Part 3, project 3, exercise 1: People in context – a figure in an interior

Updated on 12 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

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).

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Figure 1. Prepared background on 56 x 42 cm acrylic paper

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).

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Figure 2. Finished painting

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.

 

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Research point: Figures in interiors

Updated on 12 March 2017 (Harvard referencing)..

7 September 2016. A choice of two or three examples for paintings of persons in interiors is not a lot to gain a comprehensive overview over the subject. On the other hand, a careful selection may allow to see changes in perception of the relationship between rooms and their occupants over the centuries.

First an example for Northern European genre painting, i.e. that period of time starting in  16th century Flanders, when the middle class first came into wealth, which allowed them to become interested in the interiors of their homes and surround themselves with paintings. The everyday situations depicted preferably – i.e. persons in their interiors – exerted a special appeal and became immensely popular at that time (Meagher, 2008).
Having to pick a painting I found that I was eerily uncomfortable with most scenes, no matter how brilliant the painting. For some unknown reason they felt both familiar and totally dark and foreign, so I went for a more lighthearted watercolour by Adriaen van Ostade (1610 – 1685, Dutch Republic) (Fig. 1):

ostade_reading_the_news
Figure 1. Adriaen van Ostade: “Reading the News at the Weavers’ Cottage Department”, 1673, ink and watercolour. Source: Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685) [Public domain] via The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The scene looks tidy, pleasant and at ease (maybe this is the special appeal to me, overwhelmed by our own situation as I am), the people look well-fed and comparatively well dressed. The weaver’s family is seated in a makeshift arrangement near the open door, presumably in order to allow the reader of the newspaper to see the print. As stated by Meagher (2008) the Dutch Republic was a poineer nation to publish newspapers on a regular basis at a time when being able to read the news and interpret the contents was by no means natural. I guess that one of the purposes of the depicted scene is the presentation of the family as well-educated and involved in the public affairs of the country. By producing a stable triangle consisting of the three grown-ups the primary focal point lies at the centre of the lower half of the open door, which at the same time is one of the brighter areas of the interior. While there is nothing in particular to see in that spot this setup might carry a message, although I might be totally wrong here: By opening the door light, and thus enlightenment, can enter the inside of the house. Both lie at the foundations of a prosperous family and this is what the commissioner of the painting may have had in mind.

When flicking through “Vitamin P2” (Schwabsky, 2011) in order to gain an overview over the trends of the present decade, I got the impression that there might be an increasing interest in fusing interiors of buildings with the interior, so to speak, of their occupants, and even the paintings themselves with the interiors of the buildings they are presented in. It is as if artists were investigating the limits of dissolving boundaries between all insides and outsides. After Vitamin P2 the concept of figures in interiors appeared somewhat outdated.

So I had to go elsewhere for more information. Looking for contemporary examples I came across the following in the Saatchi online gallery, by Sherre Wilson-Liljegren, called “Gallery Visit” (Wilson-Liljegren, n.d.). The style is described as magical realism. There is nothing like a gallery visit to be seen in this painting, two cuddling baboons are seated on a stylish sofa in a living room, which is bare except for an electric fan on the floor and a painting above a tall radiator. I like the setup, the extraordinary idea, the colours and the wonderful light in that painting. There is not a lot I could speculate about on the artist’s intentions for choosing such an arrangement, but it is a nice and at the same time worrying concept that other primates might take over seamlessly from what a failed human species left behind. Here the interior does not fit the occupants at all and this is what creates an impulse to have a closer look at a subjectwise inconspicuous painting.

A more typical example for what a present-day painted representation of figures in an interior might look like I found on Saatchi, too, by Pavel Kryz, “The Television” (Kryz, n.d.). The piece radiates that weird uninvolvedness, which I mentioned before in a number of research posts and which seems to have infected 21th century artists at a pandemic rate. Both the room and the person seem totally exchangeable, there is nothing there to help guess whether the man belongs in that space or was left there by the owner of the room. He seems unable to change anything about his position or the situation and his hovering near the wall radiates discomfort. Personally I find this style unspiring, because I feel that whatever there is to see in such a painting will make no difference to me or the world whatsoever. I rather wish for 21st century artists to take responsibility and get involved with all their strength. At least this is where I want to see myself with my own work.

