Posts Tagged ‘art materials’

Love, Decay and Repair

October 7, 2012

At the far end of the gallery, in direct line from the entry, are three large hooked hangings inspired by hosta leaves. They engage the entire wall with their soft new-green colour, six feet high, 27 inches wide each. They belong to each other, like triplets . Not that each is identical, but the colours and the method of working are the same; and together they describe a greater whole than the parts individually do.

These are called rugs, but I would hate to see such fine, detailed workmanship put on the floor to be walked on. Each is composed of strips of fabric cut into narrow strips which are hooked into the linen base from below, surfacing on “the right side” as loops no higher than 3/4 of an inch. By the way they are pulled up from underneath, they can be twisted or organized to lie parallel to each other or in circular patterns and this creates tactile passages of great visual interest. The attention to such  detail is what makes these large works sing.

Michelle Sirois-Silver is the artist and this is her Hosta Series number 2.  In this series, the plants are alive and well, unlike her Hosta Series 3 where Sirois-Silver explores the decay of the plant as it comes to maturity and then returns to the earth. In Series 3, the colours change to autumn rich rusts, soft tans and reds with deep  blue shadows; then just as the plant collapses into more muted colours, the soft beiges and browns like dry earth that it is about to join in the birth-life-death cycle.

Sirois-Silver says, “Love Decay Repair reflects my philosophy about art and craft and the seamless integration of traditional and contemporary design, techniques, practice and attitues. Applying and integrating unexpected materials and techniquies into hand hooked work has always intrigued me. In the “decay” pieces, the surface of the leaf begins to disintegrate, taking on a vulnerable quality. The colours are dull and muted. Tears and cracks begin to appear on the surface and new materials and layered techniques such as hand stitching, needle felt and machine stitching are used to depict aspects of decay and repair.”

I like to look at art work without reference to the artist’s intent and explanation. It allows me to feel, instead of analyzing. It helps me integrate the whole rather than to deconstruct. Having said that, I declare my deep interest in the constructive or creative process that is involved in making art. It is for this reason that, of all the works on display, I was spell-bound by the documentation that was tucked on a plinth beside the gallery attendant’s desk.

 

In two books, journals really,  Sirois-Silver collected her lively samples of colours, her explorations of composition, texture and tone. There is page after page of sketches with variations on her theme. There is an awesome display of creativity. .

The drawings are fresh. The ideas are recorded not only in pen, pencil and paint but in swatches of fabric, trial bits of hooking, buttons, fabric, threads and yarns.. You can see some of her visual art process. This, I think, is absolutely wonderful.Imperfect. Living.  Engaging.

I was very thankful to see these, precursors to the fine work that she has conceived into perfect, flawless wall hangings.

These are still on display until October 13, 2012, so if you have a chance come to see them, or look for her news on her web site:

http://www.michellesirois-silver.com/

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Marouflage

June 19, 2012

River God, Kristin Krimmel, 1979,  9.5×12 inches, oil on board

I went looking on the Internet this morning for a definition of marouflage. I had hope to send the information to my art dealer friend in Vancouver, but the best information that I got was all in French in technical terms and I didn’t have the oomph to translate all that.
I used the marouflage technique in painting in France during my studies at Art School; then tried to explain it to someone in English. I’m finding various definitions, but not as limited and specific as this one.
For me, it’s a technique whereby one glues a secondary surface over a support (canvas or board) and then proceeds with painting. I was using a marouflage of paper on marine ply, but could as easily have been using paper on canvas. The purpose was to provide a smoother surface and to eliminate or diminish the effect of the support surface (the weave of canvas, the grain of the wood) and control the absorbency.

I began with a complicated technique using rabbit skin glue and plaster of Paris. First, the glue (available in granulated form) was heated with water to a fairly liquid, smooth consistency then painted on the board.  A layer of kraft paper was then placed on top of the board, and a second layer of glue brushed on. When this concoction dried fully, a second mixture was applied made of the liquid rabbit skin glue and plaster of Paris. It provided a white, home-made gesso that formed the ground for the painting – the layer that the paint would attach to.

