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:
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:
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.
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]
Updated on 21 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some contents).
7 November 2016. The project on aerial perspective (for an overview see The Editors of Encylopaedia Britannica (2015) and Tang (n.d.)) is going to be a challenge for me, since it requires paying controlled attention to several aspects, i.e. loss of focus, colour saturation and change in colour temperature. The required simple landscape would need to make do without the elements of linear perspective and in order to put myself in colour-only mood I made an excursion to Egon Schiele’s aerial perspective paintings (1890-1918, Austria), as e.g. in Fig. 1 below:
The above work contains hardly any elements of linear perspective, apart from, maybe, the narrowing of spaces between the horizontal layers of clouds. The tiny mountain range at the centre (had to stop myself writing “at the back”, because of course on the canvas they are not) show all elements of aerial perspective, though: colder colours, loss of contrast and (comparatively) fading outline as well as a loss of colour saturation. And these, no matter how small the difference, are sufficient to allow the correct sorting of foreground and background and allocation of a roughly measurable distance between viewer and trees as well as trees and mountains. It is the viewer’s experience of the characteristics of the visible world and the associated workings of the mind, which do the trick.
The above is easy to interpret due to its known representative elements of a landscape, but when comparing e.g. Nik Harron’s (*1981, Ireland) completely abstract aerial perspective “Untitled” (Harron, 2009) the system still works. There are colder colours, less saturation as well as loss of contrast and focus of nothing in particular and it becomes a believable landscape. It works due to the mind connecting with whatever knowledge I have of the world and it works, because it makes sense. Which makes me want to explore it the wrong way round (but for once I will resist the temptation!). In order to be able answer to the question in the study guide (“Is it necessary to combine all three to achieve the desired effect?”), I decided that it would be necessary to adopt a stepwise approach.
8 November 2016. Since the weather outside turned nasty within hours (sleet in masses), I chose a photo of a wonderfully dark volvcanic landscape from our 2014 visit to Iceland. It is absolutely reduced and appears very suitable for exploring aerial perspective.
So, what I did was, in steps:
1. Make a black brush drawing avoiding linear perspective, but using increasingly narrower lines towards the back
2. Reduce line colour contrast by painting over with increasingly lighter greys towards the back
3. Introduce colour, warmer in front, colder at back
4. Modulate colour saturation (enhance/fade) and colour contrast (enhance/reduce)
Here is the sequence (Fig. 2-5):
1. Brush drawing with black paint, increasingly narrower lines
This on its own already provides an impression of space, helped by the standing rock cutting off the view of the gentle slope to the back of it.
2. Brush drawing changed to have increasingly less dark lines towards the back
The difference is not large, probably also because it was not easy to have very narrow lines painted with the brushes I have.
3. Introducing colour and contrast
10 November 2016. Volcanic sand and rocks look a very dark warm grey closeby, but increasingly cooler towards the horizon. This first layer of colour helped the painting to increase in depth, but it is clearly visible that any small mistake in choice of colour has a profound effect on the perception of perspective. This is particularly evident in the wide darkish horizontal strip behind the large stone in the bottom lefthand corner. It makes the rocky outcrop in the middle ground hover rather than sit on its hill. So it is clearly not enough to simply reduce contrast and colour saturation on a rigid recipe basis. It is essential to pay attention to the respective properties of all parts of the painting and balance the effects around each change.
4. Correcting saturation and contrast
By introducing a selection of purer warm hues used in mixing the above greys and adjusting tonal values, including some light and shade in the foreground and middle ground, as well as covering the sky with a dilute layer of greyish blue I intensified the differences between the different parts of the painting. Although linear perspective is present at no point in the painting, the space created by techniques relating to aerial perspective looks believable. I find that I make many of these adaptations subconsciously without referring to an external set of instructions.
Overall I think that even the first line drawing using nothing but decreasing line width creates a working spatial composition. The same would apply to using staggered warm and cold coloured areas alone (similar to the third step), even if a landscape were inexistent. In order to be recognized as something derived from the real physical world, however, the above rules must not be broken. The human eye and brain are tuned into detecting the slightest discrepancy in information, a probably life-saving ability in our complex and not always welcoming universe.
Harron, N. (2009) An Aerial Perspective [acrylic on canvas] [online]. Private Collection, [n.k.]. Available at: http://nikharron.com/aerial-view/ [Accessed 7 November 2016]
Tang, I. (n.d.) Linear and Aerial Perspective: The Techniques of Linear and Aerial Perspective [online]. Inge Tang, [n.k.]. Available at: https://sites.google.com/site/ingetang/ [Accessed 20 March 2017]
8 August 2016. This task was relatively specific with a set of questions to be answered while looking at five or six self-portraits with a special appeal to me. As with my research for exercise 1 of this project I decided that I would concentrate on more unusual self-portraits.
