Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).
This is an add-on post!
25 November 2016. Since the incentives of past artists have been filtered by countless art historians into public belief, I thought it safer to concentrate in this research on contemporary artists, who are still able to speak for themselves. I guess that there as many incentives as there are artists in the world and from personal talks with many of the artists I have met (including both my parents) I know that many do not define or question incentives for themselves or if they do they allow them to drift with the changes in the world the live in. Many of them say that they gain pleasure from what they do with no added social or philosophical context.
30 November 2016. But now for those whose intentions are more structured, starting with a link providing videos produced by the Tate gallery suggested by my tutor (Tate, n.d.).
1. Grayson Perry (*1960, UK): “Think Like an Artist” (Tate, 2016a) – this was a short animated collection of disconnected basic thoughts, which I did not find too helpful. His main meassage is that “nobody can teach creativity” and that every artist is alone to “do his thing”. I do not fully agree, because I believe that there is the possibility to awaken creativity in people who were taught to believe otherwise and there is creativity in most of us. Every artist is free to choose their areas of interest and whoever feels the need will follow their inner voice anyway.
2. “Art and Language” talking about conceptual art (Tate, 2016b) – talking about the problems of grasping and defining an emerging new art development. This problem, I think, has of course a profound influence on the transporting and understanding of an artist’s intentions. If nobody has ever heard of what an artist has thought up for the first time ever, how can he or she make themselves understood? Is a misunderstood intention of an artist, who decides to want a public voice, one that failed or a beginning of a necessary discussion preceding communal understanding? I think that there is a real danger that some conceptual art may go unnoticed or underrated, however, because the intentions are not made known clearly enough to a receiving public whose members were taught that you cannot teach creativity.
3. Mary Kelly (*1941, USA) (Tate, 2015) – the conceptual artist talking about feminism informing her work after a pioneering anti-war demonstration in London in the 1960s. She explains how a whole new world of thinking was made possible by the radical questioning of what had been. Her intentions as an artist were so new at the time that she had to go and look for appropriate media and techniques to visualize her thoughts. Kelly thinks that, due to the pioneering work done by people of her generation, women are much better placed to fulfill their potentials now than in the past. So, of course, there is a much greater chance for them to make their intentions known and contribute to developments important for them. This as a consequence shifts the stakes in the art world.
2 December 2016
4. Jakob Gasteiger (*1953, Austria) – in an interview given for the Viennese newspaper “Die Presse” (Weismann, 2016) Gasteiger explains his very personal view on the nature of painting. He is absolutely convinced that there will never be an all-encompassing, universally valid answer to that question. While studying in Vienna in the 1980s he came into contact with the “Neue Wilde” group (Ketterer Kunst, n.d.), but he know then that for his own intentions (in the tradition of Josef Albers or Mark Rothko) their neo-expressionist approach aiming at strengthening the figurative was unsuitable: “If you want to be a serious artist, you listen to your inner voice and do not follow trends.” He has not changed his techniques and subjects in 30 years, which he interprets as an advantage – the self-chosen limits allow the development of a great confidence in his work inside the boundaries. He does not want to give answers in his paintings, he sees his task in providing an area of discussion.
Tate (2016a) Grayson Perry | Think Like an Artist | TateShots [online]. Tate, London, 18 March. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/grayson-perry-think-artist-tateshots [Accessed 30 November 2016]
29 November 2016. In this post follows my self-assessment for the painting produced for Assignment 4, “Claustrophobia”, of Painting 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a):
1. Demonstration of technical and visual skills
I believe that in the course of this part of Painting 1 I was able to make use of most of the skills acquired in the course up to now. For the assignment piece “Claustrophobia” I used the experience gained in planning paintings including subject choice, subject and artist research, testing compositional ideas using sketches on paper and in my sketchbook in the appropriate way as well as drawing on the experience gained in a previous exercise (the river gorge painted for the exercise on aerial perspective, (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b)). Again I tried to transport a message by translating an emotion into a visual language, this time the agonizing feeling of claustrophobia and not being able to breathe due to a trauma left from an own childhood experience (ether narcosis).
2. Quality of outcome
My second charcoal sketch made in preparation for Assignment 4 appeared to me quite strong at transporting my message, whereas the final painting did loose somewhat in this respect. The properties of charcoal are probably much better suited to create the intended atmosphere, because it allows the blending of crisp strong messages and vage suggestions. Also, it could well be that my technical skills regarding the use of acrylic paint are not reliable enough yet. Still I think that I was able to translate my original idea into a working painting. There are some weak points concerning the composition, but I believe that I was able to produce some interesting and beautiful effects using a palette knife throughout (apart from the blue of the sky, which I wanted to be in strong contrast to the rocks of the cave, and the sunrays and haze added).
