Drawing Now: Eight Propositions

This book is of the exhibition Drawing Now:  Eight Propositions, organised by Laura Hoptman at MOMA in 2002/03.  Unlike like the previous set book, Drawing Now:  Between the Lines of Contemporary Art, this book moves away from process driven drawing (where the drawing can be found through the process of making) and looks at the drawings as finished works (a depiction of something that is imagined before it is drawn).   The drawings are therefore finished works, autonomous and to some degree representational (Hoptman, 2002).

The drawings are arranged in Eight Propositions which arranges the drawings both into a kind of taxonomy and a history of recent practice.  In this post I will pick out one artist from each of the propositions.

Proposition One:  Science and art, nature and artifice

Russell Crotty, Five Nocturnes.1996

Russell Crotty makes drawings of his astronomical observations.  In these two drawings I am especially struck by the seemingly simple nature of the composition of the silhouette of the plants in one and telescopes in the other, against the quite complex mark making to build the image.  The plants reach for the stars (the sun) during the day whilst the telescopes reach for the stars at night.  The drawings make me want to lie on the ground and look at the vastness of the night sky.

Proposition Two:  Ornament and crime: towards decoration

In this section I was immediately drawn to Untitled, 1999, a gouache on wall drawing at The Drawing Centre, New York.  I like the way the drawing is fitted into the corner and the bold red stripe  contrasts with the geometric design of the black lines.  It almost looks like a piece of fabric has been stuck to the wall.

Proposition Three:  Drafting an architecture

Julie Mehretu uses architectural plans in her drawings, layering fragments together to create a complex new image.  In Untitled, 2000 parts of these plans seem to funnel down a circular building atrium-like structure.  The energy in the image is helped by the coloured directional lines which are layered onto the drawing.  This drawing appeals to me as the more you look at the mass of complex detailed shapes the more you see whilst at the same time the drawing retains an overall structure.

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Julie Mehretu, Untitled, 2000

 

Proposition Four:  Drawing Happiness

The drawings Nobson Central, 1998-99 and Nobspital 1997-98, by Paul Noble caught my attention in this section.  The imagination to create a whole city and then individual buildings in that city is quite incredible.  I really enjoy his attention to detail and the way your eye travels around the buildings finding new things to consider.  I also like the way the word of the drawing has been incorporated into the form of the building.

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Paul Noble, Nobspital, 1997-98

Proposition Five: Mental maps and metaphysics

Matthew Ritchie creates an alternative narrative for the beginning of life from the view of one person, the artist.  I really like the almost ethereal nature of the draw images overlaid with the mind map text covering things such as bacteria, archaea, cult of the head, burial etc.

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Proposition Six:  Popular culture and national culture

The watercolours of Kai Althoff (Untitled 2000) really stood out for me in this section.  I think the muted colour palette and the blurry, slightly translucent nature of the figures, give the pictures a sense of mystery and make me want to know the story behind the images.

Proposition Seven:  Comics and other subcultures

Barry McGee is a graffiti artist who also exhibits his work in galleries as a mass of individually framed pictures.  He deploys a whole range of drawing styles, texts and photographs, building a larger overall image from the smaller pictures.  Your eye moves around the image, stopping on certain individual frames then moving on trying to make a connection between the individual elements.

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Barry McGee, Untitled (detail), 1998-2002

Proposition Eight:  Fashion, likeness, and allegory

Elizabeth Peyton’s images of young people in fashion poses would not normally be a subject matter I like, however, the watercolour and coloured pencils drawing in the book have an arresting beauty.  In Spencer, 1999, there is a variety of mark marking to define the form and blocks of colour to hold the image onto the page.

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Conclusion

This book shows a wide variety of work across a number of genres, tracing finished, largely autonomous, drawings at the time of the exhibition.  It gave me much to think about and look at incorporating into my future practice including using my imagination more in creating an image, layering drawings, building up complex images from a series of simpler images, etc.

One thing I did not like in the book was the sort of hierarchy implied by the eight propositions – drawings drafting an architecture (proposition three) being ‘superior’ to those on fashion, likeness and allegory (proposition eight).  It reminded me of the hierarchy of genres imposed by the French Académie de peinture et de sculpture.

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Proj 1, Ex. 1: Detail and Tone

Nature and the impact of humans on the environment has always been an interest of mine so I thought it might make a suitable subject for some of the drawings in this unit.  For this exercise I visited Deal beach and collected a range of organic and non-organic items to draw.

I selected a broken shell, piece of chalk and a flint pebble for my quick drawings so that I could select one item for the final exercise drawing.  I initially picked the flint pebble as I liked the shape.  I then did a couple of drawings using colour pencils to determine the position of the flint – vertical or horizontal and tried out a couple of other media for the drawing (ink and fine line pens).   In the end I decided the flint pebble did not have sufficient detail to make it an interesting subject for this exercise.  What it did confirm for me was that I wanted to go in close to the subject to break that concept in still-life drawings of objects on a table.