This white layer was dried then very smoothly sanded. The process was repeated a few times until to a polished surface white surface was achieved.

Figure in red, 1979 Kristin Krimmel, 12 x 12 inches, oil on board.

I was a devoted student of the classic techniques and could be found many evenings brewing up my mixtures and preparing lots of panels so that I could work on them the next day in the painting studio. If I wasn’t preparing mixtures, I was delving into any books I could find on technique.

I came late to the process. I had studied in Vancouver and received a teaching degree in Fine Arts, but I felt woefully my lack of confidence both in my drawing abilities and my knowledge of painting. After four years of teaching and several years of getting my life in order, I had an opportunity to spend a year traveling and I chose to do it by living in Rheims, France and going to the regional art school. That I ended up staying four years at the school is a whole long other story.

Being in an art school allowed me to explore what I already knew and to add the education that I thought I was missing – the classical techniques and the draftsman-like ability to draw or paint things realistically.  In the end, I came to terms with my inability to draw photographically. I even eventually understood that I didn’t have to do so in order to create good art.

Sometimes there are clouds in one’s life. We think we are being deprived of something and the whole world will fall apart because of it. The professors didn’t know what to do with me because I was already an art teacher, so they felt it would not be appropriate for me to learn the way the others were learning. I was proscribed from the basic drawing classes – from classic plaster casts, from perspective lessons and so on. So I sat in my corner of the studio and turned inward, building on the lessons I’d had in university back home. I felt deprived of what I had come to learn.

Instead, I embarked upon some marvelous journeys of discovery. I read everything I could get my hands on, spent hours in the local museum and the Maison de la Culture which brought in very good shows.  My art history prof set me up with the Dale Carnegie Library (yes, this mid sized town in France was given a library by the philanthropist just after the World War I, and was constructed in magnificent art deco style) where I was allowed to handle the original manuscripts housed in their collection.

I was introduced to Mademoiselle Voisin, a lovely elderly lady – she seemed old to me then, but I must be her age now, it’s frightful to think of it. She was the docent for the very important cathedral in Reims – a Gothic cathedral which was the place where all French coronations took place from medieval times until the revolution in 1789. She had a wealth of information about the cathedral and knew all of its esoteric secrets that she delighted in telling. In addition, she collected foreign students around her on Sundays for tea and delighted in feeding them cakes and cookies while encouraging conversation in French and the making of friendships.

I was a model student. I was there at eight in the morning and left at six at night (with a good French break between twelve and two for lunch). Two days a week, I came for evening figure drawing classes. When I went back to my bare apartment, I continued on with my projects and mixtures and experiments until late at night.

I am essentially a lazy being. Maybe we all are. Eventually, I became tired of the long process of preparing my boards with plaster. I thought to myself, why do we need so much plaster? I started to prepare them simply gluing the paper on and forgetting the plaster.  It worked just as well for me, and I was able to paint more and prepare less.

Three apple trees, Germany, Kristin Krimmel, 1979, 24 x 17 cm, oil on board

Marne Vineyards, Kristin Krimmel,  1979, 17×24 cm, oil on board.

It was a very productive period for me, and a lovely way to paint.  Who knows? Maybe I will come back to it.

A selection of Kristin Krimmel’s paintings are found on her website at www.kristinkrimmel.com

 

Raw – Stefany Hemming

May 22, 2010

Hollow, Oil on Panel, Stefany Hemming, 20 x 20 inches

I happened to be down at the Elliot Louis Gallery again last month just after the Stefany Hemming show went up.

In this, her second show at the Elliott Louis Gallery, Hemming is depicting tangles of twigs, roots and vines in swirling masses, often evoking nests, but sometimes just providing huge natural-like pattern fields.

The panels she works on are large and it is sometimes just this factor of size that makes these works remarkable.  The mark making process seems to be so freely made without hesitation as if error and second considerations were simply impossible. It makes for  very freshly executed paintings and on such grand scale paintings, this is both physically and emotionally demanding.

I examined the paintings from afar and from up close. It’s one of my ways of determining the intrinsic value of a work of art.   Does it look as freshly painted  up close as it does far away? Does the pattern read from afar or get lost in a blur? Is the surface of the painting finished or does it lack consistency upon closer inspection? Is there overall composition in the far view; and is there sufficient interest in the near one?

