Research Point: Painting People by Charlotte Mullins

I was attracted to Painting People by Charlotte Mullins as I have been working on the figure in Assignment 5. The book covers a number of contemporary painters including some I have studied as part of the Drawing 1 course such as Elizabeth Peyton, Jenny Saville and Peter Doig. In the book, Mullins clarifies the difference between a portrait and a figure painting saying ‘this book focuses on artists who use the figure – whether specific examples or anonymous bodies – to engage with wider themes……the portrait, by its very nature, reflects the emotions and actions of its specific subject, and its subject alone. It does not engage with universality, and the focus remains squarely on the named individuals who are represented.’  (Mullins, 2006:8)

I hadn’t considered this distinction before and was very struck by it in the context with which I was working. I was drawing my son but I don’t think I was trying to produce a portrait of him. Instead I was trying to capture something more general about childhood.

The book also tackles the issue of using photographs as a basis for painting. ‘Photographs are a vital tool for twenty-first-century artists. Photography is no longer seen as the assassin of painting, as Delaroche and others initially feared it would be, but as an accomplice to painting’s continued existence.’ (Mullins, 2006:16) For many of the artists featured, photographs are an essential part of the process of making their art including Chuck Close, Elizabeth Peyton, Peter Doig, Gerhart Richter, Rui Matsunaga and others. Many select generic images from magazines, newspapers and other mass media as a basis for creating a whole new world or of commenting on our world as it is now.

Covering established contemporary artists, the book introduced me to many artists I hadn’t seen before and whose work I was drawn to including Henning Kles whose rich and mysterious paintings Mullins describes as ‘Whistleresque’ and I find have echoes of Peter Doig. Also, Hernan Bas whose paintings resonate with Elizabeth Peyton and according to Mullins are largely autobiographical while again being richly coloured and beautiful to look at. Anna Bjerger produces expressionistic paintings based on her own and found photographs while Mika Kato produces meticulous paintings of doll-like figures, each with a tiny flaw. Beautiful and deeply creepy.

Once again, I find the artists I am drawn to produce work that is beautiful, richly-coloured and sometimes very detailed, but also unsettling and strange.

I’d definitely recommend this book which looks at a wide range of contemporary artists who use the figure. Mullin’s introduction is an excellent overview of artistic approaches to the figure.

Mullins, C. (2006) Painting People. London: Thames and Hudson

 

 

Advertisements

Part 5: Research point. Using photographs as a basis for drawing

I used a photograph as the basis for my drawing of my son. The main reason for this is he won’t keep still. But I thought the photograph also captured an interesting moment where he was just starting to move off the sofa and away.

 

Fig. 1. Photograph of my son
Fig 2. Drawing of my son based on Fig.1. in charcoal and emulsion

I am interested in the use of photographs as a basis for a drawing. I am aware that there is not much point in copying a photograph so the photograph has to be a starting point for the drawing. Photos also distort what we see and fix it. When we look at something directly and draw it, our eye’s can pick out certain things of interest whereas a photo presents us with everything given equal importance. The interaction is one step removed.

In the course of research into using photographs as a basis for drawing I came across a non-academic blog post by Mitchell Albala who is a landscape painter and art teacher.  Using Photographs Like an Artist is an interesting look at how to use photographs which features work by artist Terry Furchgott. It is very unusual to see the artist’s source material alongside the final art work so I was very interested in comparing the two.

using-photos-furchgott.2
Fig. 3. Terry Furchgott, Woman Reading at Window, 2007, acrylic on paper.

It is clear that while the painting is based on the photograph, virtually everything has been changed. In his blog post, Albala lists some best practices when using photographs which include:

  • Photograph more of the scene than you want to include so you can make compositional decisions later
  • Don’t follow photographic colour
  • Don’t trust photographic values – cameras often create too much contrast between lights and shadows.
  • Photographic detail may not be necessary for your purpose
  • Beware of visual ambiguity which makes sense in a photo but looks odd in a drawing
  • Let go of the photo to develop the final piece
  • Make sure your source material has the information you need.

The use of photographs comes under fire in Are Painters’ ‘Reference Photographs’ a Form of Cheating?  a Huffington Post article from 2015.

The article quotes Steven Assael, a painter and lecturer at New York’s School of Visual Arts saying: “There are dramatic differences between how the camera looks at and experiences the world and how we see it. A camera records a scene in a split second, whereas we see movement over time. We synthesize (sic) our observations, and the resulting painting is the culmination of many moments. We selectively choose details and, in that selection process, meaning and surprises happen, giving the artwork a life of its own.”

However, Steve Rogers, a Florida watercolour artist disagrees: “I’ve been in Venice, trying to capture the fleeting light, and the light may change in five minutes,” he said. “There is no way I can set up that quickly and record that light, and I can’t repeatedly come back to the same location. The camera is the obvious choice.”