In this assignment I tried to address a subject, which I believe might be difficult to express to a wider public. If a viewer never experienced the sensation of claustrophobia and/or the feeling of not being able to breathe ever before, I guess that they might not be able to comprehend the strength of the associated emotion to its full extent. However, I believe that nobody is totally free from it, so I hope that my approach might allow them to reproduce what I felt.
3. Demonstration of creativity
I think that I was able to include a large amount of experimentation in Part 4 of the course, both regarding the choice of subject and the use of paint. The assignment piece itself was an extention to the exercise mentioned in 1. above (which I did with the assignment in mind) and so in itself not a totally new approach. However, the choice of subject with regard to the set task of painting a landscape might qualify as being creative.
4. Context reflection
Before embarking on this assignment, I did some intense research on the chosen subject, both regarding the medical and psychological aspects of claustrophobia, the work of spelaeologists (cave explorers), the interplay of light and dust in air and the effect of ether narcoses on patients, as well as on a number of visual artists, who produce(d) work described as claustrophobic and/or addressing the subject of claustrophobia. I think that in this way I was properly prepared to carry out the intended work. I do not think that I was influenced by any named artist, but noticed how references from past and present research came to my mind and help at points when the direction of the next step was unclear.
20 November 2016. In order to make it for cut-off I decided that I would need to start working on my assignment alongside the remaining exercises for this part.
The requirement is a large format. I will go for the largest support I have at home to fit the portfolio (60 x 90 cm grey carton). The landscape will be totally imaginary again and I will try and paint an extensive river gorge/cave in the rough painting-knife style I discovered to work well for me in one of the previous exercises (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a).
22 November 2016. Last night I went in my head through my personal spontaneous reactions when hearing the term “claustrophobia”, and what first appeared as an image in my head was that of a cave diver getting stuck with his oxygen cylinders in one of the rocky tunnels. So maybe this is a pointer for closing around, so to speak, my river gorge theme.
While leaving my last sketch and background for the exercise I am working on at the moment to dry, I embarked on some additional research considering the term “claustrophobia”, so that I would not base all my planning on the overwhelmig feeling of mental overload I have at the moment. I was particularly interested in approaches by different artists. Many works of art are interpreted as being “claustrophobic” by the art world, although they do not explicitly address the phenomenon as main subject of the work. The person shown in Expressionist Edvard Munch’s (1863-1944, Norway) “The Scream” for example is interpreted by others as showing a claustrophobic reaction (Bolton, 2013, p. unavailable), while Munch himself explained his inspiration thus: “One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.” (Art Institute of Chicago, 2013) (Fig. 1).
When entering the search term “claustrophobia” into my browser, it became immediately obvious that there does exist a need of visually transporting this feeling. There are many similar ideas, with persons trapped in tiny, bare, box-shaped spaces with no way out. Many of them with outstretched arms or arms crossed very tightly across the chest, as if trying to make the space (outside or inside the body) larger and/or avoid for it to get even smaller, see e.g. a collection of related images on Pinterest (Pinterest, n.d.(a)). Many of them do not feel related to what I am looking for, but the eighth photo down on Graphics Think Tank (2011) probably gets close to what I need. It appears as if there are many different kinds of claustrophobia, some of real places, some of real people, some of unavoidable overwhelming situations. And I will have to be very careful, because obviously the subject is a playground also of the horror movie gang.
24 November 2016. Maybe better to follow my own idea, especially since I do not want a person at the centre of this picture, but the landscape. A claustrophobic landscape, basically, is one that provides too little space for the person entering it. If I want this effect to work for everybody, I will need to employ strong signals, e.g. abnormally low ceilings in a cave. Today I came across the work of Ted Pim (*?, Ireland), who draws his inspiration from the Old Masters, but takes his dark subjects into abandoned buildings. What I found especially haunting at first sight was the location of one of his outdoor murals, “Bass Brewery” (Pinterest, n.d.(b)). Looking further for “claustrophobic landscape” I found the work of American concept artist and illustrator Jack Gallagher and his small series called “Obstructions” (Gallagher, 2016), which composition-wise comes close to where I want to get, although mine would be somewhat more complex.
However, while watching this short video documenting attempts at entering a cave via an impossibly narrow crack in the rock (Bennett, 2012), I kept thinking that I am looking in the wrong places. For me it is probably not so much the fear of getting stuck, but the fear of not being able to breathe. And this finally takes me to where I really need to be in this assignment. It is all about an operation I had when I was six years old. It was no spectacular operation, just having my nasal polyps removed, because until then I had been able to breathe through my mouth only. Back then, 44 years ago, it seems to have been common still to get etherised. At least this was what I got, black face mask pressed hard on my nose and mouth, sick, sick feeling of suffocating, wanting to scream and kick with my arms and legs only to be held down by doctors and nurses, taking ages (several minutes in fact) to fall asleep with operation theatre going round and round in dark circles. Just now I found a detailed German language article describing exactly my own experience to the smallest detail (Zimmer, n.d.). It is basically a trauma, which left me with horrible nausea every time I smell ether or related substances and an intense fear of places, situations and stressful experiences, where there might not be enough oxygen.