What fascinated me about these images was just that freshness that has been achieved in laying down the paint. It seems to have arrived in one single gestural stroke going round and round. And yet the overlapping of the ribbon-like shapes shows no pulling through of the paint. It’s controlled and meticulous, and there are subtle variations of tone that had to be added in later. It’s a mystery as to how it is achieved.

Hollow (detail) Stefany Hemming, Oil on panel

I suspect that the whole “ground” of the painting is covered with a fairly liquid oil paint of a single colour and then a scraper is used to gesturally scrape through, leaving bands of the under colour to emerge as the figure. Then touch ups must be made to achieve that seemingly-effortless crossing of lines and the clarification of what is forward and what is behind in the overlapping of the ribbon shapes.

Gather, Stefany Hemming, Oil on panel

From a practicing artist’s point of view, the technical process is unique. From an imagery point of view, there has been almost a fad of nest imagery and another of pattern fields.  Hemming’s work surmounts the ordinary through her meticulous process, her gestural freedom and the sheer magnitude of the imagery.

Thicket, Stefany Hemming,  oil on panel

Hemming describes her art exploration as  an ” obsessive, ritualistic, instinctive practice which embodies all the contingency, uncertainty and instability of the real. It promotes painting as documentation of the intangible, evidence of one’s humanity.”

In this,  I can relate that the act of painting of the imagery may be obsessive, ritualistic and instinctive, but the end result has a feel which is none of these. Instead, these large works are quiet, still images.

This is perhaps because the composition is overall. There is no story to tell. The nests are empty; the balls of string static; the branch-like structures do not go anywhere.  As such, Hemmings description of her work as embodying “all the contingency, uncertainty and instability of the real… and … as documentation of the intangible, evidence of one’s humanity,” does not work for me.

There is nothing here for the viewer to link evidence of one’s humanity. The objects that are depicted are tangible and recognizable. There is no message coming through of contingency, uncertainty nor instability.

For me, this is typical example of art-speak – the ascription of esoteric  language  to justify one’s work; and what is written is disconnected with the imagery.

Having said that, I find these works interesting, particularly in terms of technique. They represent a quality of contemporary work that remains at once abstract and representational at the same time. For me, these large works are beautiful for their gestural freedom,  for their timelessness and their stillness.

There’s still time to see the exhibit at the Elliott Louis Gallery,  at: #1 – 258 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver, B.C.

For a greater selection of her paintings, see her work on the web at :

http://www.elliottlouis.com/dynamic/exhibit_artist.asp?ExhibitID=399

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).

Hitachi Digger – painting progress

January 11, 2010

Hitachi (variation 1, shape), acrylic, 16 x 20 inches

Every little change becomes an artistic decision.

The Hitachi digger has been up on my wall in all its garish glory, an intense cerulean sky, a cadmium red light digger cut with some cad yellow. It’s eye-popping.  It’s an under-painting.  It’s too hard on the eyes with the simultaneous contrast operating at full force, But where to go next with it? What did I want to do with this one when I set out? After several months, I’m still stuck, looking at this rather blatant drawing in colour, not knowing what to do.

Every change in colour shifts the balance, creates new values of weight.

When the gallery dealer came, he had some wry comment about it, then praised the one in greys for its subtleties. Has this influenced my decision to add some grey? And if some grey, then how shall I mix that grey?

I pulled out my painting supplies that had been hidden under the studio table and set up to work in acrylics again. Everything had been put away for the Christmas festivities.

I’ve accumulated some supplies from garage sales and demos at economical cost. The tubes need to be used up; so I started with a Stevenson’s Burnt Sienna and some Manganese Blue but the mixture turns out looking too green a grey. Greys are the hardest to mix because they are so affected by the colour you put them beside.  I had a lump of left-over white from my palette the last time I painted which I kept in a tiny jam jar with a skim of water for just this kind of mixing.
If you put a neutral grey beside some red paint, it will take on a green cast; and if you put a neutral  grey beside blue paint, it will take on a yellow cast to it; so the mixing has to take this into account. It alway takes on the  cast of the  colour opposite from  it on the colour wheel. It may look perfect on the palette, but you place it beside something else and the colour shifts!

