21 February 2017. In her Assignment 5 feedback my tutor suggested I had a look at the way William Kentridge, Kara Walker and Ólafur Eliasson approach the subject of shadows.
During my first OCA course, Drawing 1, William Kentridge (*1955, South Africa) became a great source of inspiration to me. I attempted to make two little animated charcoal/pastel films (Lacher-Bryk, 2015a; Lacher-Bryk, 2015b) after having seen his stunning work. Regarding shadows, I immediately stumbled again upon his “Shadow Procession” (Kentridge, 1999). To me, the walking silhouette figures, each carrying the burden of their personal and collective lives with them, together with the piercing song by Johannesburg street singer Alfred Makgalemele are deeply moving and disturbing. Both reinforce each other, simultaneous attention to both is possible at a maximum. Kara Walker’s (*1969, USA) silhouettes, on the other hand, while like Kentridge’s work focusing on the discrimination of coloured people, appear less subtle and quite aggressive. For that reason her sensitive drawings and paintings have a much greater appeal to me (ART21 “Exclusive”, 2014). Her very own choice of storytelling easily comprehensible, since Walker is of Afro-American descent, but the overt depiction of cruelty acts on me to avoid any more than a superficial contact with her work. In my own work I tried a similar approach in 2014. It took me some time to gather the courage to produce the caricature shown in Fig. 1 below, after the IS (so-called Islamic State) had started doing their horrible business of live executions. When I had finished the drawing, I felt physically sick for several days. The matter is whether an issue is important enough to accept the associated emotions and whether there is any alternative way to transport the message. In the meantime Kentridge has become a great hero and role model of mine in that respect.
22 February 2017. Ólafur Eliasson (*1967, Copenhagen) on the other hand, is an architect working globally, who approaches the subject of shadows from his own professional viewpoint. In both his “Multiple Shadow House” (Eliasson, 2010a) and “Your Uncertain Shadow” (Eliasson, 2010b) he investigates viewer interaction with projected shadows. This very attractive interactive type of display is something I first saw in a children’s technical museum in Vienna twenty years ago. In fact I had coloured shadows on my list for Assignment 5, but discarded the idea for Andersen’s tale. However, in comparison with both Kentridge and Walker I really miss a deeply empotional component in Eliasson’s work on shadows. The presentation is clean and distant, designlike, and a message, if at all, is created on a very personal level by each visitor interacting with his exhibit. His approach raises an interest in me as a natural scientist, but does not yet leave a lasting impression for my work as a developing painter. Maybe later, when I have defined my own goals better.
So, what is there to learn from the above artists for my project? All of them use shadows in a way that enables the viewer to see them as separate entities worth being treated as subjects of their own. None of them combines the source of the shadow (i.e. the object) and the shadow. I doubt whether I would be able to do the same for the purpose of my Andersen story, because then exactly that peculiar connection between the scientist and his shadow would be gone. Since, however, I already completed a finished painting covering the whole story, I will take the opportunity and have a go at a shadow-only approach to serve as a fourth painting as a late addition to Assignment 5.
Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).
20 December 2016. Apart from random effects achieved e.g. by allowing a pigmented substance to run freely and practically uncontrolled (as e.g. in Hermann Nitsch, *1938, controversial Austrian experimental artist, (Marc Straus Gallery, 2015)), the application of paint is usually a closely observed, tested and corrected process. In classical representational painting textural effects of paint are rarely used. It is applied in a way so as to reproduce as faithfully as possible what is seen and the characteristics of the paint become invisible behind the subject of the painting.
With the advent of the Impressionists, and later the Expressionist, there was a radical change. Not least due to accumulating knowledge in the natural sciences artists became increasingly interested in the physical and chemical properties of the paints they used and in gaining access to means of exploiting them for artistic expression.
