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Posts Tagged ‘tension’

17feb1redyelbl

Blue is theoretically a color that recedes.  Red, of course, comes forward and announces itself as the boss.

In this painting, how does that little sliver of blue on the left manage to hold its own against that huge red in this painting? One, it’s striped and stripes are aggressive. (Look at sports and military uniform: stripes rule.)  Two, it’s at the edge of the painting and edges convey tension. (Tension demands attention because, well, because tension is uncomfortable.)

Painting in acrylic by Susan Bennett, 36” x 36”.

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WhiteWedgeYellow
The colors are subdued, these creams and ochers, even the red seems saturated and calm. But the brushstrokes are energetic, the feeling of turbulence being enhanced by the white’s rift into what seems to be a landscape. Well, not so quick with that interpretation! True, there’s a horizontal line and that WhiteWedgeYellowAnalysistriggers the association to landscape. But that light upward strip on the upper left (green arrows) destroys that illusion. That strip is actually quite powerful in the composition. It not only subverts the illusion of landscape, it creates tension by virtue of its thinness and thereby moves the eye to the upper left. Without it, the “white turbulent rift” just right off middle would dominate mercilessly and demand some literal interpretation. As is, the viewer’s mind sees form and that’s a good place to be. Thanks be to modernism.
Painting by Arlene Tarpey, ~16×20, acrylic.
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13LindaGlobePhThe picturesque Harley Clarke Mansion, home of the Evanston Art Center, is a bit of an architectural sampler in the sense that it features turrets, balconies, gables, dormers and stone carvings. One of my plein air students has fallen in love with the entrance to the greenhouse, which combines a Palladian reference and a carved wooden door frame with overgrown vines.  In previous sessions she drew the door itself and the view towards the Clarke’s ornamented main entrance.  This week she turned to draw one of the cement globes that announce the fern-and-lily lined 13LindaGlobeDrawingStraightpassage to the greenhouse.

When Linda’s drawing was finished, we considered cropping possibilities.  The fence in the distance behind the globe forms a sturdy horizontal line.  Perhaps too sturdy.  When the drawing is cropped conventionally with the fence horizontal, the image is, well, too conventional.  Notice what happens when we tilt the drawing and chop off the top of the globe.  More tension, more movement.

13LindaGlobeDrawingTilt1While we were playing with these cropping choices, a photographer from the Chicago Tribune came by and, with our permission, documented the little tutorial scene. The next day, the Trib ran an article about the plight of the Clarke Mansion , not with the tutorial scene by the greenhouse, but with a wide-angle shot of the whole building, which was, after all the focus of the piece. The piece summarizes the debate over the fate of the mansion:

 http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/suburbs/evanston_skokie_morton_grove/ct-met-evanston-lighthouse-beach-hotel-20130714,0,849034.story

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1306KumiloStillLife1It’s well known that eyewitness accounts don’t carry much weight in a courtroom.  That’s because what you see is affected by your emotional state, your past experience, your desire to see order and on and on all the way to what you had for breakfast that day.  Well, you might say, that’s to be expected 1306ColleenStillLifebecause you’re witnessing a horrible scene, like a murder or a collision.

But what about the ol’ still life, a mess o’ drapery and a heap of pots!  Same caveat.  Five people in a tranquil setting on a lovely  June day will produce five very different takes.  It’s always amazing. Always thrilling.

1306LinneStillLife1306MegStillLife

And a wide view, with much information, perhaps too much…

1306JanetStillLife1…cropped for more tension, compositional cohesion and immediacy.  Notice how with the following, cropped view, you are more drawn into the scene. You feel more alert and you’re more inclined to pay  attention to the placement of lines and shapes, asking yourself “why is it like that?”

1306JanetStillLife1cropped

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13CanistersAle

We started the class by practicing the ellipse.  You can’t draw an ellipse, you have to swing it. You practice swinging your hand over the paper and then—keeping that swing—you lower the pencil and there’s your ellipse. You fill a couple of sheets of paper with these practice ellipses and then when you feel you’ve got that swing, you slide your drawing onto your board and you swing those elliptical canister tops into place.

13CanistersAleSliverAlejandra was faced with a still life consisting of ellipse-stressing canisters and some droopy drapery.  But in her drawing nothing is canned and nothing droops.  In her drawing, the drapery looks like oak tree roots and the ellipses seem to fade into memory.  She either found this set up very exiting or boring beyond tolerance, because something in her imagination popped.

Notice how the carefully cropped selection (right) coveys even more tension, drama and mystery than the whole composition (top). We will have more examples of cropping in the following two posts.

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The difference between an image and a snapshot documentation of an object is that the image triggers questions in your mind that go beyond the factual.  When you look at this drawing you don’t just say, I know the name of that plant.  Yes, it’s a variegated philodendron.  If documentation and naming were the point of this exercise, you would move on.  But you don’t.  You keep looking at this thing.  You don’t really know why.  It’s just that the image—that’s what it is—puzzles you, raises questions that you can’t even articulate.  So here you are, you keep looking.

  • You’ll never be able to answer the question of why that leaf at the lover left is sticking up out of nowhere.  But it’s perfect there.
  • Why is the horizon line that defines the black background on the top pointed instead of straight?  It was probably inspired by the corner of the room, though that was cluttered with easels.  It’s an invention of the artist/student and it’s just right.
  • Why did Linné draw the plant full of leaves on the left and bare-stemmed on the right?  He certainly didn’t see that.  Another invention.

All three inventions create tension and counterpoint.  The viewer is suspended (like a gymnast) by the ropes of these dynamics.  Questions will form in the mind, but their grammar will disintegrate.  That’s how art works.

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Traditionally, flowers are a sentimental subject in art.  The perfume of the cliché hangs over them. The viewer’s mind goes soft.  Oh, how pretty!  Oh, how boring.

Still, there it is, a luscious amaryllis.  It helps, of course, that it’s presented with a twist: just plopped down on this heap of cloth with the plastic stem coiling and creasing, like a cheap garden hose.   This is good for the imagination.

In her drawing,  Maggy S. is working in china marker on gloss paper, about 14 x 11. On gloss paper the china marker can be scraped off with a razor blade, but only to a limited extent, making for a pretty focused drawing process.

The artist puts down the amaryllis in red and then starts to work the background in black, keeping the texture lively. The flower is readable as what it is and the stem coils clearly, though it alerts us right away to the possibility that what we’re facing here is not all plain, up-front and literal.  Now, what to do with the black!  If she fills in the black as background, which is what she actually sees (please go back to the previous post to see the still life set up), then the whole thing will become too literal—red flower on black background, get it!!—and the drawing will fall flat.  But if the black “background” goes beyond being merely background and takes on a life of its own, we may be getting into art.  The artist restrains herself from filling in the left side of the page with black and just leaves that to the imagination, with two results:  1) The white on the left sets up tension in relation to the black on the right. 2) The black now moves through the page in an s-curve of its own.  This black s-curve echoes the s-curve in the flower’s stem.  Just seeing this is thrilling.  Because of that, the drawing may be considered finished.

Given their sentimental association in our history, flowers present a challenge to the modern artist.  But many of our mentors-in-modernism have approached the subject with plenty of irony and grit.  You may want to look up paintings of flowers and still lifes by Cézanne, Redon, Schiele and Van Gogh.

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