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Part 4: Project 1: Research point: contextual research into nude drawing

Reflect and analyse how the depiction of male and female nude has changed over the centuries.

The OCA recommends John Burger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’, a 1972 BBC series, as a good starting point.

I’ll watch each programme in the series, there are four episodes, and write a reaction.

When I’ve finished the series I’ll write a conclusion and also try to read one or two of the other recommended books.

So… although I’ll post this now I will return to it over the duration of this course.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube with subtitles: Tue. 15/08/2017)

Oh… that was great!

Firstly, he’s talking about traditional European art from its birth around 1400 to its death in 1900. I’m taking this as significant because, for instance, only European art used a single pint of view… he uses the image of a reverse lighthouse with everything focusing back on the single viewer.

That would not apply to traditional African art.

Also, when he talks about paintings only existing in one place that wouldn’t cover japanese or Chinese woodcut prints for a mass market.

There was nothing about nude in the first programme but it’s a great introduction to viewing European art and well worth commentating on.

I took four pages of notes so this is a much simplified version!

In a nutshell he says art has been divorced from having a single unique meaning. Before photography it was a unique surface, in a unique place [context] with the viewer physically present. With photography it has become multi present in multiple forms, in multiple contexts and with multiple meanings.

And as such it has become like words to be arranged and manipulated.

Before photography you had to go and see the painting as it was intended. It’s context in a church or castle, was part of its meaning. You saw the whole picture which was still and silent. Either the artist or the commissioner (or both) gave it a meaning. You stood before it and absorbed that meaning – you connected with the painting, and the building it was housed in, on its own terms.

Now it’s meaning is malleable and can be manipulated by whoever controls the means of production. Be that in a book or a television programme.

In an art book for example there is false mystification with erudite explanations giving ownership and control to the expert, in an advert the meaning is subverted (by music, video, editing – such as picking out a single part of the canvas – and the words around it) to sell us something. What both have in common is that the meaning is controlled by the user to their benefit. And has nothing to do with the original meaning of the painting or how it naturally connects with and enhances our lives.

He argues that we should be sceptical and aware of art as a language used to manipulate us for the benefit of the producer.

The original painting was viewed as a whole picture in silence, and how a painting does not need unravelling in time unlike a film or music. Music affects our emotional response and close up radically change the meaning. How we stand in silence before a painting and enter the tunnel that connects us through time to the moment of its creation, and even questions the meaning of time itself.

Money has replaced religiosity. People journey to see a religious icon… and that they don’t even need to see it to know that god is behind it – and close their eyes in reverence as the que shuffles past. And how today we will journey to a Leonardo painting behind bullet proof glass in a stream of people because it is worth 10 million.

This all goes back to my definition of art (I’m open to changing but this is where I am at the moment): that true art connects with us as humans – otherwise it’s decoration or manipulation – and touches something inside our shared humanity… whether it’s recognising a political system, entering into beauty, or seeing the world through another persons eyes so we are no longer alone.

Which isn’t to say we can’t do what the advertisers and experts do and use art as a language to support/promote our own points of views to ourselves or others.  For instance pinning Goya’s painting of the execution next to a newspaper article of modern-day executions of totalitarian regimes.

But, I would say, using a painting as a language is different to enjoying a painting as art.

So, it will be very interesting to see how he deals with male and female nudity in traditional art – not about its creation but about its usage and meaning today, and whether we should still create it.

At the moment I can’t feel there is any other reason for nudity than to satisfy the male or female gaze. Whether that’s acceptable out of a learning situation (part of learning to draw is learning how to draw figures) is a matter of degree and personal social/political value judgements.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 2 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube: Tue. 18/08/2017)

This episode is about the nude in European art from about 1400 to 1900.

My main reaction to this episode was anger. I may have subconsciously known that the nude exploited women, but I’d not really thought about it. When it’s pointed out to you you can’t ‘un-see’ it… and it’s both shocking and glaringly obvious.

He had a great definition for being painted without clothes:

Naked: to be completely oneself.

Nude: to be seen naked by others but not recognised for oneself.

There was a lot of history in the episode so I’m going to try to boil it down to my interpretation of his argument and my ‘modern’ day spin.

