Posts Tagged ‘art education’

Artemis in the Cove – A new Art Centre

March 22, 2012

Contemporary exhibit at the Artemis Gallery.

There’s a new Art Centre  in Deep Cove, called Artemis in the Cove. It’s a beautiful store-front place with window surrounding on two sides, the interior beautifully and sparely fit-out to accommodate classes, meetings and art gallery.

Interior space by candlelight.  Great for an opening. Transforms to studio in a jiffy. See the sink at the back?

The owner, Shannon Browne, has designed the interior space, with a custom made stainless counter with two big sinks for washing up in it. It takes up the whole back wall. Drawers, a trash can cupboard and fridge are built in underneath the counter and a microwave oven is hidden away in the above counter cupboards for a clean, modern look.

The floors are washable vinyl that looks like weathered barn-board.  Had I not asked, I would have assumed it was real, it looks so good; but it makes sense to have a vinyl floor so that  art spills can easily be cleaned up. The walls are a restful white – great for exhibiting work; not distracting if an art activity is going on. There are two long tables for activity; and two modern shelving units in blond wood from IKEA that form a demonstration table.

Looking out to the front, you see the charming village of Deep Cove with its small boutique stores – lots of them are restaurants for the many summer visitors and there are galleries, artisan jewelers, spas and other shopping treat places to visit without any of the corporate chain stores.

Looking out to the side, there is a courtyard with a planter garden which, even in winter, is green and lovely with small rhododendrons and azaleas.

For a lazy day outing, it’s worth the hour long drive from Vancouver to North Vancouver – the Iron Workers (Second Narrows) bridge is the easiest route, going North, by taking the Dollarton Highway, the first off ramp, going east;  and following it to its end.

Take a look at the web site for more info and pictures  http://artemisinthecove.wordpress.com/about/ and sign up on their mailing list if you are interested in knowing what courses and events are coming up.

I took a very informative course in monotype printmaking a few months ago and discovered that Shannon was interested in having more classes. I proposed a beginners course in drawing and she accepted. I’ve now taught the two days of course and was really pleased with the results. The participants dug right into the activities with enthusiasm. The facilities are exactly what is needed – a calm, well-light space with lots of room to work in.

See the previous post for details on the Drawing course I gave. The results for all participants were spectacular. I was really pleased with each one.

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Artemis – Kristin Krimmel’s drawing course

March 22, 2012

Judith’s mark making exercise

Think about it. Humans are the only animal in the animal kingdom who draw. Children, at a very early age, teach themselves to draw. There is a natural progression of mark-making in a child’s development that is so uniform from one child to another, no matter what culture they come from, that it is possible to know whether a child is developing normally or not, just from their drawings. Left alone, children will continue to draw not only as a pleasurable visual activity, but also to teach themselves motor control and hand-eye coordination. When adults begin to interfere by telling a child to stay within the lines, or by “correcting” the child’s rendition of a rabbit or cat or house, then the child’s mind easily shuts down and diverts from the normal path.

I don’t know how many people I’ve met who have been quashed in their artistic development any where from pre-school to adulthood, and they’ve stopped drawing!

My class, this time,  was composed of  mid-life or older adult students who had not had much instruction in drawing but who had a strong desire to start drawing again.

So of course, we began with some non-threatening exercises, making marks, wiping them off, starting again, erasing with an eraser – as marks, not to correct anything – using vine charcoal which is one of the best, most forgiving drawing materials to work with.   You don’t have a drawing if you don’t have a mark on your paper!

Marks in their infinite variety are what make drawings.

An exercise in placement: Karen’s interpretation

Next I talked about composition. I ask the students to take two colours, to place three shapes of one colour strategically, so that the eye travels over the whole picture plane. Then I ask them to do the same with the second colour. Then alternating, always thinking about what the next shape does to lead the eye around, continuing until the background (the white) comes forward.

Karen discovered in her drawing that if the colour didn’t go right up to the edges, the shapes got lost or “fuzzied”  and often left “ghosts”, those lines of white between the colour and the black line, which were not intended, but happened if one didn’t take care of them. This drawing shows both completely filled in shapes as wel as “ghosted” shapes, since I photographed it before Karen had the opportunity to finish the process of bringing the colour up to the line.

An exercise in placement: Mary’s interpretation

Mary discovered, in her drawing, that when a colour is  more intense, solid or saturated, that it pulls the eye towards it. Her white spaces got lost in the final rendition, but the balance between blues and greens is maintained because the textured places are acting like the white spaces would have. I love this drawing. It’s delicate and strong at the same time. The initial placement of lines gives a completely different flow from Karen’s drawing. Mary lines are more static as they are rectangular, whereas Karen’s flow like waves. But in the end, Marys mark making is so varied and dynamic that her drawing does not remain static. It’s full of life.

Other ideas of composition that we discussed were The Rule of Thirds; one, two and three -point compositions; geometric composition, a Renaissance concept using “Divine Proportions”.  If you want to see information on these concepts, look at these other blog entries:
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/02/03/snow-photos-compositional-notes/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/02/16/napkin-sketch-2/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/03/09/the-rule-of-thirds-another-compositional-concept/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/04/10/divine-proportions/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/04/14/musings-on-compostion-in-early-photography/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/04/15/white-rock-photo/

Judith’s composition of cherry blossoms

The last exercise of the first day was to translate these ideas into a finished drawing that kept in mind all the principles of composition that we discussed.  I  had  a package of various photos for participants to chose from, each of which would adapt easily to the things we had been doing up to this point – strong on mark making, composition pretty much already in place. I allowed for the addition of one colour only of chalk pastel. I ask this of the students so that they are not having to complicate the drawing process by adding the problem of colour choices. That’s a whole other ball of wax!

