Archive for September, 2007

Pattern and Texture

September 29, 2007

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I rather like this photo especially since it’s not clear what it is on first view. I like the patterns that are formed by the object’s original design which has been overlaid by patterns made by the use of the object.

There are five fan like motifs composed of three “blades” each perforating the metal surface. They appear randomly punched and it takes a minute of reflection to understand this underlying pattern that has been altered by the staining of the metal.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, it is the underside of one of those metal baskets that go in large coffee urns that allow the water to filter through the coffee grounds slowly as the coffee percolates. They are not very common now, but used to be a household necessity if a large group of people were being invited in. Now they are used mostly for catering occasions.

I sometimes feel that there is a very grey area where pattern and texture combine, so that it’s not clear where one begins and the other ends. In this photograph, where the perforations are is definitely patterned, but is it textured too? If one ran their finger over the perforations, one could feel the perforation. The other areas appear smooth even though they are smudged by coffee oils. So texture for me implies some kind of a tactile sensation that is translated into a visual statement.

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This one is very tactile and therefore textural for me. I know that if I ran my fingers over the rusty spots, scratches and scrapings that they would be rougher than the painted part. That silvery bit looks sharply bent and reflective like a tin foil pan that has been scrunched up, which it probably is.

This is the back of a garbage truck, but if one did not know that and if the image was painted rather than photographed, it would be a fine abstract impressionist painting.

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In contrast, here is one that is purely pattern for me. All the objects seem to be smooth. The pattern is formed by the repetitive circles and then, the reflection in glass repeats those again in a modified form, not symetrically, which adds interest to the image. The remainder of the reflections are surrounding objects.

Now here it is in context, with one of my favorite framers working on a very large framing project and using the yellow air hose to keep those pesky spots of whatever that plague the glass surface when mounting an image and its matting under glass. The other reflected patterns are made from the surrounding collections of framing corners.

If I can’t get to my painting yet, I can still keep my eyes open and think about visual things. So this is one more vicarious trip through vision land to assuage my creative yearnings.

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Everything has beauty

September 23, 2007

Everything has beauty.

Not everyone sees it.

How often we dismiss ordinary objects as ugly or unworthy of attention when really, there is inherent design form to them. Many objects around our homes are infused with design that has been well thought out, but by force of habit in seeing it, or in it’s lowly and ordinary use, encourages us to think no more about it.

How wonderful it is when a light source bathes that object in delicious light, casting shadows upon it or making it repeat itself in cast shadows. Then, if one has eyes to see it, it becomes something outside of its practical use; becomes a wonderful object.

Chiaroscura – the art of shadows

September 19, 2007

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Cara Chiaro, dear light

Scuro, shadow and dark

like yin and yang

balancing delicately, boldly

challenging one

to define the other

Chiaroscura, that lovely word that lilts off one’s tongue, that sounds so esoteric, is simply a question of light an dark. Draw a light bulb on a white paper and if you think about it, it’s turned off. Draw a light bulb on a white paper and surround the bulb with the darkest value you can, then the bulb seems to have turned on, the light having been activated by the dark.

How delightful it is to see a bicycle leaning against a post in full sunlight casting it’s full shadow to the ground. Or a wire shopping cart. Or the sun pouring through semi-transparent curtains onto household furnishings, sometimes bearing the leaf pattern of the foliage on the outside of that window.

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In representational pictures, it is not only the balance of light and dark that sets the composition that draws us from afar to explore it’s intricacies, it’s the life of the objects within it.

Light defined by dark, in turn is the definer of dark.

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How do you prepare to paint?

September 16, 2007

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All my furniture and belongings have finally been delivered after a two month wait. Now it all has to be put away.

I haven’t done any art work for months, years really. I’ve finally rearranged things in a small balcony come entry come sun room at the back door of the house so that there is room for my easel and a chair, a small table that can hold paints and accoutrements. There are two plants – a Christmas cactus and a prayer plant that provide a bit of greenery. I’m planning on a small rug to keep my feet warm and to hide the imperfections of the wooden flooring.