Claude Monet (1840-1926, France) was name-giving to the Impressionist movement. He introduced a looser, bolder handling of paint in response of the directly observed environment. In his later years he started building fields of colour with small strokes, looking to introduce surface effects in a dialogue with the colours used (The Art Story, n.d.(a)). In his extensive series of paintings of London’s Waterloo Bridge, created between 1899 and 1904 in oil on canvas, he captured different atmospheric qualities in this way. As e.g. the fog increases and outlines of the buildings become indistinct (top to bottom) Monet adapts his method of applying paint from bold to soft, always with a main focus on the light (Fig. 1-3):
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903, Denmark/France) worked with similar ideas but in a less abstract way than Monet. His dashed brushstrokes he used to weave a fabric in which is subjects are embedded (The Art Story, n.d.(b)) (Fig. 4):
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906, France) worked together with Pissarro over a lifetime and is seen as the main pioneering artist paving the way to all new approaches to addressing the substance qualities of paint. He applied paint in discrete brushstrokes in order to construct and sculpt rather than paint his works of art (The Art Story, n.d.(c)) (Fig. 5):
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890, Netherlands) used similarly energetic bushstrokes. While less sculptural in a traditional “Cézanne sense”, their impulsive structural quality helps capture and translate the artist’s emotional state into something literally graspable (The Art Story, n.d.(d)). I went to have a look for examples other than his post-impressionist work “Starry Night”, but returned to it, because I believe there is no better painting to illustrate the above (Fig. 6):
In one analysis of this work (Artble, n.d.) I found an attempt to attribute both his choice of colours and dramatic brushwork to his mental illness, although in his letter describing the development of this painting to his brother Theo he appears extremely focused and thoughtful (Blumer, 2002). It makes me wonder, why a gift of being able to see the world with other than purely rational eyes has to be turned into something insane. Could it be that, apart from the consequences of his long-term alcohol and drug abuse, part of Van Gogh was driven mad by his uncomprehending environment? Certainly with the advent of the Expressionist movement society slowly but gradually became acquainted with the new developments in art and learned to see with different eyes. I suspect that Van Gogh would have made a brilliant Expressionist or 21st century painter with nobody dreaming of branding him as his contemporaries used to do.
While during the period of Impressionism and beyond oil on canvas continued to be favoured by most painters, Expressionists started looking further afield (Boddy-Evans, 2016). With the advent of photography painting was “released from the need to copy nature”, as Henry Matisse (1869-1954, France) put it and artists thus became free in their choice of colour and way of applying paint. Colour, overall, started to be removed from reality, brushwork and paint application became liberal and generous (Tate, n.d.(a)). Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980, Austria, (Tate, n.d.(b))), for example, was one of its highly influential representatives working far into the second half of the 20th century. Abstract Expressionism (The Smithsonian Studio Arts Blog, 2010) at the other extreme end of the spectrum uses paint in a spontaneous way to recreate emotional states without a connection to reality. Any contributing element, including found objects, can be used and paint may be applied with any conceivable means (The Museum of Modern Art, 2016). Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, USA) (The Art Story, n.d.(e)) was one of its pre-eminent early representatives and famous for his very large size splatter and drip works. He explained – although furiously rejected by some critics analysing his work – that his application of paint was not purely random, but rather a focused dialogue with the developing work of art (The Museum of Modern Art, 2016).
Among the many versatile painting materials available today pastels appear to take a special position. They lend themselves with less ease to the copious and highly gestural use of paint typical of many contemporary art movements. Also, in my opinion, their properties produce neither paintings nor drawings, but a curious and pleasing mix of both (Fig. 7):
I did not find many 20th century pastel painters as instructed by the study guide. They were most popular in the 18th and late 19th centuries, but not since then, which may be owing to the above fact of a relatively restricted field of application and uniform needs in application (mostly sand or velvet papers). It is more their brilliant colours than their structural proterties, which attract artists, so I am not sure whether the subject is truly one for this post. However, they allow the – careful – placement of a number of layers on top of each other, which gives the finished paintings unrivalled depth. The incredible ease of application is attractive for artists working spontaneously, too. A search on the Saatchi online gallery gives a good overview over the range of contemporary pastel painting (Saatchi, n.d.).
Overall, I guess that there may not be a single substance or item that has not yet been used in painting with more or less success. Whatever method is used it becomes clear very quickly that each requires practice, thorough planning and a keen sense for the appropriate. Otherwise there is a real danger of skilled spontaneity changing place with arbitrariness, which is something the human eye is programmed to detect.
Monet, C. (1900) Waterloo Bridge [oil on canvas] [online]. Santa Barbara Museum of Art . Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Waterloo_Bridge_(W_1555).jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]
Monet, C. (1903a) Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect [oil on canvas] [online]. Denver Art Museum. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Waterloo_Bridge_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]
Monet, C. (1903b) Waterloo Bridge [oil on canvas] [online]. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Waterloo-Br%C3%BCcke_-_1903.jpeg [Accessed 20 December 2016]
10 December 2016. Yesterday I had a wonderfully encouraging hangouts talk with my tutor to cover Part 4 of the course. My portfolio, unfortunately, was damaged during transport. The damage was not total, but I wonder how little care the horrendously expensive courier had for my parcel. Well, it cannot be helped and I just hope it will be returned with no additional damage.