Lorraine’s image of winter fields is made with a multiple use of sinuous marks creating an overall texture,representing long grasses. Underlying the major shapes is a geometric proportion that helps keep this composition moving in a triangular fashion.

Karen’ composition of two trees in a field of marsh grasses

Karen is an avowed abstractionist. She has emphatically stated that she does not want to  draw objects, so this exercise was contrary to her artistic temperament.  I was delighted to see her tackle this exercise by reducing the photograph to its essential elements.  I love the two simplified trees. It reminds me of Milton Avery’s simplified landscapes. http://www.google.ca/search?q=milton+avery+images&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=gwo&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=np&prmd=imvnso&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=Tn9rT7uTCo_YiAKUoPy4BQ&ved=0CCkQsAQ&biw=1444&bih=642

It’s hard to see on these small photographs how beautiful some of the mark making in this drawing is.  And, I will add, the participants did not have sufficient time to finish their drawings. These drawings are all mid-process.

Judith’s texture sampler

On the second day of the course, we had a short exercise in texture and pattern.

I can explain texture easily as the visual representation of the feel of a surface – rough, smooth, velvety, stringy, hairy, etc.  Pattern is more difficult to define.  Pattern involves repetition of shape or of repeated similar marks. Think of wallpaper, where there is a repetition of a motif. Or polka dots. Or  fabrics.  Pattern can also be a repetition of texture. Where mark making stops being texture and becomes pattern instead is not critical to define. It’s just part of a continuum.

I asked the participants to divide off the page somehow to make little enclosed spaces. In each one, I directed them to fill the various shapes with such things as parallel lines, cross hatching, organized dots, randomly spaced dots, wiggly lines, etc.

Next, we used a still life as inspiration to draw shapes and work with concepts of positive and negative shapes ending in a balanced composition.

I brought an old Chinese teapot in traditional cobalt blue and white, and a bowl that was similarly designed. I had oranges and apples for the bowl, a lamp, a salt and pepper shaker pair, a square facial tissue box in lime green, and a fan. The objects provided a variety of easily drawn geometric shapes and these needed to be composed using the full drawing paper so that the negative shapes and the positive shapes balanced out.  The drawing had to be made in charcoal only; and when I was satisfied that they had a good composition, then they could add colour with chalk pastel.

We started with some blind drawings – the kind where you keep your eye on the object while your hand follows your eye, drawing in line with charcoal, on the  paper. It’s not only a lessons in eye-hand coordination, but a lesson in observation. The better we observe, the better our drawings become. If we never become famous artists, we will have at least gained the joy of being able to see things more richly.


This drawing of an old kitchen scale and a bottle is Mary’s first attempt at this  type of drawing.  I love it because it is simple and in one fresh line describes the object clearly

Kathleen’s drawing of the big teapot works much on the same principal of one single line defining the shape. It’s an energetic drawing with a flourish.

This drawing is Nona’s. She has taken a lot more time to explore the intricacies of of the weigh-scale, including the embossed patterns on the plate and some of the mechanism that is hidden from view in Mary’s drawing.

Judith’s blind drawing includes some of the pattern, which for a purist, steps out of the boundaries of a blind drawing, because it is not just following the shape of the object. But the resultant drawing is rich and fresh. If you put this in amongst a batch of Matisse drawings, you would have a hard time selecting this one out as “not his”.

Next, using Canson Mi-teinte paper, we started our last exercise of the class, as described above.

Of course, I now had a batch of temperamental artist on my hands, as easy to direct as cats! Yes, some drew the objects I had brought, but others found objects that interested them more than my traditional still life. Hooray for independence! You will see that the results are very interesting and include the tea kettle and teapot that we used during our break; and some glass canning jars that are being used as storage cannisters.

This is Karen’s drawing, with the handle of the teapot and the cord of the kettle doing a great task of leading the eye through the composition. It is modernist in subject matter, finding beauty in daily objects – taps, kettles, mugs, and the stainless steel sink.

Lorraine’s drawing brings the eye in delicately on the upper left with the daffodil blooms and stems; then lower, there is another entry leading to the centre of the image with the tissue box. The vase provides a good strong vertical force to counteract the strong shadow forms going horizontally. It’s sitting in the left hand “third” of the drawing.

The top line of the black mass, mid picture plane, takes a meandering walk across the page, sometimes going up, sometimes down, so that the eye stays interested in the picture; and the bowl with its pattern and orange fruit makes a good stopping point to keep the eye looking at the image.

Mary’s drawing of the storage jars and the tissue box  divide up the page nicely. She has started this drawing with a “blind” drawing, carefully searching out the form, and then looking for the shadows that help attach the forms to the page while breaking up the space around the jars. It is in harmonious tonal balance with mid tones, white and dark all having about equal activity in the picture. The two strong black masses (the shadow from the box and the top of the box) do not overwhelm because there is a strong thick line at the base of the jar which pulls the eye to the right hand side.  With the round shapes – the lids and the glass jar bottoms, echoed by the shadows – this drawing has a nice circular flow to it. It’s a very good composition.

I liked the development of Nona’s drawing, too. It’s a simplified line drawing to begin with, then the placement of shadows and the basic light/dark  values complete a good, solid composition; and then the addition of colour and detail draws the eye to the part of the image that interests Nona the most.

I particularly like the traceries of light colour produced by erasing back through the charcoal shadow in the foreground, and the sensitivity that Nona brought to the coloured fruit and the bowl decoration.

It was a fun class and everyone went home feeling they had learned some new things to work with.

