Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

14BoyerSquRecBeforeThat’s how it started. What happens when the conversation starts with rectangles and squares? 14BoyerrectilinearBecause, you know, that’s what this is, a conversation. So, he puts down these rectilinear shapes and colors and then what? Then he goes across the room and looks. Just sits and looks. Listens, might be the better word. Because, the painting tells him what to do next. Suddenly he gets up and puts in lines, like that spiral on the lavender square. Then he lets it dry for a week, comes back, sits, listens/looks, gets 14BoyerrectilinearVaseup and puts in the flowers and vase. Whoa, some realism! Where did that come from? From the conversation, you square! So surprising and so right. Still not there. Let it dry and sit some more. Next week he created the illusion of a fluted column on the left, just enough three-dimensionality in that to keep the vase and flowers company. Now the conversation has come to some insight, can’t diagram, analyze or explain it, but it feels complete. That’s the painting process. Mysterious and so right.———————————–

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

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How did this painting come about?  How did the artist start?  What was the inspiration?  What was the goal?

Ivan Tshilds started with a small photo of a mountain ridge and a red sunset. This was actually a fragment he had isolated from a larger photo.  His canvas was about 24” x 20.”

He rendered the photo literally, but without any detailing or fine brush strokes.  This first stage went very fast and the result was boring:   we read a photo differently than a painting or drawing, with different expectations and different associations.

To take it out of the literal, he clarified the horizontality of the composition.  In this second stage, the painting consisted of horizontal stripes; from top to bottom:  purple, blue, orange and green.  This was the decisive step, because once he freed himself of the intention to produce a sunset painting, he was able to work with the painting itself, reacting to colors and shapes as such.  In this mode, the search for meaning continues, but is not tied to pre-ordained, outside references.  The task turns into an adventure.

He tuned the colors in relation to one another and their widths.  In the next class I brought in a large reproduction of Matisse’s   “Port-Fenêtre à Collioure,” 1914, a large painting, which consists of vertical stripes plus a drab charcoal colored horizontal element at the bottom.  Ivan’s painting seemed to need a counter-stripe to pull everything together.  At first he experimented with such an element, but the effort failed—only in the direct sense. Instead, seeing his painting with this possibility, he experimented with and found other, more subtle ways to link the stripes. Notice how, in his painting,  the small “intrusions” relate to one another and cause the eye to move through the whole surface.  This way of thinking also lead to faint lines, a kind of “marbling,” that ignores the color boundaries and also serves to unify the composition.  Doesn’t that sound like an adventure!? The painting took over and came alive.

But wait, there’s more. Remember, he’s been working on this painting with the stripes horizontal. When he thought he had it finished, he felt he needed yet another fresh look at the thing and so he turned it sideways.  Seeing a painting in a different orientation helps you catch patterns and biases that you had gotten used to and therefore stopped noticing.  Now comes the surprise:  his painting works better with the stripes vertical.  Agree?

Why is that?

(The book I brought in for the Matisse is “The Shock of the New,” 1980, by  Robert Hughes.  Superb writing, highly recommended.)

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




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A collage can be a work in itself or it can serve as a stimulus for another work in a different medium, like painting.  In my landscape painting class this past term we took the second option.  For a discussion of the first step, the actual collage work, see post for November 15, “Colliding with Collage.”  That class was a revelation to all students because up to that point they had painted fairly representationally.  Now this!  After an intense three-hour session of composing with snippets of color paper, the students were eager to realize these compositions in painting.

To transfer a 3” x 5” idea to a 24” x 30” canvas we used an old, well-established method.  In the Renaissance, the master would make a drawing on a piece of paper.  His assistant then drew a grid over the drawing.  Then he drew another grid on the wall that was to hold the final mural.  A square on the drawing’s grid might be 1 inch wide and might correspond to 8 inches on the mural wall.  Similarly, for my students, the 1 inch on the 3 x 5 collage corresponded to about 5 inches on the 20 x24 canvas.  The ratio was, obviously, not exact, but adjustments were made.  It was a creative process throughout.

I want to emphasize that the 3 x 5 passage was selected from an 8½ x 11 collage. That selection process in itself was quite exiting and revealing. Once the drawing was transferred to the canvas in pencil outlines, color selections and painting techniques concentrated the student/painter’s energies.  This is not a mechanical process.  Never a dull moment.

The work I’m highlighting here is by Beatrice K.  The red as a background will pop up again in other students’ work.  The red was an accident.  I happened to have a supply of gently used red construction paper to recycle—happy grist for the collage mill.  It turned out to be a fortuitous accident. Red is a color that is perceived to move forward. It’s conventionally used as a foreground color. But here it was used as background.  The effect is that it is neither or both.  Our perception of the red shifts, like an optical illusion, between foreground and background.  This makes for a dynamic visual experience.

Let’s look at the painting from left to right.  We can see three over-lapping shapes:  the beautifully nuanced orange-to cream sphere is over the brown squarish patch, which is clearly on top of the purple leaf-shape with the green-orange mirage inside it.  And the next step in this progression into the center of the painting takes us to the red, which must be the base, background color.  But the purple recedes visually and the red pops up, negating our expectation.  This is exiting.

There are echoing shapes.  For example, the purple leaf shape shares the canvas with other leaf shapes, such as the green-yellow one in the lower right corner, and you can easily find others.

There is also a play on edges:  the wonderful ambiguity in the upper left corner with black and white; the purple leaf’s white backlighting; the swan’s-neck shape on the right appears to be on top of the red background when we look at its left edge, but on its right edge,  the red appears to be on top of the white.  Once again, the red is coming and going.  You can also see the interplay of sharp edged and fuzzy, graduated ones. This guides you in out of various degrees of certainty and disorientation.  Without telling you what you’re looking at or what you’re “supposed to think” the painting engages you visually and thereby subdues your need to verbalize.  It keeps you alert, like a hike through new territory.  Even though for the purpose of this little exposition, I used words like “leaf” and “swan,” you will not get stuck in any interpretation anchored in these concrete images.  The excellence of this painting will not pin you down with a facile interpretation.  It will be fresh and offer new mysteries every time you glance at it.

The original collage was chosen on intuitive grounds.  It needed to be realized in paint—and in a large format—to offer up these wonderful mysteries and revelations.  Snippets of paper, ha!  Never underestimate the power of scraps and their coincidental meetings on a studio table.

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A student in my landscape painting class has made a donation to the Evanston Art Center in my honor.  I am honored, indeed, and grateful.  It’s true, my students produce work that amazes them. They will suddenly do something that seemed to be unattainable, then just happens out of the blue, breaking the mold.  Because this happens so often with my students, I think it probably does have something to do with the way I set up exercises and the ambiance in these classes.  Maybe, maybe not.  Maybe they’re inspired by the view of the ever-changing, awesome lake when they pull into the parking lot.

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