The paintings of nudes during this period represents the position of women in the social elite. They were objects to be used by men. The women had no action in the world and their value, status and power was derived from the men they were attached to. The prize for being beautiful to the male gaze was to be attached to a man.

The level of hypocrisy is breathtaking: painting a naked woman because they enjoyed looking at her and then putting a mirror in her hand and calling it vanity – when she was forced to make herself ‘beautiful’ to satisfy male desire. And in doing so echoing the church’s blaming Eve for original sin when god sentenced her to a life of subjugation to man… God said that Eve’s punishment for biting the apple (original sin was the womans fault!) was that man was now her god. A whole ideology that ruled church and state for 100’s of years based on the subjugation of women.

Placing the moral blame on women for making themselves look ‘beautiful’ for men is also a way of diminishing and controlling women.

If a woman’s very survival (let alone her physical comfort and status) depends on being attractive to a man it is logical that she would focus a lot of attention on that.

He starts the programme by saying that men dream of women and women dream of being dreamt of… of being attractive… of winning the beauty competition. We infer (or hope) that that was then not now.

In the paintings the women are passive and available for the viewer. They rarely look at male lovers even if they are in the painting, but look out at their real master (the owner of the painting – the viewer) or away from their ‘lover’. The only competition is cupid who perversely as the giver of sexual attraction and conquest is a toddler presenting no sexual competition to the adult male viewer.

Women are shown lying down, languid, lips often apart, wide-eyed responding with charm to the male viewer they know is looking even though they don’t know them. They have no pubic hair as that is a symbol of sexuality and their sexual passion needs to be minimised. The bodies are not real but idealised objects of desire… like the woman winning the competition in the many paintings of The Judgement of Paris.

They are not shown active… dancing… or initiating sex for their own pleasure… just as available and acquiescent to the demands of the man. They are there to feed an appetite not have any of their own.

In other cultures (with a different audience) women are shown as equal in a celebration of nakedness. In Karma Sutra painting in India nudity is depicted equally, both women and men are active and consumed by sexual love.

One is not there to feed the sexual appetite of the other.

Male lovers were painted but these tended not to be for public display… and were generally pornographic.

The height of this practice was in the public academic art of the 19th century. Huge canvases filled with nude women ready to feed the most ravenous male appetite or wildest fantasy hung in important public buildings. Yet at the time it was not seen as ludicrous but acceptable, condoned and hung proudly with the blessing of the art world and the men with social and political power… in retrospect revealing the unquestioned control by men over women in ‘polite’ society.

The questions that arise from this are: Why? How? Did it matter? Does it matter now? And how does it affect our art practice today?

Why?

Because they could. Men had absolute power over women and wanted (they couldn’t under the Christian mores have had pornographic paintings on public display) to titillate themselves by looking at nude women, so they did.

How?

Rich men and important groups of men… initially the church, in medieval times, and then more secular were the only ones who could afford to pay for art. And artists satisfied their market. It was possibly so acceptable that neither the artist nor the buyers knew what they were doing… or maybe they did and chose to ignore it?

It would need a social historian to answer that one!

There wasn’t a mass market for art… and the elite controlled the flow of ideas and images. That they didn’t challenge it themselves is interesting. The challenge to nudity in society and on public display (like girly magazines having plain covers) didn’t come from enlightenment within the ruling classes. The change came as women gradually became more active in the world and gained economic and political power.

It was also challenged when photography was invented, along with the mass distribution of images, as artists and thinkers started questioning the role of art. Artists such as Edouard Manet who painted ‘Le dejeuner sur l’herbe’ in 1863 exposing nudity in art for what it was.

But my feeling is that real change was driven more by the increasing power of women in society – the right to own land – to vote – to work – to have economic and social power.

Did it matter?

HUGELY!!!!!! Painting nudes normalised abuse. It normalised the view that the role of women in society was to satisfy men . It mattered that the artists were painting these pictures and it mattered hugely that they were glorified by being hung in public places and the corridors of power.

Does it matter now?

Less so… art is not the dominant social force it once was… that has passed to TV/film/magazines… and the mass distribution of images. And art can be manipulated by anybody with a computer, so the artist and owner have little or no control over its usage.