If you are interested in taking some courses in a super studio location, contact Artemis Gallery in Deep Cove, just east of North Vancouver.

http://artemisinthecove.wordpress.com/

Framing

November 21, 2011

I sometimes rescue paintings from secondhand shops or thrifts – originals that people have junked, not knowing what they have. Many are anonymous. I can’t figure out the signature (which is a good reason in favour of clearly printing one’s name when signing an original work of art).  It’s amazing what you can find. It’s also amazing what you cannot find – like any information on the author of the work. If anyone can help me out on that front, please do so.

Sometimes they come with framing and sometimes not.

I found a subtle watercolour portrait marked Don Quixote, very sensitively done, about six months ago is a beat-up black frame with a hand cut mat around it. The image is done in loose watercolour washes with blues for the shadows and warm tones of peach, rose madder and yellows in the warm tones. The eyes are beautifully drawn and the mouth and nose sensitively described.

Signature not clear: Kjariscal or K. Jariscal? Don Quixote, 2000. watercolor

“Never fear!” I thought, “I’ll just re-mat and re-frame it.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take it out of it’s frame. Oy vey!

It’s backing was a dusty, dirty pulp board – the cheapest kind of cardboard with no refinement whatsoever and prone to picking up moisture. It was full of acid. The mat wasn’t acid free either. Where it had touched the painting, the watercolour paper was going brown. Yuck.

It was taped in with brown paper tape – kraft tape, it’s sometimes called. The backing was nailed in with rusty nails. I don’t suppose they were rusty when they were first tapped in there.

This is just a reminder – a cautionary tale. It just costs a small amount more to buy acid free matting and backing; or to use barrier paper (an acid free paper that separates the work of art from a cardboard backing).

An acid free framing will last a lifetime or more without losing its crisp whiteness; the non-acid free will be brown in two years and spoil the appearance of your gem, not only dulling the framing, but eventually attacking the work of art itself.

My new acquisition is now looking crisp and proud in its new frame.

My favorite custom framing place is Final Touch Frames in Vancouver on the corner of  4th and Quebec in a blue warehouse space. They are reasonably priced; and if you have works on paper that need mats in the smaller sizes, there are a lot of pre-cut mats that might suit your work.

Thoughts on the artist/dealer relationship

July 30, 2011

This discussion began as a thread of comments on fellow-blogger (and photographer) Mark Whitney’s web site.

For the whole thread see:

http://markwhitneyphotography.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/mount-hope-cemetery/

Mark Whitney’s great website with his current photos of graveyards and mortuary monuments generated a discussion of what was appropriate to sell in a gallery; and whether or not one could sell paintings with headstones and mortuary architecture as principal subject matter. Here’s what I replied to Mark, which becames a more generic discussion of artists and dealers. My last comment on his blog is about artists bringing work on-the-edge for show and  the dilemma that may arise when it doesn’t fit a dealer’s requirements to be able to sell the work

I’m not sure that the younger generation is in the position to buy much art; and if they do, it might just be the lower priced stuff. But it’s a completely different market than the boardroom/home consumption market.

I know the “artistic freedom” arguments of the artist very well. In the last years, I’ve come to appreciate what good dealers can do for artists that artists cannot do for themselves. They often assume an enormous rent, month by month, that has to be paid through sales. In order to do that they have to find rich clients – it’s not by hundred dollar sales that they make it, but by ones in the thousands.

To do that, they need to spend a lot of time and energy on advertising which, normally, is prohibitive for the artist. They keep a staff on, in order to keep the gallery open, and they often pay writers and/or curators to write blurbs for each show.  They foot the bill for the schmoozing opening. And in the end, they have to pay for their own living – and it’s not necessarily a high one. The 2 dealers that I’ve known a little bit more than grazing-shoulders-in-passing acquaintance have looked professional and well-to-do in their gallery surroundings, but their own lives are oft fraught with the worries about the next set of bills, and often,how to pay everyone at the end of the month – because everyone comes before they do – staff, artists, writers, advertisments, promotions, telephone, IT and electricity bills.
So when they are upstaged by an artist with images which they have a clientele for, they have to scramble, and he may not have a single sale. What does he do then? He has either to have deep pockets or an understanding banker.

Artist’s side of the coin?
I thought about this artist’s new work in context of some of my own (and mine hs been slightly edgy, but nowhere near as accessible as the skull-in-the-imagery guy). It’s my works that are ten years old that sell. It takes people time to get used to them, it seems. It’s curious. I think that may be so for many artists (not counting the purely commercial who are pumping out works to fill the living room decor needs of the nation). And of course, the artist has the same problems of paying bills at the end of the month. It’s a double edged sword.

In all that, it’s a miracle that new work emerges. It’s the artist who moves forward his vision from ordinary to extraordinary, who leaps the bounds of convention, who changes the direction of the norm and finds new ways of “speaking” to their viewers. Without their dedication to express themselves in exploratory ways, we would still be back in the chocolate-box works of the the 19th Century. Instead, we’ve been able to absorb some pretty challenging work – Impressionists, Abstract Impressionists, Pop artists,  installation artists, post-modernists.Each of those movements was unacceptable when it emerged.

Our all-time example of this is van Gogh. Couldn’t sell a painting in his life-time, but is worth multi-millions now that he’s dead. Strange isn’t it?

One hundred and eighty degrees

December 11, 2010

A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can read in it—well, she did this and then she did that, and then she did that—there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.” (In Barbara Rose, Frankenthaler (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1975, p. 85)

Wandering through museum after museum in Europe this summer, the thought I came up with for my own work was:

Be braver. Sweep away restrictions. Lean over the edge. Hang on by the rim if necessary. Try what you have always wanted to try. Work big.

I was swept away by the inventiveness of the art – much of it totally non-representational.  I also saw tons of Medieval art, especially the Gothic work done around 1200 a.d. So there was a wonderful mix of things to look at – not only in the museums and galleries, but in the streets as well.

