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Disturbing, You Think?

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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The Eyelid Casts a Shadow

16octhead

We say “the whites of their eyes.”  But the highlight on the upper eyelid 16octheadeye(1) is whiter than the white of the eye (2). It’s not easy to give in to this fact.  After all, no one ever said, “don’t shoot until you see the highlight on their upper eyelids.”

This drawing from a photo does not resemble the 16octheadphotomodel, but that doesn’t matter.  Resemblance comes much later.  And in any case, resemblance may not be the goal.  The model/photo serves as inspiration and what happens in the drawing process is more important than likeness.

As you look at this drawing notice how important the shadow cast over the eye ball is for the expression and your conviction that this is a real person.

Drawing by Maggy Shell, charcoal, ~ 16” x 14”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/eyes-no-eyes/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/2778/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/andre-carrilho-and-the-mythic-window-to-the-soul/

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

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Céline Frown

celinefrown

The non plus ultra of drawing is the face. Well, maybe not of Drawing writ large, but almost certainly of drawing students. They approach the face more ferociously than anything else.  It has a way of talking back, you know.

Western Art is full of beautiful faces, meaning idealized faces. It’s hard for us not to be haunted by them: from the Venus de Milo to Botticelli’s Venus to Raphael’s insipid Madonnas to Michelangelo’s pouting Madonnas to Sargent’s celinefrownphotogossamer heiresses.  In the 19th century women started looking more interesting.  Think of Degas and Manet.

Imagine my delight at finding ads for Céline products (handbags, through you’d never guess) where young women, having left the house without running fingers through their shapeless hair and without bothering about makeup, scowl at us.  Take that! Now draw me and don’t make me pretty.

In this drawing by Maggy Shell, notice how powerful the eyes are even though no anatomy is indicated. No eyelid, no iris.  celinefrowneyeThis face & head study goes deeper than mere anatomy.  You understand the anatomy without seeing the face anatomically.  Instead, what intrigues you is the expression. With an uncanny economy of means the artist draws us into the mystery behind the face.

Maggy Shell, Céline Frown, charcoal on paper, ~16” x 14”

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

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Up-drip

updrip2

This painting actually preceded the one you saw in the last post.  This composition consists primarily of vertical lines with horizontals making only a tentative entrance. Compared to the later painting, Up-drip, Side-drip, this one looks like an investigation. An exciting investigation, to be sure.  All art is an investigation.

Because the drips in this version are fewer and don’t rush to the opposite edge, they appear to meander like branches. As up-drips they appear to sprout skyward, suggesting organic forms.  We don’t get that illusion in the later Up-drip, Side-drip  where the drips read like straight lines drawn with a nicked ruler.

These two paintings appear to promise a series—further investigations.  Who knows where the grid will lead us, how the drips will rush or meander and…we haven’t even talked about those circles yet.

Notice, when the drips actually drip like drips, your mind wanders to more literalness, as in “what’s this red stuff dripping here, where am I and what do these other colors represent?” Literalness is not so interesting, is it.

updrip2-copy

Veronica Sax, painting in acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 30,” early November 2016

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

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Up-drip, Side-drip

updrip1

Dripping paint on a canvas conveys the feeling of immediacy and urgency, doesn’t it.  It’s as if you were standing next to the artist while she was painting and you were witnessing the physicality of this gooey substance in its tug with gravity.

Now, paint drips down, not up.  I say that, because we often turn a canvas upside-down to see if that view will work better or, at least, what the new view will teach us.  When a drip is seen upside-down, it may work and it may not.  If the dripping paint is thick, it most often will look disturbing when seen upside down. If the dripping paint is highly diluted and therefore thin, it will run down fast and in a fairly straight line all the way to the bottom edge of the canvas.  It will read primarily as a straight line and only on closer inspection will you see that it’s actually a drip. It will read as a straight line even when the canvas is turned upside-down.

This kind of double take tickles the mind.

The brushstrokes and color blotches look random.  And, certainly, the drips by their very nature are random. But notice, the composition is severely rectilinear.  Notice also, that in the painting process the canvas was rotated more than once: sideways drips.   It’s the coexistence of this grid effect with the drippy-splashy-rubbing paint that makes for deep drama.  We like drama.

The drips obeying gravity—as they were created in the first place—look less exiting.  Or do they?

updrip1-copy

Veronica Sax, painting in acrylic on canvas, 30” x 30,” November 2016

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

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Window Walk

16novwindow

Your mind naturally associates to “window.”  But look, there’s no view to the outside, which is why we walk over and stand in front of a window.  This is pure window.  Like a Gothic stained glass window, except here there’s no story to be instructed by.  Pure light, which, come to think of it, is Gothic Architecture’s metaphor for the divine.  Well, I’ll stop just short of calling this painting divine, but allow me to say, it’s glorious.  You allow and you agree, of course.

You can’t stop looking at it.   As you celebrate windowness and you’re grateful for the invention of glass with its capacity to transmit and reflect light, you’re mind does wander.  You start looking at the quality of the brush stroke, the transitions from one luminous color to another and then there’s a little quirkiness that holds your attention.

First, notice that your eye does not dwell on any of the four corners.  That’s because there’s no detail in the corners, they’re filled with blocks of color and some blurry lines.  It’s true those lines do guide your eye there but only briefly and then they move back inward. Our eyes evolved to find details and movement interesting.

Where do we find details and movement?

16novwindowfingerwalk

What are those funny little red dots?  Looks like footprints.  If you have the privilege of looking at this painting up close, you’ll notice that they are fingerprints.  The artist must have dipped her fingertips into the red paint on her palette and then walked them across the canvas. As the paint was transferred she went back to the palette to dip in again.  Her fingers walked diagonally upward on the canvas from right to left.  Pure invention.  What a delight!

It’s nice to be reminded that we’re a species that invents.

You can see this painting by Veronica Sax at the Evanston Art Center’s Studio Show til January 29.

https://www.evanstonartcenter.org/exhibitions/eac-student-exhibition

Veronica Sax, Not, Just… Acrylic on canvas, 40”x 30”

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Authentic

16novfigurestudies

In these figure studies the line searches its way through the body and along its contours.  Sometimes it gets lost or disoriented and in some passages it appears to be celebrating some assurance.  This is a sensitive, inspiring page because it reflects how the mind works: in and out of certainty.  In art-making the claim that you know what you’re doing is suspect. Images that come only out of know-how are always lifeless and feel unauthentic.  What we mean by “authentic” is hard to analyze, but the recognition is unmistakable.

Drawing by Gaby Edgerton, Aquarellabe on gloss paper, 11” x 17”

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

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