Sunday, November 22, 2015

Inventing Abstraction - Week One

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Picasso

Well, that was fun!

I have signed up for Jessica Houston's five-week class called "Inventing Abstraction" at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The plan is that we learn about abstraction in a lecture format, go into the galleries to study examples of the work, and then return to the studio to work with some of the ideas discussed.

Mont St.-Victoire, Cézanne

Week One was devoted to Cubism, specifically Picasso, Braque and Cézanne. By looking at slides of various paintings, we learned that Cubism was about multiple points of view, a revolutionary concept and a break from the traditional Renaissance "vanishing point" perspective. The phrase used to describe one of Cézanne's landscapes was "flickering moments of perception".

Still Life with Clarinet, Braque

We noted the radical introduction of non-traditional materials like newsprint and oilcloth to the canvas, the way brushstrokes were used to flatten the picture plane, and how art's role of representation was challenged. Rather than having it all laid out, we saw that the viewer was required to ask, "What do I see?", bringing more of themselves to the experience.

Then it was time for a trip to the museum's permanent galleries, where we had 15 minutes to observe and sketch. I made three sketches, including this one of Picasso's "Head of a Musketeer".

When we returned to the studio, the instructor asked us to do a blind contour drawing of an ordinary four-legged stool, which she placed on our table top. The idea is to draw something without ever looking at your paper or lifting your pencil. Your eyes are never to leave your subject.

I can do a better job of contour drawing when I take more time, but for some reason I rushed through this.  Perhaps it's more interesting this way.

Then we were told to do a regular pencil sketch of the stool. After a minute or two, the instructor flipped the stool onto its side. Another minute, and it was upended. A minute later, a second stool was added. And so it continued. We were then instructed to go over some of the lines with dark charcoal.  At one point, we made free-hand cut-outs of the stool from newspaper, no pencils allowed.

Finally, we were given free rein to develop our work in our own direction.  I was quite pleased with the way this looked before the addition of the black paint.  It had an intriguing confusion of transparency created by continuing drawn lines over the newsprint, when the newsprint was clearly on top of the drawn stools. There was a delicacy to it that was lost with the application of the black paint.

Next week: Mondrian


kay said...

Fascinating post! I just finished reading In Montmartre...the Birth of Modernist Art, so already had Picasso on the brain. Sounds like a wonderful class. Thanks for sharing your work and processes. I always learn so much from your blog. (Such elegant lines in your blind contour drawing!)

Linda B. said...

What an exciting opportunity - do keep us posted as the class progresses.

Heather Dubreuil said...

Would you recommend the book, Kay? I think the activity we did in class would be fun to do in a small group setting. I can see how the final exercise could be realized in cloth and stitch too.

Heather Dubreuil said...

I can already see another series on chairs and stools!