Armed with this grey mixture, and lots of it – one doesn’t want to run out mid way and have to remix some paint; it would be impossible to match –  I painted in some of the digger parts in dark grey trying to maintain the fine red lines that were the first definitions on this image of the location of the various parts of the machine.

Here it is with the first grey put in.  It has become heavier at the bottom with the grey and not the ochre. It was insubstantial, floating in the air before, and now it is grounded.

I had to chastise myself as I started to make this painting more and more realistic. I struggled against my own nature when I force myself to abandon the detail and search for the major shapes. I was tempted to use all four colours and then realized that I was tripping down the realism path again. The only purpose of the yellow undercoat is to warm the painting from below.  In the end, I used the three major colours and ended up with this.

Then I went over to Mrs. Stepford’s for a second opinion.  She’s a real treat because she can put words to my paintings that I never thought of and then my paintings sound so brainy, somehow. It’s gratifying and I learn something about myself and my painting and visual thought habits

We discussed the ambiguity of the sky colour and the lack of a definite ground or horizon line. We discussed the weight of the dark colour massing at the bottom and whether or not it adversely affected the overall imagery. I went home to struggle with it a bit more.

Paintings are difficult beasts. Especially pre-meditated ones. Everything has to work together at the the same time

One of my wandering thoughts was “why do I say that I want to do fresher looking paintings, more direct and then keep on tidying up everything until it no longer looks free but belaboured”.  What is the fine line between free and sloppy? What is the defining criteria between child-like and childish? How far can one push it before realism becomes interpretation? Or becomes abstraction? I was plowing through the borders of these things without any answers.

I was remembering one of the very elegantly painted works of Kai Althoff whom I wrote about quite some time back. One of the paintings had this simplicity of shape, but his paint was impeccably even and his lines were equally wide throughout. It seemed almost as if it had been printed, but it wasn’t. It was hand done, but so perfect. Mine’s not perfect. The lines are varying in width and sometimes thickly, sometimes thinly painted. They vary from deep cadmium red to cadmium yellow. Could I just leave it like that?

My shape colours are not flat and even. I’ve allowed the underpainting to show through. I like that because it gives a bit of texture and the paint sometimes glows with the undercolour peeking through. And yes, I can do that. To leave it thus is an artistic decision.

And this is where I have left it. I’ll sit with this version now and see in a week or two if I can live with the work as it is, to date.

Next, I start with this underpainting and second draft of a visual idea.

It’s about metamorphosis. I found that the digger looked quite like a heron with a long red beak and the cables much like river grasses. At this stage, the colours are too flat, too transparent, too much like first draft. There’s no refinement.

I worked at building up the reds, giving the breast of the bird a better shape through modeling it in different tones of red and yellow and this grey which is left over from the previous painting.

I think it’s important to carry over colours or use a limited palette. It ties a group of paintings together.

There is an unfortunate shape  of red behind the Red Crested Digger. It was originally from the cab shape of the digger. Now I want to obliterate it. In doing so, I lose all traces of warmth coming from the underpainting, and the cerulean blue mix that I use to overpaint is a shift from the previous cerulean and titanium white. The whole sky has to be repainted, otherwise the patch will stick out like a sore thumb, but it’s a good trade-off for the overall compositions of the painting. I’m pleased with that change.

And now, the series is beginning to come clear to me. In each painting I am exploring not only the visual reality of the digger but the abstract qualities that drew me to it. And from that, there are new ideas coming to me. This one is about metamorphosis and in graffiti like letters, I spell out that clue in the foreground while the Hitachi graffiti graces the cerulean sky. These markings provide balance. In the final version, below, I have added  red into letters of the grey foreground.  It helps pull the eye into the remainder of the picture and brings more warmth into the image.

It has already given me an idea, even more abstact for the next stage – not on this painting. It’s done. I’m ready to start a new one!

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sketching on site

July 24, 2009

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Swatch encouraged me to paint on location. It’s too much equipment for me to carry when the prime purpose of my walk is to walk briskly to get my cardio exercise.

