Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Inspiration? How an Artist Steps Off

Inspiration is a big, loose term, especially when talking about piece of art.
It's sort of fat and amorphous, and I think that's why when artists are talking to each other they tend to shy away from it. It sounds mushy. 

For the person creating the piece, 'inspiration' might be the least important part of the puzzle they are trying to solve.  

As an example, here is how I am stepping off onto a blank two dimensional surface in my current series.

First, I've become interested square compositions because they are a less common format than the rectangle. Squares are usually used in symmetrical compositions, but I lean towards asymmetrical, so that's a nice challenge.

Here's a 12" x 12" piece of hardboard painted with acrylics; a collection of related colors, applied in a random manner.

Second, I continue to be interested in using texture as a way to explore pictorial depth. 
I want to move away from the collage technique of using found papers and materials and return to using paint. 

I cover the board with pieces of hand painted paper, completely changing the surface character.

These are my brush strokes, torn and reassembled on a new surface.

Once the surface is alive and in motion, I add larger pieces of paper - stronger brush strokes that start to introduce form.

This is the point at which I have to decide if this composition is going to be entirely abstract, 
or if I want to build forms from nature.

Looking to my garden, I find long arms of pale blue Russian sage, very like the blue form developing on my board. And there's the cascading form of rosemary, also flowering in blue.

I decide to build the composition around flower shapes.

I take a lot of garden pictures, so I have lots of flower shapes on file.

The composition is now a floral, but that wasn't the starting point.
And the most interesting part of the work for me is not the subject matter.
I'm still trying to find my way around a square canvas!

The composition takes days to bring into balance.

This quirky photo was taken in very strong sunlight. It really bleaches out the colors, but shows up the layers of texture.

This is the final composition.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Reorganizing and Rearranging

The great thing about having a studio is that I don't have to clean up in the middle of a project.
Paint and paper and what-not can float around, and layer up, and remain undisturbed, 
while I come and go. 
This works right up to that moment when the air suddenly seems too thick with old ideas, and it's time sweep away the clutter and let in some new thoughts!

Here's my work space all nice and clean, with the furniture in new places, and my faithful studio dog, Kye, settled into his bed.

The first thing I did was complete this piece, started before the holidays, 
and then left sitting for a few weeks.

Here's a close-up.
I'm continuing to use the texture of torn paper to explore illusions of depth and movement.

This is the final version of 'Night Wind'.
I'm beginning to see connections between the textural surface of this collage technique and wood block prints, specifically the use of line and cross-hatching.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Texture Draws the Eye

Texture is a particularly interesting art element because it can manifest in so many ways.

For example, art can bring us texture as pure Illusion.

Many painting and drawing mediums allow artists to render textures with astonishing clarity and realism.  For centuries still life paintings were designed expressly to demonstrate an artists skill in representing various textures.
And it's fun to do - the closer you look, the more you see. It can be kind of addictive!

Pieter Claesz (1597-1660)   'Still Life with Musical Instrument's

In this collection of carefully observed objects, my hands-down favorite is silver platter and the loaf of bread. I think the artist favored it too, placing it dead center in the composition.
Those crusty slices of bread contrast gorgeously against the cool, mirror-like surface of the platter.

These wonderfully slippery looking fish by Jacob Gillig are so realistic that I can almost smell them!

Jacob Gillig (1636-1701)     'Freshwater Fish'

And these flowers look even more fragile situated on that hard marble surface.

Willem van Aelst (1627-1683)        'Flower Still Life'

Simualted textures can add a great deal to our appreciation and understanding of a subject.

 But in addition to illusion, there is another way in which a painter can use texture.
This is by creating Actual Texture.

 If we were allowed to touch the surface of this painting by Van Gogh with our eyes closed, our fingers would read the paintings textural changes from flower to flower.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)   'Sunflowers'

Creating actual texture with paint is called impasto.
Notice the how selectively the texture has been applied against a relatively smooth background. These flowers seem to press against the restraints of the canvas as if to escape the confines of two dimensions!

This work is less realistic than the fish painting, less like a photograph, but very obviously the result of close observation of a specific vase of sunflowers.
 Van Gogh is inviting us to experience these sunflowers in a different way from the classical compositions of earlier generations.

A third way that artists employ texture is by adding materials other than paint to their canvas or board.
This type of actual texture is called collage.

Suzanne Oldham                                                                          "Bouquet' 

This is collage of recycled papers. Inspired by my garden, I wanted to capture the exuberant energy of new growth in a way that I could not with brush strokes or with a realistic style.
 The raw, torn edges of the paper and their various unexpected surface textures feels very immediate to me. There is an untamed quality - just the thing for my untamed garden!

Examining how and why an artist uses texture is a fascinating way to approach a piece of art.

Have you ever found yourself  intrigued by an illusion or a surface before even considering the theme or subject?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mysteries of Painting: Can a Painting have Rhythm?

Sometimes what draws me to an interesting work of art isn't the color, or the subject, but the way it's been organized.
It's beat. The way it moves.

This painting by Duchamp flows across the canvas.  
How did he capture this sensation?

Marcel Duchamp - "Nude Descending a Staircase (No2)", 1912

Duchamp created a repetition of shapes and lines, and our eyes read this as movement. 
His painting reminds me of the way waves move with their own rhythm. 

Watching how water moves is one way to consider the difference between rhythm and pattern.  Like pattern, rhythm is the result of repetition.

But pattern stands still.

Rhythm is all about movement.

Paul Signac, Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890
Thinking of rhythm versus pattern, I visualize two dancers, each demonstrating a simple box step. The beginner moves his feet in the classic pattern over and over again. Unconnected to the music, he is making a pattern in place. 

The experienced dancer takes those same steps, marries them to the music, and moves around the dance floor, creating something entirely different from those box steps.

Rhythm in painting can be understood in the same way.
It's when pattern wakes up and starts going somewhere.

I really admire this painting by Jose Clemente Orozco.
 It's a masterful use of rhythm.

 Painted in 1931 it's titled Zapatistas.  
The repeating forms move strongly, unstoppably forward. 
 I think it's brilliant because Orozco has organized this work in way that supports the painting's story and its composition!

Do you have any favorites where its all about the rhythm?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Progression of a Free Form Collage

One of my ongoing goals in the studio is to document my work as it develops.  However, I usually become so absorbed in the process that I forget to look up, time is suspended, I am in the zone. But it is intersting to to be able to look back. This is my latest piece, 'Turbulence', a collage of recycled papers mounted on 140 lb. watercolor paper.

I had the title in mind before I started, and a vision of intense blue as the base.

Working without a sketch or a photograph allows abstract idea to unfold in a unique way.

Structure or compositional rules can be wrestled with as the piece progresses.

I think find this technique allows me to crate a more dynamic image.

Because the picture surface is static, creating the illusion of movement requires a composition that is not read left to right, like a book page, but draws the eye by a variety of visual paths.

I turn the composition as I work on it to keep that flow in mind.

Here is the final composition again. 

Everyone experiences a piece of art differently.
I decided to call this piece 'Turbulence', but I would be curious to hear any other ideas for a title!
What title would you choose?