Feedback from my tutor was so very positive and I think that in the last few months I might have found myself a little door leading to a new path of development.
The main points of attention for the rest of the course should ideally be the following:
Since my work is much better when I am in front of a subject, my tutor suggested that I do as much on site work as possible. I will do so as often as possible.
Technically there is a lot of space for development and for the first time I think that I might start having at my hands the ability to push myself a lot further.
My sketchbook work is on a good way and I am advised to use it extensively throughout the remainder of the course.
I am advised to consider the most successful pieces from Part 4 and try to carry the experience over to Part 5. The main successes were the painting done outdoors (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a)) and the view of our kitchen worktop (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b) as well as some of the painted sketches.
It is very important to carefully look at the emotions felt in my work and reflect on their role for my personal development. It is necessary to avoid overworking or obliterating these emotions. I think that during much of my working time I am not yet fully aware of the emotions developing while painting and I will try and be much more alert in this respect. Some of the time I notice, though, that a development in this direction has set in.
The method I used for conveying aerial perspective (volcanic landscape (Lacher-Bryk (2016c)) worked and I am advised to continue using it.
At my stage of development there appears to be a problem with imaginary landscapes. My tutor pointed out to me that I am not yet confident enough to recreate a believable situation. Again I am advised to avoid overworking a painting, since it will turn illustrative.
In summary, in Part 5 I will try and experiment widely with a clear focus on my intentions for the assignment pieces. I think that I will need to come up with a reliable and easy to use system of recording outcomes and connecting them with an emerging pattern of mental exploration of my chosen subject.
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.
Updated on 22 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).
13 November 2016. Closest probably to transposing human states of mind into real world phenomena visible in landscapes were the German Expressionists.Their observations of the ever-changing mood found in landscapes relate directly to human emotion. Emil Nolde (1867-1956, Germany/Denmark) is famous for his wonderful elevated watercolour observations of the stormy sea of his home. In real life the intensity of these colours would be exceedingly rare to see, their presence in a work of art thus causes a raised awareness in the viewer (see e.g. a selection of related works (Pinterest, n.d.). He often uses a generally subdued background together with very carefully and cleverly selected areas of high intensity colour with enviable knowledge and ease, so that despite the deceptive casualness the result is always both a believable and highly emotional setting. Ernst Ludwig Kircher (1880-1938, Germany) was another founding member and outstanding representative of German Expressionism around the turn of the 19th/20th century. His style was much more graphic and harder than Nolde’s (probably owing to his being a printmaker, too). The painting “Graubünden Landscape with Sunrays” (Fig. 1) below, although very much in the Expressionist tradition, reminds me somehow of the votive tablets found in the Alpine region – especially the sunrays, which on rare occasions do appear in reality and which in religious paintings are interpreted as emerging from celestial beings resting on the clouds. Also Kirchner’s choice of viewpoint makes both for a noble real-life representation of the high mountains, helping to raise religious feelings in viewers familiar with this tradition – see example of a votive tablet underneath (Fig. 2, photo unfortunately out of focus, but ideal for purposes of comparison):
In Symbolism, on the other hand, a movement starting in the late 19th century with Gustave Moreau (1826-1898, France), landscapes were filled with mythological creatures to stand for the universal human emotions such as anger, fear, love or hate (Myers, 2007). It was thus not the landscape, which was the primary transporting medium of an emotion, but the entities populating it. Moreau seems to have been exemplary for the movement with a great interest in ancient mythology. His “Death of Sappho” (Fig. 3) below is typical of his approach:
Painter and designer Léon Bakst (1866-1924, Russia) was in line with Moreau’s approach, see for example his painting “Terror Antiquus” (Fig. 4) below. Being on the cautious side (caused by six years of Latin at school) regarding the title of the painting and its uncommented translation “ancient horror”, I tried to find out more about its meaning and it is explained as “the Dionysian force which fuels true art” (Davidson, 2000), hence the quiet despite the seemingly ferocious title.