It was an overcast day today, the temperature was in the mid-twenties. I thought I would have no need for a camera and instead I could take  a pocket sketchbook about the size a small Moleskine along with me today. My drawing implement was a Pilot H-Tecpoint V5 Extra fine permanent ink pen – much like the old Staedler technical pens. I stopped a few times along the way, trying to get the rhythm of the place I did a memory drawing of (see last post). I stopped at the chicken feeding spot, too.

Here’s what I sketched. Maybe I’ll colour them in tomorrow.

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The sun came out late in my walk and I regretted not having the camera with me. One of the farms looked so beautiful in the late afternoon sun. The roof took on a reddish colour, more like old rose and it sat there with this soft colour contrasting so beautifully with the freshly mown hay surrounding it. They hay will be picked up tomorrow, I think.

I also saw a family of five in a canoe, each wearing an orange life jacket; and the boat was cadmium red, light. It just looked so beautiful and so peaceful, moving up river, this bright vibrant red and orange, gliding low-down between the narrow gap of the river, the water looking green and the tall river grasses too, but lighter. Yellower.  It would have made a beautiful painting.

And here’s a thought for the day quoted out of the book I’m reading (which I don’t recommend, so far) called Restoration by Rose Tremain. (Penguin Books, 1989).  A foppish, useless rich young man is taking painting lessons. His painting teacher tells him,

“… a picture must be composed so that no part of it is “dead”, so that wherever the eye wanders, there is interest, whether it is in the detail o the hilt of a sword or a minutely rendered rowing boat on a distant Arcadian shore. ”

The young painter goes on to say, “We furthermore approached the question of distance and perspective: how hills, for instance, which are further away will seem paler and less well defined than those which are near, and how the sitter’s nearness and vigour will be emphasised if he or she inhabits a pool of light.”

Just a tidbit to think about.  Certainly good advice for traditional paintings. The rules have changed so much in modern day painting and drawing, that the foregoing would only be one of several comcepts on composing images today.

Shape

April 20, 2009

Recently, my friend Elizabeth asked me to give her Art lessons.

“What do you hope to accomplish?” I asked her.

“I don’t know anything. I just want to be able to draw,” she said.

“But you already know how to draw,” I replied a little perplexed.

Elizabeth is a talented writer of children’s books. She had produced one complete with illustrations and brought it to our writers’ group for comment. She had a good bit of innate talent to start with. She wasn’t starting from scratch.

“Okay, ” I suggested. “Why don’t we start with drawing. It’s the base to everything in art. If you never get to be a star artist, you at least will learn to see things very differently and you can improve your drawing skills a lot. I think you will be a good learner – a quick study.”

We began with a two hour lesson and then reduced it to one hour. In fact, Elizabeth picked things up quite quickly. The first thing, as a teacher, that I have to do is to break the fear of the students of making “mistakes”. Too often people have been discouraged in their attempts to draw by some other categorical critic who says “that’s not what a rabbit looks like” but when they produce their version of the rabbit, if you ask me, that’s not what it’s like either.

Every time we try to represent an object or figure or landscape, all we ever get is an interpretation, a representation, no matter how “realistically” we can draw or paint. Even in the school of photographic realism or the animalier “hair of the dog” school of painting where every bristle is painted to exact length, it’s represented on a two dimensional plane, the paper or the canvas. That’s not realistic! It’s an impression. It’s a translation of how we see something. Some are more believable than others.

Elizabeth has gotten over the first few lessons quite admirably. She understood the underlying principles of composition and now is able to point them out in magazine advertising and in photo journalistic displays. Soon she will be adapting her own work to these principles. I had Elizabeth draw an object from memory. It’s a good task and lots of fun as long as one realizes that the resulting drawing is going to look like a child’s attempt at putting information to paper.

Following right on, I had her then take the object she was drawing – a cork screw – and let her look at it very carefully. We noted the places where memory had glossed over details. We looked at how the image would be very different if we looked at it from one side or the other, or what it would look like from top down, or from bottom up. We agreed that those were not typical views, so in order to have someone else agree upon the nature of the object being drawn, it was helpful to know which was the most typical view.

