Unit 2: Fine Art РD̩rive (pt 2)

Following on from my previous post, where I noticed I had repeated a certain composition across some of my photos of the walk, I sought to research a little more about this.

I recalled seeing something similar in Van Gogh’s landscapes that I had seen in the summer, at the Van Gogh in Britain exhibition, and looking into more of these confirmed my theory that this could have been something I picked up on there. Here he has also made effective use of yellow and blue to make even greater emphasis of this composition – dividing the canvas by its horizon near the middle, but off-centre focal point (though his tending to the right where mine was to the left). I find it interesting that he would be returning to a similar strategy for two very different scenes – the rural and the urban, with comparably similar palettes also. The small red tree on the path in the left painting is positioned almost in the same place as the figure in red on the streets in the right one.

I wonder if there was intention for Van Gogh behind this or if, like in the case of my photos, it was accidental or perhaps even just a result of him having honed his style and preferred colour palette? Were it to be intentional though, it could be seeking to draw comparisons between these different locations – or perhaps serve as a reminder that though they might seem opposing locations, that they share the same viewer (or that we are seeing it through the eyes of the same artist) they have a unity of experience? That no matter where we might find ourselves at a given moment we still experience the same ‘what it’s like to be me’ in that moment? It might be interesting to create a shared colour palette for my three compositions to explore this further.

I used google image search to find out if the algorithm could find further instances of this composition. However, I found that the image recognition software was more apt to see the subject than compositional comparison – this suggests to me a more sophisticated programme than where it might first have looked at blocks of light/shade/colour (and so composition) but now is identifying objects within those blocks. It was interesting to me to see that the software was distinguishing 3 different subjects in these images: Tree, Apartment and Street, reflecting the change of environment along my walk. The images it saw as being visually similar all fell within these 3 categories, and some do replicate my composition.

I sought to further abstract this composition, and this deconstruction of three complex images was interesting. I think the cut paper works are more successful – the precision of the shapes achieved and the flattening of the colour fields I think work well to focus the eye on the shapes and their relationships together. A more simplified colour palette also helps here I think, and I like the use of a contrast for the ‘horizon’ line. I wonder if a casual observer would still get a sense of the perspective in the original composition, or if these flattened fields would disrupt that sense of your eyes being drawn in.

These recall for me geometric abstractions like those of Malevich and Moholy-Nagy. It might be interesting to explore further whether some of my fields are overlapping of other shapes and to explore more tonal colour palettes.

Colour in the Everyday – my work

For this workshop, we were to bring in a photo demonstrating an interesting combination of colour, texture and pattern, based on the everyday that might otherwise be missed. I chose to bring in this photo I had taken of different surfaces in a car park.

We then had to mix 8 or so colours from this photo using gouache and paint A5 samples to create a palette – here they are ordered by tone.

I enjoyed engaging with the paint in this way, though did find it tricky to mix the darker tones (we were not allowed to use black in our mixing).

We experimented with identical colour swatches on different coloured backgrounds, to see how the interaction changes the perception of the swatch colour (after Josef Albers).

The dark blue swatch in the top configuration appears somewhat greyer and flatter than in the bottom configuration, where it appears sharper and brighter (in fact seeming closer to the background of the top configuration rather than the swatch to which it was identical).

We then had to fill an A1 sheet with palettes experimenting with these different samples that we had produced. Below my work – I enjoyed playing with composition here as well as colour, and since my I had some colours that were near enough primary I produced works that seemed quite modernist and almost Mondrian. That said I think the variety achieved in the palettes that repeated one composition at the bottom of the sheet were perhaps the more successful in exploring the colour combinations, since you can more clearly compare between them.

I enjoyed this exercise and think it could be something I would repeat to help isolate a palette for further work, or that I could develop further in e.g. graphic design.

Performing Chance: reflection

We were introduced to performance art in a one day workshop relating to play/chance. This was probably the discipline I was most wary of in the art world prior to joining the course, as I found it to be unnerving and out of the norm (a bit like when you are approached on the street out of the blue by someone trying to get you to sign up for something). I’m still pretty sure this isn’t the discipline for me but I did enjoy some elements that I think I could look to incorporate in my practice – particularly the element of play possible.

First we engaged in some chance word selection from a newspaper, using the roll of a dice to determine the line and word we would cut out, to form a sequence of 12 words.

This was apparently a strategy used by J D Salinger and a similar one to how David Bowie created his lyrics.

We also had a task where one by one we entered a room and interacted with some objects (while being filmed). I was the last person to enter the room and unbeknownst to me the person prior had reoriented the camera so that my actions were not recorded. I found this to be a bit frustrating as I had put thought into them, but I suppose this was a lesson in itself!