I’ve come back all fired up to paint new imagery, to try a series of non-representational work that will perhaps lead into something else. While I’m doing it, I’m trying to remain open and experimental, for me.

I add that, “for me”, because I know that this kind of work has been done before.  You might say the work is derivative, and it well may be. The thing is, if I don’t explore this avenue, I’ll never know know what is at the end of it, will I? I’ll never know what I might have discovered.  Being safe  ends up also being static, repetitive, derivative.

There’s that word again. Derivative.

I believe that we are all influenced by our favorite painters; that we aspire to emulate some of these favored ones. To copy them would not be right, but to play with their concepts, to build on their ideas – these are fair challenges to take up. One’s own personality will come through in one’s own work.

Yes, there are great forgers who can copy another artist’s work flawlessly, to fool the public into believing it is from the master’s hand; but for the vast majority, we bring our own abilities, our own personality, our own skill-sets to the canvas and the results will carry our own personality, our own aspirations, our own interpretations. It’s valid to go there; it’s not valid to copy (without acknowledging or accrediting the original artists).

And so, brave as I want to be, adventurous as I have vowed to be, I have embarked on a series of large watercolours using a palette of graphite grey, yellow ochre and burnt sienna. I just haven’t been able to leave the representational sector. I’ve needed a crutch, a handle to hold onto, an old woman’s cane to steady me as I go. Yes, I am painting from things I have seen – but hopefully, you will not recognize them, when you see them.

The first six are done. They represent concrete floor repaired with a resin that fills the cracks and spreads either side of them. It is a warehouse floor with dints and scratches, with these large lines of resin making random patches in a different colour; and spots of paint from some former activity. Now this glorious floor is being recorded in watercolour – the floor of the Geneva Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Since I’ve been back in Vancouver, I’ve been noticing the repairs in the asphalt on the road – a thick black linear brushwork flanking either side of a breach in the paving. I’ve been noticing the lack of repairs where tree roots emerge on sidewalks, lifting the concrete, breaking it, and then, over time, growing grass or weeds in it.  So simple.

From this latter exploration that I have done in photography, I’m hoping to find a more imaginative group of figures – anthropomophic – animal like or human-like but not.  I’ll just see where it goes.

Jim Gislason

March 12, 2010

Diva, Jim Gislason, Oil on mesh pinned to canvas

About three months ago, I had dropped in unexpectedly at the Elliott Louis Gallery hoping to see the gallery owner Ted Lederer.  He wasn’t there and his able assistant, saying he might arrive any moment, began to distract me with some of the latest work in the gallery.

It was the first time I had heard of Jim Gislason and ergo, the first I had seen his creations.  She explained his technique whereby he prepares a photomontage of images which he then translates into a photo transfer on emulsive film for silk screening, and then he proceeds to force oil paint through the developed silk-screen. It’s a labour intensive process and it requires a complete fore-knowledge of the final image because, at the point in the process that the oil paint is being pushed through the silk screen material, all has to be done at once.

Since he has differing depths of extruded paint coming through, he needs to know exactly at what place he is pushing through with which colour and a fairly precise amount of paint. That’s all rather technical, so of course I was impressed at the complexity of it. Nevertheless, if the process isn’t in tandem with some meaning, then it’s futile to try to impress someone with the number of layers of paint or the hours it takes to dry.

Detail of paint extrusion. Note the icon of Thor’s hammer from the painting Reveille, J. Gislason

Details of paint extrusion and paint manipulation, glazing etc.

At that time, there were only a few of Gislason’s works and I found them quite engaging. I had to refrain from touching them, they were so tactile, yet every inch of each of the works had something more going on in them. The texture was made up of a lexicon of printers’ symbols mixed with new icons made by Gislason himself. He photographs images he wants to use and then reduces them to a size of the printer’s symbols, mixing up the ready made with his home-digitally-made new symbols, and creates a large mass of them.

From far away, the image looks quite serene – large abstract shapes that glow with colours vibrating against each other, which are filled with details on closer inspection.

So are these paintings or are they silk screen prints?

If they must be classified, I’d put them with the former category. They are, after all, made with oil paints, not silk screen inks. Secondly, there is only one image made each time through the prepared silkscreen, thoroughly dried, touched up with more painting on the surface  and then it is removed from its stretcher bars and the screen with its extruded image and additions of paint  are pinned to its canvas lined exhibition frame.

Framing detail, mesh pinned to canvas

When finally the gallery owner came in that day, I was scrutinizing one of these works and was somewhat reluctant to withdraw from the process of inspecting the details of the imagery. After we had talked, he sent me home with his only copy of a printmaking anthology in which Gislason’s work figures along with an explanation of his ideology. Not only is Gislason an artist but he is a wordsmith as well.  His poems are sometimes part of the imagery and sometimes published beside the work of art.

Last week, the e-mail invitation came announcing Jim Gislason’s latest show and the opening reception and I noted it in my day-book. Not long after, I had a separate e-mail from Ted saying, “If there is only one exhibition you come into town for this year, make it this one. No kidding!”

Fortunately, I had Thursday March 11th available and it was a perfect opportunity to do a bit of gallery hopping with my sister who is in town from Rossland for her first solo show.  I had no hesitation. In fact, I made sure we were there a half an hour early so that we could see the show clearly without others to interfere in either our concentration nor our enjoyment of the imagery.

As guests arrived, Ted came by to say Jim Gislason would be arriving shortly and I just had to meet him. When the two of us met, there was a momentary awkward pause when Ted disappeared.  Jim had no idea who I was and though I had become familiar with his paintings I didn’t know what to expect either.

I explained myself – my admiration for his work  and my desire to write about  artists I appreciated so that good work  could become  more widely known. I talked about the layers of meaning that I was discovering in his paintings. He expressed his concern that people would only focus on the technique and not get the messages built into the work.

