Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Dabbling in figurative imagery

I have signed up for an online class with the Winslow Art Center. The class is called "Paint Fast, Loose and Bold in Acrylics and Oils", and will be given on-line by instructor Patti Mollica, for four consecutive Wednesdays. 

I never took a painting class while pursuing my BFA. For one thing, paint was expensive! Another factor was that the style of painting being championed in my program did not appeal to me. "Les Plasticiens" painted in a style described as "rigorously hard-edged and abstract" and they held sway over the painting department at the university.

an exhibition of "les Plasticiens"

I've dabbled a bit in watercolour and explored abstract imagery in acrylic, but this will be my first experience with figurative painting in acrylic, and I thought I should do a little warm-up before the start of class.

I began with some travel photos and a still life, trying to match the colours in the photos. I found an app called Rapid Resizer that helped me to enlarge the image to the desired size. The app converts a photo into a line drawing and, using some antique carbon paper from the days when I had a portable typewriter, I was able to get the basic shapes and perspective in place.

sketch #1

sketch #2

I set up some still life tableaus and worked from those photos as well.

sketch #3

At this point, I realized that I wanted to do more than just reproduce photos. I wanted "the hand of the artist" to be evident in the sketches. More energy, more pizazz.

I thought back to my cityscapes in cloth, and how I had transformed my photo images by imposing my own colour scheme on them.

sketch #4

Then I noticed a Vlaminck post card that was pinned to my studio wall.

Le Restaurant de la Machine a Bougival, 1905

The bold palette appealed to me.

sketch #5

On further reflection, I decided that the success of Vlaminck's palette depended on many small areas of colour, rather than large blocks of colour. I've noticed the same phenomenon with patchwork quilts. I chose to work from a photo that had more small shapes.

sketch #6

I looked more closely at the Vlaminck street scene, and saw that his brushstrokes added to the vigour of the image. The brushstrokes were not visible on the buildings in the far distance, but became larger moving towards the foreground. I made an attempt to introduce some texture to the foreground of the scene.

Another Vlaminck postcard suggested a still life subject, using a similar palette.

Vase bleu avec fleurs, 1906

I set up a still life of flowers in a vase, and painted the subject.

sketch #7

How to proceed? Would it have been better to paint the background first? Perhaps I will learn some of these basic skills in my upcoming class. 

To complete the exercise, I took my cue from the Vlaminck and painted in a similar background.

sketch #8

Clearly I have a lot to learn, and I may decide that figurative work is not for me. But at least I am somewhat warmed up for the first class.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

A Close Read of a Cubist Masterpiece

The New York Times publishes an occasional series of "close reads" of iconic works of art. Most recently, "Still Life with Table", by Juan Gris, was chosen as a subject for exploration.

If asked to name the most revolutionary new artistic medium in 20th-century art, would you choose Cinema? Video? Installation? Writer Jason Farago suggests it might well be Collage. Readers learn about the impact of collage as a medium, and what the use of glued newspaper had to say about the explosive influence of journalism on French café society.

What is real and what is false? Wood-grained paper purports to represent a wooden surface. And the content of these same newspapers: true or false?

Farago refers us to the impact of African sculpture, with its shattering portrayal of three-dimensional space, so different from the classic perspective of European traditionalists. The painted landscapes of Cezanne are cited as an earlier challenge to the accepted view of reality.

The fascinating analysis, with its many supporting illustrations and close-up views, is well worth a look.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

What's Happening at the Louvre?

Never since World War II has the Louvre been closed for such a long time, but during the pandemic, the Louvre is still a hive of activity. With no visitors permitted, the museum is undergoing a major "refresh". I read about it in the New York Times. Lots of great photos help to give a sense of what's going on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

"The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History", by Kassia St. Clair

I last wrote about Kassia St. Clair when I reviewed her book, "The Secret Lives of Colour", in June of 2019. The book, her first, was a really good read. About 70 colours were profiled by St. Clair, each one with its own history. Readers learned how colours are experienced differently in different cultures, how precious dyes came to signify elite status, and how the toxicity of some dyes drove innovation in dye manufacture.

I was reminded of St. Clair when my friend Lauma shared with me a link for a video from Karen Brown, featuring a 38-minute interview with Kassia St. Clair, discussing "The Secret Lives of Colour" as well as her most recent book. 

"The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History", weaves the fascinating story of how textiles have driven human development in areas like technology, trade and even space exploration. The book has been well-received, having been chosen as a Sunday Times Book of the Year, and nominated for the Somerset Maugham Award.

A recent review of "The Golden Thread" is available from The Washington Post.  

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Visions Art Museum's virtual exhibition

Visions Art Museum, in San Diego, California, is a non-profit organization with a focus on fibre art. It stages twenty exhibitions annually, and though it is now closed to visitors, four of its shows are currently available on-line.

Octopus and Crab (detail), Beth Blenkinship

Beth Blankenship's solo exhibition, "Connecting Threads", showcases her longtime fascination with marine life. Using thread and beads, she has made a series of vessels celebrating the diversity of aquatic plants and animals.

Meltdown #1 (detail), Sandra Meech

Canadian artist Sandra Meech has a longstanding interest in the people and landscape of the polar regions.  "Polar Expressions" is a masterful display of her use of painted cloth and stitch to create contemporary quilts.

Break Up, Maria Shell

"Shifting Tides: Convergence in Cloth" is a group show, staged by members of Studio Art Quilt Associates. Its 46 varied works focus "on the current state of the Pacific Ocean ecosystem, its marvellous natural diversity, and the human activities that both sustain and threaten oceanic life".

The Wave, Carol Simpson

Finally, small works by local artists, "The Seaside Quilt Group", are on display in the show "The San Diego Seaside".

Fans of contemporary art quilts will have much to explore in this virtual collection.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Knitting the Pandemic

Thank you, Lynda, for passing along this item from CBC News. Each stitch on Sarah McLean's epic project represents 100 COVID-19 cases. It takes her hours a day to keep up. 

While I have not attempted anything as ambitious as McLean's project, I have found some solace in knitting during these difficult days. At this point I am using wool scraps to make slippers for the local women's shelter. It steadies me to have something to do with my hands while watching too much television.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

"We Are the Story": quilt exhibition in Minneapolis

I'll Fly Away,
Susan Brubaker Knapp

An article in The New York Times reviews "We Are the Story", one of a series of quilt exhibitions at seven sites throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, presented by the Textile Center and the national Women of Color Quilters Network. The first exhibition, "Gone but Never Forgotten:Remembering Those Lost to Police Brutality, is available online, and other shows run through the spring.

Writing on the Wall,
Deborah Fell

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Architecture and Knitting Machines

I subscribe to a blog by painter James Gurney, where I recently learned about an innovative approach to building that relies on knitted textiles to support concrete construction. This method is being explored as a new way to build affordable housing, with a smaller environmental footprint.

The video below features architect Mariana Popescu, explaining how knitting machines can create the "bones" of concrete structures.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Excellence in Fibers VI

Repair (detail), Kevan Lunney, 2016
Aluminum base, neon glass tubes, industrial wool felt,
white electric cord; back fully enclosed with
removable aluminum plate, knitted construction

This virtual show is presented by the New Bedford Art Museum, in Massachusetts. It showcases fifty-two outstanding works, juried from over 1100 submissions, in the categories of 

  • Installation
  • Sculptural
  • Vessels
  • Wall and Floor, and
  • Wearables.
The exhibition presents a truly astonishing diversity of material, technique, and subject.