Assignment 4: Self-evaluation

Updated on 24 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

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.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Assignment 4: Claustrophobia [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 29 November. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/assignment-4-claustrophobia/ [Accessed 29 November 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) Part 4, project 3, exercise 1: Expressive landscape – creating mood and atmosphere [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 17 November. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/part-4-project-3-exercise-1-expressive-landscape-creating-mood-and-atmosphere/ [Accessed 29 November 2016]

Part 4, project 3, exercise 1: Expressive landscape – creating mood and atmosphere

Updated on 22 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

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):

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – preliminary compositional pencil sketch

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):

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Figure 2. Sketchbook – watercolour sketch

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):

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Figure 3. Prepared background with first rock layer added using painting knife

After adding some more elements of the gorge the whole composition started looking a bit patchy and disconnected (layering …) (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Adding gorge layout

… which I managed to solve more or less (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. Connecting the elements

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):

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Figure 6. Adding structural elements

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):

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Figure 7. Working on the rock texture

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):

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Figure 8. Finished painting

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.

References:

Balaam, L. (n.d.) Paintings [image collection] [online]. Louise Balaam, Kent. Available at: http://www.louisebalaam.co.uk/louise_balaam_paintings.htm [Accessed 10 November 2016]

See, E. (2012) Plein Air Paintings Columbia River Gorge [blog] [online]. Elizabeth See, White Salmon. Available at: http://elizabethseepaints.blogspot.co.at/2012/03/plein-air-paintings-columbia-river.html [Accessed 10 November 2016]

Wilder, L. (n.d.) Skyfall [online]. Linda Wilder. Available at: http://lindawilderart.com/workszoom/1467608 [Accessed 10 November 2016]

Research point: Evolution of landscape painting

Updated on 12 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

27 September 2016. How weird, starting Part 4 of Painting 1 makes me look back on the past eight months and I realise that I have lost my feeling for time. It feels as if I had just started this course and I have not yet made a working connection. No wonder, this recent past belongs to the most demanding periods of time I have ever experienced in my life and what we do is to try and survive from one day to the next. Part 4 probably comes at an awkward time, when I should be looking out from the inside, while I am mostly inside (mentally and physically). Also, autumn is coming and I hope to be able to complete my plein air paintings before the weather turns cold and wet.

9 October 2016. A bit more settled now into the new daily routine I feel fit to start Part 4 with researching the evolution of landscape painting, which, rather surprisingly at first, took as long as the 18th century to develop as a separate genre. On the other hand, the painting of landscapes with no other intention or purpose, religious or mundane, might be seen as a somewhat luxurious side-effect of increasing overall wealth. Landscapes as we are free to see them now used to be mainly dangerous grounds, on which the survival of the local population depended. Their delicate agricultural properties together with the effects of weather and climate, all of which make spectacular and dramatic elements of landscape painting, were then, understandably, rarely valued for their aesthetic qualities. Even I remember from my own 1960s’ childhood in Austria that the farmers we knew were extremely keen to set right, with admirable brutality, the romanticist view my artist parents held about a rural life in beautiful landscapes.

Landscape painting evolved nevertheless and since its beginnings has come up with a great wealth of the most wonderful and intriguing works of art. As with other new genres it was first developed by Dutch painters and as with the painting of interiors it was the rise of the merchant middle classes and their demand for affordable good quality paintings for their own homes, which sped its evolution. Pioneering landscape artist Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665, France) (Fig. 2) shifted his interest from historic to landscape painting, because he believed that it was possible to express emotion with similar effect via the properties of a landscape and prepared the grounds for an only slowly rising acceptance of this genre by the leading teaching institutions in the 18th century. His landscapes, as far as I could find out, were still always populated, following the long tradition of historical painting, but it can be felt that the landscape did no longer serve as a backdrop to some historical event. Roles appear reversed – people move in and use a landscape in a more or less natural way, but are not necessarily the main subject (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.):

nicolas_poussin_kl
Figure 1. Nicholas Poussin: “Landscape with a Calm”, 1650, oil on canvas. Source: Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Still, it was only when the term “historic landscape” was promoted by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819, France), serving as a safety mark for official recognition of quality in the transition from historic to landscape painting, that academe came to change its hitherto rigid stance (The National Gallery, n.d.; The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.). De Valenciennes was among the first to ask students to sketch and paint outside as an essential element of their training (Oakley, 2015;  The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.). Plein air oil painting requires thorough preparation, though, and a fast, bold stroke in order to capture a mood or atmosphere before it changes. This is visible in an oil sketch by de Valenciennes (Fig. 2), which to me feels very modern and indeed his plein air paintings proved groundbreaking on the way to Impressionism (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.):

