20 August 2016. A few days ago we were given a day off to spend at the local spa and sauna. The totally relaxed lady we found floating in the pool was so impressive that I found I had to try and make her the subject of my Assignment 3. Although she would probably not count as a true portrait with her face half hidden because of the extreme viewing angle, I just had to take the risk.
08 September 2016. The lady reminded me a lot of the work by Jenny Saville and in preparation I had a look at a large number of Saville’s paintings. Her wonderful delicate handling of skin tones is something to remember, although I know that my own approach is somewhat rougher and I do not want to avoid it on account of trying to copy someone else’s style. Also today I did some intense research on the science of painting pool water. There was a very detailed tutorial (at the time of updating this post the tutorial had unfortunately been taken off the web for copyright reasons and is available only if bought from the author (Mural Joe, n.d.).
15 September 2016. Today I started on the assignment by making a preliminary sketch in order to position the lady correctly, since foreshortening was very strong in her case. As in the exercises preceding this assignment I decided to avoid referring to any photos, in order to see whether my knowledge about human anatomy and memory imprint of the floating lady would be sufficient to produce a hopefully believable form (Fig. 1).
Next I prepared an A2 canvas carton with a watery mix of blue and turquise (Fig. 2).
23 September 2016. I noticed how my recent use of acrylic paper had let me forget about the qualities of canvas and the preparation of the background I wanted took me a long time. The smoothness of paper is something I have come to like, since it allows the production of fine detail with ease, while the roughness of the canvas I use leaves, at least at my level of expertise, more than a fair share of the outcome to coincidence.
On the finished background I quickly painted my lady as I remembered her without further reference to other work or photos. I also tried to see her from my caricaturist’s viewpoint, which proved extremely useful in the construction of a loosely painted first layer. My main goal was the creation of a form unusual enough to allow it not to be easily forgotten and in analysing this form to both find and emphasize, if necessary by exaggeration, the innate rhythm in the sequence of arms, breasts, thighs and feet, while trying to take great care in designing a pool atmosphere, whose orderly shapes and cool colours would make a hopefully interesting contrast to the lady’s well-rounded forms (Fig. 3).
This painting is another one in which I found an intense communication to develop while working. A small change to one detail – and it was small changes throughout – would instantly cause my eye to focus on something else requiring adjustment in answer to the former. This experience is joyful and satisfying and, at least to my feeling, probably one of the most essential parts of a working painting (Fig. 4):
Here comes the final result. It took me a while to decide, observing it under different lighting conditions, but I have come to the conclusion that I should leave it as it is. I might change my mind before I send my portfolio to my tutor, but for the moment I am very happy as it is (Fig. 5):
4 August 2016. I think it was a good idea to go through my research tasks in a marathon session. It appears that it is far easier to make the connections, if I stay tuned into the subject. So, Adam Dix (*1967, UK) next. My tutor suggested that I look up what he does after having seen my monochrome simple perspective interior (garage and barbecue), because the colours he chooses “have a similar aesthetic”. When opening his website I knew instantly what she meant. Although Dix’s main interest lies in modes and ways of communication from past to present, in one painting, it is his carefully selected muted colours, mostly monochrome, which appeal strongly to me. Since the meanings of colour are more or less universally shared in the Western world, the monochrome settings convey a mood shared by all the subjects depicted in the painting and the viewer. This is particularly evident in “Watch Over Me”, (Dix, 2015) or “Do You Receive Me” (Dix, 2012). The bluish grey haze provides a ghostly setting, where I feel a sense of loss, although the people sitting at the table seem to be doing their best to communicate a belonging together. While I strongly assume that Dix’s choice of colour was deliberate, I cannot say that mine was, especially since some of my acrylic mixes dry up to produce hues totally different from the mix in the wet state. But I will keep that aspect in mind and return to my subject of how to use colour in the conveyance of certain moods, probably already in the self portrait I have to do as my next exercise.
Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and change to contents).