The questions are:
1. Does the artist portray himself or herself as an artist?
2. What is the purpose of the self-portrait?
3. What impression is the artist trying to convey?
4. What impression is actually conveyed?
To set the stage for a complex subject: Jeanne Ivy , researcher at the University of Maryland summarizes her own findings as follows: “Self-portraits, we have found, can be carefully staged to show the audience only what the artist wishes to project, or deeply revealing, inadvertently displaying feelings of anguish and pain. Self-portraits have been used to test new techniques, make a signature mark, launch into self-study, remember the past and as a way to release emotion … What do artists find when they search the mirror? For some, the self-portrait is a cathartic experience, a letting go of pent-up emotions. For others, the process reveals new insights about themselves and their work. For all artists, the self-portrait is an exploration, an opportunity to see beyond the image in the mirror and begin to search into the soul.”(Ivy, n.d., the paper has unfortunately been taken off the web).
Which is not a big surprise really.
So, setting off to see what some famous artists did in that respect.
Between 1888 and 1889 Paul Gauguin (1848-1903, France) went through, what it seems, a self-conscious phase of self-portraiture, a corresponding quote of his on the National Gallery of Art website reading “the face of an outlaw . . . with an inner nobility and gentleness,” a face that is “symbol of the contemporary impressionist painter” and “a portrait of all wretched victims of society.” (National Gallery of Art, 2016), as expressed with great skill in his 1889 “Self-Portrait with Halo and Snake” (Fig. 1a). Vincent Van Gogh produced a portrait of his friend in 1888 (Van Gogh, 1888) (Fig. 1b). While the chosen angle is completely different, it appears to me that not only characteristic facial traits like the hooked nose and moustache were seen by them both in a similar way, but also the perception of Gauguin’s personality as described in the above quote seems to be shared by both of them alike. Both paintings do not show Gauguin at work, but his own piece seems to serve as a caricature removed from a certain time or place, while Van Gogh seemed more interested in capturing the mood of the moment. Without the background information I might gain the impression of a certain kind of arrogance, which is especially visible in the self-portrait. But when I look at what I produce myself in a similar situation, this impression may be false and a result of the particular circumstances self-portraiture comes along with.
In 1906, Henri Matisse painted his “Self Portrait in a Striped T-shirt” (Fig. 2a). Although Matisse often depicted himself as a correctly attired artist, if not overdressed for the occasion, he appears quite relaxed here – focused on the task while not visibly at work (I have a shirt like that myself and I associate it with holiday feelings :o)). The website published by the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhangen describes the attire as that typical of the fishermen in Southern France (Aagesen, 2017). As co-founders of Fauvism, Matisse and André Derain (1880-1954, France) painted each other in 1905/1906 in Southern France (Tate, 2009). When comparing Matisse’s piece with that of his Fauvist colleague, one might guess that the relaxed attitude seems to have been part of Matisse’s nature.
When doing the vice versa experiment, comparing a self-portrait by André Derain (c.1903) and a portrait by Matisse (1905), (Fig. 3a and 3b) the same seems to be true. Both are full of movement, quite loose and relaxed, but probably not overly joyful.
Despite the deplorable brevity of Egon Schiele’s life (1880-1918, Austria), a multi-layered relationship pervaded the artist’s friendship with Gustav Klimt (1862-1918, Austria). His famous “The Hermits” (Schiele, 1912) (Fig. 4) includes a whole world of emotion between the two (Leopoldmuseum, n.d.). Klimt on the other hand never painted a self-portrait in his long life, he is quoted to have explained this thus: “I am less interested in myself as a subject for painting than I am in other people, above all women.” (Blatty, 2015).
The above examples are of artists, who shared the same experiences and interests over a long period of time and seem to have known each other extremely well. This might explain the consonance. In order to see whether the opposite might turn up in one place or another I tried to find for my final example a pair of painters, whose views of themselves and each other appeared to clash.
10 August 2016. Francis Bacon (1909-1992, UK) and Lucian Freud (1922-2011, Germany/UK) appear to have been one such pair, although they seem to have spent most of their lives in very close contact before their friendship ended (Gayford, 2013). On the Metropolitan Museum’s website Francis Bacon is mentioned to have said, in 1975, of his intention behind painting self-portraits: “I loathe my own face. . . . I’ve done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve nobody else left to paint but myself.” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d.). This is quite evident in his “Three Studies for a Self-Portrait” (Bacon, 1979-80) (Fig. 5a). Lucian Freud on the other hand had a very realistic and friendly view of Bacon’s face (Freud, 1952) (Fig. 5b). Although the two artists shared their wild social lives and many views of the world, Bacon’s own life seems to have been shaken by tragedy more than Freud’s, which may make the difference.
