Gallery visit: Albertina, Wien

14 April 2017. After a long year without major events regarding the viewing of original art we finally made it to Vienna on April 12, on the one hand in order to prepare an exhibition of my own political caricatures in Groß-Enzersdorf near Vienna (Kunst.Lokal, 2017), on the one hand to see the graphical work of one of my all-time favourite artists, Egon Schiele (*1890-1918, Austria) (Albertina, 2017). The commemorative presentation was meticulous, extensive and drained me of all my energy, something I had never experienced before. Seeing his gouaches and pencil drawings I noticed a threefold split in my respective reactions: a magnetic attraction to most of his works, a strong repulsion occurring with some due to the worrying approach to some subjects chosen by him (naked children in highly unchildlike poses) and a weird indifference regarding the commissioned work following his abrupt rise to world fame immediately before his tragic premature death caused by the Spanish Flu.
In this post I want to concentrate on his outstanding loose drawing and painting techniques, though. No matter how closely I look at his drawings, no exaggeration of body features his style is so famous for seems out of place or out of proportion. Schiele like I think no other painter before and to date after him had an innate infallible sixth sense and uncanny ability to feel and depict the human body and its emotional state. Vara (2009) describes that his viewing position from above – which, surprisingly, seems to have been a novelty at the time – and the extreme foreshortening ensuing from that helped him to draw persons in a distorted way while in fact having correct proportions. The very same effect allowed Schiele to address one of his major concerns, the brevity and frailty of human life. As I hop between looking at the above website and continuing to write this post I realise a strange connection my mind has just made between Schiele’s compositions and Ötzi, the famous stone-age mummy found in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991. I know Ötzi’s characteristics well from an exhibition I curated many years ago at the science museum I used to work for. The connection is so weird, because the extremely well-preserved mummy in its famous distorted position, facial expression and skin colour could have been painted by Schiele without much adaptation (Gostner, 2011) and also because it could not have been a better example for Schiele’s interest in the frailty of human life:

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Samadelli, M. (n.d.) “Iceman”. Source: EURAC Research, Bolzano.

Particularly impressed I was at a series of drawings, which Schiele made on what looks like baking parchment with a very smooth, glossy surface. On this support he was able to paint with gouache in a way which I had discovered for myself during this course using highly diluted acrylics on an acrylics background (Lacher-Bryk, 2016). Look at the self-portrait below for the technique I described just now and also at its posture – its resemblance to Ötzi is almost unbelievable:

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Egon Schiele (1911): “Self-Portrait”. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons
I love the composition, the almost sleepwalking confidence in drawing, mixing and placing colour. In my new course I started a few weeks ago (UPM) I will try and experiment with using what I think were Schiele’s techniques.

Since we had desperately little time at our hands, we had a far too short look at the permanent exhibition “Monet to Picasso” (Albertina, 2017), where I met some of my other favourite painters. I was extremely drawn to the atmosphere in Emil Nolde’s (1867-1956, Duchy of Schleswig) “Moonlit Night” (Nolde, 1914), the humour streaming from Picasso’s work, from drawings to a series of painted plates (Albertina, 2017), and the wonderful choice of colours in “Winter Landscape” painted by Edvard Munch in 1915. It was a good feeling to be able to recognize almost all the painters in the Albertina and I notice an increasingly focused appreciation for their respective merits. Two years ago I would not have thought this possible.

References:

Albertina (2017) Current Exhibitions. Egon Schiele [online]. Albertina, Vienna. Available from: http://www.albertina.at/en/exhibitions/current?ausstellungen_id=1455214727106&j-cc-item=ausstellungen&j-cc-id=1455214727106&j-cc-node=item [Accessed 14 April 2017]

Gostner, P., Pernter, P. Bonatti, G., Graefen, A. and Zink, A.R. (2011) ‘New radiological insights into the life and death of the Tyrolean Iceman’ [abstract] [online]. Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 38, Issue 12, December 2011, pp. 3425–343. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440311002731 [Accessed 14 April 2017]

Kunst.Lokal (2017) Veranstaltungen [online]. Kunst.Lokal, Groß-Enzersdorf. Available from: http://www.kunst-lokal.at/ [Accessed 14 April 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Part 4, project 5, exercise 1: Working from drawings and photographs – painting from a working drawing [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 Blog. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/part-4-project-5-exercise-1-working-from-drawings-and-photographs-painting-from-a-working-drawing/ [Accessed 14 April 2017]

Munch, E. (2015) Winter Landscape [oil on canvas] [online]. Albertina, Wien. Available from: http://www.albertina.at/jart/prj3/albertina/images/cache/a5e12d883dae5f3129eae1d3236f27e3/0x6CEAD10536343B3397EC0061E471E393.jpeg [Accessed 14 April 2017]

