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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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Here we have a painting (with mixed medium) that feels almost done.  Not quite.  It needs something, but what?  When stuck or undecided, turn the painting in another direction to get a fresh look.  I suggested turning it upside down.

Ah! Now the dense “heavy” part is at the top, which means it is unstable, it has a ways to fall: it has energy. So much better.  But, still, the painting as a whole needed something.

What to do?  The artist snuck out of the studio, walked around the building and came back with a box.  Ha! She plopped it down in just the right spot, the spot that had invited “more.” Voila.

I don’t like to say “perfect” about anything. But the way that box nested there and especially how its left flap formed a triangle with the paintings lines, that was too good to be anything but uncanny. It happens.

In the next class the artist integrated the box with some splashed paint.  Stay tuned.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/black-black-black/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/in-half/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/popping-out-of-the-frame/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/found-objects/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/shapes-and-light/

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

 

Painting in acrylic with mixed medium by Terry Fohrman, 48”x24”+.

 

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

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Homage to DeKooning

No, your five-year-old cannot do this.*

This painting is called “Homage to DeKooning 7.”  It’s this artist’s seventh painting using this brush/palette-knife technique while varying the color relations between “background” and “foreground.”  To illustrate, here’s an earlier painting in this series.

These paintings are fairly large, 30”x40.”     I think paintings like this, should be seen close up, about two or at most three feet away, so that you feel immersed in the painting.  If you do this and also don’t rush yourself, you will experience a sense of space within the painting that obviously has nothing to do with perspective. You can then reflect on why your brain would conjure up this space sensation when nothing like a horizon or receding Renaissance columns or mountains in the distance are depicted.

This is what makes abstraction—true abstraction, not simplification—endlessly fascinating: you’re looking at the games your mind plays.

*I’ve actually heard a man say “my five-year-old can do that” in front of a Picasso at the Art Institute.

Paintings by Bruce H. Boyer.

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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We have some Twachtmans at the Art Institute. They are snowy landscapes, often with a rivulet. Above, “Icebound.” White-white-white.  White in a painting can be daring because it tends to read like “nothing,” like blank canvas.  But that’s exactly what I find so exciting.

Then there’s this Twachtman at the Cincinnati Art Museum, “Springtime.”

 

I gasped. Can you see the brushstrokes suggesting those trees?  Brushstrokes like that don’t “just” happen.  But, of course, they did.  Just.

Twachtman was born in Cincinnati of German immigrant parents, then studied in Munich with Frank Duveneck, born in Covington, Kentucky also of German immigrant parents.

Read all about it!

https://www.wikiart.org/en/john-henry-twachtman

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_Twachtman

https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1940.html

Duveneck was a dynamic teacher and artist. Twachtman found his love of white-white-white by himself.  Here’s Duveneck:

Read about  Duveneck:

https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1258.html

http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/list.php?m=a&s=tu&aid=391

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

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This is the café in the Cincinnati Art Museum. The desirable spots near the window were all taken and I had to content myself with a small table against a wall. Oh, well. It was not a spot to be seen in but a spot from which to see.  You can practice seeing anywhere.  And behold, here I had a scene with back-lighting.

Back-lighting creates a stark lighting contrast.  It simplifies forms.  Dark-light.  Positive space-negative space.

The first image, above, illustrates a woman sitting on a bar stool, absorbed in her reading.  In the composition she is centrally situated and framed by the window in the background. The picture is about her and invites the viewer to wonder what kind of life she might have and what she would be reading.  The pitcher, more in the foreground, might nudge the interpretation towards trite symbolism.

The second image is more edgy. The woman is not central to the composition

anymore. She now occupies a small area to the left.  Most of the pictorial space, about two-thirds, consists of blocky rectangular planes. The woman is still the psychological focus, but these rectangular shapes not only dominate the pictorial surface but seem to impinge on her presence, with the top layer actually pushing against her face.  This tension and imbalance makes picture #2 more engaging than #1.

Now look what happens in #3.  At the center of the composition we have negative space —that is, nothing. It’s a narrow gap separating the human form from the rectangular.  Almost.  If the gap were uninterrupted, it wouldn’t be so interesting.  But the hand holding the booklet bridges the figure to the rectangular mass on the right. The back-lighting here separates foreground sharply from background, dark from light. Therefore, we are not invited to psychologize about the woman. Instead we’re free to roam through the composition, noticing gradations and transitions, alignments, contrasts and echoes.

The pitcher? Yes, it echoes the shape of the woman, but it doesn’t lead your imagination into the ol’ 19th century odalisque motif. It’s as flat a shape as the cross-section of the bar, thanks to the back-lighting.

And…that sliver of light between the bridge of the nose and the window frame.

My salad came. I slid my little Canon back into my pocket.  My seeing exercise might have taken thirty seconds.  It’s only when I had time to look at these three photos on my computer that I noticed these intricacies.  That’s another exercise in seeing.  Took, oh, better part of an afternoon.  The pleasure of seeing.

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

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Not Exactly

The shapes and colors in this painting are so simple and straight forward that your first impulse may be to label what you’re seeing.  What is being depicted here?  What is the artist trying to tell me?  Must be something or else there would be more ambiguity, right?  But notice that your efforts to interpret along these lines (lines !) fail. Granted, someone in class saw a black terrier.  Now suppose you take that suggestion and think of the painting as being a depiction of a black terrier.  Try. This will last you a second and then fizz away.

Imagine these shapes in soft pastel colors.  You can even imagine them outlined in neat bold lines.  What happens in your mind?  Nothing.

The effect of this painting relies on high contrast colors. Because of the high contrast, you expect a statement. Your expectation is not fulfilled. Instead you see blocks of color applied with a pallet knife, leaving raggedy edges.  Therein lies your pleasure in looking at this.

Painting in acylic, 36”x36,” by Janice Fleckman

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How can something so wrong be so right?

Because you enjoy looking at this drawing you may not immediately see that the shadows are all wrong. How are the shadows wrong?  Can those horizontal scratches even be called shadows?  No, they’re not shadows in the sense that they help define the roundness of the figures.  Yes, they evoke the idea of a shadow.

When you’re looking at this, the “shadows” trigger in your mind the association to three-dimensionality and that’s so satisfying to you that you don’t look more critically.  You don’t even want to look critically because your mind is seduced by the rhythm of the composition.  Those “shadows” emphasize the rhythm. Rhythm in any work of art is hypnotic.  Your mind likes the hypnotic state.

Compare the above, second, drawing of this motif to the artist’s first version.  Your mind is now functioning differently.  It’s now

examining the figures for literal accuracy.  A drawing tells you how it wants to be looked at.  This drawing wants to be looked at as an illustration.

Now go back to the “shadows” version and you’ll notice that your mind has just switched to a different mode.  Your expectations are different. You’re not looking for an illustration of anatomy here. Instead you’re struck by the total effect.  You’re not analyzing, you’re experiencing the whole.  You’re having an aesthetic experience.

Drawings by Jeanne Mueller

The photo we worked with was taken from a book of old photos called “The Way We Were.”

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

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https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/a-good-pout-and-strong-shadows/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/scribble-for-life/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/how-it-sits-on-the-page/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/drawing-sculpture/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/ptolemy-in-ulm/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/take-the-a-frame/https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/vanitas-flip/