13 July 2016. How time flies! Three weeks since my last post and what a busy time that was. Hopefully we will be able to achieve a major step in dealing with hospital issues, but also we may have to change our life completely, in case a childrens’ neurologist we have to see in Aschaffenburg (Germany) at the end of August finds that our son responds positively to the ketogenic diet. We still find it hard to imagine that he may have to switch to eating hardly anything else except eggs and oil in order to improve his condition, but if it is so it cannot be helped. We are trying to have a nice summer anyway …
Regarding coursework I have just started Part 3, looking forward to painting the human figure again. I find that the recent extremely demanding events regarding our son have made me feel tight and unimaginative and I am struggling to shake off the giant weight sitting on my shoulders. But maybe I should adjust my painting intuitively and not by planning to sort of succumb to exactly that weight. It could be an interesting experiment and I would not need to work against my feelings. In her initial contact my new tutor suggested that I should emphasize drawing with paint, since it can have a liberating effect, and this is exactly what I am going to do. This means that I will have to ignore some of the instructions given in the study guide, but it feels exactly right.
In order to jump right into the new part of the course we were advised to have a look at the work of some painters using line in painting the human form, such as Degas, Ingres or Matisse. The French neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867) was famous mainly for his elaborate portraits, and when looking for drawings in paint I could not find but a very few – maybe I did not understand the instructions correctly. What I found, however, was a very pleasing and delicate combination of line and tone in the lovely example below (Fig. 1). It is as if the shadow behind the lady’s face somehow made her withdraw from the world:
When looking for work by Edgar Degas (1834-1917, France) I deliberately gave his ballerinas a wide berth, not only because the human form appears to get drowned in the horrible tutu dresses the girls wear, but because in my opinion he has by far better drawings such as the wonderfully soft pastel drawing below (Fig. 2):
While the approach used by Degas comprises subtle tonal gradation to shape the 3-dimensional form of the body in a very traditional though beautiful way, Henry Matisse’s (1859-1954, France) famous “Dance” (1909) (Fig. 3) provides the effect without any tonal variation. Also, since the outlines are deliberately incorrect in places in all the dancing figures, they add little objective information about the actual form of the bodies involved in the dance. It seems to be more about a feeling of togetherness in a similar situation personally (all naked) and socially (all dancing together).
I cannot write about line and the human body without referring to Egon Schiele (1890-1918, Austria), whose masterly use of line in describing the human form is both incredibly strong and sensitive. The line becomes part of the subject, i.e. the line describing the form of the dancer appears itself to be in the process of dancing, but never does so outside its task of accurately describing the outline of the dancer’s body (Fig. 4):
All the examples above have in common a more or less dark coloured line used to describe the outline of the body, combined with a very cleverly selected range of colours communicating with the line in a way to turn the outline into a vibrant, living organism.
When looking for more contemporary artists I came across Pop-Art painter Jim Dine (*1935, USA), who recently donated 230 self-portraits to the Vienna Albertina (Salzburger Nachrichten, 2016). I particularly like the way Dine combines line and tone. Line is not always used by him to provide a complete outline, while as a consequence coloured areas are not always contained within the limits provided. Since Dine does not seem to tire of his mirror image it is highly instructive to compare the superficially similar and still so different approaches to his self (fARTiculate, 2011).
Also, the interesting approach by Ryan Hewett (*1979, South Africa) using line and tone in a non-conventional way is well worth studying in depth, e.g. in his portrait of Lucien Freud (Hewett, 2015). Both elements are contained in the portrait itself and the impact by the interplay of light and shade is stunning. Hewett’s website contains several extraordinary, powerful examples of this technique (Hewett, 2017). I was also impressed by his use of palette knives, how he uses them to draw and paint simultaneously, which makes the result all the more believable, since there is no artificial boundary between line and tone (watch the “About Ryan” video on the website – you need to scroll down a bit and look for it, it is hard to describe its position).
Which makes me think that this may be what I may need to approach Part 3. Out with my set of palette knives, which has been sitting on my workshop table ever since last Christmas, waiting to be used. This might also be a good way to capture the weight on my shoulders.
Updated on 28 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).