I need to get all the boxes of supplies and materials away so that there can be some peace in my mind, which brings me to the subject I wanted to explore:

How do you prepare to paint?

I need a quiet place with no interruptions. I can’t paint and talk at the same time. I need to know where materials are when I need to reach for them. So that means my studio effects need to be in place – put away in a logical fashion.

I need for there to be little distractions. Once I’m in the swing of creation, I can listen to music but not while figuring out what I’m trying to do. The music has to be inobtrusive, low volume, soothing unless I’m in an abstract mood, ready to play with imagery and paint.

Sometimes these requirements for a start mean that I will do house cleaning the day before. I prepare to paint and find that I can’t do it before the dishes are done, or a window cleaned. Once I can get past the house stuff, I may find that I’m cleaning a palette, or making sure the brushes are in a container that I can reach easily if I have to get a fresh, clean one; or I clean off the studio workbench and put things away so that as I move collage bits or reference images around, I have space enough to play with them.

With my more imaginative work, I need to centre myself. I stand still, close my eyes, take stock of how I feel, take my emotional temperature and try to feel what colours I want to work with.

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With a work that is more representational, a recording sketch of something I’ve seen, I check the composition; I crop the image in different ways to get the best one. I make some decisions as to how to start – for watercolour, a watercolour pencil drawing on the paper or a graphite one, for reference points and composition. For oils, I might start with a burnt sienna wash to explore the light-dark tonal arrangements and figure out their impact from far across the room, then check that proportions are in place.

Do you have rituals? What form do they take? Please share and leave a comment.

Art in the museum… or in the basement

September 1, 2007

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Desert flower. Chalk Pastel

I’ve been carrying on a blog conversation with Chris Miller at mountshang.blogspot.com in which he made an interesting comment that ”
if a work of art has no place in the history of art, it ends up in the basement.”
I almost completed my move to my new house in the burbs, personally carrying almost every piece of my vast collection of basement art (my own production for some thirty plus years) in an effort to avoid having to place a thousand pieces in mirror boxes.

When I was a starving artist, which I tried on as a work profession for some ten years with dismal failure, I made my food and rent money at minimum wage activities that hardly allowed for art materials or studio space. Later, I taught temporarily at the local Art Institute which paid me handsomely for the time I worked, but it would never become permanent and I was getting long enough in the tooth to begin wondering if I could survive my cadmium yellow years without some kind of pension or at least some substantial savings.

One of those minimum wage type jobs was as receptionist in a government agency. I looked around me and decided if I put my mind to it, I could do some of those higher paid jobs. After all, I had a teaching degree and many transferable skills. To keep this short, I decided to stay in the government agency, get a pension, get the best hourly wage I could muster and do my own art work in my spare time with the luxury of being able to buy materials.

In the process, I ended up with a pretty substantial job (and stressful) that allowed me not only the art materials and pension that I was after, but some disposable income to buy other people’s work. I became addicted to acquiring art. I have very eclectic tastes and I’ve made many a local artist happy with a sale. So, I’ve purchased from friends, artists and flea markets (yes, wonderful original art sometimes gets chucked to the Sally Ann, thrift store or garage sales) and even at exorbitant price (for me), from galleries.

When I was carrying all of this vast collection (maybe a thousand pieces of art or more, about half of them framed with glass), I had half a mind to set a match to the whole works. It’s the doing that’s really important. If it were all gone, I could start fresh filling up that new basement of mine.

But Chris’ comment got me thinking.

Our era that has been war free for the vast majority of us on the North American continent, and richly prosperous and abundant in a way that few other nations or generations have experienced, has spawned an incredible number of people who consider themselves artists, unlike any other period in time.

After great consideration of this phenomenon, I’ve come to terms that they are all artists upon a continuum journey of exploring art and every person’s search for expression is valid. Some have a wonderful talent of expressing themselves better than the rest of us, and some are taking baby steps at it – the resulting work may be awful, even – but the effort and the search is laudable.