So I need a really tight place to transport the feeling. Like this (Vela, n.d.).
26 November 2016. I decided that the best way to proceed would be initially to produce several spontaneous large-scale (A2) charcoal sketches while trying to invoke the traumatising situation from the operation. Here comes the result of the first round, experimenting with an imaginary cave, which suggests a way out, but which by the looks of it is agonizingly narrow. The rock I want to feel heavy, but smooth, without too many sharp points and cracks, because this is what the increasing paralysis provoked by the ether felt like. While drawing it was difficult for me to breathe, so this approach is probably not far from what I need. Interestingly, the drawing worked in all directions (looking somewhat like a coloscopy image :o)) and I compared them for their relative properties (Fig. 1-4):
The second version was my favourite, since it appeared to provide the greatest resistance to leaving the cave, but I will have to increase the stifling feeling inside the hall. It is too spacious yet. So I produced another large-scale charcoal sketch on the basis of the former and tried to make the interior feel tight, with the way out near-blocked several times, while the sky is clearly visible (Fig. 5):
Although the cave is not as dark as I would have liked it to be, the arrangement seems believable. Guessing from the chosen eye-level the size of the nearest crack is probably too narrow for anyone but the slimmest persons to fit through without squeezing. In addition, there is no way of telling whether the path behind that obstacle would not be narrow, too. The making of the cave was a very enjoyable experience (apart from indeed feeling claustrophobic), because the charcoal allowed whatever change came into my mind with absolute ease. It would incorporate any previous layers, which had looked completely different at various stages of developing the drawing. Overall I like the way the daylight falls into the cave with the innermost speck of light more or less mirroring the “window” to freedom.
27 November 2016. With this working setup tested for effectiveness on my husband (“I don’t like this, I cannot breathe.”), I started on the next step of the project. In my expectation the choice of colours would play an essential role. I would need a colour standing for freedom (a light blue most likely) to enter the cave to meet a combination of colours, which suggest a suffocating atmosphere. The latter for me always comes with a substance present in the air (ether!), so I went to have a look at the chemical properties of diethyl ether (University of California, n.d.). It is a colourless liquid with a boiling point of 34.6 °C. So it might be reasonable to assume that some (colourless) haze might be visible in the darker parts of the cave to support the message. The light falling into the cave could be made visible in “dusty” rays. I will first test this effect (haze plus light) to see if it would increase or decrease the primary effect. Apart from that I will try and apply intense colour only in areas exposed to the light from outside, the rest of the cave should remain as in the charcoal above, maybe in a warm dark grey in order to make the presence of haze believable (somewhat higher air temperature near cave entrance).
28 November 2016. After having tested a few painted thumbnail sketches with two warm (grey, brown) and cold (violet and blue) versions of the cave, I decided that I would stick with the brown version, because it is much easier to create a believable stifling atmosphere in a seemingly warm environment. Also I had the impression, when comparing the cold variants, that these colours tended to “push me out” of the cave, while the warmer ones “wanted to keep me in”, so to speak. The paper in my sketchbooks unfortunately is not ideal for loose painting, despite priming the paper tends to come off in tiny flakes and the colours grow dim while drying (Fig. 6):
Next I tested how to reproduce the sunlight inside the cave (Fig. 7):
28 and 29 November 2016. I prepared a mix of dark brown, primary cyan, primary magenta, gold ochre and white to produce a warm grey tone. With this I painted a uniform background on a 60 x 90 cm grey carton, then proceeded through several stages to produce the cave. It took a large number of correcting steps in order to create believable lighting conditions inside the cave and an arrangement of rocks, which would cause the required “closed-in” feeling. In the end I found that with this painting it was crucially important to always align my eye-level with the intended size of the cave. A few centimetres out would immediately cause the volume of the cave to “grow” and thus “widen” the way out.
Here are some of the stages (Fig. 8-12):
After having finished the main painting, I found it difficult to determine whether I would be able to include the sunlight and haze interplay as intended. The viewpoint is slightly outside the cone of light, so it might be possible to see some of it, but I was not sure whether it would add to the atmosphere. So I left the painting to dry and returned a few hours later.
Here is the finished piece with the added sunrays. I noticed that extremely good lighting conditions are required for the colours to come out properly, but overall I am quite happy with the result (Fig. 13):
For a detailed analysis of the finished painting please see my self-assessment report (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b) posted separately.
