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Archive for the ‘Surreal’ Category

In the last post we started by looking at something beautiful and ended up by suggesting that beauty may be a trap.  A breathtaking view becomes a trap if you think you can –how to say this—trap it.  The common word for this is “capturing it.”

“Oh, you captured that perfectly.”

“That is so beautiful; I want to see if I can capture it in my painting.”

People talk about “capturing” all the time. In music, painting, in a novel, a movie.  As if art making were some sort of hunting sport: you hunt the beauty down and then—gotcha!–you corral it in a fenced lot. You killed it!

So, art making is a form of execution.  If that’s too strong a word, how about strangulation.

In any case, “capturing” results in lifelessness.

We don’t want lifelessness, do we.

The reason that a painting that duplicates a photo would result in lifelessness is that it would make something monumental, i.e. static, out of a fleeting moment.  That would be a lie.

So, how can you allow yourself to be inspired by this image without deceiving yourself?

You can allow yourself to be mesmerized by a small passage that does not refer to a recognizable corner of reality.  It does not illustrate anything.

Now, that you can paint—or draw!  Not as a copyist, not directly, not in detail, but in gesture, in complete self-abandon.  If you pivot your mind into that level of fiction, you may be onto something.

Onto what?  We can’t predict.  Let’s see.

 

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/12/06/kitsch-101/

 

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Time to watch “Blow Up” again.

 

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This article appeared in The Conversation on October 9, 2020. The author is Sally Hickson, Associate Professor, Art History, University of Guelph 

After this week’s vice-presidential debate in the United States, the fly that landed on Vice-President Mike Pence’s head was more of a sensation than the details of the debate — at least on social media. The fly has already been immortalized as a Biden/Harris fly swatter (sorry, they’re all sold out) and sparked a Halloween costume.

In many circumstances, flies are unremarkable. That’s probably why a French word for spy is connected to the same word for fly, mouche. When a fly becomes famous, it’s worth wondering why.

Flies have long held symbolic meaning in the history of art. In portraits made in Renaissance Europe, the presence of a fly symbolizes the transience of human life (buzzbuzzpfft!). In the great scheme of things, our lives are no longer than that of a fly. For me as an art historian, the fly was a moment to reflect not only on the history of flies in western painting, but to begin considering what the long history of this symbolism may reveal about why the fly generated so much buzz.

Humility, impermanence, illusion

Take, for example, an extraordinary little painting known today as Portrait of a Woman of the Hofer Family, painted in about 1470 by an artist from the German (Swabian) School, now in the National Gallery in London. Her elaborate white head covering highlights a perfect little fly, that’s settled on her just to remind us that our life, like hers, is impermanent.

The corollary is that we’re supposed to do the best we can with the time we’ve got. When it comes to time and eternity, as painter and poet William Blake wrote: “Am not I / A fly like thee? / Or art not thou / A man like me?” The fly is a little reminder of humility.

Painters could also include a fly to draw attention to themselves, demonstrating with their “trompe-l’oeil” (deceiving the eye) tricks that they could paint in a manner that seemed so real, a viewer of the portrait would be tempted to try to swat the fly away. The 16th-century Italian painter Giorgio Vasari, biographer of Italian Renaissance artists, tells a story about the painter Giotto fooling his teacher Cimabue by adding a realistic-looking fly to a painting.

Salvador Dalí, who was pretty much the lord of the flies (he painted them a lot) included a fly on the watch face of his painting The Persistence of Memory (now housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York). He also used an army of ants to signify the decay of time and life’s impermanence.

All is not what it appears

Portrait of a Carthusian, the most famous portrait featuring a fly, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, was painted by Petrus Christus in 1446. It depicts a bearded monk. The fly perched on the ledge in front of him signifies we’re entering a zone where all is not what it appears: we might say that what seems real is only an illusion. Or, perhaps the artist has enhanced “the quality of the subject’s ‘real’ presence by the fly resting momentarily on the fictive frame,” according to the museum.

