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Archive for the ‘Still life’ Category

14June

Wherever you are right now, if you look up and around you, you’ll find a still life worth drawing.  Oh, no, you say? It’s all ordinary, everyday stuff. A coffee cup, a coiled wire, a pair of glasses, a crinkled Kleenex…

14JuneAnalysisThat’s the point!  Look again.  Look at the space between these things, how their edges meet, how shapes repeat, the pattern of light and dark.  Looking like this can get you out of the verbal mode so that you arrive at a state of mind where you’re not naming anything.  You go visual, in other words.  Ah, then you start drawing.

The objects we draw in class are equally banal: an old bowl and some cloth remnant on a beat up studio table. Not heroic, nothing much.

Drawing by Linné Dosé, graphite, ~14” x 18”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/trip-into-drapery/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/the-square/

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Drapery_Study_for_a_Seated_Figure_c1470_Leonardo_da_Vinci

Leonardo was about eighteen when he made this study of drapery.  Doesn’t matter how old he was.  He was making drapery studies when he was forty-DraperyStudyLeonardoDetaileight, too.  It’s not something you master and then you’re done with it.  Drapery is mesmerizing, both for the artist working on it and for us, the viewers.  It draws you into a universe that envelopes you and at the same time feels utterly alien.

The Leonardo drawing activates your sense of touch, convincing you that you’re inhabiting a real world, as if you were feeling your way through a cave with a bizarre topography that nevertheless completely seduces your senses.

DraperyStudyLeonardoAnalysisYou can snap out of the trance, however.  And when you do, you’ll notice that some passages are unreal.  He just made some crinkles up—out of whole cloth, so to speak.  With your (momentarily) sober mind you can look at this passage, for example, (pink circle) and realize that cloth does not behave this way.

Leonardo lied.  He created this fiction. Why?  Because it’s fun to create fiction.  He creates the illusion of reality but he’s actually playing with form.

Look at Rogier van der Weyden, who’s about fifty years earlier than Leonardo.

Full title: The Magdalen Reading Artist: Rogier van der Weyden Date made: before 1438 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright © The National Gallery, London

Are these green folds hammered out of aluminum?  You know very well, cloth does not drape, fold and crinkle this way.  Yet, here it is, captivating us, compelling us to its rhythms like a fierce drummer.  (Ha, I’m looking at 15th century drapery and thinking of Gene Krupa and Art Blakey.)

Drapery, in other words, is a wild thing.

Linné Dosé, whose love of form and composition lead to daring omissions in his choice of still life elements, came up with this cloth floating in space.  No table to rest on.  He apparently saw that shape, found it compelling and that was enough.

16AprilDrapery

Now, when you see this thing sitting there on the page, it harmonizes with the Drapery15%behavior of drapery, but it also becomes something in itself.  Your imagination kicks into the surreal.  What is this?  It looks like a critter, doesn’t it.  You’re now in that cave with Leonardo and Rogier.

Leonardo and Rogier worked for clients who were all-powerful and dictated the subject matter to be depicted.  The artist then set out to work as if he were saying, fine, I’ll give you your mythological characters, but I’ll go wild with the drapery. You can have your Magdalen, but the drapery is mine.

Leonardo da Vinci, 1452 – 1519

Rogier van der Weyden, 1400 – 1464

Linné Dosé, graphite on paper, ~12” x 18”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/the-square/

20160428_155310

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15JanPots

This is how the drawing sat on the page.

You can see that the artist/student, Linné Dosé, has developed a love of composition and form.   The drawing suggests a still life, you know, the usual pottery. But notice, we don’t get details here, no loyalty to the objects, no shadow and reflected-light games.

A work of art tells you how it wants to be looked at. This drawing directs your mind away from literalness.  It says, forget the pots.

Shape, Form, Space!

As it sits on the drawing paper it extends horizontally and that suggests a setting, a certain degree of literalness.

Now look what happens when we crop it to a square.

15JanPotsCropRad

The forms are so much more pure forms.

The square format will do that.  Uncanny.  It speaks to our modern sensibility.

Why would that be?

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BowlStemware

In a still life drapery suggests all sorts of turbulence—if you’re in the mood to see it.  There’s nothing still about a still life even though you’re looking at a pile of pottery, stemware, plastic fruit and, of course, bulging cloth.  We’ve talked about that before:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/still-life-a-misnomer/

In this post’s drawing, the artist/student selected a portion of the still life on the table that led to an exploding composition on the page.  In my analysis you can interpret the green lines as either emanating from a central point (explosive) or you can see them as converging implosively.  You can shift your view back and forth between the two ways of seeing.  Either way, it’s a trip!

BowlStemwareLines

Whether you see those lines as centripetal or centrifugal, the focal point is nothing.  It’s a little triangular black part of the background, a vacancy.  If the lines had been made to converge on a  thing, the drawing would feel like an illustration or a picture with a message.  It would belong to the 18th century or before, at least in Western Art.  But the fact that the convergence is on emptiness makes this a modern drawing. The lines converge on that little nothing, but because it’s nothing, it lets you go again.  And so your eye–your attention–moves all through the image.  That’s the modern sensibility: you have to pay attention to everything. It’s a real trip, man.

For a reference to Diebenkorn and the Parthenon, go back to https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/let-it-be/

Drawing in china marker on gloss paper, ~ 11 x 17,  by Lizzy Mendoza.

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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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16JanPitcher
That antique patinaed pitcher looked quite commanding at the pinnacle of the still-life heap. You would think it would become the star of the show. But its majesty had to contend with a pile of stripes. Just some striped cloth, you might think, so humble and folksy. Haha, not so. Stripes are powerful and will command your attention. The grand pitcher had found its match. The drawing is not about any one object. It’s about how these strong forms hang together in a composition that sits well on the page and, yes, holds your attention.
Drawing by Maggy Shell. Charcoal pencil, 14” x 16”

PitcherStripes
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