Vela, C.M. (n.d) Cave Explorer [photograph] [online]. Cristian Mihai Vela, Caransebes. Available at: https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-cave-explorer-image19113302 [Accessed 24 November 2016]
Zimmer, J. ( n.d.) Die Entstehung und Therapie von posttraumatischen Belastungsstörungen [lecture script] [online]. Available at: http://www.joerg-c-zimmer.de/57.html [Accessed 24 November 2016]
20 November 2016. I know that I probably should not say so, but this is an exercise with a low appeal to me. I am aware that the use of a grid helps with the faithful enlarging of an existing small-scale drawing or photograph, but the connecting of points on or between the lines of the grid make me lose all spontaneity.
22 November 2016. Today I found a photo, which I think is well suited for this exercise, and it has got both my smaller son and my husband in it, which makes it attractive in itself (Fig. 1).
And here a scan of a print of the same photo (hence the blue shift) with a 1 x 1 cm square grid added by me (Fig. 2):
Since the print size is 27 x 20 cm, I decided to make a painting twice that size, otherwise it would have become unreasonably large for the purpose.
23 November 2016. After a late-night session vesterday preparing the grid, I made the 54 x 40 cm pencil drawing today on watercolour paper (Fig. 3-4):
This sketch I covered in a carefully diluted and tested layer of light warm grey to allow the sketch to shine through (Fig. 5).
24 November. Today I added more layers, but I do not seem to be making a proper connection. The grid gets in the way, it also stops me from making reasonable decisions about the choice of colours – it feels like “colour by numbers” (Fig. 6):
Next I added some more detail and the two persons, after which my inner warning voice told me to stop (Fig. 7):
28 November 2016. I left this exercise for three days to decide what to do with it.
I think now that there is a good reason to leave it for now to return to it at the end of the course: On the one hand the grid feels like a cage to inspiration at this particular moment in time, on the other I can see in the painting a strong transfer of energy between my husband and my son, which I would not want to destroy now in an attempt to finish the exercise in time for submission of Assignment 4. Further progress report to follow.
20 November 2016. How time flies. On April 20th this year I found a photograph in our local newspaper, which I knew I would like to try for this exercise. It has neither trees in the foreground nor hills in the background as set out in the study guide, but the subject – strips made by tractor mowing the grass – and composition are so beautiful that I want to take the risk and try it nevertheless (Fig. 1).
Regarding the physics behind the phenomenon, which is well-known mostly from football fields, I found a (German language) explanation (Dewald, 2012). Countless artists noticed and made extensive use of the beauty of this effect. David Hockney (*1937, UK) used it in his series of Yorkshire landscape paintings, e.g. in “Garrowby Hill” painted in 1998 (Hockney, n.d.(a)) or “Going up Garrowby Hill” from 2000 (Pinterest, n.d.), both shown below as printouts from the internet (Fig. 1). It has also inspired more abstract painters such as Latvian artist Raimonds Staprans (*1926) (Fig. 2) and even quiltmakers, e.g. “Sunset Desert” by Gloria Loughman (*?, Canada) (Loughman, n.d.).
26 November 2016. After having had another look at my photo, I knew that I would want it changed somehow, because after the excursion to Hockney’s paintings it suddenly felt boring, and the pattern transferred to another, wider, undulating landscape. I went to look for suitable photos and decided to superimpose the former on the latter, changing both colours and composition (Fig. 3):
27 November 2017. This is how far I got today. I noticed how important it is to try and feel the story behind each part of the landscape, so this is not a matter of just adding stripes, but I need to feel my way round both reality and the developing composition (Fig. 4):
28 November 2016. Today I worked some more on this painting, adding new patterns with care, changing the colours of older ones and trying to guide the viewer through the image (Fig. 5):
I think that I should leave it where it is now. The composition feels complete to me, for whatever reason. In order to make it a working painting, however, I would need to apply paint with greater consistency across the whole support. It was an interesting experiment and quite revealing regarding the thought processes involved in the abstraction of patterns taken from the real world.
20 November 2016. Having to work high speed to finish Part 4 of the course in time. The requirements set out for the exercises in this project, luckily, are not very different from what I have been doing all along in one way or another, often combining a number of helping techniques (thumbnail drawings, larger linear, tonal and colour sketches, photographs, and more recently painting from memory or inventing an imaginary setting). So, what I might do is shift towards a more complex composition. There is a crowded corner in our kitchen at the moment with lots of beautifully coloured fruit and nuts collected by the squirrel in our family, i.e. my husband, which I would like to go for here and lay the main emphasis on painting from memory again. This latter method I have come to enjoy very much recently. It opens up a whole new world of compositional freedom together with ample opportunity to make a mess from which to learn.