After she had done a second try at the memory task, accompanied by a bit of anxiety and much laughter at the results, I had her draw the object, focusing on observation of the various details. It was amazing how much progress she had made in observation. A light bulb had turned on in her mind. Observation was about to become a new game for her. As far as representational art goes, observation is a key to creating believable imagery.

Our last lesson was about shape and line drawing. Using a graphite pencil, I had her develop some hand-eye coordination by asking her to do a blind drawing. Blind drawings are those where you let your pencil act as if it were your eye, tracing very slowly down the edges of the item you are drawing, making marks out to the right side of you at the easel, and your eyes never leaving the object as you inspect where the edges of it travel.

Here is the blind drawing: w-758-small2

And the hand-eye coordination drawing with more intense observation:

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We have a tendency to say “Wow, what an improvement!” but I delight in both kinds of drawing. The first one is exuberant. It has all the essentials – the hook with which a cool beer or bottle of pop can be opened. It has the spiral indicating the screw portion of the device and it has the circle that fits over the wine bottle top. It has the point that goes into the cork. It’s sufficiently complete to represent the object. It’s sufficiently sparse in detail to make the viewer question what it is and then come to a conclusion as to it’s identity.

It’s a lively drawing. It holds both information and mystery which, like a well dressed woman, is really more interesting than one who displays and tells all.

The second one is more sedate. Despite my imposed rule of not rubbing anything out, some erasures have been made. This object is far more instantaneously recognizable, but it’s lost its exuberance. All the parts are carefully observed, some more hastily than others. For our purposes it turned out very well.

In the progress of our learning, this drawing was transformed into another so that we didn’t waste time in getting on to the next subject, Shape. I asked Elizabeth to fill in all the parts on her drawing that were made of metal. That was easy. It was all metal. I gave her a fat yellow felt pen to do it with and that was a quick way to accomplish the task. The yellow shape is essentially the Positive Shape. Positive Shape is frequently discussed in Art. It’s often the subject of one’s painting, the principle image or the secondary image. If you carefully cut this shape out of a coloured piece of paper with an Exacto knife paying great attention to detail, what is left will be the Negative shape.

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I wanted Betty to be very clear about Positive and Negative shape and how it affects the composition of an overall image. I drew a rectangualr shape around her cork screw drawing leaving no space between the extremities of the object and the sides of the box. I then asked her to identify each of the negative shapes produced by enclosing the object with the rectangular shape, and then to draw them to one side of her image.

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She used charcoal to fill it in. It contrasts well with the yellow and dramatically illustrates the effect of background to foreground.I asked her what effect she felt the black shape had on her image.

“It unbalances it – a whole lot!”.

Yes, that’s exactly what it did. Each time she filled in another of the negative shapes, and we got about seven of them, we stopped to see what effect the infill made to the weight and composition of the painting. Now, you will say, those negative shapes were still there, even if it was just the paper colour. That’s true. But if one uses the negative shapes in balance with the positive shapes, then compositional effect is achieved (becomes balanced or unbalanced).

In fact, every mark one makes on the paper, whether positive or negative in shape, alters the drawing. It’s why the drawing process can be quite meditative as we consider what the effect of a change is and whether or not it meets our purpose or vision in doing the drawing.

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When Elizabeth was all done with her drawing and all the negative shapes were identified and filled in, we looked at it compositionally. There’s an entry on the left hand side for the viewer to easily approach the drawing, there are a number of different negative shapes, each different, the drawing is off centre which assists in a pleasing viewpoint – symetrical would be less interesting. Mission accomplished.

I then found this image amongst my photos which shows how positive and negative shapes can sometime confound themselves in a very pleasing way. Which is positive and which is negative? It keeps the eye inquiringly engaged in the imagery, which is a good thing.

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Well, there you have it! I sent Elizabeth home with some work to do.

When all you are exploring is the effect of positive shape in relation to negative shape, there is no need to redraw everything. I asked her to draw a smaller version of her object one more time, then to divide her page into about eight rectangles. Using carbon paper with this one drawing, reproduce the same drawing in each of the eight compartments. Cut them up so that each is a separate image. Using felt pens or something that is easy to fill in quickly, chose two colours for each of these eight images and see how different colours affect the balance of the relationship of the positive shapes and the negative shapes.

