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Posts Tagged ‘collage’

Bike2
Kandinsky would have liked this painting.

As with music, rhythm is an important element in visual art. In this painting by Arlene Tarpey, we see the repetition of circular and elliptical shapes. There are three patterns: the literal statement of bicycle wheels, the row on top of distinct circles, and the row at the bottom of ellipses in a blur. Your eye goes round and round, but, because of the variations in the pattern, never gets bored. It’s hard not to get entranced. The composition as a whole sweeps the attention upward, to the upper right corner because that’s where the human figure is—always a trump card in any visual work—and also because of the small red collage, way in the corner. What is that? Can’t tell, it’s too small and it’s just a scrap. But we can make out that it shows the rhythm of a set of vertical lines. Voila, a reinforcement of the work’s theme, this time in counterpoint: linear vs. circular. If this little red patch had circles in it, that wouldn’t work, would be boring, too much of the same. The black vertical lines echo the rhythm motif and at the same time provide counterpoint.
Arlene Tarpey, mixed media (acrylic, pastel, collage on paper), ~16″x20″

Now let’s flip it horizontally (in Photoshop).

Bike2flipOooo, totally different feeling!  In which version is she going faster?  When she’s going towards the left or to the right?

Kandinsky didn’t talk about this left-right business and I don’t know what the musical analogy for the left-right flip would be.  But in image making, left and right are weighty issues, as you can see from this example. 

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13ArleneTallRedWhiteMy painting class is full of surprises.

This painting started as a collage, or rather as a little window (about 2” x 1”)  chosen from a large 11”x17”  collage.  The painting, done in acrylic on two canvases joined in the middle for a total of 48” x 24”, takes its composition and color drama from the collage.  In the first layer, the red was red, but then it became black and then red again, but this time with the black under-painting showing through. (Click to enlarge.)
The decisive turn of events in the painting process was the drip.  There was, of course, no drip in the collage. But the painting seemed to need a linear element.  The artist, Arlene Tarpey, dislikes hard edges in her work.  What to do? Let the linear element create itself!  The drip, therefore, was not a result of a messy painting style, à la Jackson Pollock, but was deliberately engineered right there in the middle of the canvas.

Or rather, canvases.  The horizontal divide between the two canvases now became disturbing because the drip refused to ignore the break and emphasized the gap by oozing into it.  What to do?  Fussing with the drip would un-drip it and thereby highlight the awkward spot even more.

13ArleneTallRedTopSolution: take the thing apart and treat each panel as an independent painting.

This sort of thing happens only when you’re working in the abstract mode.  You’re not committed to representing an image and you’re not hemmed in by preconceived notions about what this thing is supposed to look like.  You are IN the process and responding to what happens brush-stroke by brush-stoke and, yes, drip by drip. You’re not even committed to the original size of your work.  You can just take it apart.

Surprise!

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13LornaRocksOne

This large painting (30” x 40”) was inspired by a photo of rocks on a sea shore.  You can probably guess that the arrangement of the rocks corresponds roughly to the large ocher area on the left.  After that the paint takes over.  The artist/student, Lorna Grothe,  is finished with representation after that.  The rocks have served their purpose.  Where does all that purple come from?  You can be sure the ocean was not purple in the photo.  The painting has taken over.

The first stage, just purple and ocher, is shown above. Then 130509Lornashe added the large white.  Then some more patches of color, black and red, over the purple.  After that she was at a loss over what to do next.  Because acrylic dries fast, we were able to jiggle the imagination by just sticking some scraps of paper on the painting surface.  The next image shows the painting with these patches of color ripped from a magazine.  You can’t do this if you’re working in oil because the oil dries so slowly.  But here we have an advantage of acrylic:  when you’re stuck, just glue some patches onto the surface to help you imagine the work anew.

130516Lorna1After all the snippets of paper were removed, her sense of the work was refreshed and Lorna moved into the last stage.  Here’s the final painting, at least for this term.  Work may continue on this painting, but it may also be considered completed.

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It can get hard.

