Monday, August 26, 2013

A drawing of trees

Mary Adam, Savannah Trees, pen & ink on acid-free paper
This drawing was intended for a linocut but so far I haven't been able to make it work in that form and have used (i.e. spoiled) two lino blocks or is it three? So for now it's a drawing on its own, in Indian ink on acid-free paper.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Drawing ellipses

Ellipses are everywhere, natural and man-made. An ellipse is a circle seen in perspective and drawing them is a challenge. When an ellipse is "wrong" or "off" or "hokey" it's obvious to the trained and untrained eye alike; and when it's right it can be a thing of beauty.

Lubin Baugin (c. 1610-1663), Le Dessert de gaufrettes (c. 1631), Musée du Louvre, Paris, image from Wikipedia. Many perfectly-drawn ellipses here, seemingly effortless.
Many people chafe at any suggestion of "right" and "wrong" in art, including me. There's a difference though between doing it "wrong" intentionally (e.g. Picasso and other masters), and lack of skill. I guess it's all down to the individual and his or her intentions in a given instance.

I've scoured books and the internet for methods and techniques. One method is the perspective method. That is, draw a square in perspective, mark various points around the square, then draw the ellipse around that framework. Even with this method there's potential for inaccuracy and besides, a square in perspective is not in itself the easiest thing to construct. It's no harm though to work through some examples because if nothing else it develops one's eye for the finer points of ellipses in general. A simpler variation is to draw long and short axes as a guide.

Using pins and a string is a mechanical method that is not usually practical for fine artists, but it's interesting to give it a try. Another way is to draw the ellipse on the computer and transfer it to the drawing.

Many artists draw the ellipse freehand without guides while looking at the object. When it comes out right it can be beautiful in a way not achievable by more painstaking methods. It may help to turn the paper upside-down while drawing.

The following advice is from Drawing for Art Students and Illustrators by Allen W. Seaby, 1921:
"Some students construct the ellipse on its long and short diameters, but these aids ruin the feeling for the curve. Sometimes the ends appear pointed owing to the fact that arcs of circles have been drawn. As a matter of fact no progress in object drawing is possible until the straight line and ellipse can be drawn freely in any position with a single movement of the hand and arm. If the student lacks this facility five minutes practice at a blackboard every day for a week at squares, circles and ellipses will set him free of these forms for life. One may observe that beginners are apt to draw the lower half of the horizontal ellipse flatter than the upper--to notice the defect is to cure it."
Practice, practice. Some methods for checking an ellipse:
  • Look at the drawing in a mirror. 
  • Turn the drawing upside down.
  • Draw the ellipse as you see it. Then take a photo of the object, trace over the ellipse and compare it with the one you've drawn.
  • Measure the depth and width of the ellipse (which depend on eye level/horizon), also check verticals and horizontals. (poor audio)

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst – what do I think of him? He’s a special case, not easily assimilated into my art-world view. The first works that come to mind are the animals in tanks. In medical school we dissected human cadavers, it was all in the day’s work. So, a shark suspended in formalin is kind of, so what? I haven’t seen any of Hirst’s whole or sliced animals in real life and perhaps that experience would bring about a change of attitude. But I don’t think so. The fact is, most conceptual art needs verbal context or backing in some form, whether a title or a label on the wall. In the case of a sliced cow and calf, the title “Mother and Child, Divided” is enough to go on with, and likewise the shark titled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”. Many people can do without the verbal prompt but I need it as a clue to the artist’s intentions. After all, he has been accused of all sorts of shallowness, emptiness and worse. One appreciates indications of good faith.

Damien Hirst has given many interviews, both print and video. My take is that he’s a brutally honest sort of person which gives me confidence in his art. This is not to say it’s good or bad art (who am I to say anyway), merely that honesty is high on my personal list of criteria.

“Anything done well – super well – is art. I don’t believe in God but my belief in art is almost religious. It’s like a mathematical sum where you can miraculously make 1 + 1 = 3. You can do something like a diamond skull and it can be s**t or it can be 1 + 1 = 2 and that’s not good enough, or it can be 1 + 1 = 1 and you can wish you never did it and it never comes out of the studio.” 
“The diamond skull ... artists make art from what’s around them. We had these boom times with everybody buying art with loads of money. I had no money as a kid and to be in that situation was kind of nuts ... the diamond skull was the only thing I could come up with to make. It kind of scared the hell out of me ... it dawned on me that I was in the position of emperors and kings where you spend millions on fabricating something, you know ...?” 
"Making art, good art, is always a struggle. It can make you happy when you pull it off. There's no better feeling. It's beauteous. But it's always about hard work and inspiration and sweat and good ideas. I don't believe it's about God-given genius, but I do believe somehow in the magic of art even though I don't want to. I believe in science. I want clear answers. [...] I want to make art, create objects that will have meaning for ever. It's a big ambition, universal truth, but somebody's gotta do it."

Reading some reviews of recent exhibitions of his own paintings (i.e. not done by assistants) I was amazed at the mud that was slung ... he was even likened to Hitler by one writer. I thought the paintings were pretty good. Perhaps technical flaws might show up with direct viewing rather than seeing them online, but they looked strong and distinctive to my inexpert eye.

My bottom line after this brief acquaintance with his work is that the quality of Damien Hirst’s ideas is exceptional, and I don’t believe that any artist reaches where he has reached without talent and hard work.

NOT art by Damien Hirst , this is octopuses preserved in formalin.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Donald Baechler

A few weeks ago I watched a lecture by Donald Baechler to students of his alma mater, Maryland Institute College of Art. It took the form of slides in chronological order. The early paintings were large, an image of, say, a chair floated on an abstract ground. He used enamel house paint on canvas and says they are pristine after thirty years, adding that sometimes we get overcautious about longevity.

Some images

His influences were (are) Warhol, Cy Twombly and Giotto, and I think he mentions Rodin too. 

The black line around the central image is one of his trademarks, he just likes it. Some of the background elements such as the patterns of dots are silk-screened and then collaged on. He doodles obsessively with markers and also draws on his huge collection of images, selecting one that he likes and then blowing it up in a projector to transfer to canvas. He uses ladders and long brushes for his very large paintings. 

Some recent images are representations of money, cartoon wealth, iconic images of moneybags and dollar signs, and he notes that the background images are unrelated, he is disrupting one thing with another thing.

Someone in the audience asks about the white outline. He explains it’s not an outline. Rather, he overpaints the whole central area of the superimposed image with white so that what is underneath will not interfere, then paints on top of the white with a black outline and the white is just there because of not painting up to the edge.

Even though the lecture was almost an hour long and split into five parts, it was absorbing and full of interest. Previously I had found Baechler’s work puzzling and this answered some of the questions. 

His use of screen-printing is interesting because I do it myself, and have used it for the same reason, to incorporate a drawing in a painting. It’s a way of getting a detailed, intricate drawing the way you want it before committing to canvas. Baechler’s use of the medium goes far beyond mine, however. In an exhibition in New York he has used as many as 23 different colours in one painting, each requiring its separate screen and process.