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Posts Tagged ‘invention’

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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15StripesRibbon
What the artist saw was a ball and a ribbon. A ball and a ribbon can make an interesting drawing, but the challenge with a still life like that is inevitably the “background.” There’s no such thing as “background.” That’s a modernist credo and I uphold it. In the modernist sensibility, every square inch of the painting or drawing has to hold the viewer’s interest. What to do? You invent. Maggy Shell invented the stripes.
She could have invented a wall paper of polka dots or hibiscus with hummingbirds. Why are stripes a good, possibly the best, choice? Because the stripes present a variation on the ribbon motif which is the largest part of the still life. What we get, therefore, is a theme-and-variation–always engaging, in whatever art form we find it: music, poetry, storytelling, painting, drawing, sculpture. This invention takes the drawing out of the category  “illustration” and makes it art.
Drawing by Maggy Shell, charcoal, ~14 x 18.
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13CanistersMaggie

The merit in this drawing lies in the fact that the artist/student, Maggy Shell, went beyond the literal depiction of these still life 13Canistersobjects.  The realistic depiction of the canisters and the drapery is skilled enough, but that’s not what makes this drawing interesting.

What makes it interesting is that there are three distinct motifs: ellipse, chaos and triangle.  The ellipses form a nice rhythm on the top layer.  Under the ellipses comes the chaotic, 13CanistersMaggieAnalysiscloud-like, wafting swoosh of the cloth. (Green) The precision of the ellipses and the indeterminacy of the cloth make for a dramatic contrast, one highlighting the other.  The cloth, furthermore, is ambiguous:  is supports the solid cylinders but at the same time appears to be insubstantial and not supported by anything.  Ambiguity adds tension and tension is a good thing in art.

Enter the triangle, always a provocative shape. (Pink)  Where does this come from?  Two sources: 1) Among the cylinders there was a box with a partially open lid and under the white cloth there was some triangulation of additional fabric.  2) The imagination.

You guessed it, I’m rooting for #2.  The dark triangles at the left and right edges of the drawing are pure invention.  Notice how the triangles, pointing toward the center, focus your attention and keep you IN the composition. And it’s in the center that the geometry of the cylinders meets its opposite, the amorphous drift of drapery.  We have a little drama here. So, of course, we pay attention.  And paying attention is what the whole thing is about.

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13GabyGrandparents2

Students very often think that a drawing is a one-shot deal.  The standard class time is three hours and that should be enough to work out the still life set up on the table or the model on the stand. They tend to think this.  But I try to encourage them to develop certain drawings.  A three-hour graphite drawing, for example, can be imagined in another medium, in charcoal, in an aquarellable pencil or with a watercolor wash. Or it can invite an emphasis on forms derived from shapes that are only faintly suggested in the first drawing. The first drawing might have too much detail and may invite a bold, simple linear quality instead.

Here is a drawing inspired by a family photo from the forties. Gaby actually worked from a Xerox enlargement, 8-1/2 x 11, because old photos tend to be quite small.  The second—developed–drawing is shown above. Notice how version #2 differs from version #1, shown below.

13GabyGrandparents1

The second drawing departs from the literalness of the first which already had moved away from the literalness of the photo.

13GabyGrandparents1linesThe developed drawing (#213GabyGrandparents2 lines) unifies the figures by making the lines where they touch ambiguous. By creating contrapposto lines in the shoulders and midsections (pink), the artist makes the two people appear as one, an ingenious invention that adds emotional intensity and compositional focus. The woman’s hemline in version #1, while very energetic(green), cut the figure abruptly and kept her from relating to her sailor.  Can’t have that.  Gaby eliminates the triangular  pleat work and lengthens the skirt, all in the interest of harmony.  The result shows the couple as graceful and heroic.

Are you allowed to do that?  Yessss! Because you’re creating a work of art.

13GabyGrandparentsPhotoIf you’re commissioned to duplicate an old photo, you better not think this way.  Just hunker down and scribble away.  But that’s not what we do here and certainly not when we develop a drawing.

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12BowBottlelDrapeGaby1

When we work from a still life, I always remind the class that there’s a lot of stuff there and you can choose to draw the whole pile or you can zoom in and draw a select,  small passage.  In this case, a student just went for the tilted dark bottle and a bit of adjacent drapery.  How on earth do you make an interesting drawing out of such a clunky object?  Ah, but it’s not about the object it’s about how you draw it.  We had been talking about the problem of the contour, the topic in the last post on Leonardo and sfumato.  It’s not a problem, really, it’s just that you can set yourself the goal of drawing that old bottle without outlining it in a consistent line.  You can practice interrupting the line.  That simple.  At first, you may think this is awkward or arbitrary, but then you discover that since light 12BowBottlelDrapeSetupcomes from above, the upper part of the bottle will be lighter and if you lighten the contour there or leave the line out altogether, the bottle will look quite lively. Notice also, that part of the bottle is defined by the shadow in the drapery behind it, i.e something that is not-bottle and is not a contour of anything.

Once the bottle and its attendant drapery swatch were drawn, Gaby faced all that white “negative” space. What the still life set-up offered wasn’t all that dynamic, so she invented.  Are you allowed to do that?  Oh, yessss!   She invented bricks, curved ones.  The rectilinearity of the brickwork anchors the tilted bottle in a credible universe. The fact that the bricks are curved adds texture and an echo of the roundness of the bottle.

The result is a painterly drawing.  We’ve used the word “painterly” before in these posts (12.22.10 and 3.12.11), but it will get more coverage, soon, and this time in connection with drawing.

