Research point: The Abstract Expressionists and Action Painting (Tachism)

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).

8 January 2017. One should never try and guess at the meaning of a word from what you think you know. “Tachism” (French: tachisme) to me appeared obvious, derived from the Greek word for speed, tachos. But not so, the word comes from the French for stain, tache. It is similar to action painting and considered to be more or less synonymous with the Informel, a more intuitive, gesture-centred counter movement to the geometrical analysis of colour and shape as celebrated by e.g. Josef Albers (1888-1976, Germany/USA) and is the 1940/1950s European equivalent to Abstract Expressionism developed in the USA. In contrast to the latter its proponents were somewhat less aggressive and spontaneous in the use of paint (Tate, n.d.(a), Collins, n.d.(a)).
The term “Tachisme” was originally coined much earlier by art critics to describe a number of different approaches to using paint in a “blotchy” way, including Impressionism, while the movement itself developed into one of the largest in Post World War II Europe and comprises works or art “without predefined form or structure”. Mark-making includes everything from any sort of coincidental splotch to calligraphic elements, often directly from the tube (Collins, n.d.(a)). Many contributing artists were either French and/or based in France. Among the most influential artists of the 20th century was Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985, France), co-founder of the Art Brut movement. He is quoted to have said:”Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.” (Collins, n.d.(b)), which to me appears to be at the centre of tachism, i.e. to capture the essence of being in the moment. Most well known Dubuffet became for his rough, provocative graffiti-like paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, e.g. “Grand Maitre of the Outsider” painted in 1947 (Wikiart, n.d.). Gestural painter Hans Hartung (1904-1989, Germany/France, (Tate, n.d. (b))) appears to have interpreted Tachism with a more subtle, delicate and sketchlike brushstroke (Artnet, n.d.; Setareh Gallery, n.d.), and a video showing his gestural approach (Ophanin, 2014). Georges Mathieu (1921-2012, France, (Collins, n.d.(c))) is known for his “spiky, calligraphic style”, which in some way appears related to that of Hartung’s, but its effects (and those of image cultivation, see a video (Warin and Batton, 1965)) greatly increased to quasi Baroque dimensions, in a style described as Lyrical Abstraction. Patrick Heron (1920-1999, UK), on the other hand, was influenced by colour field painting in the style of Mark Rothko and is outstanding in his ingenious use of vivid colour and sensitive compositions including abstract shapes derived from nature (Collins, n.d.(d)).
Franz Kline (1910-1962, USA) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, USA, (The Art Story, n.d.(b))) were two preeminent representatives of American Abstract Expressionism. The former trained as a graphical artist and illustrator and his abstract graphical black and white images are considered to be action painting in its purest sense ((The Art Story, n.d.(a))). His technique can be watched in a video here (The Museum of Modern Art, 2010): Kline preferred to use cheap brands of house paint, because their non-art qualities, including the low viscosity, bore a great attraction for him. Action painting as a record of the artist’s movements in time and space is of course present also in the work of Jackson Pollock. The sheer complexity makes the history of mark-making however hardly traceable in any one of his giant size drip and splatter paintings (The Art Story, n.d.(b).
Abstract expressionist has been at the centre of interest ever since its first appearance and the list of artists now working in an abstract expressionist or offshoot way is endless (Pinterest, n.d.). A great number of painters working now have developed the original idea further and combined it with or replaced it by the new techniques offered by the modern media.

References:

Artnet (n.d.) Hans Hartung [image collection] [online]. Artnet, Berlin. Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/hans-hartung/ [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Collins, N. (n.d.(a)) Tachisme [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/tachisme.htm [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Collins, N. (n.d.(b)) Jean Dubuffet [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/jean-dubuffet.htm [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Collins, N. (n.d.(c)) Georges Mathieu [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at:  http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/georges-mathieu.htm [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Collins, N. (n.d.(d)) Patrick Heron [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at:http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/patrick-heron.htm [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Ophanin, M. (2014) Radio Palettes – Hans Hartung [online]. Mathieu Ophanin. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p625URZ4QWA [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Pinterest (n.d.) Abstrakter Expressionismus [image collection] [online]. Pinterest. Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/abstrakter-expressionismus-926912313435/ [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Setareh Gallery (n.d.) Hans Hartung. Painting – Gesture – Liberation [image collection] [online]. Setareh Gallery, Düsseldorf. Available at: http://www.setareh-gallery.com/werke—hans-hartung-.-malerei—geste—befreiung.html [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Tate (n.d.(a)) Tachisme [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/t/tachisme [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Tate (n.d.(b)) Hans Hartung [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/hans-hartung-1251 [Accessed 8 January 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(a)) Franz Kline [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-kline-franz.htm [Accessed 8 January 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(b)) Jackson Pollock [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-pollock-jackson.htm [Accessed 8 January 2017]

The Museum of Modern Art (2010) The Painting Techniques of Franz Kline [online]. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/moma/moma-abstract-expressionism/v/moma-painting-technique-kline [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Warin, F. and Batton, J. (1965) Le “Cas” Mathieu [online]. British Pathé. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCEUUONPWwM [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Wikiart (n.d.) Jean Dubuffet: Grand Maitre of the Outsider [online]. Wikiart. Available at: https://www.wikiart.org/en/jean-dubuffet/grand-maitre-of-the-outsider-1947 [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Assignment 2, stage 1: Preliminary research – colour and the boundary

Updated on 28 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 May 2016. This was another unbelievable day. I only come to realize step by step how some people use their so-called intelligence only to deceive and betray. It makes me physically sick. But it cannot be helped, we need to take care not to swallow too much of the poisonous cocktail, speaking in terms of my next project …

At this point I would like to gain as much insight as possible in the processes involved at the boundaries between colours. As a biologist I am very much aware of the crucial role boundaries have in the formation and existence of life and they are precious things maintained by subtle acts of balance across them. I guess that the boundaries between colours may work in similar ways. If the areas to either side fail to communicate (or avoid communication, that is), a painting or drawing may literally never come to life.

21 May 2016. From the previous experiments I know that both simultaneous and successive contrast work, in different ways, to strengthen existent colour differences. To me this appears similar to solutions of different concentrations separated by a membrane. If left to themselves the initially sharp boundary will become diffuse, because molecules will travel through the membrane from the higher to the lower concentration until concentrations are equal. The more unlike two colours, the larger the “concentration gradient” and the more active the communication across it, if I may say so in lay terms. For examples see e.g. Arend et al. (n.d.).
A number of optical effects is discussed by Grais (2017). Of these I need to remember that a dark background usually serves to enhance the perceived differences between colours, which is very likely the reason why working from a coloured ground is preferred by many artists. Apart from that I continue to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of seemingly similar concepts and technical terms buzzing in my head. As long as I feel I am not standing on solid ground regarding the use of the latter, I will try and keep matters simple and hands-on rather than theoretical. Which is probably, when looking at it, most other artists did and do when trying to make sense of colour relationships:

To start with, I had another look at the work of Josef Albers. Probably I should not say so, but I am not drawn to his squares, no matter how instructive they are. They remind me of the covers of some of the books we used to have at secondary school during the 1970s and 1980s. I remember well that the contents of these books was not made for children and so were those covers. Albers’ squares seem so dry and analytical that I will see whether I can force myself to copy any of them into my sketchbook as I was instructed to by my tutor. There appears to be no communication of the kind I am looking for across the boundaries of his chosen sets of colours. When comparing them to Mark Rothko’s work, I know which I prefer by miles. There is so much to find in his paintings, apart from mere colour relationships, there is tension and space, a feeling of getting drawn into or being repelled by some combinations of colours, so that I cannot help coming back to them. I wish I could put two paintings using the same colours side by side, but copyright restrictions allow only for a tiny public domain selection in both cases. It is mainly from Rothko that I decided to learn, hopefully my tutor will understand. When looking for other sources examining boundaries I also came across the work of hard-edge painter Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015, USA) (The Art Story, n.d.(a)) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) (The Art Story, n.d.(b)). For me they help to bridge the gap between Albers and Rothko, see e.g. the wavelike movement in “The Spectrum I” painted by Kelly in 1953. Moving to viewing what more complex boundaries can do in a painting I found the work of Donald Fox (Fox, n.d.) quite intriguing, and also that of Ian Davenport (Jackisnotdull, 2012), and not least Wassily Kandinsky’s (1866-1944, Russia) famous concentric circles (Fig. 1 below). I ask myself why they had not been chosen for the covers of our art books, they are so wonderfully alive. I guess that the overwhelming number of effects to find in Kandinsky’s circles may be hard to teach, but we kill art by wanting to describe it all. I think that we should not tamper with our children’s innate mysterious connection to art. It has been destroyed in so many of us (and me!) that we struggle to regain it for a lifetime.

Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_-_Color_Study,_Squares_with_Concentric_Circles
Figure 1. Wassily Kandinsky: “Colour Study with Squares and Concentric Circles”, 1913, watercolours, gouache and crayon on paper. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
When doing some more research on Kandinsky’s work I found his 1927 painting “Molle Rudesse”, which contains some of the “boundary effects” I would like to have present in my next assignment, including some suggestions of how to handle the flattening-out of cocktail equipment (Fig. 2):

Vassily_Kandinsky,_1927_-_Molle_rudesse
Figure 2. Wassily Kandinsky: “Molle Rudesse”, 1927, oil on canvas. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
My next steps in the sequence will thus be the following:

  1. Set up a very simple still life consisting of very few items only
  2. Experiment with a chosen pair of complementary colours in preparation for the next exercise in Mark Rothko and Kandinsky fashion according to study guide instructions (p. 69)
  3.  Produce a series of square still life studies as described above and combine on large square canvas
  4.  Repeat the exercise with colours evoking mood, also put on large square canvas
  5. Start preparations for assignment by extending the setup according to intentions

Resources:

Arend, L., Logan, A. and Havin, G. (n.d.) Simultaneous and Successive Contrast
[online]. Colour Usage Research Lab, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field. Available at: https://colorusage.arc.nasa.gov/Simult_and_succ_cont.php [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Fox, D. (n.d.) Portfolio of Windows and Doors [online]. Donald Fox, Texas. Available at: https://donaldfoxfineart.com/collections/65248 [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Grais, S. (2017) Color Context/Simultaneous Contrast [online]. DePaul University, Chicago. Available at: http://facweb.cs.depaul.edu/sgrais/color_context.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Jackisnotdull (2012) Colour: The Language of Ian Davenport [online]. Jack is not Dull, 15 May 2012. Available at: https://jackisnotdull.com/2012/05/15/ian-davenport/ [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kandinsky, W. (1913) Colour Study – Squares with Concentric Circles [watercolour, gouache and crayon on paper] [online]. Lenbachhaus, Munich. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_-_Color_Study,_Squares_with_Concentric_Circles.jpg [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kandinsky, W. (1927) Molle rudesse [oil on canvas] [online]. Private collection. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Vassily_Kandinsky%2C_1927_-_Molle_rudesse.jpg [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kelly, E. (1953) Spectrum I [oil on canvas] [online]. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/99.353 [Accessed 28 February 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(a)) Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-kelly-ellsworth.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(b)) Piet Mondrian: Dutch Painter [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-mondrian-piet.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Research point: Optical effects

Updated on 28 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

16/18 May 2016. Hard question – what is an optical effect? I had a look on the internet and what came closest to a fundamental definition was “optical phenomenon”. I guess that in the context of this post I will need to address the subject as optical phenomena used to create particular optical effects.
While optical phenomena are good to describe physical and/or chemical realities (for want of other accessible summaries see Wikipedia (2012)), I have to admit that it took me a while to come to terms with “effect”. What effects would I (want to) see on a canvas?

      • the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional support
      • the illusion of illumination without the actual presence of a source of light
      • the illusion of movement in a static image
      • creation of vertigo or being drawn into a painting
      • optical illusions
      • … and no doubt many more which I am not aware of at the moment,

so probably and basically, any interaction between colours and linear elements defined by the sum of all their characteristics (shape, size, relative position, hue, tone, tint/shade, brightness, etc. (WorkWithColour.com, n.d.)) that is not a simple perception of the presence of an element alone.