You loved the colors and shapes in your sketch—in this case, a collage—and then it turns out that the painting process throws all sorts of hurdles in your path.

Caryl C. took her inspiration for this painting from a snippet of collage, about three inches long.  She transferred it to a canvas, four feet long.  Anybody who has ever chosen a color swatch for a bedroom wall knows that we react very differently to a small patch of color than we do to the same color in a large area. When 3 inches are expanded to 4 feet, this changed color perception is magnified accordingly. The act of painting is never just a matter of transferring shapes and colors from a small sketch.  Strange things happen when you paint.  The painting can take off on its own, especially as in this case, when it’s abstract.  You can get to an impasse, where you can neither hold on to your initial concept nor see clearly where you’re going.

At this point, you can regain your bearing if you reverse the process:  you sit down with a sketch pad and you sketch the painting in its present stage—as if it were a view out the window or a still life set up on a table.  This time out can help you see it fresh.

Painting is an adventure.  We’ll see where it takes Caryl.  The adventure can take a few hours, or weeks or months. Years.

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Your brain loves a straight line.  It’s quick, leads you from one end to the other in an instant.  It divides one side from another and no ifs or buts about it.  Then the brain dusts off its hands, congratulates itself on a job well done and moves on to something else.

When you put a clean crisp line into your painting you tickle that part of the brain that wants to know what’s what and therefore your attention will go to that line and you will be pleased.

Let’s look at a recent painting by Ellen G.  Here on the right you see it in the almost-finished stage.  We get the sense that this is a construction (it was derived from a collage, measuring less than 2 inches) and that directs us to see is as an abstraction, an invitation to engage in interpretation, that necessary pastime of us moderns.  What am I looking at here, the eye says.  Well, I see a reddish trapezoid, a bit of green on the right, an L shaped yellow thing, a fuzzy dip (#3) into a lead gray rectangle and then, oh look, there this thing on the lower right that looks like a landscape(#1).  Thank you, artist!  You gave me something to identify and latch on to because it relates to the real world.  Once you see this picture within a picture, it will dominate your attention.  This hilly vista with a suggestion of something like telephone wires just came out like that. In the original collage it was a bit of torn paper.  No matter, here it’s incarnated as a landscape and it takes over and you keep going back to it.  The rest of the painting then will look irrelevant, if you can even get yourself to pay attention to the yellow and the red.

Now, look what happens when the edge at #2 is made absolutely clean and straight.  Your eye zooms to it.  The “landscape” at #1 still demands your attention, but now it has competition.  The clean line at #2 compels your eye up.  Then what?  There’s a synaptic jump and you land at #4.  What’s #4?  Nothing.  It’s pure shape and color.  It’s an angle, the intersection of two lines, not as compelling as a clean line would be, but, hey,   it’s red.  So there you are at this angle, which forms an arrow.  And where does the arrow lead? Down to #1.  So, the artist has us coming and going, moving through this painting and wanting to stay with it.  When this happens, your brain becomes mind and you love puzzlement. There you are, looking at this thing, feeling entranced.

What about the yellow-orange L shape?  That’s texture.  Texture engages you with its emotional power.  See next post.

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Elaine C. called this painting “Untitled” when she submitted it for the student show at the Evanston Art Center. There must be thousands of painting in the world by that name. That ”Untitled” is the best name for this painting becomes evident when you consider some alternatives. Since the painting was made in a class called “Impressions of Landscape,” she might have named it:Red Marble,  Red Mountain in the Distance, Landscape in Red and Green, The White Horizon.   Some artists name their paintings according to concepts or states of mind, such as: Orientation,  Oder and Chaos, The Strait and the Crooked,  Where Are We Going,  Fissures.

Make up your own. You’ll see that the name of the painting prejudices the way you see the work. Your mind will welcome any verbal guidelines because its job is to seek meaning. If you can translate the painting into words, you can walk away feeling smart. So you think. In high school English class your teacher asked you to paraphrase the issue in “A Road Not Taken” and you got an A on that paper. What a catastrophe. A work of art cannot be paraphrased, cannot be distilled down to its dead-concept “essence.”