And, once more, the vice versa experiment (unfortunately no larger public domain images are available): Bacon seems to have seem not just himself, but other people in the same light. First, a detail of Bacon’s drastic portrait of his friend in “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” (Bacon, 1969) (Fig. 6a) and Freud’s kinder view of himself, despite the black eye (Freud, ) (Fig. 6b):
Not surprisingly, there are as many reasons for, and approaches to, self-portraits as there are in any other field of art. The only difference may be that our cultural background makes the access to oneself difficult for some. It is not everybody’s cup of tea to lay bare one’s soul for public scrutiny.
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 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).
3 May 2016. Right. This time I am going to do this properly. Originally I had planned to use soft pastel crayons and sand paper for this exercise, but since there was so much to be explored regarding the behaviour of acrylics after the last two exercises that I could not just leave it as it is.
What I learned from the last exercise:
start with a uniform but coloured background, it can always be changed later
do not prepare a background with gloss medium, it is awful to paint on without the right type of practice
avoid mixing brand of gloss medium and brand of acrylics. They do not seem to like each other.
keep diluting with water, just keep spraying water on both support and tray
choose SIMPLE objects (I just realised that a reason for my wrong choices may be the fact that I keep returning to the great images in the study guide, but most of them are way beyond what I can achieve at my stage of development)
I had a look on the internet for artists who paint in a way I would like to explore in line with my list and found a number of paintings by Cathleen Rehfeld (Rehfeld, 2016-17), whose style I find appealing. She explains that she uses black gesso to prepare her support, then paints on that with bold strokes, leaving some of the black background to serve as outline of the painted objects. I was also impressed by her daily paintings (Daily Paintwork, n.d.), where the simplest everyday items appear to come to life. Since her style reminds me of that of some impressionists and my all-time favourite Expressionist, Egon Schiele (1890-1918, Austria) (Fig.1), and I think that during the last few exercises I seem to have worked towards, inconsistently and with the wrong colours, a style reminiscent of the above, I am going to do my best to stay with what seems to be developing anyway. So, another attempt at strong lines and “dirty” colours.
When coming to the choice of items, I will try the “less is more” principle, but will be still be looking for unusual shapes and setups. For example, Picasso’s “Still Life with Pitcher and Apples” (Picasso, 1919) could not be more straightforward in choice, but the shape of the pitcher and position of fruit attract the attention of a viewer because of the unexpected arrangement. The same applies, in my opinion, to his “Still Life with Skull and Pot” (Picasso, 1943): It is deceptively simple, but catches the light in an admirable way, while knowing skull and cheeky pot appear to be engaged in some act of important communication. What I also found was a still life by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945, USA), from a three generation dynasty of painters, called “Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle” (Wyeth, 1922): again, simple objects, the most straightforward of arrangements, and all the beauty of it coming from the incredible background and use of light on the objects. It seems as if the shape of the bottle consisted of black background only, its outline defined by wall and table, and only a hint of light on its neck.
This is all well, but I think a big point where my planning goes wrong may be the ACTUAL choice of objects. We do not seem to be a household with stuff that lends itself easily to posing for a still life, so I will need to take my time.
8 May 2016. I took my time and finally came up with a driftwood salt and pepper holder made by my sister, a silver spoon and, as a contrast in material and colour my son’s plastic egg cup. I am not too pleased with my choice, because it will not tell a story beyond “waiting for my boiled egg to arrive”, but this is an exercise and I will concentrate on improving my technique to leave the message for Assignment 2.
Bearing in mind the beautiful choice of background by N.C. Wyeth, I used a dark grey wooden board to serve as wall and a piece of dark brown paper taken from a Nespresso bag to cover the table (Fig. 2):
With this arrangement, my viewfinder and a desktop daylight lamp I experimented until negative spaces, distribution of colours, shadows and highlights looked satisfactory to me. In fact the latter did not come true, but after a day I made up my mind to go for the setup which in my opinion came closest to the requirements. For my sketches I used three different ink pens, a fineliner, a calligraphy pen for the darkest tones and a brush-tip one for the mid tones. The latter unfortunately started to run out of ink and so the last, and most interesting, of the following sketches is lighter in tone than I would have liked it to be (Fig. 3-5).
The above sketch I recreated in my sketchbook at a slightly larger scale with a dark watercolour background and soft pastel crayons, a combination which produced some very beautiful effects (Fig. 6):
With this sketch to work from I decided to choose an A2 painting carton, portrait format and a coloured background. Report to follow.