References:

Kryz, P. (n.d.) The Television [acrylic on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-The-television/295200/187012/view [Accessed 7 September 2016]

Meagher, J. (2008) Genre Painting in Northern Europe [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gnrn/hd_gnrn.htm [Accessed 7 September 2016]

Schwabsky, B. (2011) Vitamin P2. Phaidon Press, London.

van Ostade, A. (1673) Reading the News at the Weaver’s Cottage [watercolour and ink on paper] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1997.117.10/ [Accessed 7 September 2016]

Wilson-Liljegren, S. (n.d.) Gallery Visit [oil on wood] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Gallery-Visit/326795/2225738/view [Accessed 7 September 2016]

 

Part 2, project 4, exercise 2: Drawing and painting interiors – simple perspective in interior studies

Updated on 3 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

23 June 2016. As planned during the last exercise I chose the garage view on our barbecue and the cupboard behind it and produced an elongated drawing with a dark green mix of brown and blue-green acrylic modulated with white and black. Since there were nearly two weeks between the start and the end of this exercise, with lots of doctors’ and hospital appointments and one of my oldest friends, from Iceland, staying for nearly a week, I did not completely immerse into this task. Still I am not unhappy with it. The view is quite complex with lots of shelves and so I was glad to have chosen a quasi monochrome option. What I really like in the finished drawing is the way the barbecue both shines and stands out from the rest of the room despite having been drawn with nothing but bold strokes. I could have spent a lot more time on this exercise, but I think that the main layout, shapes and proportions are fine, and also I will need the next days to concentrate on Assignment 2 to avoid having to ask for an extension. Here is the sequence (Fig. 1-3:

I think that I managed to indicate clearly the direction of the light source (daylight coming in from an invisible door just to the right of the cupboard). What I noticed just now, when putting the photos in this blog, was that the shadow cast by the wheel of the barbecue at the back is not believable. It looks as if it did not touch the floor. Also two weak shadows cast by the garden hose on the floor are missing, but they would be important to define floor space. Maybe I will come back to this drawing/painting when preparing for assessment next year.

By the way, when having had a preparatory look at the blogs of fellow OCA students doing this exercise I admired the beautiful solution found by fellow student Stuart Brownlee (2014). Trying not to be envious :o).

References:

Brownlee, S. (2014) Part 2 – Exercise 15: simple perspective in interior studies [blog] [online]. Available at: https://stuartbrownleeoca.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/part-2-exercise-15-simple-perspective-in-interior-studies/ [Accessed 3 March 2017]

Part 2, project 4, exercise 1: Drawing and painting interiors – quick sketches around the house

Updated on 2 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

9 June 2016. Now the dreaded time has come again when I am asked to walk round our house on the look for interesting views. Last year, during Drawing 1, I struggled immensely with the pleasing, but awkward to draw or paint, layout of our house. There are practically no views which are not obstructed by parts of the house in a more than inconvenient way. The layout is open, but there are stairs everywhere, which means that it is just these stairs, interesting as the idea might be in general, which render a view awkward. At the moment, for example, I am sitting at my desk in the open office. I am able to look down a flight of stairs into the living room, but can only see half the width of the staircase, the rest is blocked by a piece of wall in the office. At the same time I can see, from underneath, the stairs leading to my workshop. The edge of the ceiling in our living room is where the bottom of these stairs rests and this edge cuts off about one third of the view through the patio door. In a drawing or painting this looks extremely weird, as if I had got my proportions wrong. This is the case practically everywhere in the house, so I had no other choice than have a look in the garage …

Asked to make very quick sketches in my A4 sketchbook using a pencil (rather than my beloved ink pen) I produced 4 sketches each from a standing, then a seated position, turning 45° between sketches. Since there is not a lot of room in the garage, I had to go for a relatively elongated format in order to create a rudimentary illusion of space.

In the images (Fig. 1a-d) below there is first the set from the standing position, top left with lawnmower and cable, hose and some garden tools, top right with barbecue and wet vacuum cleaner behind it, bottom left a failed view on the garden hose, bottom right a likewise failed straight-on view of half of our ping pong table and a bag of hydrophobic cement :o):

Next the seated versions, trying to keep the viewing angles identical (Fig. 2a-d):


Two of the above views I guess might be more or less suitable to use in a painting. Shapes and negative spaces looked most interesting in the view containing the barbecue. In addition, there was a quite nice distorted reflection of the garage door into the garden on the barbecue’s lid. If combining the standing up and seated version to produce a deliberately elongated format, this might be an interesting project. But again, trying to learn from failures in the not too distant past, I must remind myself to keep things simple …