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918, Austria) was an outstanding representative of Symbolism. I was unable, however, to find a landscape painted by him, which in my opinion would have qualified as symbolist. All his landscapes appear close to reality (my husband is from the Attersee region, where Klimt used to paint many of his landscapes and I have been to many of the locations). They do not seem to include symbols in the expected way, for example in “Beech Grove I” below (Fig. 5). Regarding composition: The incredibly beautiful light appearing in specks on the stems and foliage at the back of the young forest, and on some of the trunks in the middle ground, appears essential to me here by producing a horizontal counterbalance for the vertical stems. Of course the overall square format (which I tend to prefer myself) helps to quieten down any stress contained in a scene and reminds me of the necessity to think carefully about my own choices of support:
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954, Mexico) was a later representative of the Symbolist movement, who to me seems to take her symbols away from ancient to modern sources and somewhere near Surrealism. To my great joy I found her painting “Suicide of Dorothy Hale” (Fig. 6), since (by coincidence?) it ties in with the votive tablets I mentioned above in the section about Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and has been haunting its viewers ever since it was painted, telling the story of the never-solved mystery of the unlikely suicide committed by actress Dorothy Hale in 1938.
A single landscape by her, painted in 1946, however seems to be in a category by itself. The landscape itself is interpreted as representing her broken body (Frida Kahlo Paintings, Biography, Quotes, n.d.).
16 November 2016. While both Expressionists and Symbolists remained with the real landscape without deviating too much from to the outward physical appearance, the Surrealist movement used – among many other approaches – imaginary landscapes with the aim to find ways of “unleash the subconscious imagination“. This goal for me immediately connects with the work of Sigmund Freud, whose discoveries rose to immense interest and popularity with intellectuals of the time (Tate, n.d.(a)). In the approach of historical painter and precursor to Surrealism Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978, Italy) landscapes do not appear to be at the centre of interest, but are rather used in a stage-like manner. They are mainly barren, desert-like, flat or rocky backgrounds, which by being inert allow a wealth of impossible things to emerge, happen, develop and transform, in the shape of “disordered collections of symbols” (The Art Story, n.d.(a)) so that there is an entry point into a dream-like world for every human mind. Which may be the main reason for the immense and ongoing popularity of surrealistic painting. De Chirico’s interest appears to have circled around the mythological elements of Ancient Rome and Greece, as e.g. in “The Disquieting Muses” (Fig. 7):
To me, the basic composition of landscapes used by Salvador Dali (1904-1989, Spain) (The Museum of Modern Art, n.d.) seems to have been greatly and very faithfully inspried by de Chirico, although his stages were populated by very different elements. In some of his works, though, the real coastline near his home in Catalonia (Cadaqués) served as the stage (Jones, 2007) as e.g. in his arguably most famous work, painted in 1931, “The Persistence of Memory” (The Museum of Modern Art, n.d.). In the glossary entry on “Surrealism” found on the Tate website (n.d.(a)) above there is an interesting documentary about a cooperation between Salvador Dali and the Disney Corporation (scroll down a bit) in making a surrealist film, which was discarded due to financial constraints after the war and rediscovered in 2008. This made me realise that one very weird and disturbing animated (childrens’!) film we have – “Le Roi et l’Oiseau” (“The King and the Mockingbird”) from 1980 (IMDb, n.d.) is exactly that, a surrealist painting come to life. The possibilities offerend by film appear to enhance the effects sought by the surrealists and no doubt their poineering approach is an immensely rich source to all types of visual art. Painter and sculptor Max Ernst (1891-1976, Germany) was very close to de Chirico and Dali in style and choice of subject, see e.g. “Ubu Imperator” (The Art Story, n.d.(b)), but also very recognizable his own, e.g. in the wonderfully agitated “L’Ange du Foyeur” from 1938 (Bunyan, 2013). Graham Sutherland (1903-1980, UK) again was inspired by religious motives and to a large extent by the landscape of Pembrokeshire, as e.g. in “Welsh Landscape with Roads” from 1936 (Tate, n.d.(b)). Painter and designer Paul Nash (1889-1946, UK) I already wrote about in a previous post (Lacher-Bryk, 2016). To me he feels the most authentic of the surrealist painters. There seems to be no artificiality in the choice of his objects, but rather an immediate connection with his concerns. For example see the haunting “Totes Meer (Dead Sea)” (Tate, n.d.(c)) painted in 1940/41.
In retrospect the term “expressive landscape” remains difficult to pin down. To me all landscapes are expressive by nature and no matter how reduced the visible content, it seems impossible to escape it. Enhanced expressiveness, however, that sort sought for and put to good use for a particular purpose, uses carefully chosen and/or altered landscape to stand for and enter into communication with a human condition and there are probably few other subjects in art, which lend themselves with similar ease to the transporting of universally understood messages.
