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Posts Tagged ‘Evanston Art Center’

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.

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notblackwhite

Working with a center line, whether vertical or horizontal, challenges the painter. How do you prevent this thing from becoming static?  How do you overcome the invitation to symmetry? How to you create movement?

In this painting the challenge is heightened by the choice of black vs. white. Now look what happens at the dividing line between the two fields. At (2) a large round shape that straddles both fields attracts your attention by virtue of its size, circularity and texture—it’s glued on burlap.  At (1) and (3) lines cross the divide.  These are powerful because the eye finds lines irresistible and traces them wherever they lead.notblackwhiteanalysis

The blue line at (3) gracefully sweeps upward towards the right.  At the light red dot (4) it traces an orbital path.  Because the red rectangles at (6) suggest a stable architectural element (perhaps a window), they add a rational anchor to a universe in which amorphous planes float randomly.  At the same time the red dot perches precariously on one corner (4).  This becomes the focal point of the painting, deeply satisfying and at the same time restless.

But wait, there’s a twist in the plot.  When the artist submitted the painting to the Studio Exhibit she reversed it.  Notice that the focal point in this new orientation is one of those amorphous shapes (5). The effect is edgy.

notblackwhiteshow We are deprived of the satisfaction we found previously in the red dot perched on the corner of the red rectangles. In this orientation, the red dot and the red rectangles are resting on the bottom edge, not going anywhere. They’ve settled, they lack drama.

It’s a brilliant painting.  Buy it.  Hang it, not over your couch, but in front of it. Sit.  Look at it in one orientation, then next week turn it over and look again.  Allow yourself to be unsettled. Get to know your perceptual quirkiness.

The Studio Exhibit at the Evanston Art Center will be up til January 29.

Terry Fohrman, Not Black and White.  Acrylic on canvas, 24” x 48”

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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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2014EACbiennial2
Critically.
Sure, you can swoon over what you like and when you don’t like something you can say, “My five-year-old can do that.” But to get a good mental work-out, ask, ”What qualities got this painting in the show? Why did they hang this next to that? How do these things relate to one another? What kind of mind am I entering here?” If it’s a group show, ask “How did the juror(s) pick these pieces out of the hundreds that were submitted?”
The Evanston Art Center Biennial closes this Sunday. Just a couple of days left. Go and practice asking critical questions.
In the large gallery, you’ll see that the space is dominated by a sculpture that consists of straight elements. When you look at the framed pieces on the walls circling this sculpture, you can immediately see 2014EACbiennial!that these pieces, though by different artists, echo the linear quality of the sculpture. This doesn’t happen by accident. The jurors wanted to create a harmonious space and used the sculpture as the determining element, on the basis of which they chose the paintings.
When you turn towards the entrance of the gallery, you’ll notice that the art work becomes curvilinear, round, and painterly. This progression was installed on purpose. You can then ask yourself, ”You mean, the jurors didn’t select the best work submitted, but rather chose pieces that would conform to their design of the gallery space?”
As you leave the gallery you walk across a little lobby and then you face a huge painting of a seated figure.

2014EACbiennial3The paint glows. Most of the surface is deep black. Could it be? No, not painting on velvet! Yes, indeed, this is a painting on black velvet. You recall that “painting on black velvet” is synonymous with “Kitsch” and you recall seeing matadors, Spanish dancers and sentimentalized old beggars in the interior decorating section of Woolworth’s, oh, decades ago. But here? At the Evanston Art Center Biennial? Is this a joke? We can’t be sure, but the contrast to the rectilinear constructivism in the other room is striking. It has to be deliberate. So, what relates the straight lined assemblage of brown cardboard to this painting on black velvet?
Wit, possibly. There’s something witty about the cardboard towers in themselves, because, well, they will disintegrate. First, the cardboard will absorb moisture, then it will bend and collapse into a pile. It’s part of the aesthetic of decay, of which we’re seeing a lot in our apocalyptic age. Certainly, there’s no grandeur here, not even seriousness. Maybe that’s what the jurors saw in the painting on velvet, too: a pretense of serious thought, but only a pretense. Constructing towers out of cardboard—how vain. Painting on velvet, ditto. Both are melodramatic and pathetic. If you resist seeing humor in this show, look at the feet in the painting on velvet. Laughter in galleries is allowed.
We’re not in Renaissance Rome any more, Toto. Making fun of grandeur is good for us.
(The jurors for this exhibit were Allison Peters Quinn and Sergio Gomez.)
To read about painting on velvet: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/velvet-underdogs-in-praise-of-the-paintings-the-art-world-loves-to-hate/
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14MayPlugByTheSea4

From our Evanston Art Center mansion by the lighthouse, we have a view of the lake and the 14MayPlugByTheSeaStartbeach. The lake and sky always play with color effects for us to gasp at. We get horizontal stripes, basically, and you might think those would make for a boring, too restful, composition. Well, yes, relentless horizontality can be challenging, but a challenge like that gets you thinking about your assumptions.
Bruce Boyer started with this recognizable sky-water-beach composition. Nice, low horizon, very comfortable and serene. Just for kicks we 14MayPlugByTheSeaStartUSDturned the canvas around. Now we have a high horizon with a yellow sky and a sunset-colored beach. Too weird, not realistic at all. Your mind then tries to see this thing as pure stripes: yellow, blue, pink-ish. You try. But the texture in the blue stripe is unmistakably watery and your imagination can’t let go of that association. That association overrides all the color weirdness of the yellow sky and pink beach because the mind really is attached to realism and is desperate to identify something with a name. Ah, lake! The lake is still there. From that assumption, all else falls into place.
14MayPlugByTheSea2But Bruce Boyer does not let it rest there. He needs a twist of irony, some semiotic double-coding, something to jab at your assumptions. Let’s play in the semiotics sandbox and put something on that beach. Something totally disassociated, something not from nature, something rectilinear, mechanical, man-made…the plug appears from nowhere and, behold, it’s just right.

14MayPlugByTheSea3
Well, it’s just right if you get Magritte and have a few brain cells that conduct surrealism for you. If you do, stay tuned. If you don’t, ditto.
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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.

14StillLifeBoxGabyB
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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14EACshowFeet2

This very fine exhibit opened a few days ago and will be up til Feb 16.  Come in whatever you can throw on to keep warm or slip into your most retro patent leather boots, but do hoof it over to the Evanston Art Center to catch this show.

14EACshow114EACshow214EACshow314EACshow5

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