Gary Hume is a contemporary artist who graduated from Goldsmiths and became one of the original members of the YBA (Young British Artists) alongside others such as Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst and Fiona Rae. Hume’s usual medium is household gloss paint on a support of mdf and aluminium, he uses these materials to create a highly reflective surface to his work which allows you to see yourself and your surroundings staring back at you from the painting. Whilst his paints many different subjects from still life to figure work to animals, his style remains prominent in everything he does. He uses large, flat areas of paint on very large supports which give a highly graphical, almost pop art like effect. This modernist, almost abstract art is not something that I would usually be drawn to however I have unexpectedly really enjoyed looking at his work for this research point and it is for the exact purpose of this part of the course, his use of negative space. I have to question though whether indeed much of his work uses negative space, I would suggest that perhaps there is no negative space but that negative space has become positive space and vice versa or perhaps it is all just positive space. It was this thought process that really got me intrigued and looking more and more of his work. A painting that I particularly like is Vicious 2010 (fig 24). This is a good example of his confusing use of both positive and negative space. We can see that, what would traditionally be considered the negative space has been given interest with leaves and flowers, an elaborate wallpaper or background. Where we would imagine the detailing would be (within the figure) there is in fact nothing but empty space. It is interesting that you don’t need the detail to see what we are looking at. It is clearly a man, well built with broad, muscular shoulders and clenched fists. We can even almost make out the man’s hair style. There is a lot of contrasting ideas in here, the strength of the main character compared to the fragility of the floral background and the highly saturated colours on a black backdrop contrasted against the plain brown of the figure. Given that I know Hume likes to create highly reflective surfaces to his art, I wonder if he wants you to place yourself inside the blank figure?
Another painting that caught my attention was Blackbird 1998 (fig 25). In this case, he has clearly defined what should be perceived as negative space and brought this into the main subject. He uses his usual technique, using blocks of flat colour to create the foliage and blackbird, although there does appear to be some areas of thinner paint towards the bird’s head. The negative space around these images are painted in a very light colour (perhaps even white) and is brought into focus as the branch and feet of the bird before re-joining the negative space on the other side. The colours in this painting are made to contrast, the white branches against the black foliage and the dark blue bird against the orange and yellow of its beak and eye. This seems to result in a bold flavour to the painting and whilst I cannot see the reflective nature, I can imagine that this would add an extra dimension to the strength. I also find it interesting how your eye creates the outline, where there is none, of the branches where it blends back into the background. Another observation of mine is that the contours of the foliage look laboured over. When you first look, they appear to be random but upon closer inspection there is a stiffness too them. I find it difficult to imagine there was any flow in its painting and whilst it is quite a simple, almost graphic image, it looks like there has been considerable thought and a large amount scrutinising to achieve the finished product.
Whilst researching negative space in art, I came across a young artist by the name of Tang Yau Hoong. He is a Malaysian artist, illustrator and graphic designer who uses watercolour, calligraphy pens, paint markers, tablets and graphical imaging software. He has a great use of negative space, incorporating it into the main subject to create optical illusions and clever, quirky works. Some are just fun, such as Songbird (fig26), some are more thought provoking, for example, Red (fig 27), others make your eyes go funny such as Sky Aperture (fig 28), some are a mixture of all three. They are all very clever and a lot of thought and preparation must have gone into them to create the weird and/or wonderful combination of subjects. This artist clearly has a love of combining subjects, especially if ironic, into a seamless drawing that can be seen in more than one way.
Still life is the depiction of inanimate objects such as fruit, dead animals (especially game), flowers. scientific instruments etc. Although there is evidence of still life as far back as Ancient Egypt and the Greek Empire, it is a genre that started becoming popular in the early 1600’s. At this point it was seen as a lowly art form, the only truly worthy art was still of a religious nature or portraiture. Having said this, it was commercially viable and the middle classes would hang exuberant still lifes of banquets and exotic fruit or flowers as a sign of wealth and opulence. As still life was developing, artists such as Pieter Aertsen (1508 – 1575) would create paintings where still life would take prominence leaving the religious aspect to fade into the background somewhat, this can clearly be seen in A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms – 1551 (fig 13). Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) also adopted this style and a good example of this would be Bacchus – 1596 (fig 14) or Boy With A Basket Of Fruit 1593 (fig 15) where it is said that the fruit is so realistically rendered, scientific horticulturalists have been able determine where each individual piece of fruit was cultivated. It appears that Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit 1596 (fig 16) is seen as one of the first paintings to feature a still life as the sole subject. This painting has had much discussion on the meaning behind it, with the realistically rendered depiction of slowly deteriorating fruit, imperfect apples and wilting foliage. The main opinion being that this is a painting depicting the fragility of life.
It was mainly the Flemish masters of the 17th century that made the still life genre popular. Artist such as Willem Kalf (1619 – 1693), Willem Heda (1593/4 – 1680/2) and Abraham Van Beyeren (1620 – 1690) specialised in works to show great banquets depicting large fruit platters, lobsters, game and ostentatious tableware. Others such as Pieter Claesz (1597 – 1661) and Evert Collier (1640 – 1707) were known to specialise particularly in a sub-genre of still life known as Vanitas a particularly morbid form of still life depicting skulls, candles, hourglasses and other objects to symbolise the inevitability of death. Flowers, especially of an exotic nature was another whole sub-genre of still life and was made popular by the likes of Jan Davidsz de Heem (1608 – 1684) and Ambrosius Bosschaert ( 1573 – 1621). These styles of painting remianed popular throughout the 18th century and was by now popular throughout Europe, all the while being developed, with careful observation and highly detailed works remaining the fashion.