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.):
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.):
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):
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):
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:
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):
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:
For a visual overview over the development of landscape painting also see a slideshow provided by the Tate gallery (Tate, n.d.).
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]
24 August 2016. In most of the portraits I made in this project so far the environment already played a role, so I decided that I would take a step further and tell a little story. Since we will need to go to Aschaffenburg this weekend and may come back with a son to be fed mostly on fat for as long as he can stand it, I wanted to have him as the subject of this exercise.
7 September 2016. We are back from the hospital in Aschaffenburg. Our son will have to stick to the modified Atkins diet for as long as he can stand it, ideally for at least two years to hopefully achieve a positive result. It did not take him long to realize that he will have to go, for an endless time in the world of a nine-year-old, without sweets or pasta or bread, fruit or vegetables. He is allowed ten grams of carbohydrates per day, which is next to nothing, say 3 gummi bears or 12 medium-sized grapes. Thankfully there is a growing market for quite nice alternative products, which we are trying to get acquainted with. We are a bit tense at the moment, because medication and diet will not tolerate any mistakes.
Since I lost more that two weeks from the course and the preparation of the unfamiliar diet needs to find its place in our daily routine, I will need to plan well the preparations for the following two exercises and the assignment to be able to meet the deadline at the beginning of October, while also having to consider the requirement to send my parcel by carrier. I already know my subjects for all of them and I might switch between them as I go along. The exercises will be on smaller size acrylic paper, the assignment on canvas carton.
Of all the moments during the week spent in that hospital room I remember most vividly my son sitting on his bed, getting more or less ready to hop down, while obviously in deep thought. This moment I want to capture as I have it in my mind. I decided not to take any photographs to help me remember, but would like to see whether I would be able to build a paintig from memory while taking the opportunity to fill the “gaps” in photographic detail with the associated powerful emotions. As I write this I realize that there are two nested sets of emotions, as I will be able to portray my son’s state of mind only through my own. In order not to disturb the flow between memory and my paint brush I will paint directly on my paper prepared with hospital greenish-yellow and glazed over with a transparent foggy layer of Paynes grey.
13 September 2016. I came up with the following, which is exactly what I had hoped for. First I produced the background, which is not as straightforward as it may look at first and consists of about ten semitransparent glazes, using a foam roller. The latter I had not used in years, because it would get clogged with the different types of acrylic paint I had used then. With my new brand of paint using the roller is a great experience, allowing – with practice – the praparation of interesting backgrounds (Fig. 1).
On this I painted with the same mix of colours, using a slightly denser texture, but also with several glazes on top of each other. My mix of turquoise, yellow and white produced an uncanny glow on the painted structures. The interior I deliberately reduced in detail so as to focus on my son’s emotional situation. I really like the result (unfortunately difficult to reproduce digitally), so I decided to stop working at that stage. For the scaffolding on which to attach my story I placed three small focal points of pure red on the paper, in strategically important positions on the patient monitor, the alarm button next to the door and my son’s mouth. By the way, the bed was as small as it looks: five more centimetres in height and my son, who is not exactly a giant for his age, would have got stuck :o) (Fig. 2).
I think that I managed to tell the intended story and am glad that I did not continue working past the present stage. To me the finished painting radiates some of the uncertainty of the situation my son was in and I also think that I managed to investigate both my own and some of my son’s emotional state.
Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).
14 May 2016. Assignment 2 is still more than six weeks away for me, but there is an idea I would like to pursue in preparation for this assignment. To this end I would like to start now in order to be able to dedicate the exercises to come as preliminary steps towards the final painting.
The story of our fight for our son has been added to by another unbelievable chapter, this time concerning the role, which the public prosecutor assigned to our case appears to play in further hushing up the commited offences. We have turned somewhat numb at the incredible sequence of acts of wilful negligence we have been exposed to in the last nine years, but are determined not to give up. Assignment 2 will be my channel for expressing what I feel and because it is a poisonous cocktail mixed from extreme emotions, this is a wonderful opportunity to indulge in experimenting with the various effects colours have in communication with the human eye. Since we are required to paint another still life, here is some preliminary research regarding the meanings attributed to different colours in the Western world. And talking of cocktails – this could be the first step towards the setup of my still life.