For the fun of it, I’ve done these thumbnails (small drawings used principally to test out ideas and work out composition or colour) using Adobe Photo and the the paint bucket infill.

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The edges of the line drawing need to be entirely enclosed to work this way. By the end of my manipulations, the drawing was beginning to disintegrate. That in itself added some interesting textures to the image – but texture is for a different lesson.

The Hardware show

March 8, 2009

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An exciting show opened at The Fort Gallery  in Fort Langley, B.C. this evening. I’ve been waiting for this one since it touches one of my favourite subjects – hardware.

The Fort Gallery is run as an artist’s collective and this one is rather exciting. Every show I’ve seen there is good and some are simply outstanding. Each member of the collective gets to have a solo show once a year. A few times a year, there are group shows and tonight’s was one of those.

Each artist was asked to buy $40 dollars or less in a a hardware store and then create something to go on the walls for this show. There are mostly painters in this group, so it took each one of them out of his or her comfort zone not only in subject matter, but in tools and materials as well.

Beside each creation was a little slot where the hardware bill, proof of purchase, was tucked.

The images that follow will show you just how creative this group is. There is a wide variety of material choice and an equally broad result in stylistic form, as the photos that follow will attest:

In the bas relief picture up above, called “Joe the Butcher often had dreams of owning his own hardware store“, Diane Durand uses nuts of varying size and depth  set into plaster to create a pig.  This image has a strong textural quality established by the nuts  and the roughly trowelled plaster-like substance in which they are set. It’s not clear what the object represents above the pig, but it doesn’t matter; it’s what brings the composition into balance. I get a good laugh out of the piglet’s tail.

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A fish out of water – JudyNygren

Still in a representational vein, Judy Nygren created this clever fish out of washers, screws, assorted fence screws, framing nails, colour paint swatches, pine board, fishing wire and wire. There is good craft in the assemblage of this bas-relief sculpture, a good use of colour and an imaginative way of metamorphosing hardware bits for scales and eyes. It’s not a humorous piece, per se, but I found myself laughing at the colour chips for scales and the completely successful use of materials to give an eerily tactile result.

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Bag of light -Suzanne Northcott

Moving away from the strictly representational, Suzanne Northcott has assembled a lamp-like object with a welding wire, a bulb and paper bags cut into strips. It’s reminiscent of her nest series she did a few years ago both in paint and in large drawings.

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Nest – Doris Hutton Auxier

Continuing along  more abstractly, Doris Hutton Auxier has created nest from strips of automatic nail gun nails. She sets up an unnerving contrast of the the hard pointed steel to represent the normally soft downy interior of a nest. One has to wonder how long those four large “eggs” will last with those spikes for a bed.

Claire Moore created an Untitled flying figure of a woman that jutted out of the wall. It’s made of delicate soldering wire and was impossible to photograph well. A second one by Moore was entitled “It’s hard to find comfort when you are a prickly person” (you can just barely see the first delicate figure on the right-hand side of the photo below.

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It’s hard to find comfort when you are a prickly person – Claire Moore

This mobile sculpture is about eight feet tall, suspended from the ceiling and strung into position with wires like a puppet. It’s made from Zap straps, foam insulation and hemp string. Several guests at the opening remarked that this was the best in show, but I had such a hard time deciding: there were so many excellent pieces.

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Breach – Maggie Woycenko

Decidedly more abstract and reminiscent of the ‘Sixties is Maggie Woycenko‘s Breach made from linoleum tiles, screwhole plugs, shower curtain rings, paint and shoe polish.  I love this one. The surface has been rubbed with shoe polish to give it a rich surface texture. The composition is simple yet the screw-hole plugs bring interest to it, and at the centre, each central corner of the four tiles is raised up about two inches to expose a silver-coloured object that keeps the tiles up and open.