19 May 2016. This was another unbelievable day. I only come to realize step by step how some people use their so-called intelligence only to deceive and betray. It makes me physically sick. But it cannot be helped, we need to take care not to swallow too much of the poisonous cocktail, speaking in terms of my next project …
At this point I would like to gain as much insight as possible in the processes involved at the boundaries between colours. As a biologist I am very much aware of the crucial role boundaries have in the formation and existence of life and they are precious things maintained by subtle acts of balance across them. I guess that the boundaries between colours may work in similar ways. If the areas to either side fail to communicate (or avoid communication, that is), a painting or drawing may literally never come to life.
21 May 2016. From the previous experiments I know that both simultaneous and successive contrast work, in different ways, to strengthen existent colour differences. To me this appears similar to solutions of different concentrations separated by a membrane. If left to themselves the initially sharp boundary will become diffuse, because molecules will travel through the membrane from the higher to the lower concentration until concentrations are equal. The more unlike two colours, the larger the “concentration gradient” and the more active the communication across it, if I may say so in lay terms. For examples see e.g. Arend et al. (n.d.).
A number of optical effects is discussed by Grais (2017). Of these I need to remember that a dark background usually serves to enhance the perceived differences between colours, which is very likely the reason why working from a coloured ground is preferred by many artists. Apart from that I continue to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of seemingly similar concepts and technical terms buzzing in my head. As long as I feel I am not standing on solid ground regarding the use of the latter, I will try and keep matters simple and hands-on rather than theoretical. Which is probably, when looking at it, most other artists did and do when trying to make sense of colour relationships:
To start with, I had another look at the work of Josef Albers. Probably I should not say so, but I am not drawn to his squares, no matter how instructive they are. They remind me of the covers of some of the books we used to have at secondary school during the 1970s and 1980s. I remember well that the contents of these books was not made for children and so were those covers. Albers’ squares seem so dry and analytical that I will see whether I can force myself to copy any of them into my sketchbook as I was instructed to by my tutor. There appears to be no communication of the kind I am looking for across the boundaries of his chosen sets of colours. When comparing them to Mark Rothko’s work, I know which I prefer by miles. There is so much to find in his paintings, apart from mere colour relationships, there is tension and space, a feeling of getting drawn into or being repelled by some combinations of colours, so that I cannot help coming back to them. I wish I could put two paintings using the same colours side by side, but copyright restrictions allow only for a tiny public domain selection in both cases. It is mainly from Rothko that I decided to learn, hopefully my tutor will understand. When looking for other sources examining boundaries I also came across the work of hard-edge painter Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015, USA) (The Art Story, n.d.(a)) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) (The Art Story, n.d.(b)). For me they help to bridge the gap between Albers and Rothko, see e.g. the wavelike movement in “The Spectrum I” painted by Kelly in 1953. Moving to viewing what more complex boundaries can do in a painting I found the work of Donald Fox (Fox, n.d.) quite intriguing, and also that of Ian Davenport (Jackisnotdull, 2012), and not least Wassily Kandinsky’s (1866-1944, Russia) famous concentric circles (Fig. 1 below). I ask myself why they had not been chosen for the covers of our art books, they are so wonderfully alive. I guess that the overwhelming number of effects to find in Kandinsky’s circles may be hard to teach, but we kill art by wanting to describe it all. I think that we should not tamper with our children’s innate mysterious connection to art. It has been destroyed in so many of us (and me!) that we struggle to regain it for a lifetime.
When doing some more research on Kandinsky’s work I found his 1927 painting “Molle Rudesse”, which contains some of the “boundary effects” I would like to have present in my next assignment, including some suggestions of how to handle the flattening-out of cocktail equipment (Fig. 2):
My next steps in the sequence will thus be the following:
Set up a very simple still life consisting of very few items only
Experiment with a chosen pair of complementary colours in preparation for the next exercise in Mark Rothko and Kandinsky fashion according to study guide instructions (p. 69)
Produce a series of square still life studies as described above and combine on large square canvas
Repeat the exercise with colours evoking mood, also put on large square canvas
Start preparations for assignment by extending the setup according to intentions
Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).
24 April 2016. Since I had already chosen flowers for Assignment 1 I was advised by the study guide to skip exercise 2 to go straight to painting natural objects.
