Thursday, July 30, 2009

Done with monoprints for now

Savannah landscape, water-based inks on A3 paper (approx 12 x 16")

Within the next few days I'll be sending off the first assignment of the Printmaking course I'm doing. The assignment is all about monoprinting. It includes nineteen prints selected from a large number generated during the projects. I have gone in a few weeks from knowing nothing about monoprinting to being an informed beginner. I love taking prints by hand and then carefully lifting the corners to reveal unknown surprises. I love the velcro sound made by rolling up oil-based ink.

I’ve learnt something about the history of monoprinting, and something about what contemporary printers are doing with the monoprinting medium (boy, they work big!). I’ve discovered Milton Avery’s landscapes which appeal to me very much and are a definite inspiration/influence. Unfortunately I didn’t find any of his prints but his paintings are very much to my liking.

Monoprinting seems to be very compatible with painting, it's a natural extension of the painter’s art. I’ve enjoyed this part of the course enormously and could linger on it for a longer time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

True impressions

"A modern man registers a hundred times more sensory impressions than an eighteenth-century artist."
-- Fernand Léger, 1914.

I came across Léger's statement in Art in Theory and wondered -- is it true? (Unfortunately this is how my mind works nowadays. The first question I ask myself on reading anything is, is it true? Because if it's not true, that alters my perception of the writer as a reliable source of information and as an artist, and I often don't read further. Life is short, time is short, and for me personally untruth is a waste of precious time.)

Back to sensory impressions, then and now, and whether Léger's claim is true. He was writing in the context of the speed, machinery and new inventions of the early 20th century, so it would have been true to say that the kinds of external stimuli experienced by a modern man were different from those in the past -- noises, smells, factories instead of trees. But in quantity a hundred times more? Hardly likely. People's senses are recording impressions constantly while they're awake and there's no evidence that the anatomy or physiology of the human sensory system has changed in any way in the past two hundred years. it could even be argued that eighteenth-century man was better able to observe, register and fix his sensory impressions because of having more time and space and quietness to reflect. So that, while 18th-century man and 20th-century man experienced the same number of sensations, 18th-century man may actually have been more consciously aware of his. (I'm not claiming this as a fact by the way, it's more of a hypothesis. )

Jan Davidsz De Heem, Still-Life with Lobster and Nautilus Cup, 1634, from

Jean Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Water Glass and Jug, c. 1760,

Supporting evidence might be found by comparing actual paintings. Sure enough, paintings by De Heem and Chardin from the 17th and 18th centuries show very much more detailed observation and sensory impressions than a typical still life by Morandi from the twentieth century. Of course De Heem and Chardin and Morandi were after very different things, but on the single question of the quantity of sensory impressions, the older guys can hold their own, thus putting Léger's assertion in doubt.

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1956, from the Met

I'm suggesting that these paintings are valid choices to support the hypothesis because they're rated by the experts and are part of the unofficial canon. Other selections might show a different story.