Posts Tagged ‘trees’


What’s going on here?  Why is this image intriguing?

There are three elements in this image. The most basic one, if you isolate it, is the round form in yellow, which is near-centered, near-symmetrical, vaguely suggesting something with a head. The second element, the black, by weaving in and out of the first, negates its organic illusion.  The black lines branch off and suggest tree-like growth.

The third element is the specks of color that appear to be floating through the pictorial space.  Your mind wants to simplify them and therefore assumes they are all the same size in that space. Since they are actually of three different sizes (on the canvas) you make sense of them by seeing them as floating in three different planes. The smallest specs, for example, are interpreted as being farthest from the viewer and the large specs are on the plane closest to you as you look at the painting.

If the specks were of fifteen different sizes, or sixty two different sizes, your brain would not be able to organize them and you would, therefore, not perceive spacial depth in the painting.

The painting presents a puzzle, but not a puzzle that you solve.  Once you see how you project your expectations into the painting, you haven’t solved anything.  You’ll still be floating in that space.

Karen Gerrard, acrylic on canvas, 40” x 30”

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





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Oh, trees!

If you’re a Mondrian-lover you stand in front of one of his paintings, like the one above, and exclaim, “I just love the way he painted trees!”  Right?

You have a friend who doesn’t understand Mondrian, so you volunteer to give her a tour of the moderns at the Art Institute of Chicago or the MoMa.  You position yourselves in front of the Mondrians, and you learnedly explain that here we have the essence of tree-ness.  Right?

Mondrian was painting simplified trees.  Right?

Mondrian drew diagrams of trees. Right?

Abstract trees. Right?

Oh, please!

No one has ever looked at a Mondrian and seen trees. Right?


Then why do we constantly get the evolution of his paintings—The Mondrians—from trees.



[The] process of simplification and reduction would continue until he wasn’t even painting from nature at all.

The rise of Cubism also gave Mondrian a means to segment and reduce objects to their most basic forms.


Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) lived in Paris when he was in his early 40’s.  There he met Braque and other Cubists.

To interpret Cubism as “reducing objects to their most basic forms”  is as blatantly ridiculous as the other cliché about cubism, namely that a cubist painting shows us an object from all four sides.  I’ll post just one example here, Picasso’s “Portrait of D.H. Kahnweiler,” 1910. Have a good look. You are seeing Mr. Kahnweiler’s “basic forms” and you’re seeing him from all “four sides.” Correct?




Cubism is so scary to think about that people, even otherwise intelligent people, repeat these absurdities about “basic forms” and “four sides.”  You’ll find this sort of thing not only on internet pages but, with more academic circumlocutions, in serious publications. The Cubists—Picasso and Braque–are scary to think about because they made a clean break with the past.  Naughty, naughty. Thou shalt honor thy father and mother…  The only father the Cubists honored was Cézanne and he, in Robert Hughes’ words, painted DOUBT.

Let’s see now, we don’t have any commandments honoring doubt.

In 1910, art that threw out all previous assumptions was difficult to take.  Still is.  But doubt is so much more invigorating than having answers without first having questions.  Medieval certainties and Renaissance illustrations of mythological characters are not invigorating, are they?!

The Cubists—and they didn’t call themselves that—came up with something new.  The painting is now not an illustration but a work in its own right.

You must be kidding?  In its own right?  The audacity!

That’s right.  Audacity.

So, are Mondrian’s paintings abstractions or essences or diagrams of trees?  No.  They are something completely new.  They stand in their own right as objects.  Something to contemplate.

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





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One of the painters in my “What Would Mondrian Do?” group often brings photos of flowers and trees to class to kick off a painting session.

Keven Wilder is an accomplished painter.  The collectors of her work eagerly follow her latest output. The reception of this painting has been enthusiastic.

I’m glad.  I find the enthusiastic response of non-representational art very encouraging.  It’s a measure of progress in human consciousness, I think, not to be tied to the literal.

Nobody looks at this painting and says, “Oh, yes, trees. I see the blue sky and the vertical tree trunks and the horizontal branches.”

People who love this painting love it even after they find out that the artist started with a photo of trees against a clear sky.  They don’t get hung up on trees.  Sorry there.

People who love this painting love its color, shapes, texture, process, surprises.  It’s not an illustration, abstraction or diagram of anything.  It’s an object in itself.

An object of contemplation.

Keven Wilder showed this painting at the Ethical Humanist Society earlier this year.

Thank you, Keven!



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




www.khilden.comEthical Humanist Society


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This painting started with dripping paint, not with any plans to create a landscape. But the line where the blue stops suggests a horizon and then with that reference, the drips can be interpreted as a row of receding trees. The dash of orange suggested itself because as the complementary color to blue, it would heighten the intensity of the blue. So, yes, it can be seen as a landscape with mountains, trees and possibly a sunrise. And it’s paint. Paint! It’s both. But because your mind can’t focus on both at the same time, it goes into overdrive and that gives you a high. That’s the high of modernism. Aren’t we lucky!!
Painting by Cassandra Buccellato, oil on canvas, 36×36.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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At first glance, this painting by Charlene W. may seem self- indulgent.  And it is, it is self-indulgent in the sense that it goes wild with color and transgresses against our sense of realism. Well—we’ve been here before—who cares about realism.  We’re not hired to document the Hapsburgs’s holdings in lumber.  We’re painting because we might stumble upon some way to document our sheer excitement at the sight of shapes and the way light plays on them—and the way colors play on canvas.  You can see that Charlene got into color.  She was standing on the Evanston Art Center’s grounds and looking at a cluster of trees.  Very ordinary trees, by the way, and none of them were blue or purple.  Nor were there nearly as many as she put into the painting.  She invented. She invented for the sake of color, rhythm and—let’s call it—exuberance.

The exuberance is, however, reined in by compositional restraint.  Notice the faint suggestion of a horizon at the top.  The tree trunks are all vertical; no tree is sinewy or leaning.  And then there’s the X formed by the yellow light going from upper left to lower right; and the repetition of the dark trunks on the lower left and then on the upper right which cause the eye to move up, from left to right.

And what does the dotted green line indicate?  It goes through the most prominent tree trunk and indicates the Golden Section.

Without these compositional elements,  the painting might very well look too riotous and non-communicative.  If you enjoy looking at it, it’s probably because it comes at you from both sides, the rational (structure) and the emotional (color and texture).

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




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