It was in the 19th century, with the rise of the impressionism, that still life had a new lease of life. Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) , Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), Paul Cezanne (1839 – 1906) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919). It was around this time that many artist started concentrated less on detail and more on colour, light and form. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers 1888 (fig 17) is still one of the most famous still lifes of all time and whilst Monet is more well known for his impressionist landscapes we can see in Still-Life with Apples and Grapes 1880 (fig 18) that he was more than versed in the genre of still life. Cezanne’s Still Life with Cherub 1895 (fig 19), is a good example of how colour and light can be used to replace fine detail, without losing feeling.
The 20th century brought with it the rise of cubism, brought forward by Georges Braque (1882 – 1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Cubism uses geometric shapes and planes often from different perspectives and vantage points, emphasising the two dimensional canvas whilst viewing three dimensions simultaneously, it rejects the traditional way seeing. It is one of the most influential movements the art world has seen and opened the path to more abstract art. Examples of cubism can be seen in Georges Braque’ s Violin and Candlestick 1910 (fig 20) and in Pablo Picasso’s Still Life With Chair Caning 1912 (fig 21).
The 21st century, a time of technological revolution, is an open minded society full of possibilities. With the invention of digital cameras and computer generated imaging, a world of new media has been opened up to us. Photography is now deemed as a serious art form and has allowed us to not only use photographs as art in themselves but also for the artist using traditional media to slow the world down to a single frame, a singular point in time that can be studied and scrutinised at our leisure. Time After Time: Blow Up No3, 2007 by Ori Gersht (1967 – present) (fig 22) is an example, it depicts a reproduction bouquet of that painted by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836 – 1904) in the 19th century. He has used a shutter speed of 1/6000 sec to capture the bouquet being exploded. Roy Hodrien (1957 – present) has clearly been influence by the masters of old and uses oil paint in thin translucent layers to create a very traditional looking still life, such as Silver teapot with Lemons (fig 23). I like the look of these paintings and in them you can see the vibrancy of colour that was probably akin to what the 17th century paintings may have originally looked like.
It seems as though still life is as relevant today as it has been over the past few centuries and is certainly no longer perceived as a lowly form of art. Whether creating some new or appropriating the previous fathers of still life, people will always find symbolism in objects. Learning to paint inanimate objects, using careful observation of colour, light, form and mass is still applicable today as not only a good place to start from but also a staple in the diet of any artist. It can always be developed upon or rejected for other subjects but should never be dismissed as unworthy.
The Royal Academy of Arts website describes this exhibition thus:
“The art of 1930s America tells the story of a nation in flux. Artists responded to rapid social change and economic anxiety with some of the 20th century’s most powerful art – brought together now in this once-in-a-generation show.”
The 1930s was of course the time of severe recession in America. We know that many people lost their livelihoods overnight, committing suicide rather than face the reality. The Great War was now over but the repercussions can still be felt but there is an impending doom as another is on the horizon. There is also still a problem with racism during this period, Martin Luther King Jr has not yet taken the stage and whilst slavery had been abolished for over 65 years, black people are still seen as second class citizens for the most part. Whilst this is an ominous time, it also gives the artist many things to consider and much material for creating thought provoking, emotionally challenging work. It was with this in mind that I entered the exhibition, wondering how this would be illustrated, if at all.
I am not going to give my evaluation on all the pieces that I saw, there are far too many for this relatively short report, but I will share the work that spoke to me the most and try to explain what drew me to them and why.
New York – Paris No 3 by Stuart Davis (fig 4).
Stuart Davis (1892 – 1964) was an influential American modernist artist. He spent most of his time in New York but in 1928 he lived for a year in Paris, it is this sabbatical that is clearly the influence behind this series of work.
This painting reminds me a little of my fridge door which is adorned with magnets from the places I’ve visited, Davis uses large flat areas of colour to create a stencilled look. Nothing quite connects or is placed in any context but are rather snippets or landmarks that have grabbed his attention along the way. You can imagine Davis drawing these images in his sketchbooks and then bringing them together in this “slideshow” of images.
Whilst the style is the same throughout you can see many variations within each image, for example, the trees in the top left are curved and quite abstract, he uses 3 variations of the same colour to give a sense of distance but overall it is quite drab. Next to this however, to the far left, we have a very rigid image of a signpost standing tall, using bright red to give it some colour and make it stand out against the plain background. This is then echoed in the centre of the painting with the petrol pump which is so prominent, you almost overlook the car behind or the countryside backdrop. The image in the top centre shows a selection of furniture piled up and I wonder whether this has been pre-arranged in order to convey a thought, perhaps disarray or clutter, or whether this was just some old furniture piled up somewhere in a shop or back alley.
I think that overall this is a very personal piece a selection of subjects particular to the artist. I feel that I need a narrative alongside it to fully appreciate it, an explanation from the artist explaining where he was when he saw each piece and what it represents.
Street Life, Harlem 1939 by William H Johnson (fig 5)
William H Johnson (1901 – 1970) was an African American artist born in South Carolina. Johnson moved into Harlem, New York in 1918 at the age of 17 and began to study at The National Academy of Art until 1928 when he would move to France. Johnson did not return to Harlem for 10 years and during this time he lived in France, Denmark and North Africa and in this time you can see a huge change in his work. It seems to have taken him until this point to truly find his identity and if you look at his work throughout his life up until he returns to Harlem, you will see that he has experimented with a number of styles from a more classical approach to a Van Gogh style to some with a more abstract and simplified take. I think that once Street Life, Harlem has been completed in 1939, he has begun to settle on the artist he wants to be, a voice that he has taken almost 40 years to find.