22 November 2016. Here are my three sketches, the first two of which – pencil line and charcoal tonal sketch – I made while cooking a fish soup for my son following the “Modified Atkins Diet”. My intention was to take what was there on the worktop and see whether I would be able to develop it into something worth looking at (Fig.1 -3).
To be honest I was quite pleasantly surprised at the outcome of the colour sketch (especially the fish on the plate, which consists of nothing but a few semi-transparent brushstrokes) and will be trying to loosely follow this in my final painting.
Here is the sequence of stages through the final painting (Fig. 4-7):
I very much like the strange effect of mixed dilute paint separating into its component colours while drying on the smooth dry layer underneath:
In the picture above on the plate with the fish the behaviour of the dilute paint can be observed while in the process of drying. There is no way in which the paint can be influenced during that stage. It is possible, however, to paint over a such layer when dry with paint straight from the tube – see the effect on the fish in the final painting below (Fig. 7):
And here three details from the finished work (Fig. 8-10):
24 November 2016. Answers to the questions in the study guide:
I think that the combination of first investigating the subject by direct observation, followed by a linear, a tonal and a colour sketch provided a great deal of familiarity with the arrangement and lighting conditions that most of the actual painting developed without reference to the sketches. There was no additional information I would have required.
There was noticeably more freedom regarding the process of painting without direct reference to the setup (it was irreversibly gone by the time of painting, most of it having been cooked and eaten). I noticed that I was a lot more relaxed than usual and I did not mind at all reconstructing something from my memory that may not have been there in reality. This effect allowed me to produce a composition that feels “whole” in setup, choice of colour and style.
Overall I think that the approach worked quite well. It was the first time that I managed to maintain, roughly, the same techniques (apart maybe from the fish, which was better in the colour sketch). I like the brilliance of the chosen colours and the weird effect produced by using dilute paint, although I am aware that the latter is a bit rough in places. More importantly I feel that I am getting somewhere at last.
16 November 2016. There is a warm front travelling to come into Austria on Friday, so I need to be quick in order to plan and carry out my plein air painting exercise before more winter weather. There is a special place in our vicinity, a bit of woodland growing in a sandy pit in a restructured river basin. This place I chose before once for one of my Drawing 1 projects (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). Since I did not follow study guide instructions in the previous exercise (use and rework an existing painting), I decided that I would carry over this instruction to this exercise and apply it to the following drawing I made last year (Fig. 1):
I will make some preliminary sketches on site tomorrow (bad weather) and compare with what I have got, then quickly use the fair weather predicted for Friday to make a very rough painting with my largest brush to be completed outside. There is no plan to continue working on it in my workshop, so what I achieve outside will be what I get.
17 November 2016. Proceeding as planned, so setting off to the site just after lunchtime. The weather was very changeable, from overcast and some raindrops to sunshine and quite pleasantly warm and windy, so partly ideal for painting outside. I found the site mostly as it had been the year before, except that the sandy forest floor was covered in lots of brown autumn leaves and the incredible near-white sand and the contrast I had been looking for were invisible (I should have known better, being an ecologist and all that :o). I still took a set of photos of the spot, walking round to see whether other views might be attractive (Fig.2).
In the end I went for a beautiful view across the river with a small, eye-catching patch of white sand on the far bank and produced a landscape and a portrait format mini watercolour sketch (Fig. 3-5):
Cycling back I went through the colour options and the research on Fauvism and Expressionism I had done earlier that day. At first I had wanted to use autumn colours as found on site, but then came up with another option including very light colours, basically warm and cool shades of grey on a darker background prepared with a mix of Paynes grey and small amounts of other colours I would like to use, so that in the end the objects of the painting would have clear dark outlines. We’ll see whether this is feasible.
18 November 2016. It is very warm today and windy – what is called a “Föhn” weather situation typical for the Alps. It gives lots of people headaches, but others like me get a wonderful break from the November drizzle. It also makes painting outside a bit more difficult, since we get quite strong gusts of wind. Before going out I did a greyscale test in my sketchbook in order to find the colours I would need to take with me (Fig. 6).
Around lunchtime I left with my bike and 25 year old trailer full of painting materials and was extremely lucky to get to my site with the sun shining and the wind dropping (Fig. 7).
Here is my open air studio with prepared painting carton. I had a quantitiy of the mix used for the background with me and from this I mixed the rest of my colours. This system worked well, although I found that the conditions changing from bright sunshine to cloudy made my mixing results a bit arbitrary (Fig. 8).
When I found that a hue would not fit the purpose I had intended it for, I used it intuitively in other parts of the composition.
Here is the first stage of the finished painting. Lying in the shade it looks rather blue, which it is not under proper lighting conditions (Fig. 9):
I had two full hours of painting, before it suddenly got very cold and I had to call it a day.
