Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Inventing Abstraction - Week Four

Henri Matisse, Self-Portrait in a Striped T-shirt, 1906
Henri Matisse and the Fauves were the subject of Week Four of "Inventing Abstraction", taught by Jessica Houston at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
André Derain, Charing Cross Bridge, London, 1906
We began by looking at paintings by Matisse and AndrĂ© Derain, considered to be the co-founders of Fauvism, a name derived from the French for "wild beasts". We observed that their use of colour was "liberated" from the constraints of representation.  Matisse said, "When I put a green, it it not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky."

Henri Matisse, Portrait of Madame Matisse, 1906
We questioned how the use of complementaries (red with green, or blue with orange) created a visual energy, and helped to define form. If you look at the portrait above, also known as The Green Stripe, observe how it changes if you block out that green vertical on the face. Does it not become flatter? Somehow the green stripe adds a spatial dimension to the portrait, without the traditional use of shading.

The use of open brushstrokes was also observed. Sometimes the raw canvas appears between brushstrokes, another innovation.

At this point, the instructor flashed some forty images of Matisse paintings on the screen. We were asked to note the use of colour, and the emotion that it created. With only about ten seconds for each image, my notes were very basic. "Red = energy", for example, or "warm advances, blue recedes".

Henri Matisse, Dishes and Fruit, 1901
We were then given an image of a Matisse painting. We were asked to place it upside-down on our table and attempt to make a quick copy of it. Even though I had 30 minutes, I only covered half of my paper. By working from the upside-down image, we were able to dissociate from the representational aspect of the painting, and observe the essence of shape, colour, brushstroke. A great exercise that really required us to look carefully.

For a second exercise, we had been told to bring to class a photocopy of an image, something cut from a magazine, a landscape, whatever, and to paint over it, changing the colours to something non-representational. I brought one of my preliminary cityscape drawings...

... and applied transparent colour to it, allowing the lines to show through.

A fun experiment that could be useful when planning a colour scheme.

For our final assignment, it was suggested that we try to incorporate an aspect of Matisse's work with an exercise from a previous class, synthesizing something new and personal. I had been impressed with Matisse's The Red Studio, and the way the various objects in the studio had been represented with red paint over a light ochre background, leaving a yellow outline.

Henri Matisse, The Red Studio, 1911

I took my cue from an exercise I did in the first class, on Cubism, a jumble of stools from various perspectives...

... but didn't get very far. I was working completely freehand, without benefit of a pencil sketch, and I lost my way in the positive and negative spaces and the lines that delineated them. I do think that this is an exercise I would like to pursue.

What I am enjoying about this class, aside from the variety of imaginative assignments, is that the focus is on each student developing their own personal imagery.  I find myself asking constantly, "How can I translate this idea into cloth?"

Class Five: Sonia Delauney, Hannah Hocke and Sophie Taeuber-Arp

1 comment:

Maggi said...

You are lucky to be taking such an excellent class.