Again, as always, I feel some inner resistance when having to put together random objects in order to display them as a still life. What I want to do is tell a story, even if the task is only keen observation of form, light and composition. So I gave the fruit basket and vegetable drawer a wide berth, collected and then discarded twigs, cones and snail shells, and half eaten breakfast eggs, and in my mind always came back to the study guide suggestion of painting rock crystals. I have a few of these, which we picked up on some mountaineering trips in the Hohe Tauern mountain range. While going through my small collection of rocks and crystals I also came across three specimens, which are, to me, so interesting regarding their surface appearance, provenance and history of formation that I could not resist choosing them for the exercise:
I have now a highly irregular, iridescent and near black piece of pumice, filled with holes formed by volcanic gas, which we found on a lava field near mount Teide on Tenerife, a 10 cm long cylindrical piece of petrified wood (which is at least what we think it is) from Australia, which is yellowish-pink in colour, as well as a piece of cream-white probably coral I inherited from my grandfather and whose ends are extremely worn, so that it looks well-rounded overall (Fig. 1):
Figure 1a. Petrified wood (?)
Figure 1b. Pumice
Figure 1c. Coral (?)
Apart from the personal stories connected with the pieces, there is geology and biology to consider, if I am to create a painted still life story. So here I am with a real opportunity to go through a staged process. I just hope that I can force myself to a considerate approach.
First of all, since two of these objects are not what the study guide would call simple forms, while at the same time sharing a lack of colour, I will want a carefully chosen coloured background to emphasize the characteristics of my objects. The matter is whether I want the background to be part of the story, e.g. in its simplest form telling something about the place of formation of each of the three objects. What I could do is to create an abstract background layer in a way I saw in an exhibition of paintings by Herbert Stejskal earlier this year (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), but much more reduced, as e.g. in Anon (n.d.) or Guedez (n.d.). I like the strong lines delineating the boundaries of each coloured area, but I guess that just these lines would not provide an interesting contrast, but would rather suffocate the delicate structures of my objects. On the other hand, I do not want the still life to look like a display in a jeweller’s shop window with the items lying on a nice piece of cloth, satin or velvet, or whatever, or on an indifferent background as e.g. in this painting by Paolo Porpora (1617-1673, Italy) (Fig. 2):
Also, since I quite like the strong shadows, I want to chose a background which allows them to be included in the painting.
25 April 2016. In order to start experimenting without thinking too much about a story or concept, I had a look through my collection of scrap paper, which I include in drawings and paintings now and them, and was lucky to find three pieces, which could help me with visualizing background effects regarding colour, as well as size and position of parts. What I do not want to do here, however, is to take a shortcut and use the paper to make a collage. I want to paint all parts, because I know I need the experience. Here are a few photos I took while testing a first setup. To start, I took photos with each rock on similar and contrasting background colours and tones. See the results in the three photos below (Fig. 3, 4 and 5):
I quite like the combination of tonal and colour variation in the above background experiment. There is, however, when looking at it again, far too much harmony, which I would like to break. I therefore varied the position of the papers and got two more or less acceptable results (Fig. 6 and 7):
For some reason the triangular shapes appear appealing to me, probably because a good-willed viewer might read mountains, sand dunes or ocean waves into them. So I think that I might give that idea a go, but avoiding the jeweller’s shop appearance. So there will be no painting simple patterns for the rocks to lie on. In order to see how other artists solve their background problems, I had another look on the internet and found an example of how the background may be painted using the same hues as the objects placed on top and still successfully creating a background-foreground effect (Groat, n.d.). This gave me the idea that I might try a very subtle combination of the different hues provided by a volcanic eruption, sea water and sand desert. Whether the combination of colours (orange, blue and ochre-pink) will work together and whether I will need to enhance likeness or contrast, I will test in the next step of this exercise.
Regarding paintings depicting similar objects I did not find many examples. Entering “still life natural objects” or even “rock crystal” in my browser gave almost invariably fruit or vegetables interspersed with the odd fish, most of them to a high standard of practically photorealistic painting, which I do not want either. One style I came across I thought fascinating: Sylvia Siddell (1941-2011), a New Zealand based painter, had a very unusual and energetic approach to her still lifes, see e.g. “Out of the Frying Pan” (Siddell, 2007). She used an intriguing combination of line and colour, which I would like to include in this exercise, on a much simpler level.