This is how far I got today. I quite like the “coarse” areas of colour in the centre (see detail of white tree across the river and tree stumps in the middle ground below) (Fig. 10-11).
Contrary to what I said earlier I think that I will do a little more work on the exercise in the workshop during the next few days (when there will be November weather and snow again) to try and carefully apply this technique to other parts of the composition.
20 November 2016. Today I spent some time trying to extend the discovered technique to the whole painting. Some of it appears successful, some of it not so. While I was quite happy with the changes to the light, especially by achieving a weird glow in the willow tree hanging over the river and the trees to the left, I think that the trees in the foreground need some more change, although I cannot yet think of what would be required (Fig. 12).
Commentary: “The experience of painting outdoors”
The work required for painting outdoors was not unfamiliar to me. I have done so on many occasions in the past. Although this was mostly watercolours, I knew what to bring and was able to plan ahead taking into acount the weather forecast. The most important piece of equipment is my bicycle trailer. It allows me to take along all necessary equipment apart from an easel, but when working outside I usually prefer sitting on a stool with the support lying on the ground in front of me. Although I know that the faithful copying of the things seen is probably easier on an easel, I appreciate the slightly longer interval between taking in the visual information and putting it on canvas as a very valuable creative break. Also, for me working from above the support results in a much looser brushmark that when standing in front of the easel.
Making linear and coloured thumbnail sketches with ink pen and watercolour, as well as testing the range of colours I wanted to bring in a small sketch using acrylics in my sketchbook, was immensely helpful when approaching the final work. It allowed me to develop in my mind a working “reflection” of the painting-to-be. Working on the final piece consisted of modulating my gathered experience by what came up on site. It was very enjoyable to see and feel this work and I guess that slowly these techniques come more naturally to me.
With regard to formal compositional rules I tested on a printout that to a relatively large extent elements of both the Rule of Thirds and more so the Golden Mean are present, as well as a working foreground – middleground – background construction. There is a pathway into the painting provided by the sandy area leading to the river and on across the river via the conspicuous white fallen tree and the mirrored white in the path leading away from the far side of the river. I also tried to include mirror structures and areas of colour: the white in the fallen tree and far side path, the violet in the smaller tree on the right and in the tangle of very young trees to the left, the turquoise of the river and the hanging tree, and also the shape of the fallen tree mirrored in the branch arching over the hanging tree. Also, I tried to include considerations of aerial perspective by gradually reducing detail as well as colour contrast and intensity. I was happy with the idea of having a selection of shades of grey mixed from an initial mix of Paynes grey, natural burnt umber, raw umber and white at the basis of the composition, since it allowed me to adapt with ease to different requirements and also this slightly aubergine hue went extremely well with all the colours introduced at later points (oriental blue, cadmium red, cadmium yellow medium, cobalt turquoise and black).
Overall I think that the outcome is quite satisfactory, although I am increasingly able to see the weak points in composition and choice of colour.
19 November 2016. For me it always means to work against an inner resistance when required to look into breaking art down into formal mathematical principles. Of course I know about the value to be able to consciously apply rules of that kind, but I feel that it immediately stops dead my intuitive approach. In the context of the exercise “Painting a landscape outside” I therefore decided to go for a reversal of processes. I finished my painting and thereafter applied the compositional rules to it (for results see separate post) to see whether any of them appeared in it.
The Golden Mean or Divine Proportion is a ratio, a number equalling approximately 1.618 and given the mathematical symbol (Phi). It pervades the measurable components of our universe and describes the overall relationship between numbers in the famous Fibonacci sequence o, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 ….. (Meisner, 2015). The latter is the compositional basis for an incredible number of naturally occurring complex structures. Such structures, from snail shells to human proportions, are felt as being harmonious and beautiful (Fig. 1):
Both were arguably known and applied as early as in Ancient Egypt and Greece, but intensely researched, described and actively applied in art only during the Renaissance (Meisner, 2012). See a comprehensive collection of images showing examples from nature and art on Pinterest (n.d.) and an analysis of famous works in the history of art (Meisner, 2014a), including a video on Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” (Meisner, 2014b).
The Rule of Thirds, and the very similar phi-grid based on the Golden Mean (Christie, 2016), on the other hand, are rough guides to overall composition regarding the placement of the main objects in a painting. Renaissance artists had found that paintings with a central focal point provided a visual barrier against guiding the viewer through the composition and the results were often unpleasant to look at. In order to avoid the compositional “error” of placing the main object at the centre of the support, any format can be divided into nine equal rectangles and the most important elements are placed on, or near, the intersections. If the above rules are observed and used together with the equally important elements of foreground, middle ground and background, the result should be a composition offering both harmony and a story.
