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]

 

Assignment 1: “A Black Tulip and its Shadow”

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 March 2016. While spending more time in hospital with our son I had ample opportunity to think about the mechanisation of human life and, as it were, people themselves. The idea of working with Leonardo’s (1452-1519, Italy) Vitruvian man (da Vinci, ca. 1492) (Fig. 1), trying to superimpose on the famous drawing a setup using tools like such as pincers, nuts, pliers, folding rules and such like. I gathered a large number of objects and started experimenting.

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Figure 1. Leonardo da Vinci (ca. 1492) Vitruvian Man. Ink and wash on paper. Source: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

20 March 2016. Having sat on my workshop floor for several hours, pushing my tools around in a futile attempt to create something exciting, I realized that I did not want to continue here. Suddenly both the subject and setup seemed dull, flat and uninteresting. It may be that I am very close to tears nowadays and additional demands from outside our small fragile world sometimes seem unbearable. So what I am planning to do instead is to take the gorgeous tulips our son picked from his favourite flower shop (yes, even some wild boys like flowers!) and paint them in a soft light. Pushing on from the previous exercise, however, I decided that I would like to paint one of the flower heads in black and white, a statement which I think leaves a whole universe for personal interpretation. Since I never know whether there will be time while the tulips are still fresh, because our son’s condition can deteriorate suddenly and quickly, I took a large number of photos and decided I would work from the photo best suited to accomodate both coloured and black and white sections. To this end I would produce some sketches exploring tonal contrast. In preparation I had a look at several artists, who had produced still lives with tulips, but I had my painting firmly settled on my mind so I decided I did not want to be influenced too much by what other people did. And also, considering what I found on the internet, still lives with tulips can go awfully wrong. They appear deceptively easy to paint and are not. So I decided that I wanted to use the opportunity to gain experience by painting them without reference to the work of others.

First I produced a series of photos with two different bouquets, many different arrangements and lighting conditions. Among these the following view from slightly above under the strong daylight lamps in my workshop produced the pattern I had had in mind: I would paint the colourful bouquet against a dark background and the shadow of the arrangement on a bright surface (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Setup

This was followed by sketches in my sketchbook to make sure the dark/light arrangement would look OK (Fig. 3):

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Figure 3. Sketch to identify light and dark areas for compositional purposes

30 March 2016. Back from a strange Easter holiday with everybody in the family seriously ill for at least a week I nevertheless finished Assignment 1 today. I had prepared my background with the Payne’s grey I had produced for the previous exercise and adding white and a bit of sap green in order to produce the particular sheen of the shadow.

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Figure 4. New discovery: Having two separate trays for mixing greys and colours keeps mixtures perfectly clean.

After the background had become dry I roughly sketched in the outlines of flowers and shadows using black and white charcoal, then painted the shadows using the neutral grey with sap green I had prepared earlier. On top of this I put first layers of both flower heads and leaves, not yet paying particular attention to colour correctness (Fig. 5a-c).


Over the next few days I kept adding both opaque and transparent layers by carefully observing emerging patterns. This is the result (Fig. 6):

Finished_painting_30062016
Figure 6. “A Black Tulip and its Shadow”: acrylics on A2 painting carton

Considering my previous experience with acrylics I am very happy about the result, in particular having found out some immensely important aspects about the layering of colour, something I had never knewn how to pay proper attention to before. I am beginning to understand the basics ruling composition and the use of both achromatic and coloured pigments. Most of it is still somewhat intuitive, but I am learning. Looking back over the assignment, I am not sure whether I might have been expected to do a lot more preliminary investigation regarding arrangement, but what I got appears relatively convincing to me. I am also happy to have a message to come with my bouquet of flowers, a message I need to carry with me at all times – now more than ever.

References:

Da Vinci, L. (ca. 1492) Vitruvian Man [ink and wash on paper] [online]. Academia of Venice. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvian_Man#/media/File:Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatour.jpg [Accessed 19 February 2017]