The piece itself upon first inspection, I took to be a black couple wearing smart clothes, their “Sunday best” perhaps on their way to the local church. However when I looked closer I noticed the moon in the top left hand corner so clearly this is meant to be an evening scene and along with the blues and violets in the buildings add to the appearance of an evening at twilight. I think this changes my whole perception and now I feel like this painting is of a trendy, urban, black couple ready for a night on the town. I think perhaps that Johnson being a black artist wanted to bring everyday life of the African American into public view whilst at the same time creating something that the black community could respond to.
Johnson has used blocks of flat colour without any shading and making it almost cartoon like. It is appropriate then that the painting be full of colour which gives a vibrancy to it and whilst (other than the main characters) there are no other people in the scene there is a sense of movement making the empty street feel busy and I would suggest that this is down to the inaccuracy or looseness of the contour lines. I am rather perplexed at the expression on the faces, I would have thought that the message was to be an uplifting one of changing times, the characters are well dressed ready to hit the streets and yet they appear unhappy. Perhaps Johnson was painting them in repose but the small eyes and down-turned mouths suggest otherwise.
American Landscape 1930 by Charles Sheeler (fig 6)
Charles Sheeler (1883 – 1965) born in Philadelphia, was a modernist artist who not only used traditional media to create his art but also photography and filmography which at the time, was highly controversial in the art world. Whilst he produced many of his paintings from photos he had taken, he didn’t simply produce a copy but rather was fascinated by the way different mediums effected the impression of the scene. He had very mathematical or scientific approach to creating his work and buildings feature heavily amongst much of it.
When I first saw American Landscape I felt a stillness to it. There appears to be very little going on and there are no people present except for a very small stick figure like character towards the centre. There is a calm sky and still water. Given that this painting is dated 1930, presumably within a year of the Wall Street Crash and in the midst of a depression, I assumed that this was to signify work has stopped, I thought that the singular character was perhaps an industrialist or ex employee walking alone around the now empty site. I have since done some research and am now aware that the truth is to the contrary. This painting is taken from a series of photographs that Sheeler took of the Ford Motor Company in 1927 which was commissioned to give an impression of the innovation of a new, industrial America that should be embraced. I’m still not sure I can see this but perhaps that is because I have been born into an age where huge plants are no longer a modern marvel to behold.
The title American Landscape is extremely apt for this painting, although this is clearly not a landscape in the traditional sense, surely that is the point. The smoke from the chimney melts into the sky to form part of the clouds, the buildings form a mountainous backdrop and the mounds of grit look like rolling hills, we also see what appears to be a man made body of water reflecting wonderfully all of the above to complete a version of what would be considered a traditional landscape.
New York Movie 1939 by Edward Hopper and Gas 1940 by Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper (1882 -1967) born in New York, was an influential realist artist throughout the 20th century. He was fortunate enough to come from a middle class family that encouraged Hopper in his art though steered him towards the more commercial form being illustration. Whilst Hopper was successful in this field, it clearly wasn’t where his passion lay and after just one year of studying at the Correspondence School of Illustrating he shifted towards studying fine art at the New York School of Art. It was here that Hopper studied under Robert Henri who encouraged his students to paint the world in which they lived using a very realistic approach. This must be where Hopper excelled the most given that his most well known works are of just this, although there does seem to be a continuing theme of isolation and loneliness running through his work which can clearly be seen in both New York Movie 1939 and Gas 1940.
New York Movie 1939 (fig 7)
My first thought of this was how wonderful the lighting was in this painting. The lone figure (which I’m told by the tutor by the visit) is actually Josephine, Hopper’s wife. She stands alone looking contemplative lit dramatically from the right by the wall light. There is a clear divide between her and the theatre this is shown by a large dark pillar this has been further exaggerated by being lit from the opposite side, reflecting all the light away from her on that side and towards the rest of the theatre. The theatre is self looks empty with only one gentleman clearly seen and another perhaps in the shadow. Following the theme of isolation again you can see that whilst the focus is clearly on the usher, she only takes up around a quarter of the canvas, the theatre (whilst beautifully painted) however has very little impact and yet takes up the majority.
Gas 1940 Fig (8)
Whilst this painting has an altogether different subject the mood of it is very similar. Again we have an eerie feeling of isolation, loneliness and perhaps even resignation. It also is wonderfully lit, mainly from The right hand side. The backdrop is reasonably traditional a calm sky and a tree lined road leading somewhere but then we have bright red petrol pump popping out from the green backdrop with a singular man who given the lack of car clearly works here. The petrol station itself seems extremely well kept, a neatly stacked row of cans stands next to the pumps and everything is extremely clean. The man is also well dressed for a petrol station attendant and is diligently keeping himself busy in his isolation. The rendering in the man himself is particularly impressive to me, especially for the size, each fold in his shirt can be seen as can the texture in his trousers.
Pat Whalen 1935 by Alice Neel (fig 9)
Alice Neel (1900 – 1984) is a female Artist born just outside of Philadelphia. Although she painted landscape and still life, she is most well known for her portraiture. Although Neel painted many of her friends, family and loved ones, many of her portraits would have a political or social influence behind them and Pat Whalen being a communist activist and union leader is actually a very good example of this. She had many traumatic episodes throughout her early life, her brother died whilst she was still very young. Later her daughter died before her 1st birthday and later her Husband would emigrate back to his homeland with her child. This led to a failed suicide attempt in 1930 which in turn ended her in a sanatorium for a year until she was deemed stable. This period of her life would no doubt have dramatically influenced her art. After her Husband left her and before she was committed, Neel took to drawing many female nudes which are well known for their brutal honesty. She felt that by going against the traditional way of depicting women as wall flowers to be gazed at, she was empowering women, showing the world truly what the female body and femininity is. I think she clearly enjoyed pushing the boundaries of conventional art. In terms of the depression Neel worked for the WDA (Work Progress Administration) and during this period would paint mostly street scenes as well as extreme left wing leaders and thinkers, I can only assume this was for propaganda purposes. It was during this time that Alice Nell painted Pat Whalen.