Schopenhauer said, “All art aspires to the conditions of music.” That’s a powerful statement. He’s saying that art is about form and experience. We don’t paraphrase or summarize a piece of music. We experience it. Granted some symphonies get nicknames, but generally they are known by their numbers. The Beethoven Fifth, the Mahler Fourth, et al. Elaine was wise in sticking to “Untitled.” She’s saying, look at it, contemplate it, experience it.

The painting originated with a small collage, about 2”x3”. It was complicated to paint: the tuning of the reds and greens relative to one another; working with masking tape for the straight lines; the issue of clean edges vs. grainy edges; the illusion of a vanishing point outside the painting; the “marbling” (!) of the red.

This painting strikes me as very musical indeed. It sets up a counterpoint between the red area with its texture and the celadon-green-black passage with its stripes. That’s as verbal as I want to get about it, though the technical details are interesting and were discussed in class in the context of desirable or undesirable effects.   It doesn’t refer to anything or illustrate anything. It cannot be paraphrased. It exists as an object in its own right. I just want to look at it and let it absorb me.

For previous posts on the subject of collage and abstract painting, see Nov 15, 2010 and Dec 14, 16 and 22, 2010; Jan 8, May 3,8 and 20, 2011. In a future post I want to talk about Mondrian and “essence.”

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This is the third of four posts about the process that starts with a collage as a source of inspiration and ends with a painting.  The early steps of the process were outlined in the November 15 post, titled “Colliding with Collage.”  We’ve seen how Beatrice and Naomi adapted the process to make their paintings.  Now, let’s look at Elaine’s adventure.

From the several collages Elaine had made, she was most attracted to the red one.  She brought a 24 x 30 canvas to class.  The red paint she started to work with immediately appealed to her and was never changed throughout the painting process.  It remained a given to which the other color choices had to relate.  When all the elements from the collage were roughly painted in, we talked about the use of a horizon line as an orienting device.  There was no such line in the collage, but the painting seemed to call for a horizon.  It came about, not as a line, but as a differentiation in hue, the top being more orange than the red ground below.  While the elements in the collage referred to clouds, skyscrapers, and roads, once these were rendered in paint on canvas, they lost their literalness and seemed to demand their own painterly existence.  This became Elaine’s struggle, a challenge none of the other students had to face.

The first breakthrough came when the cluster of black vertical rectangles achieved a coherence and completion that set the visual language for the whole painting.  When a painting has found its language, the artist is more than half way there.  Now the painting has taken a stand; it’s become a partner in a dialogue.  From this point on, we’re merely solving problems.  Merely, ha.

The blue elements on the top easily adjusted to the pictorial language Elaine had found, but the other elements did not.  Yet, they were there, filled a lot of space, and had also taken up a lot of her time.  For those reasons it was difficult to give them up.  If they were eliminated, there would be a large “empty space,” a concept that sounds chilly and lazy.  As it turned out, however the “empty space” adds drama to the whole composition.  There is no such thing as empty space.  That space on the left directs the eye to the black vertical elements on the right.  The blue elements on the top direct us to the left.  Once the thin white lines at the bottom were added, we had a distinctive foreground because the white pops forward in our perception.  The result is that the eye circles through the composition.  While we have a strong sense of foreground-middleground-background and a feeling of deep space in a landscape, the painting does not pin us down in specific references to known reality.  The painting’s intellectual severity is counteracted by the tactile, emotional attraction of its texture.  When she painted over the diverse elements the painting had inherited from the collage, the artist did not obliterate them completely (which would have been easy), but left them “bleeding” through, an effect called pentimento, which adds emotional depth.  (Pentimento deserves a full discussion, planned for future posts.)

This painting underwent its most drastic development during the last class period.  It shows the most dramatic departure from the original collage of any of the students’ projects.  Elaine struggled for six hours in the previous classes and then, finally and suddenly, the painting came through with clarity and integrity.

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