Work on paper, Jim Gislason from an earlier series. Note the chevron pattern that occurs here in black and white on the left and in grey and white on the right. This pattern recurs in different colours in many of his paintings.

Although there are a few pieces from earlier series,  the greater part of this Gislason  show is themed, Kings and Queens. In each of the newer images, he represents historical faces of either a king or a queen. The kings and queens, he says, are not mythical people or heads of state, but ourselves, living to the greatest of our potential.

The refusal of Charon, Jim Gislason, Oil on mesh pinned to canvas

He has a strong belief in spirituality gained from wide reading and experience in several religious philosophies, Buddhism being the one that more prominently underpins his work.  I asked about one cross-like symbol, but it was, he explained, Thor’s hammer, or a Mjollnir.  The Longships I and II represent a square-sailed Viking vessel.

Longship II, Jim Gislason, Oil on mesh pinned to canvas

I had to look up the reference to Thor’s hammer later as I was unfamiliar with this – so I am providing this quote from Wikipedia:

  • The Prose Edda gives a summary of Mjöllnir’s special qualities in that, with Mjöllnir, Thor: … would be able to strike as firmly as he wanted, whatever his aim, and the hammer would never fail, and if he threw it at something, it would never miss and never fly so far from his hand that it would not find its way back, and when he wanted, it would be so small that it could be carried inside his tunic.[1]

Besides the spiritual aspect, his references are drawn from various iconography – hand lettering print type, the graphic arts, Egyptian and Greek art, modern day traffic symbols, map making and historical painting references, to name just a few.

Shadow Throne, Jim Gislason Oil on mesh pinned to canvas

For instance, in Shadow Throne, from afar, the figure appears to be dressed in a medieval garment with hoops holding the dress out widely from the body. It is, in fact, derived in shape from Velasquez’s Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain.  Up close, though, the panels of the dress are fashioned from antique half- maps of the globe and other cartographic references,  adding depth and richness to the overall imagery.

Detail from Shadow Throne, Jim Gislason

When I was speaking with Jim Gislason, I realized that it would take along time to delve into all the references he uses.  We discussed this briefly. Though it would enrich my appreciation of his work to know what was embedded in the work, at some point, when the artist lets go of his work, i.e., he shows it to the world, then he must let go all the particulars that he has put into it. Viewers come with their own experiences and knowledge. What may  resonate in their minds may not be at all what the artist intended but that does not diminish the work and may in many instances enhance their appreciation.

Medallion, Jim Gislason, oil on mesh pinned to canvas

Detail from Medallion

This is a show worthy of a good long look. Each time one of Gislason’s pieces is revisited, more is found in it, whether be the connections between the numerous symbols used or an appreciation of the paint texture with its glazes and tactile richness, the added elements collaged in or one of his poems that might clarify the image or conversely add some new mystery to it.

In the end, while I marveled at the technique, the focus on that aspect of them quickly gave way to the intricacy of the imagery and the overall abstraction of them.  My favorite paintings are the ones where I can’t figure out how they were made (even though I’ve been told) and there is a mystery in the content. I’ve added these to my favorite list for sure!

The show is on until April 24th at the Elliott Louis Gallery at 248 East 1st Avenue in Vancouver, B.C.

http://www.elliottlouis.com/

Doin’ the digger

January 14, 2010

I’m on a roll!

Paint is flowing!

I’m back doing my construction work.

Here’s a series of images that culminate in my most recent work. I must say that I’m not 100% sure it’s finished. I’ll have to let it sit for a while, but on the other hand, what I have been waiting for has occurred.

I’ve been waiting for a flow of ideas to come. I’ve been waiting for that blessed artistic state where one idea builds on another, where the ideas come as I am painting. I can’t say that they are tumbling out, but at least they are coming faster than I can get them down on canvas, and I’m preparing canvases during drying time so that there will be another one ready for the next image.

This first image is the underpainting with painter’s tape masking the edges. It helps get sharp lines when you are a traditionally messy painter.That’s the prep stage.

First painting stage,

I’ve established the two positive colours and shapes geometrically. Some of this is painted in masked areas, but the black circles, I didn’t have the patience or maybe the ability, to cut a perfect circle, so I just painted it free hand, if you can call it that when you painstakingly try to ensure you do not go outside the lines. Talk about colouring book technique!

And then, third stage, I take off all the tape and see about the balance. Essentially I have composed this image relying on the spatial relationship theory of composition but I’ve also very faintly lined up the geometric relationships as well and have taken some of the key lines into consideration when I considered placement of the geometric figures.

Like those puzzles where you connect the dots, your imagination can make synaptic leaps to reconstruct the digger. It has all the essential elements. But I’m not sure that I want a yellow background in this. I’d prefer a neutral grey – a light one. So I went about trying to mix a large quantity of the neutral grey dark that I used in the previous painting which focused on shapes.

Impossible. In some additions of paint, it looks green, in others it looks brown. I add a bit of this, a bit of that. It’s not working. Finally I decide to go with what I’ve got. I add a lump of yellow ochre to warm it up and it’s not bad. Not perfect, but acceptably neutral.

I start to paint and a funny thing starts to happen. As I am painting, getting up close to the red, the paint colour perceived as neutral starts to become an eye popping lime green. I can hardly paint as the effect of simultaneous contrast starts to play. I get this halo shimmering on the edge, and I can no longer see where the edge is as the eye refuses to compute the two adjacent colours together.

I must say this is probably the hardest painting I’ve done since, as I’m painting, the edges are starting to move. And no, I haven’t eaten anything funny! It’s difficult and amusing at the same time.