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Figure 2. Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes: “Rome: Houses and a Domed Church”, ca. 1783, oil on cardboard. Source: Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
This development occurred at a time, when on the one hand the whole hitherto agriculturally dominated social landscape was being reformed by the full-blown Industrial Revolution, and on the other, photography began to exert a strong influence on landscape painting. It is not surprising then that the young genre changed and diversified rapidly. Idealized rural landscapes were gradually, but not completely, replaced by increasingly innovative and critical compositions and choices of subject. Groundbreaking among these was French painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), eagerly studied at a later point by the Impressionist painters, especially Cézanne and Van Gogh, but also artists far into the 20th century (Galitz, 2009), see e.g. “The Stone Breakers” in Fig. 3 below in comparison with Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906, France) “The House with the Cracked Walls” (Fig. 4):

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Figure 3. Gustave Courbet: “The Stone Breakers”, 1849, oil on canvas. Source: Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
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Figure 4. Paul Cézanne: “The House with the Cracked Walls”, 1892-1894, oil on canvas. Source: Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
With the rise of photography landscape painters learned to adopt previously unthought-of viewpoints, e.g. by cropping the landscape, providing unusual viewing angles or introducing novel types of brushmark, such as in the wonderfully fresh paintings of Canadian Tom Thomson (1877-1917, who died prematurely by drowning in one of the lakes he used to paint, University of Victoria, n.d.) (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. Tom Thomson: Study for “Northern River”, gouache, brush and ink over graphite on illustration board, 1914-15. Source: Tom Thomson (1877-1917) [Public domain] via Art Canada Institute
Throughout the 20th century and up to now this process of diversification has been continuing, giving rise to a number of specialized categories such as “urban”, “cultural” and “industrial landscape” as well as landscape architecture (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.), and with the advent of new media with an increasing cross-over of subject and technical approaches.
Below, for example, Wassily Kandinsky’s (1866-1944, Russia) famous blue rider (Fig. 6), allegedly eponymous for the rebellious “Blauer Reiter” expressionist movement, which was in existence for only three years from 1911 to 1914 but of huge influence (The Art Story, n.d.). For Kandinsky the colour blue was the colour of spirituality (The Art Story, n.d.), and the appearance of blue in both the rider and the landscape appears to me as a sign that Kandinsky may not have made a difference between the spirituality of man and that of nature, but that both are one, and that he may not have made a distinction at all between the rider and the landscape he moves in:

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Figure 6. Wassily Kandinsky: “The Blue Rider”, 1903, oil on canvas. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Edward Hopper (1882-1967), an American realist painter, on the other hand, explained that his main interest in choosing the subject below was no more than the wonderful distribution of light in the spectacular rocky landscape and that he paid no separate attention to the intrusion of man into and exertion of possible negative influences on that valley (14), as e.g. in “Road in Maine” painted in 1914 (Fig. 7):

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Figure 7. Edward Hopper: “Road in Maine”, 1914, oil on canvas. Source: Edward Hopper (1882-1967) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
One of the most accomplished 21th century Austrian watercolour landscape and cityscape painters is Bernhard Vogel (*1961). For a comprehensive overview over his work see his website (Vogel, 2017). From personal encounters (participating in one of his watercolour courses many years ago) I know that his incentive for choosing a subject is a pure aesthetic pleasure in what he sees. When surfing the web, I gained the impression that he appears to share his approach with the overwhelming majority of landscape painters working today (enter “urban landscape painting” in your browser and see for yourself). It was thus difficult to find a mainstream of artistic voices uttering a mild concern about, say, climate change, social decline in our megacities or the destruction of our rainforests. If they want to share their opinion, they do it with all their might and, of course, with the advent of powerful graphics engines the critical voices among the contemporary painters received an impressive tool to utter their concerns. The power of modern computers has been allowing the creation of hyperrealistic, overwhelming apocalyptic worlds (Qu, 2013) for some time, whose impact is probably hard to top by mainstream painting. To me, interestingly, the composition of these worlds appears to tie in with the origins of landscape painting. People surviving the desaster, i.e. after having been kicked out of Paradise, appear to operate before a backdrop of destroyed landscape.