And the ideas, rights and needs of women are part of modern society… in some groups more than others. Paintings of nudes, like girly magazines, are no longer acceptable on public display and would be challenged.

Though it’s ironic that alongside this public shift in attitude there is now freely available porn in private on the internet. As though the ideas and usage have not gone away but just gone underground, hidden. Maybe a bit like Victorian mistresses? The wife for public appearances, home keeping and child-bearing and the mistress and prostitute for sex and fantasy.

That said, it does matter… there is less economic need to paint nudes for artists. Though artists always had a choice as there were portraits of men and women and lots of other subjects… it just seems like nudity sold.

And still does!

So, if an artist chooses to make financial gain by feeding the male gaze and lending support to an exploitative view of women as objects (or as John Berger puts it – as ‘sights’ to be viewed not as individuals recognised for themselves) he is making a choice.

A choice that affects him, his model and society at large.

There is an argument that the model enters into the contract freely and gets paid. But I would counter that most women don’t strip naked for a living if they have economic choices and that the implications are bigger than the contract between artist and model. Nudes lend support to the owner/viewer (and wider society) that women are there to feed male desires.

How does it affect our art practice today?

Now nudes have been exposed an artist has to make a decision whether he will profit by serving the male gaze or paint something else.

It affects him, the owner/viewer, the model and societal attitudes to women. It is a significant social and political act.

Artists cannot control how their work is used however much they try to control copyright. Once a picture is painted and sold it’s almost impossible to stop it being copied and distributed online or foresee how it will be used. It can be changed by the addition of music, movement, cropping… and used to support arguments and for the benefit of others in the way the artist never intended.

But there is a world of difference between having a work of art subverted without permission and painting a nude.

I think it’s fine to paint naked men and women but personally I would not paint a nude.

A final point… John Berger said that during this period there were tens of thousands of nudes painted and only 20-30 exceptions. He mentioned paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt and George De La Tour which were more like personal love poems, character pieces where the woman is seen as herself.

It would be nice if in the future we looked back and those numbers were reversed. (Though we probably don’t need tens of thousands of naked paintings – a few exquisite ones would probably do!!!)

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 3 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube: Tue. 18/08/2017)

Okay… I just watched that all the way through without taking pages of notes… so this won’t be as detailed. I might watch it again but I think I got the gist.

This should be a lot shorter.

Oil painting (from 1500 to 1900) was all about ownership.

(Not withstanding the few notable exceptions which break the rule! He cites three pictures. One by Rubens which celebrated the land and château near where he lived… but the owner is away and the land is full of plenty… the hunting is free. It shows a world of plenty contradicting ownership and the entire history of private property. A second by Vermeer of a woman weighing gold or pearls that is really about a moment in time (held between her fingers) and weighing the nature of existence; and the third the older self-portrait by Rembrandt showing him bereft of property and wealth,alone with the question of existence.

But, John Berger emphasises that out of hundreds of thousands of oil paintings these were a handful. And however much the art experts try to hold these up as examples they do not represent traditional oil painting in this period.

Of the 99.99% of paintings we see only a tiny proportion in our galleries, but they hung everywhere there was money, status, wealth, ownership and power.

He starts by saying that the style was to paint objects as if they were real. Be that goblets, lutes, exotic food, tapestry, pedigree livestock or country estates. Real things which are buyable. So the purpose of the painting was to advertise the owners good fortune prestige and wealth.

It is ironic that the paintings themselves, that displayed these objects, were also objects that could be bought and sold. They were in some respects the most valuable objects of all.

Many paintings were about classical mythology in classical literature and seem remote to us, but to them it was very important, a secret world entered only by those initiated with specialist knowledge, the privileged few.  It put them apart.

They could imaginatively put themselves into these paintings. The painting gave them props, setting, characters and a situation… they could play out the protagonist as they wished.  They could be the god displaying all the classical virtues and making all the classical gestures. It gave them a mythology and reinforced their vision of themselves.