Finally a blog post on Redbubble by a poster called Blythart who is based in Blyth, United Kingdom. This features some lovely comparisons of photographs and final artworks by artists such as Picasso and Van Gogh which show how using photographs as source material can leave the door open for artistic expression and interpretation.

I really enjoyed looking into how artists use photographs in their work. I recently watched a BBC4 documentary about Augustus John which said he made his children sit for hours while he painted them. If only he had had a camera, they might have looked happier. The Tate features a picture of his son Robin where the gallery label says: “Robin’s consciousness of being scrutinised by his father could be interpreted as betraying resentment or unease. The two had a difficult relationship. Robin’s silences often infuriated John, who declared his son ‘hardly utters a word and radiates hostility’.” Maybe by not having a camera, John revealed his feelings for his child in a way a painting from a photograph would not.

 

Part 4. Project 4. Research Point. Look for historic and contemporary artists whose work involves the underlying structure of the body.

Leonardo-da-Vinci-the-Anatomical-Artist
Anatomical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was a scientist as well as an artist. He was fascinated by how things worked, whether it was a machine or a human, and spent a lot of time dissecting corpses and drawing the structures of the human body, making copious notes. Did this work influence how he painted?

Dama z gronostajem.jpg
Lady with an Ermine. Oil on Wood Panel. Leonardo da Vinci

This beautiful portrait of Cecilia Gallerani shows signs of Leonardo’s observations on the human body, especially in Cecilia’s hand which is observed in detail. The form of the ermine is also very well observed. Having recently looked at foreshortening, I can see Cecilia’s hand comes towards the viewer looking proportionally large compared to her face. Cecilia’s neck and face are incredibly smooth and unlined. Her face, neck and shoulders show no real sign of the muscles and tendons observed by da Vinci in his anatomical studies.

Modern British artist Euan Uglow painted nudes which he measured in painstaking detail. He worked from life and left the remains of his measuring marks on the canvas. His clinical approach creates a strange otherness. A minutely observed human who is somehow other than human.

Summer Picture. Euan Uglow. 1971 – 2

Interestingly, like da Vinci, Uglow’s models are smooth and unblemished.

Margaret Evans pregnant 1978. Alice Neel.

American artist Alice Neel painted the people who lived around her in poor neighbourhoods in New York. She also painted female nudes. Her portraits focused less on anatomical accuracy and more on the personalities of the people she was painting through capturing their expressions, gaze and in the non-nudes, their clothes.

Alice Neel: Elenka (1936). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Richard Neel and Hartley S. Neel, 1987, 1987.376. Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence 2015 © Estate of Alice Neel
Elenka. 1936. Alice Neel

It is interesting that a painting which is less anatomically accurate can be a more accurate portrait of a human being. Neel was especially keen on the unsymmetrical eye. In her portraits, one eye almost always looks higher than the other, and she revels in the unsymmetrical nature of a human face and body.

Part 4. Project 2. Research point. Foreshortening.

 

I like the way foreshortening turns the body into a series of shapes.

 

Fig. 1. Self portrait. Ballpoint pen. The head is a bit big.


 

 

 

 

Fig. 2. Dad. pencil.

 

Fig. 3. Life drawing. pencil.

 

Jenny Saville

The artist Jenny Saville takes foreshortening to grotesque extremes in some of her paintings. In Prop. 1993 The model’s knee, thigh and stomach loom towards you. You know what you’re looking at – but are the proportions really true? Or are they exaggerated? And what effect does this have?

Lorraine Shemesh

Artist Lorraine Shemesh painted a series of pictures of swimmers which featured foreshortening and refraction. http://www.lorraineshemesh.com/art/pools/CD1_09.html. Again, some of these pictures have elements of the grotesque such as the hands of the woman at the back in this picture: http://www.lorraineshemesh.com/art/pools/CD1_50.html

She also makes beautiful drawings:  http://www.lorraineshemesh.com/art/drawings/pools04.html

So, why does foreshortening often make images cartoonish or grotesque and why does an artist do this?

There is an element of “in your face” to extreme foreshortening. You have to be very close to someone to get the effect that part of their body is massive. If you move even a short distance away there is still foreshortening but it isn’t so extreme and unsettling. In all my drawings (Fig. 1; 2 and 3) the distance from the model makes the foreshortening much less extreme.

 

Creative sketchbook course – Manchester

I attended a two day course on Creative Sketchbooks with teacher Brian Raymond at Creative Art Courses in Manchester. Fellow students were mainly from the OCA on fine art/drawing and textiles courses. Debbie, a fellow student, organised a subsidy for the cost of the day from OCASA and the tutor. Thanks Debbie!

Brian taught us a number of ways to make sketchbooks more vibrant and useful. My particular interest is using sketchbooks to develop ideas and Brian took the time to work with me on this.