Of course in our century anything has become possible, including the landscape itself serving as canvas for the relatively new phenomenon of “land art”, where artists express themselves in exchange with an existing landscape, from the very simple to highly elaborate pieces, as in Fig. 8 and Fig. 9 below:

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Figure 8. Zeevveez: “Spiral With Anemon”. Source: Zeeveez (n.d.) [Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic] via Wikimedia Commons
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Figure 9. Patche99z: “Land art in one of the show gardens, Chelsea Flower Show 2006”. Source: Patche99z (2006) [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported] via Wikimedia Commons

For a visual overview over the development of landscape painting also see a slideshow provided by the Tate gallery (Tate, n.d.).

References:

Cézanne, P. (1892-94) The House with the Cracked Walls [oil on canvas] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Paul_C%C3%A9zanne_033.jpg [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Courbet, G. (1849) The Stone Breakers [oil on canvas] [online]. New Masters Gallery, Dresden. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stone_Breakers#/media/File:Gustave_Courbet_018.jpg [Accessed 27 September 2016]

de Valenciennes, P.-H. (c.1783) Rome: Houses and a Domed Church [oil on cardboard] [online]. Louvre, Paris. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blick_auf_die_Umgebung_von_Rom.jpg [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Galitz, K. C. (2009) Gustave Courbet [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gust/hd_gust.htm [Accessed 27 September 2017]

Hopper, E. (1914) Road in Maine [oil on canvas] [online]. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Edward_Hopper_Road_in_Maine.jpg [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Kandinsky, W. (1903) Der Blaue Reiter [oil on canvas] [online]. Stiftung Sammlung E.G. Bührle, Zurich. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7b/Wassily_Kandinsky%2C_1903%2C_The_Blue_Rider_%28Der_Blaue_Reiter%29%2C_oil_on_canvas%2C_52.1_x_54.6_cm%2C_Stiftung_Sammlung_E.G._B%C3%BChrle%2C_Zurich.jpg [Accessed 27 September 2017]

Oakley, H. (2015) Favourite Paintings 5: Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes and Thomas Jones, Plein Air, c 1782 [blog] [online]. The Eclectic Light Company, n.k., 18 February 2015. Available at: https://eclecticlight.co/2015/02/18/favourite-paintings-5-pierre-henri-de-valenciennes-and-thomas-jones-plein-air-c-1782/ [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Patche99z (2006) Land art in one of the show gardens, Chelsea Flower Show 2006 [photograph][online]. Patche99z, n.k.. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chelsea_006_to_008.jpg [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Poussin, N. (1650) Landscape With a Calm [oil on canvas] [online].Getty Centre, Los Angeles. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/Nicolas_Poussin_%28French_-_Landscape_with_a_Calm_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Qu, James (2013) “Oblivion” – 20 Epic Examples of City Destruction Matt Paintings
[image gallery] [online]. James Qu, n.k., 29 July 2013. Available at: http://www.psdvault.com/inspirations/oblivion-20-epic-examples-of-city-destruction-matt-paintings/ [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Tate (n.d.) Landscape [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/l/landscape [Accessed 27 September 2016]

The Art Story (n.d.) Der Blaue Reiter [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-der-blaue-reiter.htm [Accessed 12 March 2017]

The J. Paul Getty Museum (n.d.) Brief History of the Landscape Genre [online]. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Available at: https://www.getty.edu/education/teachers/classroom_resources/curricula/landscapes/background1.html [Accessed 27 September 2016]