It was part of the mentality that let them start the slave trade, conquering far away lands, destroying the native culture (and gods) and replacing it with ours, with Christianity. Otherwise the natives would not be difficult to control. We siphoned off the wealth of the world for our benefit, it’s that wealth that made the grand living possible, and the rich justified it by telling themselves they were the most advanced civilisation in the world. The natives were savages and barely human so they could do with them as they pleased. They were noble gods with the world as their playground.

Another point he makes about paintings is that you can’t hang music or poetry on the walls – but you can hang paintings. And in those paintings you can see your wealth displayed. Mr and Mrs Andrews, for instance, would take great pleasure in Gainsborough’s painting showing them as owners of their land.

Land that was not to be shared… in those days you could be whipped for stealing a potato and deported for poaching.

Even today paintings represent wealth and galleries (where that wealth is housed) are guarded like banks.

So, painting served material wealth – not spiritual as in the early religious paintings or in symbolic paintings from around the world. It was the first time in human history paintings had realistically represented objects (possessions) as if they were actually there. That could be expensive goods from silver trays, to goblets to pineapples; livestock with a pedigree as proof of value (not in nature but like an object emphasising the social pedigree and wealth of the owner; and buildings, not idealised beauty, but as seats of power and privilege.

The rich (the only people who could afford art) also bought portraits to celebrate, not things, the ‘confidence to whom ownership brought confidence’. Generations of human bloodstock showing the continuity of  power and worthiness – 100’s of thousands all over the country, but representing only a tiny proportion of the population. The portraits painted their patrons like a mixture of livestock, furniture and tailors dummies. The paintings said, I had power – I existed.

Women were often painted in seas of expensive materials emphasising wealth.

There were also paintings of Mary Magdalene, but they were sexually hypocritical. The title was framed in sacred love – but the painting was about profane love. They were painted as pretty, well dressed available young women not as religious icons. No different to portraits of young women for their betrothed, the women were objects that could be bought and owned.

The poor of this period do not have any portraits or annals.

So, it seems to me that you could argue the painters of this period were craftsmen not artists. They were employed like architects or builders to make something useful for the owners, not to reveal a human truth. The value was not to humanity (like Shakespeare’s plays) or society at large… their use and value was solely for the benefit of the owner. A painting was like a car – it did something very practical for the owner – it didn’t get him around – it displayed his wealth – his right to ownership – his confidence – reinforced his self-image as being like a God and gave him an imaginary stage to play out his mythological fantasies.

In short it was a great skill in grubby servitude to money – but around 1900 it was freed by photography and suddenly had to find a soul. It had an existential crisis which resulted in 50 years of isms while art found an identity and purpose.

A final, personal point, is that art is still used by the rich for the same purpose… portraits of the wealthy are still commissioned to hang in stately halls and castles. And only the rich can afford to buy high art.

But now all the might, beauty and undeniable power of the painted image can serve mankind as a whole.

Part 4: Project 1: Exercise 1 Drawing fabric using line and tone

fullsizeoutput_53c20 minute line drawing using fine art pen. Barbour jacket on back of chair… eveining. Inside by french window, light dimming.

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15 minute charcoal drawing with 5 minute putty rubber. Barbour jacket on back of chair… afternoon. Light cloud. Inside by french window with door open.

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How easy did you find it to create volume in the folds of fabric?

Not easy!!!

I think what I learnt by the end (and there was a progression through the drawings as I failed and tried to understand why and try something new) is that there is both a pattern of shapes to folds… and a tonal structure.

Patterns of folds

You can suggest a single fold by a highlight, shadow and tonal gradation between the two. Sometimes even a dark line next to a light one will suggest a fold.

It’s easier from a distance, as in the 20 minute tonal charcoal drawing of the jacket. Here the context of the jacket helps you ‘read’ it (pocket, arm, flaps) and light or dark areas that run down the material. The more complicated shadows like the pocket that have a tonal change that give it reality so the smaller creases (a highlight against a uniform grey area) read like a crease.

The line drawing gave me some lovely patterns but not volume, though interestingly the area with least work (but the shapes are right) is the nearest to working.

However, in the ‘close ups’ you don’t have any help, it has to read as a section of folded cloth.

By square 7 the folds are beginning to work but it’s not until they are organised properly (speak to each other as folds in material)… in 8… that it looks like a piece of cloth.