Finally we had a group task. Here, we were to fill a disposable camera with a sequence of recordings of something. As the theme of the workshop was about chance and relinquishing control of the art form/the art being the performer, our group chose to involve the general public and ask that they perform an act for us, before then thwarting that and recording their reaction. We chose to ask them to blow up a balloon, draw on it, and then we would pop it without their forewarning. We created some rules and a vision of how we wanted this sequence to pan out before heading out to complete the task.

Below the photographs developed from the camera. We were not allowed to use the viewfinder to aim the shot, and found that winding on the disposable camera hindered the timing of the shot also, meaning sometimes we missed crucial parts of the sequence for some participants.

On reflection, I think perhaps we over-complicated the rules/sequence requirements and did not factor in the timing constraints/delays of the disposable camera we were using. We also had not planned for some participants being unable to blow up the balloon, so had to improvise with these participants the ‘destruction’ of their work by stamping on it, smearing the ink.

Overall I think it was successful in creating a sense of play for these participants, who were amused and quite willing to take part in our action. For the most part, they were unphased by the balloon being popped/trodden on and took this as part of the ridiculous scenario, so this too became a part of the play. I enjoyed this sense of fun and mischief, which I think is particularly seen in shots where the participants are laughing, or in the midst of blowing up a balloon (which harkens to children’s parties particularly).

Henry Moore Gardens/studios – Research pt 3

Finally, I enjoyed on my visit attending the exhibition of his drawings, to see how these had a changing role in his creative practice through his career, which lasted 7 decades. The exhibition was organised chronologically by decade, starting in the 1920s with his life drawings, and finishing with the works he produced towards the end of his life. It was interesting to note that it was in light of his drawings in the Second World War that his career really took off, despite this not being what he is best known for today. (Pictures below are taken from a book as no photography was allowed in the exhibition)

In the 1930s he began developing his own individual style and used drawing as a tool for developing ideas for his sculptures.

In the 1940s, the war effort meant that he worked almost exclusively in drawings, and was commissioned to document the London Blitz, producing sketches and large drawings of Londoners sheltering in the London underground. I like the use of perspective in the below tunnel, emphasising the sheer volume of people down there (barely perceptible as figures) disappearing into the distance, they seem unending – quite evocative and haunting. This motif was repeated in the portrait beneath.

This was a technique I saw him using in many instances – multiple studies/idea development on one sheet for a sculptural work. I like this idea of trying out lots of things in sequence and having them laid out next to each other like this.
Here we can see how the ideas developed in drawing were translated into sculpture.
Head, 1958

The above work is one of a triptych of Head studies shown in the exhibition from the same period. This was during the phase where he was now using maquettes primarily to develop his sculpture ideas, so drawing was more for creative release. As such his approach was more experimental, and took him into printmaking and tapestry. These Head drawings were done with crayon as a wax resist against watercolour and ink – I find these very effective and am interested to give this a try myself.

I also liked the linear effect in his charcoal pieces here above – the tendril-like branches in silhouette are very effective here. I believe that ‘The Artists Hands’ is one of his more well-known drawing motifs.

Drawing, even for people who cannot draw, even for people not trying to produce a good drawing, it makes you look more intensely. Just looking alone has no grit in it, has no sort of mental struggle or difficulty. That only happens while you are drawing.

Henry Moore, 1978
Here I have experimented with abstract forms using the wax resist of crayons as Moore had done. It was also quite pleasing to experiment multiply on one page in this way. I would like to repeat this exercise when I am needing to generate ideas as well.

Henry Moore Gardens/studios – Research pt 2

Disregarding for now his somewhat problematic subject matter, it was interesting to explore his studios and the Perry Green estate to get an insight into the practice of this prolific artist.

What I found particularly interesting to discover was his incorporation of found objects (bone, stone, shells etc) in his experimental miniature casts that would then be scaled up in working models and final pieces. Knowing this now, and seeing the examples e.g. of whale vertebrae dotted around his various studios, I can now reflect on how the forms of these organic and geological objects informed his work. ‘The metamorphosis of natural objects into human forms’ is how they put this in the exhibition notes.

It was interesting too to get a greater understanding of the technical approach he took to sculpting, both carving and in plasterwork. That he would cover his working medium-sized plaster model in a grid system to enable it to be exactly scaled up and then cast in bronze at a foundry.

I was also surprised how natural light was important to his practice – something that I had only previously considered would be the case for colourwork – and gaining a sense of the environment. His use of scalable plastic temporary studios (a bit like greenhouses) was quite novel.

I visited 4 studios on the estate – the ‘top studio’ outside his Hoglands home, and the three in the top right of the map – the Bourne maquette studio, plastic studio and yellow brick studio.

Henry Moore Gardens/studio – Research pt 1

Following my research into Brancusi’s use of generalised forms, and Calder’s approach to drawing through sculpture and singular lines, I was keen to go along to the Henry Moore studios and gardens before they close for the winter season.