I therefore reverted to drawing the shell.  I choose this broken shell as it symbolises for me  the state of the environment today – the animal which once occupied the shell is dead and gone; and, the broken nature of the shell signifies the state of the natural environment.

I drew the shell close up so that it almost fills the page and used a range of hard and soft pencils to bring out the detail and tone.  Whilst I think overall the drawing is fairly successful in capturing the shape of the shell, on reflection I do not think there is sufficient contrast in the tones to define the form fully.

Following this drawing I then drew the image again with conte sticks but this was not successful; I think it is because I am using the conte sticks like pencils.  This image has been included in my sketchbook pages and I have started a short exercise in learning to draw with conte sticks as I would like to improve my technique with this media.

Research: The Still Life Genre

The Still Life genre (from the Dutch Stil Leven) has been defined as images of inanimate objects; however, this definition is loosely applied, as even in early works, images of insects, etc., were included.

The earliest known still life paintings are Roman murals called xenia paintings (gifts for guests).  As in the image below the light is from the left (a convention largely maintained throughout the history of the genre); the objects are arranged on steps (a common Roman devise); the complementaries red and green are predominant; and there is a simple depiction of the transparency of the water jug.  The image has a somewhat modern feel about it.

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Still Life with Peaches and Water Jug, from insult IV, House of Stags, Herculaneum, c 41-68AD

Some of these compositional devises are repeated in the next image below which again is lit from the left and objects are arranged on steps.  Of course, the original purpose of this image may have been a trade sign for a money lender as it depicts bags of coins and writing materials but it is now considered a work of art.  This brings into focus the changing purpose and use of images.

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Fresno from a tablinum, Praedia of Julia Felix, Pompeii

There is a long gap then in the history of the genre as religious art dominants with still life motifs appearing only in larger images.

A significant image in the history of this genre appears in 1596, painted by Caravaggio.

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Caravaggio, Basket of Fruit, 1596.

Much has been written about the symbolism within this painting.  The decaying and imperfect fruit representing life, death and resurrection; the apples referencing Adam and Eve.  Whilst symbolism was more important at the time this was was painted I wonder if Caravaggio had this in mind when painting the image or was he just painting a basket of fruit, some of which were imperfect?  Was the symbolism applied after the painting was finished to fit the painting into the predominate religious genre once it was donated to the church, or by an art critic to validate their knowledge, or to increase the status or value of the painting.  In many ways does it matter, as today art is about what the viewer takes from the image and therefore all views are valid.  What I find interesting about this painting is the vivid yellow background and the way the basket is sitting right of the edge of the table; it is if the basket is going to fall into the room of the viewer.

In the 17th century we enter the ‘Golden Age’ of Still Life painting, particularly from Dutch painters.

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William Heda, Still Life, 1637

These paintings mainly display the wealth and processions of the newly emerging traders and in many ways set the general composition rules for this genre which are followed throughout the 17th and 18th century – glass and metal containers of various kinds and/or other foodstuffs placed on a table; or arrangements of flowers.

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Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Still Life with Game, c 1760/65

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules.

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Francisco Zubbaran, Still Life, c 1630

It is in the 19th century that still life for me starts to become a bit more interesting as we move away from the formal displays of wealth and start to see depictions of more ordinary interiors.

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Edouard Manet, Still Life with Melon and Peaches, c 1866

I find the limited range of colours interesting, with the yellow present in the lemons, melon, the grapes and the background.  I also like the high contrast between the white and dark tablecloths which leads my eye up to the objects on the table.

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Cezanne said ‘I should like to astonish Paris with an apple’.  In the above two images I like the expressive brushstrokes and the way he uses colours across the image to unite the paintings.  In Vessels, Basket & Fruit (the Kitchen Table) it is interesting how he moves out from a pure table view to a more semi-interior view including a chair and worktop in the painting.

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Gauguin, The Ham, 1889

I like the simplicity of the ham and glass on a small metal table against the bold stripe background.

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Matisse, Still Life with Blue Tablecloth, 1905-06

The objects in the still life by Matisse seem to wrestle for attention with the bold pattern of the blue and white tablecloth.  I especially like the bold strokes where only one or two brush marks define the form of the objects and also the almost abstract background.

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Kandinsky, Interior (My Dining Room), 1909

This very colourful work by Kandinsky remains me of a number of paintings by Matisse.  I think it is many different patterns within the image – the table cloth, the wallpaper, the wood effect of the cupboard, etc.  (Matisse used a lot of patterned textiles in his paintings).

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Braque, Still Life with Tenora, 1913

This paper collage features a tenor, which is a Catalan instrument similar to an oboe.  The tenor is drawn in charcoal around the collaged paper.  I was drawn to this image, partly because is marks the start of the break from representation and also because of the subject matter which has echoes of my drawings of my clarinet.

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I choose the three Picasso images as for me they indicate the changing style of the artist.  Still Life: Bowl and Apples take a female form with bold strong flat shapes; whilst in Guitar, Compote Dish and Grapes the line is fragmented and pattern is used in an interesting manner to both bisect and unite the elements; in The Enamel Saucepan the objects become more easily recognised whilst retaining fragmented shapes.