In short, there’s a sort of ‘language of folds and creases’ and how they fit together, and you need to get that pattern right for it to work.

Tone of folds

This is easier in that where you have a shadow or a sharp turn, such as the pocket or the crease around the arm, the tonal change is big. But where there is a gentle turning there is a more gradual change in tone.

The technique seems to be to get the changes in tone right… to a glance there’s a line of highlight next to the turned away material which is darker, but in reality there’s almost always some form of gradation. If it’s too abrupt it looks like a hole, or just unreal – as in 2 and 6 which are poor.

If it’s right it starts to look like real folds as in 8.

Conclusion

To show volume in folds of fabric you’ve got to get both the shape and pattern of the folds and the tonal changes right.

This is harder when you have material in close up with no clues as to how the material is lying and nothing to keep your eye moving.

Footnote:

I unintentionally made this harder as apart from the natural light and dark caused by the folds, the jacket has light and dark areas caused by wear. Which add a second layer of difficulty as they are working in a totally different way to the folds of material.

Also, I think having an olive-green jacket (tonally a mid dark grey) made the tonal changes harder to see and draw. The material absorbed the light – and I was also, in effect, drawing the tone of the material as well as the light and dark caused by the folds.

A lighter material would have shown volume differently – more clearly – and I think it would have been much easier if I’d used a piece of white material.

 

 

Part 3: Project 5: Exercise 4: Statues

This feels like it may be a bit of preparation for Part 4???

I decided to treat this as a way of using different media (and initially had thought of using colour) to draw the same object and see which worked best. And also to draw a series of sketches of the same statue and see if I got better/saw more relationships/tones/shapes the more I drew it.

My main priority was to get a ‘feel’ of the statue as well as a visual resemblance.

As St Ives is my nearest town I headed out as I was sure I’d seen a statue in the market square.

And, sure enough, there was a very stern looking Oliver Cromwell!

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Interestingly the bustle of people (it was market day) didn’t bother me – the wind was more of a problem as it blew the page up.

I also missed using a putty rubber with charcoal… in retrospect I probably could have done but would have had to do it sequentially, and it’s quite nice using putty rubber and charcoal together so you’re constantly picking one up and swapping over. A bit like having a conversation rather than a monologue!

The details (and face!) on this don’t work, they’re smudgy and indistinct, but the posture and position in space is quite good. Maybe that’s because charcoal is fluid and lets you look at the overall shape?

I decided not to use colour as the statue was a uniform grey with tiny bits of stain… so decided to go for pencil next and improve the detail.

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It’s weird… the bit I like the best is the bit I did quickest (his right leg from the ankle down to his shoe sticking out over the plinth – and the bits I liked least were those I worked on most… like his hands and face.

In retrospect the hands aren’t as bad as I thought, though the book seems to have shrunk! And his left arm shoulder to elbow is too long.

But it’s beginning to get a ‘personality’… not sure how that’s happening but he’s beginning to connect with the viewer.

I then wondered what it would be like if I used graphite pen. It flows like a pen (has graphite in it??) but looks like an HB pencil… only you don’t have to press on.

Maybe I’d get detail and fluidity?

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The book has shrunk even more!!!!!

And the left shoulder is still much too long…

But, his face looks a bit like Cromwell??? and from the waist down it’s quite pleasing. Shame about the middle!!!!!

Next, I thought I’d try a black byro. It is more forgiving than black ink and lets you find a line without making big black patches (though that didn’t quite work when I had to move his left shoulder!)…

I thought it might split the difference between the qualities of the 3B pencil and the graphite pen.

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I struggled with making him look down but eventually managed to make him make eye contact. I also tried to get his hair which I noticed I’d (mainly) been missing.

The book and the hand holding the gloves works much better – I tried looking at the statue and relating all the bits to each other. His sword is more effective but the pointing finger and foreshortened arm still need a lot of work… though are a little bit better.

Belly button down this works.

His waistcoat was really difficult as it didn’t have any obvious folds and was quite smooth. And I found it hard to judge the exact angles at the bottom. I think maybe this is where a pencil or charcoal would come in to add tone?!

But… the sketch has got better and this is beginning to both look a bit like the statue and take on a personality.