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Home Sweet Home – Kate Bradford

You may remember Kate Bradford from an earlier post. She did small exquisite metal sculptures. Home Sweet Home is much more complicated by comparison. Here she uses Plaster of Paris, copper pipe, roofing screws, cedar shims, two mouse traps, electrical wire, steel brackets, twine, spray paint and bronze paint.

In a similar vein, Maggie Woycenko’s What is True vies with Bradford’s sculpture for the highest number of materials used. It’s made with photo album, plumb bob, saw blade, metal strapping, metal plates, chain, nails, locks, wire, paint and shoe polish. The lighting, I might add, brings extra shadows to the imagery which I find delightful.

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What is true – Maggie Woycenko

Woycenko’s What is true is constructed around a photo album with additions of a plumb bob, saw blade, metal strapping, metal plates, chain, nails, locks, wire, paint and shoe polish. The shadows created by the gallery lighting echo the shape of the object emphasizing its three-dimensionality.


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Remnants of the Post  Handyman Era- Scott Gordon

Using plaster, plywood, wooden dowel and hardware, Scott Gordon assembled this bas relief sculpture. The title is mysterious. Is this what was left over from constructing a fence?

The composition is meditatively balanced; the dowels set high in the frame leave room for shadows to become part of the imagery play; and the dark to light ratio is good.

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Displaced – Betty Spackman

It took twelve paint rags, five cans of paint, fifty clothes pegs and thread to fabricate this wall hanging and a lot of creative imagination.  In a theme and variation tour de force, Spackman uses two principle images – the clothes peg and a house – massing them in patterns or alone, operating the images as stencils on one hand and as a print stamp on the other. She switches the shapes from positives to negatives. The colours, variations on a khaki green ochre, the unbleached cotton white  and sepia, blend easily into the overall effect, not overtaking the details of the forms.

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Good Idea  – Susan Falk

On a plywood cut-out shape of torso and head painted black, three energy efficient light bulbs glow like the curly  stuffing of exposed brain. Electrical wire and electrical caps provide the connection to the fixtures. It lights up with a brilliant idea.  The concept of this piece is great although I would have liked to see  a bit more attention made to  finishing.

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Alice in Wonderland I, II and III – Terry Nurmi

These three intimate and thoughtful works  convey Nurmi’s  personal sense of colour, a subtle understanding of spatial relationships between objects with meditative results. These are pieces that can be comfortably lived with for a long time.

A few pieces were difficult to photograph to their advantage because they were in poor lighting situations for photography on an opening night. There was This and That, a Alexander Calder-like mobile in the front bay window of the gallery  by Judy Jones made of  green and red rope, copper wire, a light switch, reflector rods, nuts and bolts.  A lamp labeled, Life’s inside was made of doweling, lamp components and fishing wire. In Dennis Venema’s In my mind’s eye, a tripod holds a ABS plastic construct that looks like an old-fashioned camera complete with a black-out cloth, enhance with wax paper, rubber bands, and aluminim sheeting.

With twinkle lights and copper wire, Cathy Miller created a spiraling tube chandelier, calling it Copper wire gone haywire.

Lastly, Joanne Sheen made a large sketch book with pages of brown Kraft wrapping paper.  This too was difficult to photograph, especially since there were numerous images throughout.  Several had rubbings of metal objects – screws, washers and other hardware gizmos. Some incorporated sandpaper in collage with a charcoal or graphite  image. Each page  varied strongly from the preceding, evidencing an active imagination and a strong design sense.

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Book – Joanne Sheen

A show like this is an inspiration to all artists. It’s a call to step outside our comfortable range and to really create – not just repeat past successes. It’s a reminder how fertile our imaginations really are. When corporations are seeking out new ideas, or even how to get their employees to think in a forward-minded way, they need to consult artists. Artists know how to make leaps in thought, to think sideways, not only to think outside of the box, but to leap out of that constraining box altogether. It is from this creative soup that new ideas come – some as brilliant and culture-quaking as Thomas Edison’s light bulb.

So if you are in the area, Fort Langley, B.C.,  and you like to be dazzled by excellent imagery, the Hardware Show runs at the Fort Gallery at 9048 Glover Street until the end of March, 2009.  It’s even worth an excursion from Vancouver to get out to see it!