 

Entomologist Ron Cherry has explored how insects have long-standing mythological associations with death. In Renaissance thought, which tended to blend medieval fabulist tales about nature with ideas about religion, flies were considered to represent supernatural power, mostly associated with evil and corruption, because they seemed to be spontaneously born from decaying fruit and rotting organic matter.

In the book of Exodus in the Bible, God mustered swarms of flies as punishment. They were harbingers of worse things, like pestilence and death. That’s a lot of deliverables for a bunch of tiny flies.

The point is that flies still remind us of unpleasant things, or as commentator David Frum noted, unpleasant things in a presidency we’d rather ignore — which is why, I suspect, given the administration’s record, some people found it so delightful.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The Conversation is a network of not-for-profit media outlets that publish news stories written by academics and researchers.

Portrait of a Woman of the Hofer Family,’ c. 1470, by an artist from the German (Swabian) School. (Wikimedia Commons), CC BY

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory, 1931. Museum of Modern Art, New York City

‘Portrait of a Carthusian’ (1446), by Petrus Christus, oil on wood. Held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Wikimedia Commons), CC BY

Original article by Sally Hickson:   https://theconversation.com/mike-pences-fly-from-renaissance-portraits-to-salvador-dali-artists-used-flies-to-make-a-point-about-appearances-147815

SNL: Fly Debate:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xI_lxFv203I&list=PLS_gQd8UB-hLlAHDdSUdIYLjk9WCDnjWx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Conversation_(website)

 

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

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A drawing can go through many stages of development. The artist may not aim for mimesis or may not have a particular style in mind at all.  The artist may try one kind of markmaking here and another style  there.  The drawing may develop with a progression from dark to light or various degrees of precision.

The drawing can be called complete even though it contains visual contradictions.  Let’s look at contradictions.

In the above drawing, the markmaking in A is vibrant and lively. The background to the objects on the table seems to shimmer. In B the markmaking is the opposite, it’s mechanical and tight.  This dense, dark stripe representing the table appears to have been made by a different hand, in a very different mood. The contrast between A and B does not add drama to the image as a whole. Rather, it looks arbitrary and therefore the drawing feels unresolved.

In modern art we often find contrasts, inconsistencies and contradictions that are witty.  Consider the following two examples.

The hand fits perfectly over the face, as when a woman is surprised or embarrassed. But hand and face are from different worlds, different contexts.  So they fit together in one sense, but are mismatched in another.  We smile at this surprising juxtaposition.

 

Collage, a quintessentially modern art form, lends itself very well to creating contradictions and witty juxtaposition.

 

 

It’s easy to play with photographs by collaging together disparate elements.

Place a cassette over a face and, voila, the two holes will read like eyes. As moderns we know that all images, symbols and myths are human inventions and so we chuckle when we see the invention process being made so obvious.

 

 

 

 

Back to the class drawing of the still-life.   This student/artist gives us a very credible rendering of reflected light and deep shadow of the cup at C.  As in the previous drawing, the ellipse is not “swinging” but is drawn slowly and carefully and therefore it falls flat.  Practice. Practice. Practice

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-1/

We will talk some more about this cup and the demanding but swinging ellipse in the next posts.

More at:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/untitled-xii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/plug-by-the-sea-side/

Aphrodite by seph

Videotape Eyes by Rebecca DiLiberto.

 

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

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Our studio at the Evanston Art Center faces south. Needless to say, we greet an overcast sky with a sigh of relief. On a sunny morning, we pull the shades.

When the shades are pulled, the sun coming through the cracks creates a dramatic pattern on the floor. Now, you can ignore that, seeing it as literally what it is, the sun coming through the cracks.

But you can also go into exercise mode.  You can switch your perceptual apparatus to seeing the whole picture.  Instead of labeling what you see (floor, light, people, easels),  you can flatten what’s hitting your retina.  Yes, flatten.  It’s what you do when you paint an object (three-dimensional) on a canvas (two-dimensional).  You create a composition on a flat surface.

Well, you can also do that as a composition exercise—whenever and wherever you are.  As a further aid, there’s your phone camera. You’re never without it. The camera flattens everything you point at into a two-dimensional composition.  Thank you, Mr. Gates, Mr. Jobs, et.al.  You’re never without the opportunity to see at this more conscious level.