Conclusion:

Statues, like people, are very hard to draw.

I don’t know how much of the personality of the original person they capture but to make them work you’ve not only got to get a physical likeness, but also capture (create) something of the personality of the original person and also the moment in action.

Not dead stone (being on a plinth we know it’s a statue) but a ‘real’ person we relate to!!!

Part 3: Project 5: Exercise 3: A limited palette study

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Were you able to convey a sense of depth with your limited colour palette?

The short answer is yes!

From black through all the tonal ranges of red… and pressing harder or softer and mixing with white right up to pure white you have all the tonal ranges anybody could want.

And if a set of pencils from 4H to 6B can seem like a box of colours adding red gives you a whole new dimension!!!

Aerial perspective gives depth (as well as linear perspective) and shadows give 3D modelling.

The issue is not whether it is possible but the restrictions of my skill and of using conte on drawing paper.

Wonderful things could be achieved with these three colours but you almost need to get it right first time. The eye is very, very good at picking up a wrong perspective line and with such a beautiful chalky subtle medium having to use them like pencils was frustrating and difficult.

Over working quickly fills the bite on the paper and after an initial overdrawing/mixing more alterations just go a horrible grey colour.

The bits I like the best were the chimney pots:

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A couple of quick marks (SIMPLIFICATION AGAIN!!!) and these have the look and feel of chimney pots!

They are fresh and clean and work.

So, I think my problem with this task was it has lots of perspective lines which I had to work to get right… constantly blowing the chalk away and making fine adjustments… most of the detail had to be reworked too so looks tight.

Also I pinned up my preliminary sketch and balanced the book on my knee. Which was good… I liked sketching my sketch! It made me work intuitively and simplify again. But the small size of paper and only having one hand – I was holding my sketchbook with the other – was frustrating.

What I really wanted was to be at an easel and free. To use my whole body to draw.

It was a very unhappy mix of working in a tight way with a loose medium.

Maybe I should have torn out some pages… put them on the easel and just done a whole set of very quick sketches not worrying if I got the perspective exactly right?

Conclusion:

This has come up before but different media are better for different things. So for perspective line heavy drawings and detailed work small paper and conte crayons are difficult.

I would think they’re better suited to tonal rather than line work… on bigger pieces of paper… and on proper pastel paper. But, they would be brilliant for quick sketches of people or landscapes… an odd house or a castle would be fine as you don’t have lots of perspective lines all relating to each other.

And you’ve (ideally) got to get it right first time as conte crayons don’t tolerate re-drawing very well.

I think you could do a good street scene with conte crayons but you might have to go semi abstract on a bigger piece of paper and not worry about getting all your perspective lines right: windows, rooftops, paving stones, doorways etc.

But then, if you’re skilled enough, at an easel, and have a nice big bit of paper maybe you can just do it intuitively??!!!!!

 

 

 

Reflection – Creating not copying!!!

When I started this course I thought art was about copying something outside you… the skill was in how well you could do that. And the training learning that technical skill.

Primary school… draw a tree… the best tree wins!

Now I realise – it just hit me – that art is all about creating not copying.

In exactly the same way as a writer takes words and writes a poem, novel, or article… or a musician takes notes and creates a symphony… or a filmmaker makes a feature film… an artist makes marks on a flat surface and creates a picture.

A film starts as words on a page… the set is dressed by set dressers… the actors learn their lines and the director tells them how to say them. At no stage of the process is anything natural. Nobody is copying real life… trying to re-create reality… they are producing (creating) a film from a script. And every word the audience hears is exactly in the same order as the writer wrote it. With the action she put in and the personalities and story she created. The film could be for mainstream entertainment, political or have a deep meaning.

But what all films have in common is that they are created.

A film is not natural – in fact there could not be a more unnatural process. And yet the end result often appears natural and spontaneous. The words the actors performed with 120 people watching on set and the editors and colour graders slaved over for months appears (to the audience) like they’ve just seen it for real!

I once played the hero in a beer commercial and when it was shown my mates in the local pub said I was so lucky to have walked into the bar when they were filming it!!!!! That started as a concept with an advertising agency even before it went to the writer.

The big difference is that a film is a collaborative effort whereas an artist normally works alone.