You don’t need to look too hard to see what this piece is about, especially knowing that Pat Whalen was a well-known communist activist and union leader. He is sitting in a grey room with a plain blue shirt and crumpled jacket. Beneath his clenched fists is a copy of a newspaper titled “Daily Worker” the headline being “STEEL, COAL STRIKES SET………” (you can’t read the end of the sentence), it is dated Monday June 16, 1935 I assume the very date it was painted. This is clearly a message to the impoverished, hard-working man. The man’s eyes are red with tiredness and yet his hands are clenched to show resoluteness and perhaps frustration. The hands are outlined thickly, much more so than the rest of the painting and they are higher in saturation too, I would suggest that this is to draw your attention to them they almost make a focal point within the painting. The subject has an expression of weariness about him, the aforementioned eyes have a redness to them with puffy bags beneath, his forehead appears creased, yet his mouth shows something different, the hint of a smile maybe or perhaps this is all he could muster. Neel seems to have used broad, expressive strokes, especially on the background and shadows, the paint looks quite thin and to have been built up in layers. I also notice that whilst the face is quite realistic the hands and sleeves seem a lot more cartoon like.
Grant Wood (1891 – 1942)
Grant Wood was a member of the regionalist movement that took place throughout America during the 1930’s. Wood, born on a farm in Iowa, felt modernist art to be elitist and wanted to create something that represented the hard working, suburban families. It was in 1928 during a trip to Munich that Wood was inspired by the realism of 15th and 16th century Flemish masters. He decided to try and take a far more realistic approach to his work than he had in the past. It was in 1930 that Wood exhibited American Gothic – one of America’s most iconic paintings – and this catapulted him and the movement of Regionalism into the limelight. This was the start of his work portraying rural, Midwestern people and landscapes, looking to his childhood for inspiration. Wood was keen to spread the word of Regionalism and used his fame to create many opportunities for this. In 1932 Wood co-founded the Stone City Colony and Art School, 2 years later in 1934, he took a position in the Art Department at the University of Iowa and in the same year was named director of the Public Works of Art in Iowa, he was also featured in Time Magazine, he used these positions as a catalyst to spread his nationalistic message.
American Gothic 1930 (fig 10)
American Gothic depicts a man and woman – that could be Husband and Wife or Perhaps Father and Daughter – standing in front of a suburban style, weather boarded house with a steeply pitched roof and long gothic window. The man stares directly at the viewer whilst the woman is looking to the right of the painting, though not directly at her husband (or father). They are dressed very traditionally in working class clothes which whilst plain are well presented, the woman’s clothes have a very similar style to the curtains in the window. The man looks strong, resolute and proud, the woman on the other hand is not quite as confident, looking perhaps a little worried though standing by her Husband in unity. There is great attention to detail in this painting down to the buttons on the man’s shirt ro the plants on the porch. The pattern on the woman’s dress, whilst plain, is extremely uniform as is the curtain in the window. It looks to me that Wood has a very tight style, his brush marks appear extremely well considered and I would think this takes many hours of observation and thought as well as the painting itself. Other than the figures themselves, we have lots of vertical lines in this piece, the boarding on the house, windows mirrored by the pitch fork and even the stripes in the man’s shirt. This gives a calm yet structured feeling to the painting which I think is probably the overriding theme, especially given the times.
Daughters of Revolution 1932 (fig 11)
This painting the depicts three middle-aged women stood in front of the painting George Washington crossing the Delaware River by Emanuel Leutze. There is an air of reverence about these women although they clearly are not particularly wealthy, dressed in quite plain clothing with the little adornments. The woman in the centre holds a China teacup in a very prim and proper fashion with small finger pointing outwards, which signifies to me a I want of betterment. They have strong expressions of resoluteness and authority, the matriarchs of the community. What is a distinct separation between the two women on the left and the third on the right, framing the painting hanging on the wall in the centre, and reproduction of the aforementioned George Washington crossing the Delaware river. This is clearly meant to be a focal point in this painting. Set during the American Revolutionary War in the late 1700s, George Washington crossing the Delaware river the commemorate the first surprise attack buy Washington’s forces on the hessian army. Therefore Daughters of Revolution to me is an extremely nationalistic painting, showing pride in one’s Country.
Although Wood in this painting has again paid attention to fine detail which we can see in the picture frame, the patterning on the teacup and the excellent reproduction of the painting in the background comma this piece has a slightly different feel to it. The figures seem to have a lot more of an illustrative effect, the necks seem out of proportion and the chins seem quite short. We can still see that’s every mark has been carefully considered and looking at the patterning in the woman’s dress to the left or the Lace collar of the woman on the right it almost appears as they have been stencilled on due to the accuracy and uniformity of the patterning. Again it seems like Wood has used layers of thin paint giving the piece a smooth, refined finish.
Death on the Ridge Road 1935. (fig 12)
This painting is of impending doom. Set in a picturesque landscape of rolling hills and lush green grass with a quaint, winding road running through the centre. However there is a collision on the horizon. A bright red truck is hurtling over the hill tyres off the floor whilst in the other direction a town car driving across both lanes, neither will be able to see the other until it is too late, a third is sat slightly behind. We can see what inevitably will happen next. The road on either side is lined with barbed wire fencing preventing any means of escapes for the vehicles. There is a menace to this painting too, a storm is looming, with clear sky only above the truck, accentuating it’s bright red colour. You can also see large telegraph poles which look like crosses and suggest graves or death.
