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Posts Tagged ‘Ivan’

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.)

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This landscape by Ivan T. originated from a photo he had taken in the Green islands.  In the photo the boats are smaller, more evenly spaced and with more water visible between them.  The houses are smaller because they’re farther in the distance.  The hills are also smaller because they’re very far in the distance.  That’s what he started with.

At the beginning of the class I showed how Cézanne pushed the distant elements of his landscape up in the picture plane. (See previous post.)  Ivan immediately applied this insight to his 24 x 18 painting, which he had started the previous class.  The boats became bigger, crowding the harbor.  The houses became bigger and fewer in number. The houses farther up the hill are not diminished in size, as perspective would dictate and as they appear in the photo.  At this point we suspect that he might be pulling a Cézanne on us.  When we take in the mountains, there’s no doubt:  this is Cézanne country.  The mountains have been pushed up and towards us.  The whole tripartite scene is being pushed forward and crammed into the picture frame.  The composition is made up of three elements: boats, houses and hills. Each of these sections is “in front;” nothing recedes into the distance. This immediacy is made even more tactile by the handling of the paint. The artist painted with a palette knife, thick and loose.  So that we’re looking at boats and at the same time paint itself.  We also get this effect in Cézanne, too, who did not blend, but rather left his individual brush strokes visible.

There’s more to explain the dynamic of this painting: 1) the zig-zag of the overall composition; 2) the golden section; and 3) the cropping of the mountain.

1) The pink lines in this diagram trace the zig-zag of the big forms in the painting.  (See post “Skies Tahiti,” April 22, 2011 ) The masts, rather tame and thin in the photo, are zig-zag and coarse, an invention of the artist.

2) The green line shows the golden section, a topic for a future post.

3) The mountain on the left is brought up to the upper edge of the canvas so that the sky does not go clear across the top of the scene.   This has the effect of bringing the mountain even closer to us.  I’ll talk about that in connection with Caillebotte’s photographic cropping in a future post.  Soon.

And what about that orange house to the right.  And the rhythm created by the windows, which are painted in single slashes of the brush.  It’s an engaging painting.

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Flowers evolved to make insects happy, but humans claim them for their own edification and poetic purposes. In the 16th century in Holland, painters zoomed in on flowers as if they represented a microcosm of everything worthwhile.  By the 19th century, flowers have become  puzzling apparitions, as in Odilon Redon’s paintings.

For a project in my landscape painting class, Ivan T. brought in a photo of a vase of flowers on a tiled floor being hit by very strong afternoon light.  The shadows played into triangular and trapezoidal forms on the floor, so much so that these forms competed with the flowers, which were, by tradition, the point of the picture.  But our modern sensibility tends towards off-centeredness and towards seeing objects in counterpoint with other forms.   It felt quite “natural” to crop the photo so that the vase of flowers was not only off center but abruptly cut off.

Ivan then invented the view through a sliding door, when in fact the photo only showed shadow patterns on the floor.  This invention allowed him to create greater spacial depth and to introduce the complementary color with a green wedge of grass.

The painting (about 16 x 14) then became a dynamic play of forms where negative space takes a leading role.  In fact, the shadow of the vase—a kind of negative space or “nothingness”—is at the center of the painting.  By not being requested to look at a definite, clearly identifiable object, i.e. the flowers themselves, our attention wanders through ephemeral forms of shadows.  The painting, therefore, while jarring in its composition, has a tranquil, reflective presence in the mind.  I love art that comes at me with that one-two punch.

Above thumbnail:  flower paintings by Ambrosius Bosschaert  (1573-1621) and Odilon Redon (1840-1916)

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There’s no doubt that this painting represents a landscape.  We can’t quite place it on the map or the globe, but the clues are strong enough. We relate to the line at #1 as a horizon.  #s 2 and 3 echo #1 and suggest a receding horizontal terrain.  These three lines form a reassuring reference in an otherwise rather heaving topography.  There are two reddish hills, partly seen in cross section (5), like geological strata made visible by, let’s say,  a road being cut by dynamite. But the comforting references to horizon and hills end there. At #7 we lose the sense of a horizon.

In the upper regions of this landscape we’re on another planet altogether.  There seems to be a light source behind the cross-sectioned hill (4), but its diffusion is abruptly cut off by diagonal boundaries.  In the upper left, at #6, a conical shape of the same color as the two large hills pushes down out of what we want to believe is the sky.  At right, an orange leaf shape floats.  We are disoriented and the earlier reference to a horizon has become weak and arbitrary.  The painting persists in the viewer’s mind as a landscape, but not literally, more imagined than real.  The looping line (follow the pink dots) flaunts this notion of abstraction.  It is pure surface play.  It says, look, this is a painting, a play of the imagination.

This is a large painting, about  18 x 45 inches.  It engages the viewer with its double take: landscape with hills vs. invention with looping line.

Now comes the catch.  The artist/student, Ivan T., did not paint it in this horizontal orientation.  He painted it vertically.  It evolved as a landscape illusion, geological, but something more like a crevice in rocky terrain.  That’s catch number one.

Catch number two is the fact that he was actually working from a collage, not a landscape at all.  The collage was completely abstract.  In the act of painting, the collaged shapes became more and more layered and the play of forms and edges took over.

What makes this work so rich is not only that it departs from the literalness of a landscape but that it is engaging in both orientations, horizontally and vertically.

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

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