But the principle is exactly the same.

The filmmaker, artist, writer and composer all create!!!!!

They don’t copy.

It’s a huge shift in gear and a big concept to get into my head. Even though it sounds obvious, realising it is something totally different. That making a picture is like writing a book – there’s nothing natural… you make it up!

All I have to do now is learn some visual language… gain some art skills…

And have a go at creating some art!

 

 

Tutor feedback from assignment 2: On Project 2: Comparing my sketches to Claes Oldenburg and Patrick Caulfield

It’s great to be compared to somebody famous! Not only does it feel good but it’s a good way of looking at my work from a different perspective and an opportunity to broaden my artistic experience.

So here’s Claes Oldenburg: He was born in 1929 and died in 2009. He was Swedish but practiced in America. Best known for his sculpture… which is maybe why I struggled to find his drawings? He was mainly known for his public art installations and large-scale replicas of everyday objects… often in soft sculpture.

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I can see only a passing resemblance – his drawings are delicate and ‘hang’ in space. They don’t feel finished (but that may be because I know he mainly did sculptures and assume they’re preparatory drawings?)… whereas mine is definitely the end of a process… not a part of it.

Both mine and his are ‘colored in line drawings’ (especially his shuttlecocks).

But I think mine is much bolder and the power is in the sketch. My sketch is a finished product. It’s captured some of the energy that went into the drawing and the brutality of the raw power of a hammer.

You bash things with it!

……………………….

(From Wikipedia)
Patrick Joseph Caulfield, CBE, RA, was an English painter and printmaker known for his bold canvases, which often incorporated elements of photorealism within a pared-down scene. Examples of his work are Pottery and Still Life Ingredients

 

Santa Margherita Ligure, 1964 (board)

Reserved Table, 2000 (acrylic on canvas)

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I don’t see the similarity.

Firstly, his style changed over time… the last canvas ‘Reserved Table’ from 2000 reminds me of a Braque or early cubist Picasso. On this the lobster is photorealistic… but I wouldn’t say my pots are photorealistic… they’re more exaggerated colour bent to shape. So, if there was a comparison it would be with Patrick’s earlier work.

These have hard black lines filled in with flat colour, no colour modelling, simplified shapes, they are flat and pattern like, like Matisse’s ‘The Dinner Table’. Even in his, Santa Margherita Ligure, 1964 (board) there are just a few lines to suggest the waterfront hotels and sea… the rest is flat blue colour – both sea, waterfront buildings and sky.

Doris must have seen something… maybe it’s a mood for strong colour? Or the (almost) flat blue of the tablecloth?

Apart from technique my aim was to capture the warmth of the sunshine in the red terracotta pots. The emotion of Summer. And (to an extent) the pots are meant to be realistic… if heightened. The fence is obviously a fence and the grass is grass.

But his prints and early work appears stark and beautiful to me… paired down… distanced… aesthetic… peaceful. And perfect for his screen prints.

Mine was emotionally driven and representational.

 

 

 

 

Research point: Research artists from different eras who use landscapes… Claude Lorraine.

Claude Lorraine… b Chamagne 1600 (France) d Rome 1682 – spent his creative life in and around Rome.  Classical landscape painting at its best. His pastoral scenes were a great inspiration to English eighteenth and nineteenth century landscape painters.

(From The Art Book by Phaidon)

Being based in Rome he would have lots of classical ruins… both physical and in the form of myths to draw on… and also as the seat of Catholicism a ready market for religious paintings.

But he also painted pastoral scenes with peasants or cattle and that suggests he had a thriving secular market too.

Given that his canvases were large (often approaching 2 metres square) and mainly oil on canvas – oil paints were very expensive – it is safe to suppose that he was commercially successful in his own lifetime. His patrons were probably wealthy individuals or institutions… you can’t hang a two metre square painting in an ordinary house! You need a castle or a church/state building.

Added to that his ongoing fame, especially in England, suggests he was an important and inspirational landscape painter.

It is also tempting to think, that given the rigid rules of the Catholic church, the artistic ‘rules’ applying to painting might have been strict also. Therefore it’s not surprising that he was a Classical (or traditional) painter… the sort that would have gone down well in the official salons in France two hundred years later!!