I found an endless number of resources, but there is a limited number of emotions and conditions, and thus colours, I need to deal with in the context of this assignment and decided that staying with one source of information would provide me with reliable cross-connections. The source chosen also deals with colours in painting (Olesen, 2016):
red: warm, positive, strong colour, signals “Stop!”, strong emotions, energizing, promotes determination, steals attention, symbol also of war, too much red makes angry, especially dark red (5). This should be my background colour including a black void as in Mark Rothko’s (1903-1970, USA) painting “Four Darks in Red” (Rothko, 1958) and own research).
black: symbolizes evil, depressing, hidden, unknown, mysterious things, power and control also over information hidden from the outside world, but also elegance and wealth, protection against emotional stress (maybe use this colour to limit the effect of turquoise and red by painting round them), adds contrast and allows other colours to stick out more (4), use on the black void and where needed in the painting, maybe position the mixing tools and glasses on a black shiny surface or cloth, black should not stand alone. I will need to buy a darker type of black, my ivory black is more like a very dark grey.
brown: colour of stability for the family, protects from the outside world, I will need to put this in between the red outside frame and the black void as a protective shield, stays in the background, emphasizes other colours (13), use a brown not too dark, only if I want it to communicate depression, if dark it should also help to enhance the cocktail colours
silver: colour of truth of old, sophisticated, visible in the dark, which for my purpose is also true in a figurative sense, however “silver-tongued devil” is someone who deceives and cheats, the colour can also bring emotional, mental and physical harmony, distinuguish between bright silver, which suggests openness and dark silver, which is associated with negative emotions (1)
Cocktail mixing equipment is silvery and I could make a mirror image of the silver-tongued devil in my cocktail mixer, while the different sorts of brightly coloured cocktails mixed have various meanings associated. The experience gained, by concidence, with the two different types of silver sheen in my still life with man-made objects may not have been a coincidence.
turquoise: creates harmony, but must not be overused, because of a roller-coaster effect, which may represent our own attempt to initiate positive communication with the injuring parties, combines blue with a little yellow, “radiates peace, calmness and tranquility through the blue colour, balance and growth through the green colour, with an uplifting energy from the colour yellow. Turquoise recharges our spirits during periods of mental stress and fatigue”, improves empathy, but in the extreme narcissistic, weighs pros and cons, I will need the shade of blue-green, since it promotes engagement and symbolizes credibility and reliability (3) – it is also probably no coincidence that I have always liked this colour, it is one of my favourites. Type of cocktail: Caribbean mist, opaque.
pink: unconditional love, understanding, sign of hope and success, relieves anger (6) Type of cocktail: Pink Lady, opaque. Will need to stand next to the red of the Rothko frame in some place to see the calming effect and the cancelling out of similar colours, don’t make a dark line round the glass in this case! Use hot pink, but sparingly like turquoise
orange: as a complementary to turquoise, warm, positive, stimulates mental activity, provides emotional strength in difficult times, encourages two-way communication, encourages self-respect and respect for others (7) Type of cocktail: Campari orange, because it contains two shades – dark orange, meaning deceit, and golden orange, which should be positive
white: protects and encourages, opens up the mind for something new, sense of peace, comport, hope, but too much can create a cold, isolated, empty feeling (9). Use a bit of it as something in or on the pink cocktail to enhange the meaning, but also to stand in opposition to the red and black
yellow: the brightest colour visible, increases optimism and communication, makes nervous, associated with envy, influences head rather than heart (10). This only in context with other warm colours, but not on its own, since it is part of turquoise, I may not need it separately (just as blue)
blue: calming, strength, wisdom, trust, do the right thing in difficult situations (14), since it is part of turquoise I may not need it separately (just as yellow)
colours not to use in this context: gold (2), purple (8), both have meanings opposite to those I want to convey; green (11) – it takes away the aggression of the red and adds too much hope, which is not true; grey (12) – because it does not convey any of the emotions associated with this context
The colours I would like to use after this initial research will be shades of red, brown and deep black to create a background in the style of a Mark Rothko painting (research to follow). On this I will try and paint a symbolic, weird and aggressive-looking cocktail arrangement of turquoise, pink and orange drinks made in a silver shaker and served in glasses of different shapes. The colour white will only be used to mix tonal values and to add highlights, yellow, blue and green will not be part of the painting as separate areas of colour. Off now to some detailed research on the mechanisms at work in Mark Rothko’s paintings.