The National Gallery (n.d.) Pierre Henri de Valenciennes [online]. The National Gallery, London. Available at: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/pierre-henri-de-valenciennes [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Thomson, T. (1914-15) Study for “Northern River” [gouache, brush and ink over graphite on illustration board] [online]. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Available at: http://www.aci-iac.ca/tom-thomson/key-works/northern-river [Accessed 27 September 2016]

University of Victoria (n.d.) Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History. Death on a Painted Lake. The Tom Thomson Tragedy [online]. University of Victoria. Available at: http://www.canadianmysteries.ca/sites/thomson/tragedy/indexen.html [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Vogel Bernhard (2017) Works [image gallery] [online]. Bernhard Vogel, Salzburg. Available at: http://www.bernhard-vogel.at/en/works/ [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Zeevveez (2013) Spiral With Anemone [landart] [online]. Zeevveez, n.k.. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Spiral_with_Anemon_%288496619437%29.jpg [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Part 3, project 2, exercise 3 – Looking at faces – creating mood and atmosphere

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

15 August 2016. In order to see how colours interact on a canvas to create mood and atmosphere, I carried out a simple experiment. I went to look for an interesting facial expression and used two different combinations of colours to see how mood and atmosphere change. Also, as I mentioned in my previous post (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), Alexej von Jawlensky and the resemblance to thermographic imaging sounded fascinating to me. So I used Jawlensky’s “Blue Head” as a reference, and had blue, red and yellow as well as Paynes grey and white to chose from.

The model I selected was not a sitter, but the photo of a winner of a gold medal at the London Olympic games in 2012. I had a look at several and selected a few, where facial expression was not just joy, but mixed with something else. I found one like that for 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen (Yang, 2012), whose victory was so stunning that it became a doping issue so fierce that it now appears to ruin her career although the suspicions apparently were never confirmed. Hence probably the diffuse emotions on her face (Yang, 2012). The same I found in the Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, but this time due to having to fight depression (Watson, 2012).

Then I had a look at some thermographic portraits to get accustomed to the colour schemes used there (Taylor (2016), Sébire (2016), Sarfels (2013)). These were not too helpful, because the range of colours is of course entirely up to the designer, but they all roughly follow the red/hot-yellow/warm-blue/cold sequence. This I used to set up my own colour scheme, asking myself how the winner of the gold medal would probably react at the ceremony in order to identify the hot and cold areas on their face. Here I proceeded purely intuitively, since my goal was not to end up with a faithful thermographic image, but to see whether I could produce, by using very strong colours, an impression of resonance with an excited crowd (top image) or momentary introversion without emotional contact with the surroundings (bottom image). This is what I came up with, on two adjacent pages in my sketchbook (Fig. 1-2):

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Figure 1. Sketchbook: Range of facial colours “in contact with the environment”

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Figure 2. Sketchbook: Range of facial colours “separate from the environment”

I quite like both portraits and their wild colours, although I am not so sure whether the changes in colour added atmospheric quality to the paintings in the intended way. At the start I had hoped that the anxious look on the medal winner’s face, which in my opinion would be totally inappropriate to the occasion in case she had nothing on her mind to dampen her joy, might be altered by the warm and cool choice of colours as well as the similarity or disparity with the heated up surroundings. At the moment I would not be able to tell whether the experiment was successful, but I will show both paintings to some people without giving them any information about my intentions and see if they can spot the difference.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Research point: Mood and atmosphere in portraits [blog] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/08/14/research-point-mood-and-atmosphere-in-portraits/ [Accessed 11 March 2017]

Sarfels, J. (2013) Sichtbares Mitgefühl. Soziologische Forschung mit Wärmebildkameras [online]. Inspect, Weinheim. Available at: http://www.inspect-online.com/topstories/control/sichtbares-mitgefuehl [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Sébire, A. (2016) In the Heat of the Moment [exhibition announcement] [online]. Adam Sébire, Sydney. Available at: https://www.adamsebire.info/the-works/in-the-heat-of-the-moment [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Taylor, L.A. (2016) Breast Thermography Now Available in the Greater Buffalo Area
[online]. Linda Ann Taylor, Williamsville. Available at: http://www.lindaanntaylor.com/thermography.html [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Watson, L. (2012) Five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe reveals he considered suicide and planned places to end his life during career crippled by depression [online]. Mail Online, 14 October 2012. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2217623/Five-time-Olympic-champion-Ian-Thorpe-considered-suicide-planned-places-end-life-career-crippled-depression.html [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Yang, Y. (2012) China gives Western media a gold medal for bias [online]. Latitude News, Cambridge, USA. Available at: http://www.latitudenews.com/story/china-gives-western-media-a-gold-medal-for-bias/ [Accessed 15 August 2016]

 

Research point: Mood and atmosphere in portraits

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to content).