I’m tempted to keep the yellow underpainting in some spots and then decide that I will complete the grey background throughout.

By evening, I have covered the entire painting in the grey, leaving only these red and black shapes of the digger, but it’s not even. I was hoping to escape having to mask off all my red and black shapes, but I’m out of luck. When I simply paint around without the mask, I get these halos of scumbled paint.

Scumbling is a method of using your brush on its side with the flat of the bristles, not the point, which de facto give you a textured, messy kind of texture also called scumbling.

I get a call from Mrs. Stepford to come over with the new creation and I go, toting a big green plastic bag with the painting in it and a book on mandalas that I got in some second hand or thrift store. I’m going to give it to Mrs. Stepford because she has just created a school program for all grades that is based on making mandalas. The green plastic bag is a necessity because it’s Wet Coast pouring rain.

Her two painting students are there on the point of leaving,  and Mr. Stepford is hanging in there, signing off his latest stunning photograph which he is giving to the two women.  Mrs.  commands me to bring out the new painting and we all discuss its merits.

I make apology for the scumbling and the halos, but both Mr. and Mrs. rave over the scumbling.
“Dont change a thing!” she exhorts. “I agree!” adds Mr. Stepford. They like the texture and think it would not be improved if I flattened the background to a single tone and hue.

I promise to put it away for a few weeks before I do anything more to it. I had another vision in mind, but I can still try my other vision on another canvas and keep this one.

So here it is at its final stage (for now).

A lesson in leaves

October 29, 2009

Fragments - Leaf -  small

I spent the afternoon out looking at leaves. Well, really, I was raking the magnolia’s gamboge dress that that she left strewn all over the floor. She’s going to be mighty cold without clothes on this winter.

The cedar trees that dried out severely during our summer drought went dancing to the Aolian harp this week along with the dogwood and the hazlenut tree. It shook a might layer of dried “needles” out from underneath its boughs. It made a beautiful burnt sienna carpet on the ground; but unfortunately it has a growth inhibitor that prevents other things growing and if the debris is left, it seeps into the soil and kills all the other struggling plant forms.

So I was sweeping up and containing all that stuff into green garbage bags to go to the yard waste dump and all the while I was looking, looking, looking. Those cedar bits are so-o-o-o-o beautiful – really graceful forms; and the magnolia leaves were turning from their pure yellow of only a few days ago. Burnt sienna was seeping out from the veins. Grey dots were forming. Some had been underneath the others for a while and had turned solidly brown or, the ones I pulled out from under the cedar hedge, were black. These black ones must have survived a winter and a summer, hidden rather deeply under the hedge. All these colours in all the variety was a real pleasure to look at.

When I came in, I spent some time sorting photographs. With digital cameras, we aren’t so discreet about what we take. After all, we don’t have to print them all, so we, or should I own up here and say “I”,  take several where I might only have taken two in the past.I have thousands of photos now and my computer is clogging up with them all. I need to get some off the computer.

I came across this lesson I gave to one of my students recently about positive and negative shapes. So I”m going to do one of my little ten minute lectures here on elementary positive-negative shape considerations.  It is inextricably linked to concepts of composition.

Pos Neg shapes sketch small

This page is a series of thumbnail sketches for illustration purposes.

See the little rectangle in black with the white P in the center. The white is the positive shape, a circle. Everything that is left is deemed the negative shape.  It’s a rather boring composition, really. If you’ve read my other blogs on composition, you will know that this gives a single figure in a rectangle which makes it difficult for the eye to go anywhere else in the picture and so it becomes tedious to look at the one spot and the viewer will quickly tire of looking at the work.

In the next thumbnail just above it, there is a shape that represents a head and shoulders plus background. This is a small improvement over the first example. At least the black figure touches the outer edge and so the eye can easily work from left to right, right around the figure and out the picture on the other side. It begs the question: will the viewer take the time to stay and look at any detail in the picture, or has the artists simply given the viewer permission to quickly enter stage left and exit hurriedly on stage right with out much attention in between. The negative space in this image is the white background.

The bigger sketch of the figure with shoulders drawn down to the bottom line, with a space between the arms and the outer edges, a familiar portrait style,  just illustrates that by doing so there is still only one negative (background) shape. One can vary the shoulder tilt or add a hat with an angle to avoid a too-symmetrical effect.

Many portrait artists through the ages have used this simple bust-plus-head model of composition.  If you have ever gone through the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, you will know what I mean. After a short while going through the portraits, you stop looking and speed up your tour through, looking for something a little more engaging (and of course, there is,) in other galleries of the museum.

In  the thumbnail with two figures, it illustrates that you can use a shadow of the original shape to make the background more interesting. It’s been a while since I did these notations, so I had to think about it a bit. It’s not obvious that it represents a figure and a shadow. So I would add, if you put in two figures and ensure that they are at different heights or wearing different colours, or vary the composition in some other way, you can make your positive-negative balance more interesting.

Talk about forgetfulness, I’m reminded of Robert Browning, the 19th Century  poet,  who was asked what something meant in one of his poems.

He replied, “At one time, only God and I knew. Now only God knows.”

I’m trying to figure out the remaining thumbnail sketch. It looks somewhat like a dog.  But with a V neck.  I know what P stands for in this lesson, but what does S stand for? Why would a dog be wearing a V-neck pullover? And is that a necklace, the wavy stuff? With this inability to explain myself, I ought to stop right here! But being verbose me, I have a few more relevant things to say and one more picture to show.

Fragments - Leaf 2 small

I asked my student to draw a branch being particular to notice the direction that the leaf grew off of it and noticing the spaces between the leaves as an integral part of the composition. When she was done, I took a few pictures of the drawing to show how cropping a drawing can improve the overall disposition of objects in a composition.

