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Posts Tagged ‘amaryllis’

Traditionally, flowers are a sentimental subject in art.  The perfume of the cliché hangs over them. The viewer’s mind goes soft.  Oh, how pretty!  Oh, how boring.

Still, there it is, a luscious amaryllis.  It helps, of course, that it’s presented with a twist: just plopped down on this heap of cloth with the plastic stem coiling and creasing, like a cheap garden hose.   This is good for the imagination.

In her drawing,  Maggy S. is working in china marker on gloss paper, about 14 x 11. On gloss paper the china marker can be scraped off with a razor blade, but only to a limited extent, making for a pretty focused drawing process.

The artist puts down the amaryllis in red and then starts to work the background in black, keeping the texture lively. The flower is readable as what it is and the stem coils clearly, though it alerts us right away to the possibility that what we’re facing here is not all plain, up-front and literal.  Now, what to do with the black!  If she fills in the black as background, which is what she actually sees (please go back to the previous post to see the still life set up), then the whole thing will become too literal—red flower on black background, get it!!—and the drawing will fall flat.  But if the black “background” goes beyond being merely background and takes on a life of its own, we may be getting into art.  The artist restrains herself from filling in the left side of the page with black and just leaves that to the imagination, with two results:  1) The white on the left sets up tension in relation to the black on the right. 2) The black now moves through the page in an s-curve of its own.  This black s-curve echoes the s-curve in the flower’s stem.  Just seeing this is thrilling.  Because of that, the drawing may be considered finished.

Given their sentimental association in our history, flowers present a challenge to the modern artist.  But many of our mentors-in-modernism have approached the subject with plenty of irony and grit.  You may want to look up paintings of flowers and still lifes by Cézanne, Redon, Schiele and Van Gogh.

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

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When I set up a still life for my drawing class I do fuss with the drapery and the objects, but not in the way you might think.  I make the fabric crinkly and energetic.  As for the objects, the more absurd the association between them, the better.  What I mean is that when the objects don’t tell a coherent story, the mind doesn’t slide into some conventional sense of “beauty” and instead really focuses on shapes and the spaces between them.  This is a subversive idea, isn’t it!  You spend your whole life straining to achieve coherence and non-absurdity and you’re proud of your skills in that department.  Now you find yourself in a drawing class and this normal-looking instructor encouraged you to go subversive.  Well, boys and girls, that’s the dirty little art secret:  you have to throw that grenade.  You have to add a twist; you have to invent;  you have to have an idea; you have to slip us a surprise.

Here then is Karen G.’s take on this still life.  To start with, of all the parts of the still life she can pick on, she chooses a bit of corner drapery  (#4) and the stem—only the stem—of the amaryllis.  It’s a plastic amaryllis (towards #1)  with a thick coiled stem. The choice of this portion of the still life is itself already wonderfully daring.  In the drawing, we won’t know what the coil represents, it will be an absurd—because disconnected and unnamable—shape.  The stem ends at #2.  But because we can’t see the flower, we don’t know what this is and it looks like a tube inserted in the hilly cloth.  At this stage of the drawing, the space at #3 is empty.  What to do?  After two hours of drawing, Karen’s imagination has stepped out of the everyday literal perception of objects and into its proper domain: invention.  She invents the coil at #3.  Makes it up out of thin air.  Now we have a coil entering the hilly shape in the front and exiting in the back.  This creates a paradox, in that we can see clearly what’s going on (because of the quality of the drawing) and at the same time this construction does not occur in real life and flies in the face of our expectations about still lifes.  The viewer is momentarily stumped and is drawn into contemplation of this paradox. A paradox, however, is not the same thing as a mess.  Notice the echoing of the same shape, a diamond, at 3 and 4 and just to the right of 2.  The drawing draws you into art.

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”—Oscar Wilde

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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