14 August 2016. This subject is unchartered territory for me and I think that, had I been asked the same question at the start of the course, I would not have understood the question in the intended way. It is not just about reproducing what I see, but about what I would call a resonance among the colours in a painting. The painting reproduced on p. 87 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011), “Head in Blue” (1912) by Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941, Russian-German expressionist painter and co-founder of the “Blauer Reiter” movement, (Arts Experts, n.d.)) pointed me to the fact. For me it was the first time ever to see the colours before the subject, a weird and unexpected experience and I will be trying to test this in my next exercise.

But first, to set the scene, what is mood and what is atmosphere? To me, mood seems to be a characteristic that is tied to objects, not just human beings, nor even animals or other living organisms, but anything present in the visible world. Mood, of course is a human concept and the interpretation of what we see or feel is invariably connected with being human and our individual experiences. Atmosphere, on the other hand, appears to be the sum of radiated moods and by reciprocal action may influence the mood of someone or something within its reach. Therefore I think, but I may be totally wrong here, that as a painter I should be unable to capture a mood without capturing an atmosphere. In order to provide a portrait with both I need to feel carefully this radiation and should eventually be able to trace it back to the mood of the portrayed person.

How does colour come in here? It will most certainly not be enough to call on colour symbolism and paint a green face to portray envy or a red face to convey anger, or whatever. A person is never only the stage for one feeling, but “mood” seems to be the sum of feelings felt at a moment in time, as a result of intrinsic sources and in resonance with the atmosphere. I think that it is only possible to capture mood and atmosphere by letting oneself to be guided by the messages picked up by intuition.

So, how do other artists use colour here? Because of the strong impression left by the first encounter, I decided to stay with Jawlensky and see whether I could find out some principles by comparing some of his works.

First, his “Head in Blue” (Fig. 1):

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Figure 1. Alexej von Jawlensky: “Head in Blue”, 1912, oil on cardboard. Source: Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Comons
My impressions in short:

  1. Outline of head and surroundings are both more or less the same colour, so the person seems to be in resonance with the surroundings
  2. The strong lines, bold blocks of colour and shape of the facial features suggest a strong character, who shows it at the moment of painting: she is alert, but in a “cool” manner
  3. The chosen colours remind me of the image produced by a thermal camera, although the result would in reality be somewhat different. Interestingly, this observation ties in with my concept of mood and atmosphere influencing each other by means of “radiation”. The red – warm – areas I interpret as those active in radiation and re-radiation: The person is active in taking in her surroundings by vision and smell, less so by hearing, little by touch, but not at that moment by verbal communication

When comparing the above with other portraits by Jawlensky, e.g. “Frauenkopf” (1911), the difference in colour between surroundings and head act to leave the impression of an introvert character. The somewhat erratic brush strokes defining the outline seem to indicate a conflict with the environment and the eyes, although open, do not seem to make contact with anything in particular. When looking with my thermal camera I detect the hottest, i.e. most active, areas on the forehead, cheeks and the back of the neck, as if he were struggling to keep up some appearance. Most senses and verbal communication seem not to be too active.

To me, one of the most impressive of Jawlensky’s paintings was the portrait of the dancer and actor Alexander Sakharoff :

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Figure 2. Alexej von Jawlensky: “Portrait of Alexander Sakharoff”, 1909, oil on cardboard. Source: Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Body posture, outline, choice of colours and surrounding brushstrokes make the whole canvas a vibrating whole. To me, the dancer’s true mood might be hidden behind an air of overt professional provocation directed at the painter, enhanced by the stage dress: Here, the most important connections seem to be the eyes and their colour repeated by the environment and the red of mouth, rose and dress. While the latter send an “invitation” (red standing out from the picture plane, hot area for the thermal camera), the former seem to say “Let me see you dare” (turquoise standing back,  cool area for the camera). What a clever composition.