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In 1910 in an ornate little church in Borja, a village in northeastern Spain,  a local painter named  Elias García Martínez filled a narrow white wall space with a little fresco called “Ecce Homo.”  It shows a scroll on which the suffering thorn-crowned Jesus-head is turning its eyes skyward.  Over the years the fresco deteriorated and Mrs. Cecilia Giménez (below), with the permission of the priest, set out to restore it to its original, of which she had a photo to work from.

The news broke last Friday and over the weekend little Borja was overrun with hundreds of tourists who were eager to see what was universally called a “botched restoration.”   One tourist, interviewed on Spanish TV, said that the original was nice, but this she really likes.

Now what?  What can the church and the town do?

1) Paint over the fresco with white paint and forget about it.

2) Hire a competent painter to duplicate the original and forget about the temporary embarrassment.

3) Leave it as it is now, the “botched restoration,” the “monkey face.”

The first two options seem to be out.  The organizer of the town’s patron festival is already happy about the new fame of Borja.  On the web, 18,000 people have signed a petition stating that the fresco should stay as it is now. A Facebook page, called “Señoras que restauran Cristos de Borja” has 38,874 fans and 58,048 followers (as of this writing), many of whom have created their own versions of the fresco. Here’s one, inspired by Rafael.  For more,  see https://www.facebook.com/SenorasQueRestauranCristosDeBorja

Let’s consider option #3.  The face as it is now is a confrontation with modernism.  The modern mind is rooted in the 17th century, when Leeuwenhoek first saw microbes through his microscope’s lens, Montaigne (a little earlier)  introspected and doubted, Descartes doubted himself to exhaustion and John Mill studied various translations of the Bible and said, whoa, we have 30,000 problems here. To name just a few of the people who showed us that things are not what they appear to be and that the mind makes stuff up.

Mrs. Giménez, in her mid-80’s, is now world famous.  She is notorious.  How could she do such a thing?  She’s apparently surprised at the results of her effort.  Is she crazy? Couldn’t she see what she was doing?  She may be asked to have her head examined and her introspection and free-associations would be interesting, but not as interesting as the FACT that we now have this image she made up.

That’s what’s important:  she made it up.  And another thing: the original fresco from 1910 by whatshisname was also made up.   Let’s see, what else can we name that’s been made up:  Michelangelo’s David, Michelangelo’s Adam, Rafael’s madonnas, Leonaro’s Last Supper;  Klimt’s Kiss, Munch’s Scream;   Egyptians invented Isis and Osiris, the Greeks invented Zeus and Athena, and so on and so forth.

The human imagination makes stuff up. You won’t find that statement anywhere in the 12th century.  The clerics who are ringing their hands over this fresco problem haven’t traveled through the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th, when Picasso and others blew the roof off our skulls.

When Picasso painted Gertrude Stein 1905 and 1906, she sat for him an estimated eighty-plus times.  Towards the end of 1906 he got stuck, dissatisfied with how he had painted the face.  We can only wish we had a documentation of that stage of the work. (We know Picasso owned a camera.)  In the fall of 1906 he went to Spain and when he came back he painted over the face. Giving into his fascination with African, Oceanic and early Iberian art, he now turned Gertrude’s face into a mask.  In other words, he invented.  He made it up.  We look at this painting at the Met and think it looks like Gertrude Stein—after all, that’s the title on the wall label—but at the same time we know IT’S ALL MADE UP.  It’s this awareness that makes us modern.

Picasso would have loved this “botched restoration.”

Sources:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/24/world/europe/botched-restoration-of-ecce-homo-fresco-shocks-spain.html?hp

https://www.google.com/#q=Borja+Fresco+site:youtube.com&sa=X&ei=Gog_ULqbHI7W9QT_m4GgBg&ved=0CDsQ2wE&hl=en&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=6c862fd85693d052&biw=1012&bih=589

http://www.spiegel.de/reise/europa/jesus-fresko-in-borja-stuemper-kunstwerk-zieht-hunderte-touristen-an-a-852168.htmlhttps://www.facebook.com/SenorasQueRestauranCristosDeBorja

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If you go back to post August 3, 2012 you’ll see the still life that Gaby was working from for this drawing.  There was a second wooden mannequin, this one reclining with all fours  reaching up, and also some plastic fruits, a pear and an apple.

This marvelous drawing emerged only after much struggle and daring invention.  The pear and apple, being in the foreground, were originally quite worked out with shadows and highlights. As the artist/student got more into the work, these objects lost their importance even though they were in the foreground.  Their literalness had to give way to the workings of the composition as a whole. They still read as foreground, the pear especially by virtue of its continuous, uninterrupted contour.  But the pear is now both foreground and a vacant space and that’s a wonderful paradox.

The background—the white and  the black—is pure invention. Notice that both non-referential surfaces have textures, to give them visual interest and make them, paradoxically, come forward.

The composition with its dramatically worked out values establishes layers: foreground, middleground, background and then far background. We’ve looked at foreground and background.  Now, what is that in the middle?  It seems to radiate from some point behind the pear-vacancy.  These three rays are  what the drawing seems to be about, for the simple reason that they invite identification more than any other element in the drawing.

Everyone in the class loved this drawing.  Everyone knew, of course, what Gaby had been looking at.  But the drawing is clearly not about identifiable objects.  It uses the pear and the wooden figure as a point of departure.  The drawing becomes a work of the imagination, a DRAWING.

Somebody said, it looks like an insect’s legs.  Well, yes, that will come up in your mind, but try clinging to that interpretation.  The drawing takes you far beyond that.

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