The landscape in this painting appears to be delicately rendered with fine detail in the grass Telegraph poles and fencing the focal Point i.e. the cars are less and have a much blockier appearance, perhaps this is due to the difference between the smooth man made objects and the natural landscape. For the most part, this painting has also been built up in layers and it looks Like starting From dark to light. The grass towards the centre right hand side of the painting has a luminous quality to it, showing the brightness from the sky. However the Sky this seems to have some marks made from long broad strokes and others from scraping paint away. This give a tumultuous look to the sky and adds character.
Overall this exhibition gave me a real feeling of both the political landscape and the overriding emotions that will have been felt throughout 1930s America. Of course there were many more pieces that both impressed and spoke to me, but the ones reviewed are those which appeal to me the most. They all have very different things to say and different viewpoints with which the artist will have painted from and I think that all these art works in one place sends a different message to that which you would receive if each of these were viewed individually. I came away from the exhibition with a phrase in mind “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON” a famous expression throughout Britain during World War II. The strong expressions from the Grant Wood paintings, industrialisation of America in the Charles Sheeler works, the singular figure carrying on with their work in the paintings of Edward Hopper and to a degree, the emerging black community in William H Johnson’s Street Life Harlem.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.
I think that at this level I have demonstrated the beginnings of a strong foundation for both technical and visual skills. This has been shown throughout via my varied use of media and techniques to create the desired outcome for each of the exercises. I have shown a knowledge of light and how that relates to tone and mass and shown a visual awareness by translating this into my work. My compositional sketches started a little weaker and at the early stages I wasn’t too sure what was expected of me, however during assignment 1, I have honed this process and at present I am happy with the way I am organising my compositions and evolving my ideas. Of course there is still room for improvement but at this stage of the course I am happy with my progress.
Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
I think I’ve been careful to apply my new found knowledge to my work. I have set my initial sketches out in a clear and concise, organised way which makes it easier for me to look back and make any necessary adjustments or decisions to move forward. I think I have been objective when reviewing my work and made suggestions on how to change things I’m not happy with and also to keep things that I like. My online log is well laid out an easy to navigate depending on what a person may decide they want to look at. Although at the early stages of the course, I have already developed a process from start to finish that enables me to move smoothly throughout the exercise or assignment. This process may of course need to evolve in some way and only time will tell, I’m sure that some changes will need to be made but I think I have a good starting point to work from. My written and communication skills have always been reasonably good and I feel that I have communicated my ideas and the evolution of these in a concise manner.
Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice
This has always been the most difficult part for me. Many people are extremely imaginative and can easily put an image in their mind to paper, I unfortunately have the inverse. I can copy what’s put in front of me and I can observe reasonably accurately (of course these are still skills that need to be improved upon and developed), in my own mind at least. This of course inhibits not only the imagination but also the personal voice side of this course which I think can take a bit of finding, especially in the early stages. I am currently writing up on a study visit to the “America After the Fall” exhibition and an artist by the name of William H Johnson seemed to take until he was almost 40 to find his. Therefore, I am not overly worried and actually I have good ideas that I think at times can be inventive and outside of the box, my assignment piece for example I think was a clever way of arranging, quite a personal still life and is probably a little different. Without the subject in front of me however, I would struggle to create a realistic representation, I’m sure this is a skill that can be improved upon, the same as any other. I am reasonably experimental and I think that throughout the first part of this course, this can be seen. I have experimented with a large range of different media, I have tried using different marks, creating different textures and to an extent, different supports. I have also experimented within each medium, using them in different ways and there is, at least in part, a culmination of this in my final piece.
Contexts reflection – research, critical thinking (learning blogs at on and, at second and third level, critical reviews and essays)
I have tried to find a selection of respectable sources for each piece of research i.e. websites ending with .edu .ac or .gov although this can sometimes prove difficult to find, however I on occasion will use a different source i.e. .net .org etc. if I can find the same fact said on more than one website. Whilst I have tried to read a fair amount before commenting, I have tried to leave the history of each artist to a brief paragraph, editing so only the most important or influential parts of the artist’s life are listed, these are important to know as they will certainly have an impact on the art but as many of these facts are easily accessible, I try not to linger on them in my blog. I have heard it mentioned a couple of times that what is most important in my review, is how I feel about a certain piece or artist and why. What I find fascinating when I look at a specific piece is the techniques that have been used to create these extraordinary effects, I find this most important and in my blog, you will often see me trying to dissect a specific work. I also like to try and think not only about the how but about the why, what the artist was trying to achieve? What is the message? And of course, is there even a message to look for? Again these thoughts are present. This way of critical thinking, I can then bring to my own art.
Overall I am quite happy with how the first part of this course turned out and until I hear from my tutor with some feedback (which I will post on here in full), I plan to continue doing what I have been. Once feedback is received of course, things may need to be slightly (I hope) adjusted.
I struggled with the brief for this assignment, I find it difficult to find emotion in objects; People, absolutely, a beautiful landscape, definitely, but not in objects. I find that an object is designed to suit a purpose whether that be decorative or as a tool. It took me a couple of days to realise that rather than trying to find objects that intrinsically evoke emotion but to use objects to represent something that does. This led me to the idea of my family in still life. I walked around the house looking for items that to me represented each member of my family, being myself my wife my daughter and my son. This led me to the following items:
Wicker fan – This item reminds me of my wedding day, the foundation on which my family has been built. We ordered delicate bone china fans as favours for the ladies but when they arrived – the day before the wedding- what we found were these rather indelicate wicker fans. Rather than be defeated I just slipped a couple of references into my speech and carried on. They were actually rather popular and even now I have relatives with them hanging on the wall.
Game controller and headset – This represents me. I was originally going to use some of my art supplies but I had a couple of issues; firstly, I thought it may be a little predictable and second, (and most importantly) if I was drawing my art supplies I would be limiting what I could use to draw with i.e. if I’m drawing them I can’t use them. Other than drawing and painting my other big hobby has always been gaming. Ever since I was a little boy playing on a spectrum, I remember when the first Nintendo was released and playing Mario for the first time, my time as a youth I spent many an hour in the arcades and even now in modern time with the revolution of online gaming, I am still wasting hours on them, it really was an obvious choice.