References:

Arts Experts (n.d.) Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) [online]. Arts Experts, New York. Available at: https://www.artexpertswebsite.com/pages/artists/jawlensky.php [Accessed 14 August 2016]

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 87.

von Jawlensky, A. (1909) Portrait of Alexander Sakharoff [oil on canvas] [online]. Lenbachhaus, Munich. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jawlensky_Sakharoff.jpg [Accessed 14 August 2016]

von Jawlensky, A. (19119) Head of a Woman [oil on millboard laid on plywood] [online]. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexej_von_Jawlensky_-_Frauenkopf_(Head_of_a_Woman)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg [Accessed 14 August 2016]

von Jawlensky, A. (1912) Head in Blue [oil on cardboard] [online]. Buchheim Museum der Phantasie, Bernried. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexej_von_Jawlensky_-_Kopf_in_Blau.jpg [Accessed 14 August 2016]

 

Part 2, project 3, exercise 4: Colour relationships – still life with complementary colours

Updated on 28 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

21 May 2016. After having spent some time researching colour relationships I became aware of the fact that complementary colours are not just those lying opposite to one another on the colour wheel. There are a number of interesting combinations, each of which creates a very different harmony and thus atmosphere (Tiger Color, n.d., Decker, 2017).

My intention for this exercise is to use it as a first preparation for my choice of colours for Assignment 2. What I want to test in particular is what happens if certain combinations of complementary colours in their simple forms (i.e. those lying opposite) are used for an identical setup using identical techniques. In order to concentrate on colour effects I decided that I would create a very simple arrangement cocktail glasses and accessories and omit 3D by flattening out forms. The finished studies I would like to put on a larger canvas in a grid, just as in Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) famous Marilyn Monroe prints (Borg, n.d. for an image and explanation). Referring to the latter I found an interactive experiment (WebExhibits, n.d.), which investigates just what I am looking for.

22 May 2016. Today I decided that I would want to carry out the experiments and the finished painting for this exercise with blue and orange, both of which are readily associated with cocktails and are excellent in conveying particular opposite emotions. With my simple setup of cocktail glasses I will try and create a number of identical paintings with the colours distributed in different ways. For this reason I will not need actual cocktails, but will “fill” the glasses with my chosen colours.

27 May 2016. To start with I experimented with the mutual effects the complementary pair have on each other, repeating and extending on the experiments introduced earlier in this part of the course. I put the colours (primary cyan, orange mixed from primary yellow and primary magenta to result in an orange skewed neither towards yellow or orange) through a basic investigation of properties, looking for situations of enhancement and cancelling-out (left image below). Then I went through another mixing experiment, repeating one I had thought I had to end abruptly because of running out of space in row one. I did so, too, this time, but continued by placing the last mix in the first row again as the first mix in the second row so as to allow a more or less continuous flow of information. The choice of colours will not allow a grey to develop halfway through the gradual changes, but rather a full green, which is however much darker in tone than both the starting hues. This effect is something I have not yet fully understood and when there is time I will try and find more information on the physics behind it (top part of right image below).

Next I created three very short sets of mixes containing the following sequences:
original hue -> tint (mix with white) -> shade (mix with black) -> tone (mix with grey)
Following the instructions on p. 69 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011) a use of black or neutral grey mixed from white and black does not seem to be allowed, so the only chance of a dark hue for this experiment is the use of green. However, it is possible to mix a great number of pleasing tints, so that the medium dark green available as the darkest tone will of course look darker when next to one of the tints (Fig. 1a-b).


In the next step I had another session on the computer to find out more about still lifes using blue and orange only, and I came up with one (“Still Life with Blue Orange 2” by James Bland (*1979, UK) see Fig. 2 below) I wanted to use as a source of information regarding the available mixed and distribution of colours on the canvas. Besides, I like the brushstrokes, which seem to be rather dry at the edges of colour areas, letting layers of colour shine through. It appears that here also there are no colours other than the ones I chose, while I am not sure whether I would be allowed to use a pink or light yellow mixed from white and the respective primary colours used in mixing orange. I decided that I would not take the risk and stayed with the above mixes.