As an aside, note the overlapping leaves. It’s one of the principal ways to indicate perspective. It may sound obvious to those of you have been painting for a long time, but people struggling with representation often need to have this pointed out.

As an outcome of this lesson, I thought that my new student did a great job of finding a good composition and a variety of negative shapes.

Now back up to the top drawing, the one that opened up this blog.  I quickly sketched these three leaves and enclosed them with a line denoting the picture plane.  The leaves do not touch the edges.  The point is, though, that there is an implied entry to the drawing via the left hand side and an implied exit on the right hand side (after some looking about the various shapes and spaces). If you get an image close to the edge, it acts as if it is touching the edge. A pointy shape will work better than a round one in making the eye take a synaptic leap across the vacant space.

In this drawing I also illustrated how shading can accomplish some of the interest in the “negative” shapes and can heighten the positive shape by doing so. I liked this drawing well enough that I think I may paint it, but in colour!

A game plan and some heart work

October 28, 2009

Crossed small

I have been grouching about my painter’s block – my inability to get going on something free and meaningful (to me at least).

Yesterday I began with two drawings in chalk pastel on good paper. The advantage is that not much is lost if it doesn’t work out – the materials are expensive alright, but relatively, a way less than the commitment of materials in oil or watercolour.

Yesterday I accomplished these two drawings. The game plan? Use up some bits and pieces of chalks that were too small to use for a big project, and; work as freely as possible to obtain fresh original mark making.
I have a continuing theme of hearts in my art work. I’ve done them when I have been out of sorts and when I am elated. Each one is intended to convey some state of emotional spirit.

Of course, I don’t do this without other aesthetic considerations operating in the background. I’m sensitive to finding colours that go together and finding movement in the work that will engage a viewer who is interested in the drawing process.

The first that I produced is up above and the second is here:

Far too pretty small

By the time I had finished the drawing yesterday, I felt the work was without substance. The colours went together alright, but they were a bit saccharine and the image too explicit. In the morning when I looked at it again, I thought it was still too pretty, too sweet, and the drawing lacked any depth of colour or tone. It wasn’t worth keeping, as is, so I thought I would just continue on – writing Far too calm, Far too pretty on it. That was my critical feeling about it, so it was fair game to continue on with some text over the insufficient image.

My internal jury is still out on this piece.

Then I went about cleaning up my little tray of  chalk pastels. It must have been sitting in the sun during the summer. Two cough candies had melted in one section and the whole thing needed cleaning out.  I set aside the pieces of chalk that were viable for a bigger project and took the ends and crumbles to work with.

I started on a different kind of paper. The first was Ingres paper and the second was a bit of Canson’s Mi-teint.  On the half sheet, I took some larger crumbs of red and put them under my thumb, moving them around freely, not trying to obtain a shape. I did this with about three different hues.

Just by the rotational movement there were some marks that could be pulled into heart shape, but I didn’t want to impose that shape. It defeats the purpose of working freely and seeing what comes. Along the way, I was unsatisfied with the lack of tonal contrast and I wanted to cover over any obvious shapes, so I chose a light tone – a pink – to draw wider, more gestural strokes. The result helped give tonal contrast and an added benefit that the marks resulted in a figure-like form that appears to be dancing. Had I tried to draw a dancing figure, it would have been stilted and awkward.  This figure carries a feeling of joy with it and the freedom of the marks gives the drawing a lot of movement.

So for all that verbiage, here’s the image:

Dancing small

On the full size sheet, I started by the same process, using crumbs under my thumb.  It was a large format and demanded more attention to where the marks were going.  I’m afraid this one came out too sweetly too. It’s lacking some rigor, but I thought it good enough to leave as is until I can decide whether or not to add or subtract or cover over.  Unlike the green one which was pallid at this stage, this one has some stand-alone quality. I’m not ready to do anything to it yet.

Joy small

I think I’m not fully happy with it because I’m repeating myself with mark making that I’ve done many times before and the hope of this exercise was to get me out of rut. I distrust work that is too facile.

Then I cleaned out the tray, washed it up and saved the powders and crumbs, whatever colours they were, for another drawing. It turned out to serve me well for three drawings, actually. They are very similar.  I like the mark making in this one. I used all five fingers of both hands to move the crumbs around.

There are parts that are crisp and sharp, others that are smooth and blended. Whatever was left over from the first image was placed onto the next sheet of paper and I recommenced. And so, the same for the third piece.

They aren’t strong enough in themselves but there is a lovely fresh quality to these three; and although I did nothing to control the colours I would get, there are some interesting colour passages. I’m only sorry that I didn’t take the time to go downstairs but instead grabbed the closest paper at hand, some Pacan paper which is like cartidge paper and is not strong, nor it  likely to be acid free. I could find no information on this paper on the Internet.  It’s a great paper for student work and for rough drawings.

heart 12 small heart 13 small

heart 12 small

So that’s it. That’s the fruits of my experimenting. I like this last one the best. Now will I be able to reproduce a feeling like this of freedom in another drawing, what ever the subject may be. I must try it with different colours. The pinks are still just a bit too sweet.

Sonja Kobrehel – an artist and a game plan

October 12, 2009

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Lately, time has been flying by. With all good intentions, I took several pictures of Sonja Kobrehel’s work at the University Women’s Club, Vancouver at Hycroft way back in February or March.  The pictures have sat in my picture files since and every time I look at them, I am reminded that I wanted to say a few words in support of her exhibition. The exhibition is over, so I’m too late for that.

It’s never too late, though, to bring that attention of a good artist to my readership. Kobrehel’s work is so colourful and light.