Perfume and Lipstick – This is to represent my wife. She is a very beautiful and glamorous woman and maintaining her appearance is important to her. She never has a hair out of place and anyone that knows her will often see the makeup bag making an appearance for the “top up”. She has many different perfumes but I wanted to pick one with an interested shape and surface and I think the once I chose worked nicely.
Medals – These represent my daughter. She is passionate about gymnastics and in her first competition a couple of months ago, she came second in her age group and second again more recently in a regional competition. We are extremely proud of her for the practice and work she has put in to reach her current standard and her tenacity with which she continues to improve.
Spiderman Toy – my son is an absolute Spiderman fanatic and it is extremely difficult to get him to watch, play and even dress in something that isn’t in some way associated with his favourite character. It was therefore the only real choice.
After choosing what I was to draw I decided to do some preliminary sketches. With a pencil, I roughly sketched each item just to get into the flow and get used to the outlines. I also played with textures and significant patterns as well as viewpoints and perspectives. Nothing here has had much forethought, I wanted this part of the process to be loose, spontaneous and fluid, I didn’t spend too much time on any of it (other than the pattern in the perfume bottle).
After my initial sketches, I started to experiment with both composition and media. I did 5 A5 sketches each using different media. My compositions seemed to evolve rather than choosing 5 different options to begin with and picking from the “choice” which is something I had done in previous exercises. I think it worked better this way. I will go through each of the sketches below reflecting on both the composition and media used.
Composition 1 – Pro Markers, Brush Markers and Nib Pen
I decided that as I had worked in monochrome up until this point, I wanted to introduce a bit of colour and I really enjoyed using the artist marker pens, they have a real vitality to them which gives a bright illustrative look to drawing. The main downside is that you have a limited palette and whilst you can blend them to create slight variations of colour you can’t really mix them. It’s also quite a slow process, you must continually reapply a combination of markers to create a blend.
In terms of this drawing specifically I struggled with the colours on the fan, they are far too bright, I also think that the controller and headset look more grey than black. The problem here is the difference between the darkest grey marker and the black, there is quite a large step in tone and if I use too much black drawing becomes flat and so there is a fine line between not enough and too much. The colours on all the other items worked really well although the indigo didn’t really work as a shadow colour for the ribbon in this case. One thing that worked well was the using the nib pen to outline the main shapes. It helped to control the bleed and separates each subject, making them pop.
This first composition had a few things I wanted to change straight away, it’s amazing how they can look good together in life but once on the paper you can immediately notice issues. The major problem for me is too many items on the page, it looks rather jumbled, I’m sure in some instances this would be the effect you were after but I felt that in this instance I wanted to clearly mark a part of each of us and this composition was confusing that. I had a few proportion issues here too, especially on the left-hand side of the drawing. I think the medals are too big which makes the controller and headset look too small, also I think the headset is too small to the controller. I think the rest is roughly correct although perhaps the lipstick is a little too stubby. The other issue with the medals is that they seem to be sitting up from the surface, they are not grounded, even though they relate well to each other.
Composition 2 – Graphite stick and soft pastel pencils
I have used pastel pencils before although usually with pastel batons/sticks as a means of adding finer detail. I have decided that for this subject matter they really didn’t work well at all. I think for these man-made objects with clearly defined lines and dramatically different colours sat next to each other i.e. on the Spiderman toy, this is the wrong medium to use. I, in the past, have used pastel for both portraits and landscape and they have worked a lot more successfully for this. For creating soft blends, they work wonderfully. They also didn’t work well with the graphite. The graphite seemed to blend in with the pastel and made the drawing look dirty.
This composition again needed some improvement. I prefer less on the page but with this arrangement there was far too much negative space. The fan is far too small now although the rest seems to be about right, also the medal is sitting on the surface now which is an improvement. I missed the lipstick it had a great reflective surface and heled with the transition from the black to the left and the reds to the right. It isn’t very big and so didn’t think it would clutter the page too much by reintroducing it. I also didn’t like the medal I chose to keep, whilst it shows the position my daughter cam, it doesn’t actually have any reference to gymnastics, which was the point of using the medals to begin with. In the next composition, I decided to replace this with the other one. Also the medal was too far forward, because it is quite small, it leaves too much space to both the left and the right at the front.
Composition 3 – Graphite (pencil) and coloured pencil (soft)
I decided, this time to try and tone down the colours and try and give a more subtle, desaturated version. For this idea I started drawing just in pencil, not just to create outlines but also to create the tones. Once this had been done I applied a layer of colour hoping it would just give a hint. This worked in areas such as the blue parts of Spiderman’s legs and just looked dirty in other areas such as the fan. I think it works better where there is a more dramatic shift in tone and less so where more detail is required. The pencils were nice to use and had a creamy feel to them and as with the pastels, I think they would work better with a subject that requires less definition. Also on a larger scale the detail would be less fiddley and I think this would work better too.
In terms of composition, I think changing the medal and reintroducing the lipstick was a good idea. I also put the medal up higher to balance out the height of the Spiderman toy and this is partly successful though there is till to far too much negative space at the top, much less at the bottom though which is good. I thought at this stage that maybe I should get closer to the images to try and remove this extra space. I might also make the toy sit down, though I was worried it may topple whilst trying to draw it so I held out for the time being. The proportions are much better in this one so I hoped that I had mastered this part of the composition. My other thoughts were that the gap between the controller and the lipstick was too big although I liked the overlap of the 3 items on the right-hand side, it added some depth and interplay between them.