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Figure 2. James Bland (*1979) “Still Life with Blue Orange 2”, n.d., n.k. Source: James Bland (*1979) via Lilford Gallery

Next I prepared an A2 acrylic paper with a neutral grey ground. While I left this to dry I tried some setups with four different glasses used in mixing cocktails. My intention was to create some movement conveying an indication of a story told. The setup fitting my idea best was the one top right in Fig. 3 below:

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Figure 3. Testing setups

The prepared grey ground I split in four squares and filled them with the following grounds: primary cyan, orange, the darkest achievable green and a bluish green (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Prepared split background

On this I drew with a lighter and a darker mix of my complementary colours, then quickly filled the spaces with imaginary “cocktails” (Fig. 5-7):

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Figure 5: Sketches using line and setup with viewfinder
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Figure 6. Intermediate stage
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Figure 7. Filled sketches

I quite like I the overall effect of this study and there is an endless number of lessons to be learned from it. Since I did not refer to my setup closely, but allowed imagination to play a role, these sketch paintings seem loose and full of movement. It was difficult to make a choice for the final painting of this exercise, but in the end to me the top left combination of colours seemed  suitable for the purpose.

After having prepared another A2 ground, this time with primary blue only – so as to avoid mistakes regarding instructions – I made another loose painting in the style of the above (see Fig. 8 below, for which, for some reason, I had to place the painting in a floor area in my workshop fully lit by the evening sun in order to get the colours more or less right):

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Figure 8. First layer of complementary colour painting, ball-like object on the right is an imaginary belladonna cherry to play a major role as an ingredient to Assignment 2
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Figure 9. Tonal contrast

There are some quite nice effects in this first layer of colours (Fig. 9 above) and I want to keep them for later reference, in case I destroy them when continuing to work on the painting. I noticed, in particular, how a lighter layer of a light greenish orange on top of the primary blue, except for the shadows thrown by the glasses, will help to deepen the shadows. With the glass “filled with a white liquid” the effect is particularly noticeable, because both the white and the light blue next to the shadow further heighten the tonal contrast.
Since this way of painting is very new to me I can see that my use of the above effects is still more accidental than deliberate, but I want to know where this road will lead me and I want to work hard to master it.

28 May 2016. Today I finished my painting for this exercise. Here is the result (Fig. 10-13):

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Figure 10. Finished painting, A2 acrylic paper

And here come some details:

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Figure 11. Finished painting – detail of reflections on glass and table
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Figure 12. Finished painting – detail of reflections on stem of tall glass
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Figure 13. Finished painting – detail of blue shadow

It took some getting acquainted with applying the laws governing the use of complementary colours only in a painting. Blue and orange may not be the most convenient pair because of the non-availability of grey or near black tones, but I liked the necessity of having to make parts of the painting lighter instead of darker to bring out the darker tones. It was a totally different experience for me and while I know that my technique is still in its infancy, I want to pursue it further throughout the course.

Resources:

Bland, J. (n.d.) Still Life with Blue Orange 2 [n.k.] [online]. Lilford Gallery, Canterbury. Available at: http://www.lilfordgallery.com/james-bland/still-life-with-blue-orange-2/ [Accessed 21 May 2016]

Borg, E. (n.d.) Andy Warhol and Colour [blog] [online]. Discovering design. Available at: https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/emilyborg/andy-warhol-and-color/ [Accessed 21 May 2016]

Decker, K. (2017) The Fundamentals of Understanding Color Theory [online]. 99designs, Oakland. Available at: https://en.99designs.at/blog/tips/the-7-step-guide-to-understanding-color-theory/ [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 69.

Tiger Color (n.d.) Color Harmonies: Basic Techniques for Combining Colours [online]. Tiger Colors, Oppegard. Available at: http://www.tigercolor.com/color-lab/color-theory/color-harmonies.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

WebExhibits (n.d.) Color Vision and Art: Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Prints [online]. WebExhibits. Available at: http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/marilyns.html [Accessed 21 May 2016]