As I was minutely looking at her work during the exhibition, one of my friends came by and said, “I don’t really understand what one sees in this kind of art,” which stunned me. It really shocked me, I think, because I was feeling such  joyousness from looking at it. It reinforced for me a)  that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and b) my art education has been so profound and lifelong  that I see things differently from other people. Sometimes the abstract is unreadable by the uninitiated.

“Why is this work important?” my friend continued. I promised to explain it one day, and perhaps that is what I am trying to do here today.

What attracts me to them is her use of colour and symbols. I went back to her web site:

http://www.sonjakobrehel.com/index.html

That daunted me a bit. I read the accolades and explanations that she already has garnered and I realized that I couldn’t speak to her work on that basis. At least, what had already been written there was more eloquently written than I could, not knowing about her Eastern European background and the iconography, the symbols with which she creates her images. So I encourage you to go there and read about it.

I’m going to shift gear here, so bear with me.

I often have discussions with Mrs. Stepford next door. She is also an artist and she has a fine analytical mind about contemporary art. She was trying to pin down why she likes my dabblings and why she appreciates what I do as an artist.  I just do it, and have the hardest time coming up with a spiel about it that makes it intelligible to other.

She said something like this – that I devise my own game plan and then go about making endless variations on the elements that I have chosen to work with. That I come up with so many variations that sometimes don’t seem to be cohesively connected and then become visible when a whole body of work is seen together amazes her.

So, back to Kobrehel:

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On an imagery level, what I like is that she uses a set of icons, visual elements, that she plays with from painting to painting, arranging them in various compositions, changing their sizes and therefore their importance in one setting as compared to the next in which it might have a much diminished importance, but another takes on a greater power. In other words, she plays with them in unending variation.

The ability to work in series with similar icons or images is an important attribute. It shows that the artist is not randomly daubing paint to canvas but has a purpose, a message that bears working with.

The next reason that I find her work fascinating is that  she is working with images that are not familiar to me and at the same time, there is some archetypal pull, some feeling that in the human experience, the symbols belong to Everyman. There are circles and egg shapes, a fool’s hat, a cross and hook, half-moons, hearts, birds, teapots, ladders. Some are commonly understood, some are esoteric, and according to the web-site, Egyptian or Eastern religious symbols. They are used out of context. That is, the egg is not in a usual egg situation. Ditto for the moon, the hearts, the teapots and the ladders.

What this accomplishes is an image with mysteriousness. Why are these symbols placed one against the other? Do they have a significance? Or, do they add up in a symbiotic whole to a feeling, a sentiment of nostalgia or of well-being, gladness, wistfulness or comfort? It is the ambiguity that draws me in, trying to come to an inner sense for me, of the work that I am looking at.  Ambiguity, for me is a strong attribute of paintings.

I don’t want to be told everything. It’s why I am most often uncomfortable with Realism. Everything is spelled out. It only takes a minute or two to “get the picture”.  The technique of copying nature onto a canvas may be admirable, but it’s just one element in the artists arsenal of weapons.  With Kobrehel’s work, I don’t immediately “get the picture” (and may never ultimately do so) and so it’s interesting to figure out why my initial reaction was to love it. It engages me. It makes me think, not just rationally, but emotionally too.

And when the emotional and rational evaluation of the image is done, I see that, on a technical plane, Kobrehel’s work is also fascinating.

She seems to compose chiefly on the “spatial relationship” method of composition, although the other methods are working too. It’s one of my favourites of all the compositional methods  and by far the most abstract of compositional ideas. The icons are placed about the picture plane to draw the eye around. In one, for instance, there are three objects in the colour red on a largely beige coloured canvas. They act as an implied triangle that leads one’s eye around. Then there are three other objects in a different colour, also acting as a triangle, pulling one’s eyes away from the first, so that the eye travels around and around within the entire image, comfortably being able to stop at this icon or that for closer inspection.

Where large rectangular blocks of colour make up the background of a painting, she understands the visual weight of each and adjusts the size of the shapes accordingly so that the  shapes are in balance.

For an artist (me)  who is familiar with these principles of colour weights, the manipulation of shapes to create balance or imbalance, compositional considerations, these paintings are full of richness underneath the apparent imagery. It’s as if Kobrehel is more concerned with these than the actual icons.

The last thing I am going to mention is technical quality of paint handling.

Kobrehel paints with a build-up of layers with each layer contributing to the final surface quality. It provides a richness of colour, a depth, even if the   colour on initial view looks, for instance, red. That red may have yellows and oranges and cream colours underneath that alter the final quality of the block of redness. It’s not flat.

The colours are fresh and lively. This may seem simple, but it’s not. Too often, colours are overmixed and become as a result rather muddy-looking. Kobrehel’s are clean and light. It’s that quality of colour mixing that keeps these images fresh and happy. Kobrehel also knows her colour mixing so well that one colour never jars against another.  It’s so easy for an amateur to put a lime green against a red, but it will clash and blare like a ill tuned trumpet. When Kobrehel does this, though, the colours sit together like sensitive lovers. They are individual and opposite, but they marry comfortably and easily. This is no mean feat.

The quality of the drawing is also fresh. There seems no hesitation in the markings, but that does not make them simple. The forms, the fool’s hat, for instance, is lightly rounded on the edges giving it a three-dimensional quality. The shadows lurking behind these objects serve to lift them off the page in an optical illusion. The icons live. They pop off the surface and tempt you to touch the canvas just ot make sure they aren’t really trying to escape.

Kobrehel is an adult who has been able to recapture that childlike ability to create her own symbols and express them as a private language. I find her work fascinating to look at.

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I hope this will explain to my skeptic friend and give her something to think about when next she comes in view of a work of art that is more difficult to perceive on first view.

So thank you, Sonja Kobrehel, for making my day – not just in February when I  saw the real thing, but today, as I look at it all again and am delighted by what I see.