What’s extra wonderful about those light strips on the floor is that they appear as the most striking, most important thing in the composition.  They read as positive space.  Ha, gotcha.  It’s always thrilling when your expectations are overturned.  Negative space reads like positive space.  And people, who normally count as positive space, are relegated to the shadowy part of the background.

You may now slide that insight into the light of day.

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

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16janbabel

You want to interpret this, don’t you?  It’s clearly something.  Your first impulse is to see something in the middle that is set on a black background.  It could be a monument with inscriptions.  It could be a building with wobbly sides.  You can keep on guessing, but whatever it is, it’s big.  This interpretation is odd, since there’s nothing in the image to compare it to, that would establish size.

You may even find this “structure” vaguely threatening.  But if your eyes drift to the edges of the painting, all illusion-bets are off.  At the edges you can see that what you’re looking at is paint brushed on a flat surface.  So you sigh with relief.  But then your attention immediately drifts back to “the thing” in the middle and the puzzle starts all over again.

If that weren’t enough, you can clearly see that the thing in the middle is not painted on top of the black, but the black impinges on the thing.  Therefore, you can’t really see this thing as the foreground, as the object of the painting.  Now what?  Can you call the black the foreground?  Oh, but that would be  so counter-intuitive.  Yes, indeed.  There’s no final answer.  That’s why you’re captivated by this painting.

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

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/inventing-an-alphabet/

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

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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

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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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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16MayLast2final

In an earlier painting, Untitled X, we saw the use of lines at the very edge of the painting, giving us a hint of framing.  Here, in Untitled XII, the frame idea comes through as if it were the key to interpreting this painting.

We’ve just looked at twelve works by this artist. I posted them in succession and with such haste in an attempt to simulate a gallery experience. When you see a solo show in a gallery you go from one piece to the next, you look close,  you stand way back, you circle around, and you go back to something you saw earlier. You try to get a feeling for how this artist’s mind and imagination work.

Notice that in Untitled XII the “frame” is not complete.  Not only is it conspicuously broken, but it waves in and out of the other elements.  Whereas in previous paintings, the crisp lines were placed on a field of undulating, bulging colors and we could talk about “background,” here background and foreground are interacting.  The “frame” is not separate from or placed on top of anything.  It is simply another element in the painting.

Think of a painting as a conversation. You, the viewer, are half of the conversation.  How you frame the conversation determines what you hear/see.

Magritte comes to mind.  His paintings, as all humor, rely on framing or Magritte-Time-Transfixed_360context.  Here the frame or context is a neat, bourgeois living room, which sets up certain expectations and assumptions. A model locomotive mounted into a fire place would be jarring enough, but a locomotive moving outward from a fireplace—notice the smoke—is beyond all your assumptions about what’s possible.  You can only take comfort from the realization that you are looking at a constructed image and not a real locomotive in a real fire place.  Small comfort! You immediately realize that you love looking at this and that this was Magritte’s intention. You’re trapped, looking at something that you don’t understand.  Sounds like the beginning of doubt and Cartesian introspection. Congratulations, you’re modern.

A Magritte painting has one joke in it.  Once you get it, it pretty much comes to rest.

In Boyer’s Untitled XII you may see a bird or a face, but only fleetingly.  The wit in a Boyer painting keeps ricocheting in your brain.

Painting by Bruce Hatton Boyer, oil on canvas, 40” x 30”

http://www.artic.edu/exhibition/magritte-mystery-ordinary-1926-1938

Rene Magritte, 1898-1967

Bruce Hatton Boyer is the author of:

The Solstice Cypher, 1979

The Natural History of the Field Museum: Exploring the Earth and its People, 1993

The Miniature Rooms: the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, 2004

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/25/black-dot-anthropocentrism/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-ii-stretch/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-iii-rack/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-iv-asperatus-clouds/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-v-blue-rectangle/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-vi-back-and-forth/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-vii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-viii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-ix/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-x/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/untitled-xi/

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

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