Personally I have to admit that I feel uncomfortable with the above rules not only for the reason I mentioned in the first paragraph, but also for their treacherous simplicity (leading to compositional freezing) and for an effect becoming more obvious with the increasing complexity of a painting: there seem to be so many suitable points to apply the rules that it appears impossible not to find them fulfilled. This, of course, may only prove the truth of the theory. We are so much part of nature that in acts of creating and designing we probably tend to follow its rules by intuition, if (!) we are mentally (and maybe spiritually) connected with our works of art at the moment of making them. So, given a secure working knowledge of techniques and materials and a freely flowing, truthful conversation with my work of art, whatever rules are applicable I would like to see become manifest as a consequence of, and not a precondition to creating a work of art.
Meisner, G. (2014b) Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi and the Divine Proportion [online]. PhiPoint Solutions, Brentwood. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXDmAtTJ6JY [Accessed 19 November 2016]
10 November 2016. This exercise comes at exactly the right time. Feeling exhausted and wobbly due to the strain experienced over so many years, I feel the strong need to create a landscape entirely from my mind in order to find a way of transporting this feeling of wanting to get away from all that madness.
When driving along a road near Berchtesgaden, seeing a sign for the “Almbachklamm” river gorge (if you ever happen to be near this magical place, go there!) I suddenly knew that this was what I wanted for this exercise. Since on top of a river gorge you always come out into an open space, I want to use a gorge metaphorically to represent this claustrophobic time of my life. I love walking in those special places, which have a climate and vegetation of their own, ancient, exciting and full of energy. I love the wooden stairs, walkways and bridges that take you along the most spectacular sights without the danger of falling off a cliff and into one of the gorgeous waterfalls and pools. Which is exactly what I am craving for at the moment: a secure, reliable and enjoyable walkway away from forces I am unable to control.
So I went to look for artists painting river gorges. The results I got were not what I expected (enter “river gorge painting” into your search engine and see for yourself). Gorges appear not to be very popular among painters, except those creating romanticist landscapes, so I guess that I will have to follow my own intuition.
I knew however that I would need some very energetic mark-making in order to express the menace felt and desire to escape. Doing some research into this I first came across the attractive brushmarks made by Louise Balaam (UK) (Balaam, n.d.), which she uses to create what looks like deceptively simple landscapes. Her way of catching the mood of the atmosphere, so to speak, by transforming the space created by nothing but air into a “vessel” filled with motion and emotion looks stunning to me. However, there are no pictures catching a claustrophobic environment. Her choice of subjects are the free and lofty. Very strong blocks of colour I found in the paintings of Columbia River by Elizabeth See (US) (See, 2012) and especially some like those seen in the bottom image (4/4, yellow), I might be able to use in my own work. Regarding waterfalls I found the marks made in “Skyfall” by Linda Wilder (Wilder, n.d.) very lively and probably closest to what I want to do.
15 November 2016. Yesterday and today I made a first sketch depicting an imaginary river gorge. I am happy about the composition, so I will try and stay with it for the final painting (Fig. 1):
On top of this sketch I then painted, intuitively, some greyscale tonal variation, taking care to be aware of both linear and aerial perspective (Fig. 2):
I really liked the square format, because it allows to both expand in the foreground and have a strong vertical aspect. The tonal sketch helped me identify the areas I need to paint with great care, especially towards the far back, where I want the sky to be felt as open space. In this sketch I found that the painting of sky and hill colours followed by a semi-transparent layer of white helped convey this impression. I need to think also whether I want the walkway as means of escape to be painted in a highly contrasting colour, maybe a warm, dark orange, which would require an evening sky as a consequence. Since I do not want this exercise to degenerate into a kitsch horror, I might resist the temptation though :o).