During the course we learned:

  • how to prepare sketchbook pages using collage and underdrawing covered with gesso or emulsion paint which created a more interesting base for drawing than a white page.
  • using a series of drawings of a plant in pen and ink to develop areas of interest and ideas. Brian emphasised the importance of keeping previous work visible to encourage this development.
sketchbook course 1
First sketch
Sketchbook 2
Developing sketch looking at folds in leaves and negative space
sketchbook 3
Developing idea of transparency and folding
  • using a page decoratively to reflect a theme while doing an investigation of a theme – through activities such as frottage, colour & texture studies, experimenting with materials.
sketchbook 4
frottage
sketchbook 5
dividing the page and using sections to explore different aspects such as colour and pattern
sketchbook 6
creating an artists page based on the work of Kitty Sabatier
sketchbook 7
pushing aspects of the drawing – line, colour, collage, Using Kitty Sabatier as an influence.
Sketchbook 8
Final piece using ideas and techniques developed in the sketchbook
  • Annotating sketches comprehensively to look at what is interesting, what works, what doesn’t.
  • inserting pages and using interesting formats such as fold-outs, layering, etc to add interest to a sketchbook and make it more coherent.

I really enjoyed the two days and will certainly take many of the ideas learned into my sketchbook work. I am not comfortable with creating a sketchbook as a decorative object in itself but the ideas of page preparation, concept development and experimentation, annotation and artist research are all really helpful. And I do like my final drawing too!

After completing the course I found a couple of videos on sketchbooks on the OCA website which are also useful:

Turning sketches into finished work

Keeping a sketchbook useful

Research point. Historic and contemporary artists who work in series with the landscape

I’m delighted to return to Peter Doig. One of my favourite artists who produced a series of paintings based on Le Courbusier’s Unité d’Habitation apartments in Briey-en-Forêt, north east France. Doig recorded the site using a hand-held video camera then painted his series over a number of years. Four of the paintings in this series were exhibited at the Tate Britain in their Peter Doig exhibition in 2008. Fortunately, the exhibition is still on the Tate’s website and the series of pictures can be viewed here. I love the way the thick woodland around the building creates strong verticals against the building’s horizontal lines. There is a strong feeling of a battle going on between nature and human creation.

I recently saw a film about Monet ‘Exhibiton on Screen: I Claude Monet’ which was an exploration of Monet’s life through his own letters read out by an actor while the film showed the work he was producing at the time the letters were written. It was an excellent film and described the struggles Monet went through including painting the facade of Rouen Cathedral at different times of day. Through the series Monet explores how to portray different times of day and weather through variations in colour and tone.

Georgia O’Keefe produced a series of paintings of the Cerro Pedernal mountain in New Mexico which she could see from her home. Like Monet. O’Keefe explores the changing colours and tones due to weather effects and time of day.

Georgia O’Keeffe | 10 Facts On The Famous American Artist | Learnodo ...

Arts Everyday Living: A Journey to O’Keeffe Country–The Wonder of ...

Road-to-Pedernal1

Painting the same subject repeatedly allows an artist to build up information for themselves about how landscapes change depending on weather, time of day and season. Over longer periods of time changes in actual landscapes can be noted such as trees growing or dying and new buildings and roads being built.

 

 

 

Looking at composition and working towards Assignment 3

In the middle of my landscape module it is becoming clear to me I have a fairly limited idea about what makes a good composition. I have to admit I turned to youtube for some ideas.

I came across a 23 minute video by artist Jill Poyard. ‘Developing an Eye for Landscape Composition’ which is aimed at students and is excellent at outlining some of the theories of composition while emphasising that most artists produce work which doesn’t follow these theories! I like the way the video looked at composition in relation to paintings to examine how artists composed their work.

I’d recommend watching the video but my notes are as follows.

Landscape differs from other forms of art in having to tackle:

  • atmosphere: sky, air, and the way this affects how we view a scene especially at a distance
  • weather: has a strong affect on the mood of a painting, sunlight, shadows, rain, mist.
  • land forms and features.

The landscape can be broken into a series of planes with the lightest planes being horizontal and the darkest being vertical.

Determine a focal point and look for lines that lead the eye around.

  • Don’t split your painting in half
  • Don’t place your focal point at the centre
  • Do use an odd number of elements
  • Do vary sizes and space between elements

Rule of Thirds

This is a popular design format similar to the golden ratio. Divide your composition into thirds vertically and horizontally. Place focal points on some of the intersections between the lines. Place your horizon on one of the lines.

Other compositions

A very low horizon line has interest

The L shape is a classic

The S shape leads your eye into a picture – for example a river or road.

A strong diagonal

A large central object – either lighter or darker than the surrounding area

Symmetry

Triangulation – either the whole composition or elements of the composition.

I have subsequently spent a lot of time with a camera taking pictures and attempting to get my compositions to conform to some of these ideas about composition. I instinctively place the horizon lower or higher than the third point suggested by the rule of thirds and also have difficulty with the idea of multiple focal points. I have always been attracted to dark and fairly central focal points and elements of symmetry while looking for ‘lines’ in the composition which lead the eye around the picture.