I’ve known many a person who started the quest in their later years – their fifties or sixties – to explore on their own, to take workshops or to plunge into a formal training forum of University or Art Institute. The result has been phenomenal. It’s never too late to start getting serious about this business of expressing oneself visually.

I got side tracked in that rant…

First of all, I wanted to say that there as many purposes for doing art as there are people doing it. Many, especially beginners, want simply to record what they are seeing, to preserve something they think is interesting or awesome. Some simply want to master techniques so that they can do this in better and better means of expression.

Some artists are painting to sell and they learn formulas to do so. Funny enough, these formulas work wonderfully, but the art, in my books seldom reaches the quality that museums look for.

Other artists aim for the “serious art” trade, seeking to be shown in museums and Municipal Art collections. Equally, they may be striving to be the chosen one for a Biennale with world recognition in the iconic museums like the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Guggenheim. To most ordinary citizens without some formal training in the elements of design, these are mysterious and often offensive works. They are esoteric and hugely expensive. “For what? I don’t get it!” you will hear someone say, when a major museum pays an outrageous number of millions for a piece of work by a dead abstractionist.

For the majority of artists seeking to express themselves, if they are prolific, the basement is the only place for storage. An occasional piece donated to the local hospital to decorate their walls, or the few pieces that one has sent out as gifts to willing or unwilling sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles (not to forget ever-accepting mothers who may actually be providing the basement) doesn’t make a dent in the artist’s own collection of his own work.

So Chris’ comment raised this question for me. If we artists are bypassed in our own generation, does this mean that we have been bypassed by history? What about van Gogh? He only sold one picture in his lifetime, so legend has it. It’s amazing that his large body of work survived, since it was so mistakenly mistrusted in the era that he did it. Most artists struggle to survive on sales of their own work. There are some lucky ones that make money, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee one a position in the history continuum. Some who are famous in their own era, like the Pompiers, sold well and were loved by collectors of the time, but have been denigrated since. And then re-evaluated and almost, sort of, reinstated as rather alright after all, maybe.

There is a push and pull between various schools of art. Often in one era, there will be two opposing views that will throw mud at each other. Witness the Art Deco style that was lean and mean, angular and geometric. They shuddered at the Art Nouveau style that was of the same era – flowery, flowing, feeling and romantic. The argument exists to this day, yet both schools of art have survived with strong proponents for either side still criticizing the other. The Bauhaus movement that sprang up afterwards went to the far extremes of austerity, while the Expressionists took up the extremes of the emotional side of art.

Who is to say, in the future, which of those basement loads of work will be assigned to the auction houses for sale (“good riddance!” say the beneficiaries of the estate) only to find that some astute art dealer has purchased the lot at a bargain basement price. Is that where the term came from? He then spends the time advertising, cultivating his collector-clientele to appreciate the exceptional qualities that he lauds in this forgotten work. One collector buys, another sees it in collector number one’s home; collector two buys. They’ve paid a handsome price for it. They talk it up to others. They leave it to a museum when they die. It becomes part of a museum collection. The auctioneer sells the next pieces at a higher price. The prices rise like bubbles to the top. All of a sudden, van Gogh looks pretty good (after all) .

I could blather on, but I rest my case. We may not sell prolifically in our own time, but who knows how we will fare against the commercial junk that is out there, in the long run. Who will be remembered? Who will be forgotten? Who will burn an artist’s production because they don’t understand it (correct me if I’m wrong – wasn’t it Whistler’s mother who burnt all of his figure drawings after he died because they were immoral?). Will we survive? Will we be fortunate enough to have a dealer discover and promote us? Or will we like most artists, still make the rounds of commercial galleries seeking to find someone to represent us? Or submit a thousand proposals to Civic and National galleries for a show that gives us prestige, but no sales?

It’s a tough life if an artist counts on the money that comes back from his or her art work. But it’s a magnificent life, if the art work has given the artist the pleasure and satisfaction of expressing a thought or a feeling; or has the esteem of one’s peers; and has the privilege of viewing the world through eyes that see life and one’s surroundings through the very special eyes of an artist.