Optical phenomena need, most of the time, the presence of a minimum of light to fall on the retina. There are, however, effects, which work without light, which are visible with closed eyes or in absolute darkness and which are created by the human mind. Migraine and epilepsy are two conditions, which can evoke visual auras, both unconnected to sensory input from the outside world. Also, daydreaming and mental images might be considered important sources of “visual” information, which can be used in painting.

Even the earliest painters will have observed and put to good use optical effects available to them. A scientific approach, however, with whole artists’ lives dedicated to the exploration of colour and publication of results often as series of painstaking images (see e.g. Josef Albers and his series “Homage to the Square” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a), started only with an increase in reliable knowledge of colour physics and physiology. Referring to the introductory text of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011, p. 67) I am expected to specifically refer to the use of optical effects by the Impressionists and their immediate successors, in particular the Pointillists. Since I already wrote an extensive blog post on this subject (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b) and found out that the “achievement of optical mixing” is in fact inexistent due to the low resolution used, I decided that I would take the risk and deviate somewhat from the instructions to see what other optical effects I could find, not limiting my search to the effects of colour alone.
I remember a fascinating drawing or woodcut from a pocket calendar I owned as a child, which consisted of a set of seemingly meaningless bands of varying width when looked at in the usual manner, but which revealed its secret when viewed from a very low position, nearly head on. It was an example of extreme foreshortening called anamorphosis (Kent, 2013). I did not find the particular image on the internet, but came across a great number of fine paintings from historical times and the present day. Among these, the skull on Holbein the Younger’s (c. 1497-1543) “Ambassadors” from 1533 (Fig. 1) is a very famous example. Watch an interesting video discussion by Harris and Zucker (2012).

holbein-ambassadors-basic
Figure 1. Hans Holbein the Younger: “The Ambassadors”, 1533, oil on canvas. Source: Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Having started looking through the subjects on offer by Khan Academy I also came across an introductory article to contemporary art (Spivey, n.d.). The second image shown there, John Baldessari’s lithgraph “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art” created in 1971, apart from its great message reminding me of Bart Simpson’s writing on the blackboard, is for me a wonderful way of creating vibration by repeating similar structures, in this case the elements of handwriting. The “k” in “make”, for example seems particularly alive across the whole canvas and beyond, in a Rumpelstilzkin manner fitting the rebellious statement.

Julie Mehretu’s 2003 “Empirical Construction” is a good example for a set of optical effects combined to create the illusion of fast movement. Linear elements placed in parallel perspective produce the illusion of a three dimensional space and also force the viewer’s gaze away from the centre by becoming thicker the further away from the centre. At the same time, curved lines surrounding the objects suggest a turning and tangential movement. Both types of elements create them impression of the witnessing of an act of explosive disintegration of variously coloured geometrical elements, which may have been part of a magnificent edifice just a second ago. When looking at the details of the ca. 3 x 4.5 m canvas, they repeat the effects at smaller scale, so that every bit of the construction seems to be in concerted movement, the sum of which produces an explosive whole. In an interview (Caruth, 2013) Mehretu also explains that the layering of a multitude of elements forces the eye to constantly adjust, so that a further illusion of movement is created, this time not only in  space, but also in time.

Op Art, or “optical art” is defined as an art form specialising in the use of optical illusions (Tate, n.d.(a)). It evolved predominantly from the first avant-garde movement of Neo-Impressionism, (Tate, n.d.(b)) which already included the word “optical” in its definition and “promised to employ optical and psycho-biological theories in pursuit of a grand synthesis of the ideal and the real, the fugitive and the essential, science and temperament.” Paul Signac’s (1863-1935) Neo-Impressionist painting below (Fig. 2) is a good example of the above. It illustrates also the point of non-achievement of optical mixing at normal viewing distance. It works only if the image size is reduced to, say, no more than 5 x 5 cm. Since this option was of course unavailable to contemporary viewers, they would no doubt have had to move very far from a well-lit canvas to see the desired effect.

