrated. The artist here is not illustrating pots. She is creating a page that stands on its own.
She creates a tug between positive and negative space. We expect the pots, being graspable things, to hold our attention. The ground they stand on is supposed to just passively support objects. But notice that the shape of the ground is more emphatically articulated than the objects. It’s dark and has a stepped shape of its own. The shape of the pots is predictable and our expectation projects more information into them that is actually given. Even though they are presented in casual curves and ellipses, we read them clearly. We as viewers are engaged in completing the presentation. A good thing. We also notice that the whole page is a dialogue between the severe,angular, rational edge of the black ground and the curved, flamboyant, irrational lines of the identifiable objects. So good.
Back to the sketch idea. The drawing, above, was preceded by a more elaborate working out of this FourPots2motif. The artist put in some folds of the cloth that covered the table. In other words, details. This is also an interesting drawing, but not as exciting as the one featured here. The artist had to wrestle with details, with the impulse to represent more literally what she actually saw,  to attain the view of form that marks the stark drama of the final drawing.
Drawings by Maggy Shell, charcoal on paper, ~14”x18”
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15Jan2a
In whatever drawing you’re working on, try darkening the outline (=contour) of the shapes arbitrarily. If it’s a figure, darken the outline of the forearm. See how that affects your perception 15Jan2bof depth. Or press your pencil down harder when you’re outlining one side of the face. Immerse yourself in how this feels.
In the drawing shown above, the artist indicates the upper arm with a heavy line, while the forearm is drawn faintly. We immediately get the sense that the upper arm is in shadow and the forearm catches the light. She achieves this effect without classical anatomical drawing, using gradations of shadow and reflected light. But you can see that her coarse use of lines is actually based on an understanding of anatomy.
Drawing by Gaby Edgerton, aquarellable pencil on gloss paper, 17”x11”
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Jan2015StripesBalls
There was only one ball in the still life setup. The artist invented the other two. The background consisted of studio clutter: easels, sink, shelves with stuff. The artist invented that vertically textured dark wall. In other words, all she actually saw was a crumpled up cloth with stripes and one spherical object. Cloth-and-sphere can make an interesting composition in itself, granted. But the artist pushed the composition to greater dramatic heights.

Jan2015StripesBallsNumbers
Notice how the  compulsion to focus on the spheres (2) is offset by the maze-like graphic of the stripes (1). Your eye is attracted to both and your attention moves between 1 and 2. But the dominant direction of your attention will be up, left-right, towards the spheres. Up is very satisfying. You are encouraged to land on the sphere at 2 by the sloping of the dark background towards 2 and the upward edge of the cloth, which also leads to 2. Brilliant. Hey, it’s art.
Drawing by Maggy Shell, charcoal, ~14 x 18.

(As happens so often, I neglected to take a shot of the actual still life set up. Maggy had a bigger pile of objects to look at but found only the striped cloth and the ball interesting. Selecting what to draw is a big part of the work.)
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