Composition 4 – Dip pen and ink with watercolour pencil.
I like the dip pen and ink. It dries really dark and shiny, giving a print effect. I did find it difficult to control though and in some areas you can see where it leaked from the pen a little, at other times it was scratchy and hard to release the ink at all, I’m not sure if this has to do with the quality of the pen I’m using or if I’m not using it correctly. I will have to practice with this medium some more before coming to a conclusion. In parts I tried to create tones by adding some water with a brush to certain areas and spreading the ink to create lighter tones. This didn’t work particularly well on the toy and again I think this is probably due to the scale. It was more successful when I made a wash on a palette rather than on the paper e.g. the shadow of the controller on the fan. For the most part I used different hatch marks to create tone and this works well. The water colour pencils were a little bland when dry and I would be better off using the coloured pencils if I wanted softer, more subtle tones. When I go over them with a water brush however, the colours really pop, creating a vibrant colour and you can create tone by either reapplying dry pencil on top or by using a lesser concentration of pigment.
This composition still had too much negative space at the top and I was definitely going to try and sit the toy down for the next one. The cropped composition worked nicely, it created a bit of interest and drew you into the centre of the drawing, also creating less space between the objects themselves, bringing them together. The medal didn’t sit too well in front of the fan, there was no real shadow and so I think it looked too far in front. I preferred the smaller gap between the controller and lipstick, though I would have liked them to be even closer and eliminate any space at all.
Composition 5 – Line and wash (nib pen and watercolour)
I’ve not used watercolour before and bought some specifically for this experiment. I’m glad I did, I really enjoyed using them, they are a great combination of both drawing and painting. You have to work from light to dark because it is very difficult to take pigment away once it’s laid down. You can lighten or correct to an extent by applying water to the area you wish to lighten and then lift the pigment with something absorbent i.e. a paper towel or even a cotton bud. It’s not as difficult as I thought it may be, I applied thin layers, slowly building up tone and colour and because of this I didn’t feel the need to mix my colours that much unless their was the need to tint or shade, which was only occasional. It can be a little difficult to control, especially with the thinner layers, the more water the more unpredictable but I quite enjoyed embracing this looseness and working with it. Another thing to be aware of is that watercolours dry lighter. You don’t really need the nib pen, but it does make the drawing pop and it also makes the finished piece more of a drawing and less of a painting.
In terms of composition I think this one works the best. I liked both the composition and the medium and in fact I felt that may even just make a larger version of this on watercolour paper. All the items in the drawing relate well to each other being grouped quite closely together, creating depth and minimising the negative space. I thought the background to be a little sterile in white and so for the final piece I thought about adding a wash in order to tone it down a little. I also liked the way your eye was led around the drawing, starting from the left your eye is lead to the right up to the medal and then along the stem of the Fan back towards the left-hand side of the drawing. I also thought that this drawing worked symbolically, using the fan as a backdrop and symbolising marriage, the controller and perfume with lipstick towards the left most area and the toy and medal towards the right with the medal highest, representing my daughter who is the eldest. There are a few things to iron out, for example, the rows on the fan needed to be a little more precise and evenly spaced and so I needed to pay a bit more attention to that, I also needed to keep a check on all my proportions and I tried to keep this in mind before starting my final piece.
I decided to use A3 watercolour paper as I had this already to hand. I started by making a quick outline sketch of the Piece whilst paying extra attention to the rows of the weave on the fan. I then used the nib pen to create a darker outline. This took quite a long time but I wanted to make sure that I got everything accurately especially the fan where I used quite a lot of detail to get the texture correct. Following this I used my watercolours in layers building up tone and where appropriate adding some highlights with a white gel pen. In general I got the proportions correct there is a slight skew on the medal and the perfume bottle is blown out slightly to the left hand side. I think I started off correctly in my pencil sketch but by the time I’d added the pen and watercolour it became slightly obscured. I also had an issue with the paper buckling, I did use the correct watercolour paper and so I thought that this would be sufficient to keep the paper flat but once dry it did warp. I think in future when using watercolour I will still have to secure the support with masking tape, and having since done a little research I find this to be the case. In future this is definitely something I will need to take into consideration. I think this drawing has been successful, I have taken into account the things I’ve learnt towards the beginning of part 1, I have paid attention to the texture of each subject, I have paid attention reflected light and I have also paid attention to both line and tone creating mass where necessary. This can be shown in the fan where I spent extra time paying attention to the texture and also in both the highly reflective lipstick and perfume bottle where you can see the reflection of the Spiderman toy and also you can see in the perfume bottle lid the highly reflective surface. You could also see in the controller the colour of the perfume bottle reflected on to the right hand side. You may have noticed that I have left out any of the coloured weave in the fan this was deliberate I felt it was taking away from the detail and making it overly complicated, I think this was the right move. Overall I’m very happy with the way this piece turned out and I would certainly look to use this medium again.
In past exercises I have first chosen my subjects and then begun by drawing each object one by one before arranging them into a few different compositions drawing a very quick, small sketch of each and then making a decision on what I wish to do and how I wish to do it. This time however, as the whole premise is to show how one object relates to another in terms of reflected light, I thought it would make more sense to move straight to composition but rather than using a quick line sketch as before to explore composition, I would use both line and tone with a lot more detail and on a larger scale, I began in my A5 sketchbook. This worked very well and I soon realised that actually all art is about how items relate to one another whether that be through light, tone, shape, proportion etc. and perhaps spending more time worrying about composition and less worrying about single items floating in space is preferable. Of course drawing the subjects singularly can also useful but more so for feeling the shape or borders. In conclusion, moving forward, I will probably use quicker sketches to describe each single object and spend more time than I have been exploring the relationship between them.