1127px-Signac_-_Portrait_de_Félix_Fénéon
Figure 2. Paul Signac: “Portrait of Félix Fénélon”, 1890, oil on canvas. Source: Paul Signac (1863-1935) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
The dots and blocks of colour introduced by the Neo-Impressionists to transport a notion of organisation were taken up and developed further by following art movements until they evolved as separate art forms. Op Art painter Bridget Riley (*1931, UK) is famous for her life-long influential investigation of the interaction of form and colour (Riggs, 1998). Her one-of-a-series oil painting “Winter Palace” (1981), as shown on p. 67 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011) and e.g. by the National Gallery (n.d.) was influenced by the colours seen in Egyptian tombs. In a description provided by Artfund (n.d.) the effect is described as follows: “Just as in her earlier optical pictures, a vibrant surface is created with vertical bands causing the eye constantly to refocus, moving forward and back in space as one colour then another asserts a pull.”, which is a good description of the created effect and an example of the “disorientating optical effects of geometric forms”. In me, when looking at it for more than a few seconds, it will cause an intense feeling of dizziness, probably due to the mix of phenomena at work at the same time. For easier reference I take the neutral grey lines as uniform background on which the coloured lines operate, e.g. and without doubt missing several more:

  1. Each line, when seen on its own, appears to lie on one plane with the neutral background.
  2. Between each two lines separated by grey there appears the illusion of a narrow darker grey line.
  3. Each line appears to rest, at the same time, both on and above the picture plane, depending on the combination of colours seen together, e.g. in both combinations white and pink as well as pink and black the pink appears to lie above the other colour, but only if not separated by grey.
  4. A black line pulls the eye beneath the picture plane strongly in combination with pink, appears to lie above the plane next to yellow and appears unchanged between two turquoise lines.
  5. The most intense “wave” illusion is formed in the sequence “ochre-turquoise-black-turquoise-ochre-grey-white-pink-turquoise-black-grey-ochre”. To my eye, the sequence containing ochre, turquoise and black appear to lie more or less on the same plane, while the white and pink followed by the turquiose and black stripes appear to lie above it.
  6. When shifting my viewpoint to the left or right to include other combination of lines, the effect is diminished.
  7. There is a huge difference if I look at the painting with one instead of both eyes. In my opinion the effect is more dramatic with one eye closed, probably because compensatory information from the other eye is missing.

In fact, I could go on forever. The more I look, the more effects I discover and there is not a single painting or drawing without any. To me, even Kasimir Malevich’s famous “Black Square” (Shaw, 2013) produced in 1915, sort of flutters both inside and at its edges in the most uncomfortable manner, as if it were trying to move into the white area surrounding it. In fact, a wonderful remark made by Malevich, reinforces my impression: “It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins.” (Smith, 2003)
Big Bang. Better stop here.

Resources:

Artfund (n.d.) Winter Palance by Bridget Riley [online]. Artfund, London. Available at: https://www.artfund.org/supporting-museums/art-weve-helped-buy/artwork/6966/winter-palace-bridget-riley [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Caruth, N.J. (2013) Julie Mehretu: To Be Felt as Much as Read [interview] [online]. Art 21. Available at: http://www.art21.org/texts/julie-mehretu/interview-julie-mehretu-to-be-felt-as-much-as-read [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Harris, B. and Zucker, S. (2012) Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors [online]. Khan Academy. Available at:  https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/northern/holbein/v/hans-holbein-the-younger-the-ambassadors-1533 [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Kent, P. (2013) Art of Anamorphosis [online]. Philpp Kent, London. Available at: https://www.anamorphosis.com/ [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Artist research: Edward Burra, James Rosenquist and Josef Albers [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/artist-research-edward-burra-james-rosenquist-and-josef-albers/ [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) Research point: Chevreul’s Colour Theory [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/research-point-chevreuls-colour-theory/ [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Mehretu, J. (2003) Empirical Construction, Istanbul [ink and synthetic polymer paint on canvas] [online]. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/91778?locale=en [Accessed 16 May 2016]