Nolde, E. (1914) Monnlit Night [oil on canvas] [online]. Albertina, Wien. Available from: http://www.albertina.at/jart/prj3/albertina/images/cache/033d83f67647857cdfda1a6014e5607b/0xA5A2F44F78EDA9251E01FF9439C37A32.jpeg [Accessed 14 April 2017]

Samadelli, M. (n.d.) Iceman [photo] [online]. EURAC Research, Bolzano. Available from: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2013/10/16/living-relatives-of-otzi-the-iceman-mummy-found-in-austria/#.WPCaK46kJR4 [Accessed 14 April 2017]

Schiele, E. (1911) Self-Portrait [watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper] [online]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Self-Portrait_MET_DP279450.jpg [Accessed 14 April 2017]

Vara, S. (2009) Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [blog] [online]. Duke University, Durham. Available from: http://drawingatduke.blogspot.co.at/2009/12/egon-schiele-1890-1918.html [Accessed 14 April 2017]

 

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Research: Painting the human figure using line

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:

Ingres
Figure 1. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: “Madame Edmond Cavé (Marie-Élisabeth Blavot, born 1810), ca. 1831-1834, oil on canvas. Source: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) [Public domain] via The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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):

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Figure 2. Edgar Degas: “The Tub”, 1886, pastel on card. Source: Edgar Degas (1834-1917) [Public domain] via Musée d’Orsay
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).

La_danse_(I)_by_Matisse
Figure 3. Henry Matisse: “The Dance”, 1909, oil on canvas. Source: Henry Matisse (1859-1954) [Public domain] via Wikipedia
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):

Egon-Schiele-The-Dancer-1913
Figure 4. Egon Schiele: “The Dancer”, 1913, colourized drawing. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
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.

Resources:

Degas, E. (1886) The Tub [pastel on card] [online]. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Available at: http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search/commentaire.html?no_cache=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=4041 [Accessed 13 July 2016]

fARTiculate (2011) Jim Dine, Selected Drawings & Interview [blog] [online]. fARTiculate, 9 February 2011. Available at: https://farticulate.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/9-february-2011-post-jim-dine-selected-exhibition-interview/ [Accessed 13 July 2016]

Hewett, R. (2015) Lucien Freud [oil on canvas] [online]. M. Contemporary Gallery, Woollahra. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/ryan-hewett-lucien-freud [Accessed 4 March 2017]

Hewett, R. (2017) Ryan Hewett [online]. Ryan Hewett, Cape Town. Available at: http://ryanhewett.com/ [Accessed 13 July 2016]

Ingres J.-A.-D. (c.1831-1834) Madame Edmond Cavé (Marie-Élisabeth Blavot, born 1810) [oil on canvas] [online]. The Met Fifth Avenue, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436707 [Accessed 13 July 2016]

Matisse, H. (1909) The Dance [oil on canvas] [online]. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:La_danse_(I)_by_Matisse.jpg [Accessed 13 July 2016]

Salzburger Nachrichten (2016) Albertina zeigt Selbstportraits von Jim Dine [online]. Salzburger Nachrichten, 23 June 2016. Available at: http://www.salzburg.com/nachrichten/oesterreich/kultur/sn/artikel/albertina-zeigt-selbstportraets-von-jim-dine-201883/

Schiele, E. (1913) The Dancer [colourized drawing] [online]. Leopold Museum, Vienna. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Egon_Schiele_-_The_Dancer_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Part 2, project 2, exercise 1: Still life – drawing in paint (step 3: finished painting)

Updated on 22 Fwebruary 2017 (Harvard referencing).

21 April 2016. Going through the steps to finish my painting of the water tap was enlightening in various ways. I will show the steps in the following photos and discuss the problems (and solutions, if there were any):

  1. Mixing the colours
1_Colour_mix_21042016
Figure 1. Mixing the chosen colours

We have some giant aubergine-coloured tiles in our bathroom and I wanted this hue to be the dominant element in my painting. Referring to my grey ground with the mixing experiments I chose the combination that had given the aubergine colour. It was Naphthol red deep (a red with some yellow in it) and primary blue (cyan). With this as a basis I added some more primary yellow to achieve something like a neutral mix – the greyish brown stuff in the centre of my tray (above). I think that I was relatively successful in mixing the hues I wanted (Fig. 1 above), but I find increasingly that my tray has huge disadvantages. I noticed that despite the comparatively liquid brand of paint I use (Amsterdam standard series), I need a fair amount of water to make the paint “paintable” at all, especially when using a soft hair brush to create lines. What I have been doing so far is to use a spray can to cover the whole tray in a film of water now and then. This means that the water accumulates along the edges and between the heaps of paint and will, if I am not careful, mix in with all colours. Sometimes I think this is desirable, because I like to use “dirty” colours, i.e. such that are not straight from the tube. In some cases however this means having to choose the correct hues with great care from the centre of a blob of paint. Consequently I bought some proper plastic palettes with deep wells now in addition to my tray and am thinking of trying out different makes of paint.