After sketching out a few compositions, I was torn. I preferred using the paper in landscape which allowed me to include the sink and plug, which of course are also highly reflective. However using the paper in portrait allowed for the use of less negative space which was not only a requirement of the brief but allowed me to make the main objects, being the tap and soap dispenser, larger which makes it easier for adding finer details. After some contemplation I decided to plumb for drawing in portrait, the final reason that led me to this conclusion was the sink and plug in landscape didn’t show a huge amount of reflected light and with this being the main focus of the exercise, this could then e construed as additional negative space rather than being part of the main subject.
I am rather happy with the outcome. Although, as always, there are some inaccuracies such as the spout being a little small and the ellipse at the top of the tap being slightly misshapen. Overall though I have managed to show the highly reflective qualities of the subjects, the tap is reflected into the soap dispenser an vice versa. You can see the tap being of stainless steel, the soap dispenser being pale and reflective and you can even see the sink being ceramic. I was a little disappointed that the paper seems to have had some kind of defect, you can see a line running horizontally in the bottom quarter of the page. There was nothing behind the paper to show through and I’m not really sure what else could have done this. The problem is that it makes the subject seem transparent. I have decided that as this is an exercise rather than an assignment piece to leave it as it is.
Bertrand-Jean “Odilon” Redon was born 22 April 1840 in Bordeaux. Redon narrowly missed being an American, his father having emigrated to the United States and making his fortune in Louisiana and marrying a Creole woman. I fact his brother Ernest was born in New Orleans and it wasn’t until Redon’s mother, became pregnant for the second time, that it was decided they move back to France.
Redon began his artistic training at the age of 15, however to please his father at the age of 17 he turned to architecture though he was not too successful, failing the entrance exam at the Ecole des beaux-arts in 1862. Redon begun studying under Jean-Leon Gerome but found his teacher overly academic and rather sterile, describing himself as “tortured” by the teacher. He in 1865 met Rudolphe Bresdin who had a huge influence on Redon, teaching him the technique of etching he admired Bresdin, so much so that on one of Redon’s earliest etching he signs the piece “pupil of Bresdin”
Redon was drafted for a short spell as a soldier in the Franco Prussian war and whilst his term in the army was short, the horrors that he witnessed made him the Odilon Redon we think so highly of. He married to Camille Falte on 1st May 1880 at forty and had 2 sons, he struggled to support them financially with his art and it wasn’t until the last 10 years or so of his life that Redon was able to live comfortably.
Huysmans was a strong advocate of Redon and it was he that introduced him to Stephane Mallarme, leader of the symbolists and from here Redon often participated in the mardis, a Tuesday reception held by Mallarme for the Parisian art world in the 1880’s. It was here that he met the likes of Paul Gauguin, Maurice Denis and the dealer Ambroise Vollard among others, catapulting his reputation as one of the most influential symbolist artists amongst the avante-garde.
It wasn’t until 1903 after Redon had turned 60 that he received the Legion d’Honneur, his first honour and in 1904 the Salon d’Automne devoted an entire room to Redon at their first annual show, He was soon able to live a far more comfortable life in a more affluent area. Redon died on 6th July 1916
Odilon Redon, Two Tree’s c.1875 (charcoal on paper)
My first impression of this drawing is of gloom and danger. These 2 old trees are in the corner of a forest with such a darkness behind and in between them you can’t tell whether this is the edge of the forest or whether there may be a path leading somewhere further and beyond. I put this feeling of gloom and spookiness down to not just the ominous setting but also the high contrast, the juxtaposition of darks and lights at their most extreme for example the branch of the left hand tree or the left hand side of the right tree. I’m not sure I’d want to go there but I feel that if I were there I may, against my judgement, be beckoned towards it.
When I begin to look closer, I find it hard to believe this is drawn in charcoal, it looks to me like an etching that Redon is famous for. The texture in the trees is made with sharp, scratchy (and in areas, incredibly fine) marks that look as though they have been scraped away somehow. There are other types of marks, most prevalent at the bottom right of the right tree looking like undergrowth, that show bright highlights through the charcoal they looks as though a liquid has been sprayed on with a toothbrush to create this effect. Again there are leaves on the branch of the left hand tree with bright highlights on a very dark background and blades of grass to the bottom. It is hard to imagine the darks being drawn in and the highlights left with such accuracy and delicacy and whilst this is a possibility I wonder if Redon had a way of removing the charcoal so cleanly perhaps with a solvent.
Odilon Redon, Guardian Spirit of the Waters, c.1878 (charcoal with black chalk, stumping, erasing, incising, & subtractive sponge work, heightened with white chalk, on cream wove paper altered to a golden tone)
I think what first attracted me to this drawing was its description. Firstly it answers many of my initial questions with regards to the processes Redon uses. The description is so honest, he clearly doesn’t wish to keep his processes to himself but instead decides to give an insight into what he does, I imagine to some this would be the equivalent of a magician revealing a secret.
The work itself, unlike Two Tree’s I find comical initially a huge, friendly almost clown like face looking over a comparatively tiny sail boat. This of course is a very different depiction of a guardian or god to what is usual, they would normally be depicted as warriors ready to punish insolence or disrespect severely. I wonder whether he is making a mockery of paganism or perhaps he feels that a god should be seen as mild and compassionate. Although the image is still high in contrast it doesn’t have the same feel to it. I think this is because in this drawing the background is light and airy where as in Two Trees the drawing is predominantly dark giving a more oppressive feel. I don’t find this image as technically appealing although there is plenty to look at, the hair has a great feel to it as does the water. I am also drawn to the white gull towards the centre of the sea and the outline of the sail and of course that big dreamy eye right in the centre of that round head. Overall, the lightness of subject and comic look of the guardian in this drawing makes me smile each time I return to it.