National Gallery (n.d.) Winter Palace [oil on linen] [online]. Leeds Art Gallery. Available at: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/initial-teacher-education/primary/learning/briley.aspx [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 67

Riggs, T. (1998) Bridget Riley: Biography [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/bridget-riley-1845 [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Shaw, P. (2013) Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square [online]. In Llewellyn, N. and Riding, C. (eds.) The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/philip-shaw-kasimir-malevichs-black-square-r1141459 [accessed 28 February 2017]

Signac, P. (1890) Portrait of Félix Fénélon [oil on canvas] [online]. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Available at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Signac#/media/File:Signac_-_Portrait_de_F%C3%A9lix_F%C3%A9n%C3%A9on.jpg %5BAccessed 16 May 2016]

Smith, R. (2003) Art Review; A Bombshell of Modernism Recaptured [online]. The New York Times, 13 May 2003). Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/13/arts/art-review-a-bombshell-of-modernism-recaptured.html [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Spivey, V.B. (n.d.) Contemporary Art, an introduction [online]. Khan Academy. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-1010/beginners-guide-20-21/a/contemporary-art-an-introduction [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Tate (n.d.(a)) Op Art [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/o/op-art [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Tate (n.d.(b)) Neo-Impressionism [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/n/neo-impressionism [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Wikipedia (2012) Optical Phenomena [online]. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_phenomena [Accessed 16 May 2016]

WorkWithColor.com (n.d.) Color Properties/Terminology [online]. WorkWithColour.com. Available at: http://www.workwithcolor.com/color-properties-definitions-0101.htm [Accessed 27 February 2017]

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Square_%28painting%29

Artist research: Edward Burra, James Rosenquist and Josef Albers

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing, some content).

28 April 2016. Following feedback on Assignment 1 I was to have a closer look at three artists.

Edward Burra (1905 – 1976) was an English painter with an inclination to comment on the darker sides of the world. My tutor suggested to have a look at the way he uses negative space in painting around objects. She included in her feedback an image of his watercolour painting “Honesty” showing the gorgeous seed pods of the Silver Dollar plant (Lunaria annua) (Burra, 1965-67), where Burra used nothing but several layers of negative space painting on top of each other, creating a beautiful effect. The painting itself looks almost like a print, but the effect of making negative space a major part of a compositional idea is illustrated here in a powerful way. When comparing this to what Burra used to paint as a keen observer and satirical commentator on city street life, I believe that he was very much aware of the effects of negative space on the overall impression of a painting. In “Harlem” (Burra, 1934), the white pavement is an object, but is at the same time the negative space between the two people in the foreground. I feel that in both ways it helps to draw the persons together.

Since in my report for Assignment 1 I had stated that in my research for artistic inspiration on the painting of tulips I had not come up with anything I wanted to include in my own attempt, my tutor asked me to comment on a work created by pop art painter James Rosenquist (*1933, USA), “Tulips” (Rosenquist, 1987) . To be honest, I am not a particular fan of pop art and I could not see a point in producing a light blue, pink and soft green spring image with a diffuser effect only to superimpose on that sharp pointed bundles of golden rays, which cut through the painting from various angles. There was no interpretation available of the content, but failing to decipher the message I had to assume that the aim was to curtail one kind of common beauty with another. This image would have helped me to decide what I did not want in my painting, in a similar way as “Yellow Tulips” (2014) by Alex Katz (*1927, USA). On one associated website (no longer available on http://www.widewalls.ch/wp-content/plugins/business//server/php/files/3501/1650604429_1448299370.jpg on 28 February 2017) there was an explanation, but to me what is described as “wonderfully bright exploration of the nature and the landscape” looks like something – and no apologies – 3rd grade kids do as their group work in their drawing lessons. The problem with such an approach is, however, that for a beginner like me it would be more important to identify what I like in a painting to then try and work with that. I then went to see what else I could find. The big issue with tulips appears to be that they lend themselves to kitsch or naive approaches all too easily. Here are some examples to illustrate what I mean: “Tulips” (Koons, 1995-2004), a world-famous set of sculptures by Jeff Koons (*1955, USA) , “Morning Tulips” (Hempel, 2015) or “Red Tulips” (Pocisk, n.d.). I could go on like this forever. Try and enter, for example, “tulips painting” in your browser and see whether you can get, for the purpose of learning from other artists, any better than I did.

