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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!

13ArleneTallRedBottomAll contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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When I set up a still life for my drawing class I do fuss with the drapery and the objects, but not in the way you might think.  I make the fabric crinkly and energetic.  As for the objects, the more absurd the association between them, the better.  What I mean is that when the objects don’t tell a coherent story, the mind doesn’t slide into some conventional sense of “beauty” and instead really focuses on shapes and the spaces between them.  This is a subversive idea, isn’t it!  You spend your whole life straining to achieve coherence and non-absurdity and you’re proud of your skills in that department.  Now you find yourself in a drawing class and this normal-looking instructor encouraged you to go subversive.  Well, boys and girls, that’s the dirty little art secret:  you have to throw that grenade.  You have to add a twist; you have to invent;  you have to have an idea; you have to slip us a surprise.

Here then is Karen G.’s take on this still life.  To start with, of all the parts of the still life she can pick on, she chooses a bit of corner drapery  (#4) and the stem—only the stem—of the amaryllis.  It’s a plastic amaryllis (towards #1)  with a thick coiled stem. The choice of this portion of the still life is itself already wonderfully daring.  In the drawing, we won’t know what the coil represents, it will be an absurd—because disconnected and unnamable—shape.  The stem ends at #2.  But because we can’t see the flower, we don’t know what this is and it looks like a tube inserted in the hilly cloth.  At this stage of the drawing, the space at #3 is empty.  What to do?  After two hours of drawing, Karen’s imagination has stepped out of the everyday literal perception of objects and into its proper domain: invention.  She invents the coil at #3.  Makes it up out of thin air.  Now we have a coil entering the hilly shape in the front and exiting in the back.  This creates a paradox, in that we can see clearly what’s going on (because of the quality of the drawing) and at the same time this construction does not occur in real life and flies in the face of our expectations about still lifes.  The viewer is momentarily stumped and is drawn into contemplation of this paradox. A paradox, however, is not the same thing as a mess.  Notice the echoing of the same shape, a diamond, at 3 and 4 and just to the right of 2.  The drawing draws you into art.

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”—Oscar Wilde

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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