On this visit, I encountered several of his bronze cast sculptures dotted around the estate where he used to live and work for the majority of his career, as well as the various studios he had there. There was also an exhibition being shown cataloguing his approach to drawing and how their role in his artistic practice changed over the years.

I was excited to discover the sculpture after being encouraged to get ‘hands-on’ with the outdoor ones and feel their texture when purchasing my entry ticket.

I found it really engaging to be encountering sculpture at such scale and so personally – it seemed an artform made for human observation and interaction. Many of them I could step into, and touch, and peer around. They offered interesting changing forms when you looked at different angles, as you walked around it. The sculptures themselves bear the marks of their making – the above piece is smoothed but also deliberately etched into.

The above piece shows clearly defined grooves that I believe have been made by the artist’s own hands – running my hand along it felt as though I were running it through carved wet clay.

The above work had intriguingly distinct forms from different angles.

The pieces I found less intriguing were perhaps the ones he is best known for, the reclining figures.

I found some of the forms here interesting, but I couldn’t get past the fact that these were staging the female nude as object. The figure is uniformly passive, and static. She is reduced to her ‘primary function’ as childbearer. This could only make the contorted forms and exaggerations of fertile hips etc seem exploitative for me.

John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ was released in 1972, ahead of all but one of the sculptures shown above, and in episode/chapter 2 he dealt with the problematic obsession with the female nude in art history. This feminist perspective may not have been taken seriously by Moore etc however, with contemporary reviews in the industry literature dismissing Berger as ‘a committed leftist who poses as the antagonist to all received knowledge about the arts’ (J.A.Robinson writing in the Journal of Aesthetic Education Oct 1974) – with no direct mention of the feminist argument he had been making. Indeed the modern movement was less under scrutiny here than mass media imagery for Berger, but that the passive female nude and mystification as the Great Mother could be still so primary to an influential artist like Moore at this time suggests perhaps it should have been.

The 2nd episode of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, which first considered the problem of the male gaze in the convention of female nudes in Western art (1972, BBC)

This episode was aired just at the start of a great feminist movement in art history, which was kickstarted by Linda Nochlin’s article from the year prior ‘Why are there no great women artists?’. I am interested to read more into this subject and hope to start with some writings by Griselda Pollock.

Drawing: my work/reflection/research

One of the aims I had for this course was to get more confident in my drawing, and for this to become more instinctive for me. I have enjoyed as part of that exploring the one line drawing style of Calder, but here follows some more descriptive drawing that I have completed first in a recent workshop, at a life drawing class (my first!) and a cast study I did in the RA recently.

Charcoal/conte/chalk on paper – Study of my cardboard object from Gained in Translation

Here we were given a few hours to really study and work into our drawing – I had not before used this technique of building up a layer of charcoal to begin with, but I enjoyed how this made the process somewhat more malleable – it was forgiving to making adjustments along the way. I enjoyed also using chalk and different charcoals to add further depth and texture here. I found it difficult to get the perspective quite right on this and I think the top of the foot (the concentric circles) are not as occluded as they ought, but I am overall pleased with this work.

I chose this slightly altered pose for the object so that I could focus more on the interesting texture and tone of the top of the foot (the more interesting element for me). I felt that otherwise my work would be too generalised to warrant the length of sitting!

I enjoy working with charcoal for the responsiveness to weight and immediacy you have with it.

I enjoyed the life drawing class, though found it very hard going! Working at pace in quick succession was quite the challenge. I enjoyed experimenting with the soluble graphite stick (which I had not previously used) for the tonality you could achieve quite quickly and the sketchy quality you still achieve. I am most pleased with the 10 x 2 min sketch charcoal piece though. I think this allowed me to release my inhibitions somewhat and be more confident in my lines firstly since there was a time pressure, and secondly since I knew that in overlapping them any ‘errors’ might be obscured. I enjoyed in this experimenting with dynamism and scale and the more successful elements are towards the bottom of the work I think where you see the legs. I’d be interested to try this approach again but using the one-line drawing method.

I am pleased with the tone in this piece, though I think here too my perspective could have been refined (i.e. more hunch to the left side/proximity of the torso to the thigh). I perhaps self-edited here once more and did not fully capture the tonality of the genital region..! I was a little conscious of being in public at that point.

Angelica Kaufmann, ‘Design’ c.1778, RA Collection

As I was leaving the Collection having completed my study of the torso, I was struck by this painting for depicting what I had just done myself!

Exhibition notes for the above painting

I was particularly interested to read here that women were not allowed to draw from life at the time of this painting, and so had to study from casts of classical sculpture. This would certainly have been a hindrance to the development of their craft. I would be interested to learn more about the challenges women faced in art history and the broader picture of why they went unrecognised.