However, that said, there is an argument to be made that he still (thinking of Durer) wasn’t a fully paid up pure landscape painter… the landscape element is massively important, but he can’t quite tear himself away from including peasants (pastoral paintings); mythological narratives; religious narratives or a featured building.

I couldn’t find any oil paintings that were purely landscapes like the early twentieth century American painters such as Thomas Cole:

ColeKaaterskillFalls

Kaatershill Falls by Thomas Cole (1801-1848)

Most of Lorraine’s paintings have a ‘with’ in the title… like ‘Landscape with castle’; Landscape with Argos Guarding Lo; Landscape with John the Baptist; Pastoral Landscape (with peasants!)… and the only one I found without a ‘with’ or ‘pastoral’ in the title ‘The Waterfalls at Tivoli’ has people and buildings anyway.

The Waterfalls at Tivoli, 1737 (oil on canvas)

The Waterfalls at Tivoli by Claude Lorraine.

However beautiful the landscape this is people in a landscape… there is the narrative of the fishermen; the lone poet??? and the men on the rock. And of course the conquering of nature itself with a castle built into the cliffs with carefully planted trees.

If it was empty of people and buildings it would be different… it would be about the awe and wonder of nature, the power of creation… this has a different concept in its heart. It’s not religious or meditative… it’s human.

The landscape is beautiful and a major part of the painting. The movement of water… cloud topped mountain… Summer scudding sky. The tree foliage against the sky leading the eye up to the heavens and across to the castle, then down the waterfall (outlining the men in foamy white) to the focus of the picture at the front with the churning water and fishermen.

But for me the beauty of this landscape is that I can put myself in it – imagine that it’s me fishing! Like a hero in a movie I am pulling out that fish.

It’s a wonderful painting but although it’s set in a landscape it’s a painting about people not about landscape.

The nearest painting I found to being a pure landscape was ‘Landscape with Castle’

Landscape with Castle

But even here there is the tiny cowherd sitting on the bank. But what a big presence! Take him out and the picture would utterly transform… it would lose its human connection.

This is tamed land and we are walking through it… through the wild wood and meadow flowers towards the castle. The trees open up with the castle slightly off centre left. We will walk past the cows and plotted fields, past the hedgerows and onto the castle.

Or we could be riding, of course.

What he managed to do again is put the viewer in the painting.

The blue of the sky is particularly interesting as it fades to white outlining the real focus of the painting… the castle.

Below is ‘Pastoral Landscape’

Pastoral Landscape, 1638 (oil on canvas)

Again in the foreground we have people.

We are having a picnic by classical ruins with an idyllic view of the lake and mountains in the distance. He has bottled the tranquility of a day out and painted it onto the canvas.

Again, remove the people and the painting empties and loses its power.

Finally we have overtly book/story/written narrative painting that feature landscape. One religious and one mythological:

Landscape with St John the Baptist (oil on copper)

Landscape with John the Baptist.

Strangely, I could lose the people here and enjoy the landscape.

For a modern eye (and being non religious) people walking around with wings is ridiculous. Unreal.

I love the colours in this. The setting sun (yellow) with lapping clouds like gentle wave on a seashore contrasted with the billowing clouds and blue sky on the right. The highlights on the water leading the eye to the sunset and the beautiful fading rays catching the tree.

But when it was painted it must have had a strong religious meaning to Catholics. So this is to do with promulgating an ideology… a cultural set of norms writ large on canvas.

So again, not a pure landscape.

Finally we have a myth:

A Sunset or Landscape with Argus Guarding Io (oil on canvas)

Argos is clearly visible with the nymphs(?) … and cow. I doubt many modern viewers would know the story, so it has lost its meaning.

All that is left is the landscape.

I hadn’t realised what a beautiful colourist Claude Lorraine was.

The transformation of the sky from pale yellow against purple mountains to mediterranean blue via Summer cloud is wonderful. The receding landscape with aqueduct and feathery tree caught against the dimming light going to black makes me tingle. The way the shadows in the foreground make one glance then look up and enjoy the countryside.

He was certainly a master of composition and colour and uses landscapes to great effect… but his paintings are always about something other than landscape.