Finally, I was to do some research on Josef Albers (1888-1976), world-famous art educator, in preparation for the investigation of colour in Part 2 of the course. In particular I am to pay attention to “Homage to the Square” (e.g. Albers, 1965) a series started in 1949 and comprising more than a thousand paintings of various materials, media and sizes “exploring chromatic interactions with nested squares”, in particular in trying to answer the question: “Can an artist create the appearance of three dimensions, using only color relations?” (Roggenkamp, 2017) . In one of the paintings, called “With Rays” (Albers, 1959) for example, the grey centre is explained to appear to float above the more colorful background, while the sequence of colours “encourages the viewer’s eye to move outward from the center of the composition”. It may be the photo on the internet, but I did not see the floating of the grey and in my case the eyes moved from the centre outward only to stop at the darker yellow. Then they were drawn to the darker top edges of that square. The largest square, similar in hue to the second one, went quite unnoticed, until I forced my eye to move there. Another example of the series, “Soft Spoken” (Albers, 1969), makes the appearance of three dimensions in a sequence of colours strongly visible. It may be helped by the position of the squares near the bottom of the largest square, which is interpreted by the human mind as an entrance to something. The series is said to be a clinical exploration of colour relationships and then compared to the more emotional approach chosen by Marko Rothko (Lacher-Bryk, 2016). A video explanation of Albers’ work is available by Nelson (2012). Since his findings are of great importance to both producing and viewing art, I will try and come back to Albers’ work during the course on a regular basis.

References:

Albers, J. (1959) With Rays [oil on masonite] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/59.160/ [Accessed 28 April 2016]

Albers, J. (1965) Homage to the Square [acrylics on canvas] [online]. Detroit Institute of Arts. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Albers#/media/File:Josef_Albers%27s_painting_%27Homage_to_the_Square%27,_1965.jpg [Accessed 28 April 2016]

Albers, J. (1969) Soft Spoken [oil on masonite] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/481031 [Accessed 28 April 2016]

Burra, E. (1965-67) Honesty [pencil and wash on paper] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/1000-ways-seeing-l14313/lot.68.html [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Burra, E. (1934) Harlem [ink and gouache on paper] [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/burra-harlem-n05004 [Accessed 28 April 2017]

Hempel, A. (2015) Morning Tulips [n.k.] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.artworkarchive.com/artwork/anne-hempel/morning-tulips [Accessed 28 April 2017]

Katz, A. (2014) Yellow Tulips [screenprint] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/alex-katz-yellow-tulips-5 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Koons, J. (1995-2004) Tulips. [stainless steel sculpture, transparent colour] [online]. Wynn Las Vegas. Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/59391288809686724/ [Accessed 28 April 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Research: Merging a Limited Colour Range – Mark Rothko and Renny Tait [blog] [online] Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/research-merging-a-limited-colour-range-mark-rothko-and-renny-tait/ [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Nelson, R. (2012) Albers Homage to the Square: An Explanation [online]. Richard Nelson. Available at: https://vimeo.com/25215702 [Accessed 28 April 2016]

Pocisk, R. (n.d.) Red Tulips [acrylics on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.etsy.com/listing/72751686/reserved-red-tulips-painting-16-x-16 [Accessed 28 April 2016]

Roggenkamp, S. (2017) Albers, Homage to the Square [online]. Khan Academy. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-1010/abstract-exp-nyschool/ny-school/a/albers-homage-to-the-square [Accessed 28 April 2016]

Rosenquist, J. (1987) Tulips [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/james-rosenquist/tulips-wvDVy4oOrVdzt6oOhHYZ-A2 [Accessed 26 February 2017]