Once I had prepared the background for the final painting, however, I did not prefer the square format any longer. There was so much claustrophobic energy waiting to be spent that I had no time to cut the paper and so I started painting straight away with my palette knife on a background made of three semi-transparent layers of white, blue and bluegreen, indicating very roughly where the gorge would be. Since I wanted my red rocks, the claustrophobic ones, to be in the painting first, I think I made a mistake by starting from the foreground. This made adding the rocky layers at the back somewhat more complex. Still this beginning looked three-dimensional and the wild mix of colours was close to what I had in mind (Fig. 3):
After adding some more elements of the gorge the whole composition started looking a bit patchy and disconnected (layering …) (Fig. 4):
… which I managed to solve more or less (Fig. 5):
This was when I got stuck. I really liked the blue negative space and did not want to spoil the effect, but then I would not be able to proceed as planned. So with introducing a first sketch of the walkway and something like water it got a bit more fiddly and I kept jumping erratically from one bit to the next, but I was pleased with how the rocks in the foreground came out (please ignore the gorge walls, walkway and water, they are only sketches at this stage) (Fig. 6):
The sketched-in walkways appeared very crude at that point. I have not found a technique and/or paintbrush yet, which would allow me to produce fine but not fussy lines in an otherwise rough painting. Also often my hand is not steady enough when working on an easel and so I had to work round the wide lines to narrow them down. At the same time I worked on the red of the rocks on the righthand side. These stood out far too much after having subdued the rocks to the left. By the way, the technique of starting with darker, bold brushstrokes, followed by letting the paint become completely dry and another set of semi-dry layers of lighter paint on top of that allows the creating of very life-like rock with lively surface textures (Fig. 7):
17 November 2016. Today I finished this exercise with further narrowing down the walkways, working on the rocks at the back and painting over the greenish hue the water had assumed over night by getting darker while drying. There are several weak points in my intuitive composition, but an inner warning voice told me to stop working here. So this is the result (Fig. 8):
I am quite happy about the outcome, especially the potential of this rough technique. It was by far easier than expected to produce rock-like structures with just my palette knife and a small flat paintbrush. Regarding my initial plan of relieving a claustrophobic atmosphere by providing a pathway into the open I think that some of it can be felt, although by narrowing down the view more it should be possible to push the idea a lot further. This is a goal I would like to set myself for the assignment piece for this part of the course.
Updated on 22 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some contents).
17 November 2016. The period of Fauvism (The Art Story, n.d.(a)) was a brief interlude in the history of painting, lasting a mere nine years between 1899 and 1908. Initially inspired by (post)-Impressionist painters Van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin and Cézanne, pupils of symbolist painter Gustave Moreau established a group following common interests led by Henri Matisse. Their main interest was in using intense and pure colour in the transportation of emotion while ignoring aspects of perspective and thus proved groundbreaking for the emergence of Expressionism and means of abstraction. Colour was no longer used in a purely representational way, but was chosen to transport emotion in an overall strong, balanced composition. The most influential work of art belonging to this period is “Le Bonheur de Vivre” by Henri Matisse (1869-1954, France) (The Barnes Foundation, 2017). Other well-known examples are “The Mountains at Collioure”painted by André Derain during a holiday with Matisse in 1905 (National Gallery of Art, 2017) or “Le Viaduc de l’Estaque” by Cubist-to-be Georges Braque (1882-1963, France) (video discussion by Harris and Zucker, n.d.).
Fauvism was to provide the initial spark also for German Expressionism, a movement lasting from 1905 until about 1937 (Museum of Modern Art, n.d.(a)). Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Wassily Kandinsky were some of the founding fathers of the movement, which emerged more or less simultaneously in Dresden and Munich (Encyclopaedia of Art History, n.d.). The members of the group shared a humanistic worldview and “ambivalent attitude towards modernity” (Museum of Modern Art (n.d.(a)), thus was not only an artistic endeavour like Fauvism: besides striving for a means of making visible the emotions felt by the artist while painting th emovement reflected an all-encompassing position borne by a number sub-movements (Encyclopaedia of Art History, n.d.) such as “Die Brücke”, “Der Blaue Reiter” and somewhat later “Die Neue Sachlichkeit” (Museum of Modern Art (n.d.(a)) within the 20th century. Over the many decades of its existence, a great number of artists were members of German Expressionism, who before that and/or after its end were representatives of other art movements as well. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), for example, was a founding member of the “Die Brücke” group (1905-1913) (The Art Story, n.d.(b)), which was pioneering in leading the development of painting in Germany towards Expressionism. A good example of Kirchner’s style is “Snow Over Davos” (Fig. 1).
Among Kirchner’s “Die Brücke” colleagues were e.g. Erich Heckel (1883-1970), who contributed a large selection of prints (Museum of Modern Art, n.d.(b)) or Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), see e.g. “Village Square” painted in 1919 (The Athenaeum, n.d.). Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc were the pioneers of the loose “Blauer Reiter” group (The Art Story, n.d.(c)), which ended, when Marc and colleague August Macke died during World War I.
Fluctuation seems to have characterized the movement of German Expressionism overall, reflecting the troubled times in the first half of the 20th century. It was then only another cruel twist of fate that the movement as a whole should in the end fall victim to the Nazi regime, which in its notorious “degenerate art” campaign either destroyed or sold the works of art “in exchange for foreign currency”. The expulsion from the Prussian Academy of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), one of the most influential formative forces of the humanistic momentum within German Expressionism (Awad, 2011), appears to mark the imminent end of “official” German Expressionism. Many artists either emigrated or decided to continue working in seclusion, thereby continuing to exert their influence on the development of painting either via non-public channels or else from outside Germany (Museum of Modern Art (n.d.(a)).