2. Drawing

Regarding the linear quality of the chosen subject I found the contrast interesting between the fittings, which are mostly defined by line, including the reflections, and the large surface area of the bath itself.
The neutral colour I had prepared I used to draw with on a longish nearly A2 acrylic paper. I instantly noticed that I had forgotten to prepare my paper with a background layer. Consequently the drawing was a bit awkward and much less fluent than my usual marks. I also got some of the sizes and positions wrong and had to correct them, something that rarely happens to me when drawing with pencil or ink pen.
The vertical pencil line visible on the right in the photo below was there to define the edge of the finished painting. The superfluous strip of paper I cut off right at the end of the exercise. This idea I used to counteract my mind, which I knew would attempt to avoid letting the hose travel off the paper and back on again by distorting the view so as to fit the whole thing in anyway (Fig. 2).

2_First_sketch_21042016
Figure 2. Drawing the objects with a neutral mix of paint and a fine hair brush


3. Putting in colour


I then began filling in the chosen colours (Fig. 3a-c above), all of them mixed from my original aubergine plus primary yellow mix, by adding white, more primary blue or a little bit of black. My neutral colour was extremely dominant and it took me a while and a few layers of additional paint to correct the mistakes I had made drawing the objects. Since I had not realized that this might become a problem I had not taken enough care drawing the original lines. This I will have to remember for the exercises and assignments to come. If in a large part of my painting the hue will be light, I will need to draw my first lines with a light mix. At the end of this series I noticed that in attempting to cover the wrong lines defining the curvature of the hose my bath had become far too dark, while the lines were still visible under two or three undiluted layers of paint. I then decided that I would need to be more generous with the amount of paint to form the correcting layer on the bath.
The form of the fish I first added using a violet hue made up from the above pigment. Only much later I mixed some bright pink from primary magenta and white, a hue which was new to the selection and which I hoped would serve in a believable way as contrast and small eyecatcher in the composition.

4. Correcting the colours and lines

6_Tap_finished
Figure 4. The finished painting

23 April 2016. Apart from a strange effect visible on the rim of the bath, where the different lighting conditions to the left and right of the fittings give an impression of a break in the direction of the rim I think that I managed to get the lines more or less right. I tried to correct the rim several times, but found that in order to achieve a noticeable change the painting over the older layers would have to be done with a degree of precision, which my combination of paint and fine hair brush would not allow. So, while overall I am happy with the linear aspects of the painting, I will need a different approach and better technique regarding the use of layers of paint in larger areas, especially if the hue is near white.

However, I seem to have a problem regarding the correct amount of water required in order to allow my acrylic paint to be distributed on the paper evenly. No matter how long I mix water and paint, and no matter what type of brush I use, I will always get a highly variable mark, part of which is strong and opaque, while the rest is so transparent that it appears to be almost non-existent. I will therefore try other makes of paint and see whether the problem persists. In some way, on the other hand, I like these characteristics, because they force me to use paint in a rather more crude way than I would opt for if I had a choice. Although the surface of the bath is nowhere like the real thing, I think that the difference in texture between bath and fittings looks interesting. It also forced me to rethink the way I wanted to depict the shadow thrown by the hose. I tried a relatively bright blue and a strong geometrical outline and I am happy with the effect, although of course, since it was not planned when starting the picture, it is inconsistent over the whole painting.

On the side: While browsing videos on common beginners’ mistakes I came across an important hint on youtube regarding the diluting of acrylic paint with water: Apparently, the using of more than 30% of water may cause “underbinding” of the pigment on a primed canvas. This may result in the eventual flaking off of a diluted background. It was strongly recommended to use airbrush medium instead. However, if used on watercolour paper or any other non-primed surface the problem does not occur (Theberge, 2014).

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Figure 5. Detail: Plastic fish on the rim
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Figure 6. Detail: Reflections on the fittings

The problems I encountered made me realise that unless it is the goal of an exercise it does not matter if I do not use the correct colour the first time. I can always change it by adding additional layers. If the layers are somewhat transparent, the shining through of older layers may add luminosity to the surface. And importantly, something which I learned by looking at painters from impressionism until today, the real colours of an object may lose their importance as the painting develops. There are no limits whatsoever in changing them in all sorts of interesting ways.

What I am quite pleased with is the overall composition of the painting. I made the test I did while researching the famous Dutch still life paintings. By covering up parts of it I believe that I can see both the tasks each part fulfills and the lines of communication between the different objects. In this exercise both the fish and plughole, for example, seem to work like anchor points. By creating an invisible line between them, which to my feeling travels through the air between the two, they help to emphasize space where otherwise there would be a more or less two-dimensional area.

The more I come to think about it, the more I realise how valuable this particular exercise is for me in developing my skills as a painter. There is so much in it to learn that I am planning to come back to it throughout the course every time I am starting a new project.

References:

Theberge, M. (2013) Worst Mistake Acrylic Painters Make [online]. Michele Theberge. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKNpKUK4lMc [Accessed 23 April 2016]