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Posts Tagged ‘abstraction’

14StillLifeBoxGabyCHow long does it take to draw a still life like the one in the previous post? Three hours. This does not mean that graphite is being deposited on paper uninterruptedly for three hours. Much of the time is devoted to looking, considering, deciding, trying. The big decision, of course, is when to stop.
I tend to like a work at a very early stage of its development. That’s probably because of my love of abstraction and so a few lines on the page already speak to me. As for the love of incompletion, that’s an attribute of a romantic sensibility. I’m one of those.

14StillLifeBoxGabyEIn this second “stage set” Gaby again produced a fine drawing, this time with more delicate markmaking and with more devoted attention to shading . I’ll show it here in two stages, the one that starts the post being the final one. Final, not only in the sense of three-hours-are-up but also in the sense of “it is resolved.”

What’s particularly effective in the drawing is how the rectillinear edges on the left were worked out to contrast with the round billowing forms on the right.

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14StillLifeBoxGabyAOf all the possible ways of displaying still life objects, my favorite is to create a proscenium stage with a small shipping box. I take off all the labels, paint the inside white and assemble a cast of small white bottles, hand-cream jars and other round objects. The whiteness keeps the artist/student focused on shape rather than drifting off into topical colors. (This is how artists used to be trained: from plaster casts of body parts, all white-white-white. )
The box is propped up at eye level to the artist, showing the depth of the box and, therefore, inviting the working out of perspective and deep shadows.
To soften the rectilinearity of the box, I drape a scrap of fabric or ribbon over one side.
It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it. But it’s actually quite a chunk of universe. Any number of technical and imaginative issues converge here. I’ve talked about all of them in previous posts. What I want to stress here is that this set up invites seeing and playing with abstraction. In this and the following four posts we’ll look at this invitation.

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One artist /student, using the Stabilo pencil on gloss paper, drew with loose, quick lines that convey great energy and intensity. The round object in the front was actually a sphere, but left Gaby left it looking like a disk, without the shading and reflected light that would have rendered it three-dimensional. Because of its flatness—its self-consciousness as a shape– it invites abstract thinking in the viewer, which then affects how the whole composition is seen. If the still life had been rendered more photographically, the viewer would be judging it on its verisimilitude. But the loose markmaking and that white disk in front take the mind in a different direction, saying, let’s play with shapes, see how the round forms are being repeated here. How liberating!

Our drawing class, a ten-week term at the Evanston Art Center, always starts with three or four sessions with a still life. A still life is the most forgiving subject. It inevitably involves pottery, some plastic fruits and flowers and drapery. All this can be represented faithfully and classically or you can take liberties with how well-crafted that pot is or how plump the pear. And a crumpled piece of cloth is the most forgiving thing of all. Because of the benign disposition of the objects in front of you, you can experiment with and indulge in all sorts of wild drawing techniques, which we call markmaking. This is the time to experiment with drawing tools, papers, and different ways of “leaning into it. “
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14MarchPassageMThere he is.

This is a passage from a larger painting. (See previous post). The black shape is composed of energetic brush strokes, with no intention of depicting anything.  But there he is, you can’t miss him and once you see the man in the black brush strokes, you can’t not-see him.

This happens all the time.  You think you’re slashing away with your big brush and your gooey oil paint, with no thought of representation, and, behold, humanoid shapes keep emerging, faces and whole figures.  IF you can see him, you have to count on others also seeing him.  At that point there’s nothing to do except to decide whether to keep the form or to rework it to make it ambiguous.

If you decide to keep it, you have to count on the fact that this humanoid shape will dominate the painting.  That’s just how our brains are wired.  I’ll give you something you can recognize, especially something relating to your own species, and WHAMO, your brain can’t let go of it.

Abstract painting—painting “nothing”—is harder than that audience out there thinks.

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13PattyRed3Horizontal

In 90 minutes.

Is it permissible to call a painting finished—fairly large, 24” x 30”—if it only takes you an hour and a half?  Yes.   Hail yes!

But this became an issue in class.  How can this be finished! It went so fast, didn’t even feel like work.

13PattyRed1This large painting was preceded by a smaller study, which took about NINE HOURS.  Here’s the study.  It seems stiffer, doesn’t it, but many compositional problems were worked out here.  By the time Patty, the artist/student, switched to the big canvas, she was so familiar with the basic dynamics that she could loosen up and play with all sorts of additional elements, like the vertical lines in the center.

As happens often, the work looks finished to me, but the artist has doubts.  The artist, of course, is closer to the work.

We often rotate a canvas in progress to get a better view of how shapes relate to one another.  In this case, both the study (which, btw, was originally planned as a finished painting, not a study) and the large, final painting were worked on in a vertical orientation. As we played the rotation game, the horizontal turned out to look better.   Let’s hear it for abstraction!

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13PattyBlueGalapagosSome students in my painting class like to start with a photo taken during their travels.  Here’s one from the Galapagos.  Texture, shapes, lines, a bit of blue.  The photo itself looks pretty abstract already, but the ocean at bottom right gives it away as representational.

In order to help her disassociate the image from its literalness, Patty rotates the photo 90° counterclockwise.  She tapes it to the top of the easel, dips a 1” paint brush into some thinned sepia and draws the main lines on the photo onto her large fresh white canvas.   At this point, it’s safe 13PattyBlue1to say, she may still be thinking rather literally, her loyalty latched to the Galapagos photo.  The more paint she puts on the canvas, the more her loyalty will shift to the canvas and away from the photo.  The paint takes over.  Easy to say.  In fact, paint comes with all sorts of frustrations; it just does not do what the sunny, equatorial photo does.

The challenge is to let the paint take over.  One way to move in that direction is to reach for the big brush.  How about this one here, brand new and clean and THREE INCHES wide.

Take a deep liberating breath. Ooh, now we’re paintin’!

Patty’s painting is not finished, but I like it already.

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My students graciously put up with me when I consider their painting finished long before they themselves think it’s done.

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13BoyerLesRondes4flip

This does not work, does it!

It looks comical to me, like an attempt at an abstract painting based on oh-well-let’s-put-some-shapes-together.  Isn’t that what abstraction is, just shapes that don’t represent anything?  Soooo, wrooooong!  If it were a matter of throwing some shapes together, then this thing would be good.  Nice shapes, good colors. But so off, so mindless and heartless. The eye just does not want to move through this flipped version.

Now consider the original.  What a relief!  What an engaging composition!

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(See previous post for clues to the genesis of the painting.)

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13BoyerLesRondes1This painting (oil on canvas, 40” x 30”) took three class periods to complete, that’s about seven hours.  The artist started by putting down the colors he wanted to work with, reminiscent of the rich sepia and ochers of the Renaissance, he said. Rectilinear shapes fell into place, hinting at the Golden Section. This is not surprising when you have the Renaissance on your mind and one of the recent topics under discussion in the class had been just that, the Golden Section, its history and uses, briefly of course.

13BoyerLesRondes2The working method adopted by the artist, Bruce Boyer, was to sit back from the easel at a distance of about six to eight feet and look at the painting in progress. Then he would get up and quickly add something.  He had discovered, he said, that the painting tells you what to do.

The painting tells you what to do! 

 

Well, how hard can that be!?  Consider this: In the theater, actors will tell you that the hardest thing on stage is to listen.  So it is with painting.  Listen!  This takes tremendous 13BoyerLesRondes3concentration. My students often tell me that after three hours of this work, “I’m ready for a nap.”   It’s hard work.

I’m showing this painting in four stages and without commentary.  I invite you to study the process—the conversation.  Listen!

 

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Next , the completed work. Bravo!

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