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Paul Klee is one of my favourite artists.  In all these images I especially like the simple geometric shapes and bold use of colour to define the objects.  In Still Life with Plants and a Window, the simple shapes define the flowers and leaves of the plant, similar simple shapes define the curtain at the window with a three-quarter moon in the sky.

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Morandi, Still Life with Violet Objects, 1937

Still Life dominates the output of Morandi.

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Bonnard, The Red Cupboard, 1939

This Bonnard caught my eye for a number of reasons – the predominate red colour scheme, the view of an interior of a cupboard and the fact that it looks like it was an existing view rather than the objects having been arranged.

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Nicholson, July 22-47 (sill-life Odyssey), 1947

It is difficult to see what the objects are in this Ben Nicholson painting but the fragmented nature of the image certainly shows the influence of cubism on art even as late as the 1940s.

Pop art and still life.

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Hockney, A Realistic Still Life, 1965

I find the title of this still life by Hockney quite interesting.  The use of tone on the pile of cylinders and acting as shadows for the three blocks at the front do add shape to the forms and make them seem more realistic; although, I do not understand the leaf-like elements acting as a frame.

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Richter, 4.6.1999 (99/45), 1999

This picture of a tea mug which looks like it is on the floor near a corner of the room is interesting to me as it shows the gestural marks of the pencil and also includes long strokes of an eraser across the paper.

Summary

My look at the still life genre has increased my appreciation and knowledge.  It has also made me realise that whilst my default is to be quite detailed and realistic in my own artwork, the artwork I look at and admire in others is much more gestural in nature and tends to include strong elements of pattern.  In my feedback for assignment one my tutor mentioned that students often make work for their ‘teacher’ – this and researching still-life has made me think that subconsciously perhaps I am making work for others rather than myself?  Something to think about as I move forwards through this unit.

I will do further research specifically looking at drawing and still-life later in this unit.

Reflection Against Assessment Criteria

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills 

Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

I have experimented with materials and techniques in this assignment and the final submission is outside my safe zone, however, I recognise I need to expand experimentation even further.  I have tried to be creative in not just submitting a drawing of the visual appearance of the objects but instead have used the still-life set-up to spark thoughts about what are the important aspects of playing a clarinet.  My biggest issue in visual awareness has been keeping a sketchbook as I find they intimidate me and I therefore sketch on individual pieces of paper.  However, as my confidence has grown during Unit 1 and I have realised it is not about making a ’perfect’ drawing, I have decided to take the plunge and start keeping a couple of different sized sketchbooks and draw in them much more often, which should improve my visual awareness and composition skills.

Quality of Outcome

Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, with discernment

The quality of the outcome is not as high as I would have liked.  I struggled with using some of the techniques which I am not used to, such as collage, and this had a knock-on effect on the quality of the final image.  Also, I have tried to avoid my tendency to produce a ‘perfect’ drawing so have deliberately not kept re-drawing the images in order to achieve this aim and therefore hopefully have kept in more of ‘me’.   I think I needed to greatly expand the preparation stages for the assignment to explore different composition, techniques, etc before deciding on my final submission piece.

Demonstration of Creativity

Imagination, experimentation, invention, personal voice

In this assessment I started with depicting the visual appearance of the objects before moving onto making a Surrealist inspired landscape.  Before starting this course this is an area I never would have even considered (I drew mainly from photographs prior to starting this course) so I do feel I am trying to use my imagination and be experimental in both the exercises and the final submission piece.  At this stage in the course I am not sure what my personal voice is so hopefully by working my way through the course I will start to discover this aspect.  I want to be open to new processes, ideas, and styles etc., in order to develop as an artist rather than use the course to validate an existing point of view.

Context

Reflection, research

I have a tendency to over analyse and be very self critical of my work leading to a loss in confidence and have tried to avoid this.  However, in reviewing my posts I realise I have probably not got the balance right and need to write more, both about the process and reflection on the outcome.  I come from a science and business background so find it difficult to write about a creative process as I tend to be too concise and matter of fact.  I have started to read the books and attended a number of exhibitions.  However, I have struggled with writing these up on my on-line learning log; it is format I do not particularly like or find interesting.  I have therefore decided that, whilst I will keep the on-line learning log to show my process against the exercises and the assignments, from the commencement of Unit 2 I will also keep a hard physical learning log to keep a record of research, exhibitions etc as I will be able to include my notes, annotate postcards/photographs, etc and hopefully be more creative in how I respond to both research and my own work.

Assignment 1

When deciding on a subject matter for this assignment I thought about the things I am interested in so that there would be a personal connection; these include wildlife-watching, music, cooking and, of course,  art.  Since school I have always been interested in music and started playing the french horn in the school and a local orchestra.  However, the french horn was never my first choice for an instrument but it was the case of playing the instrument which was needed to fill a place in the school orchestra; I had always wanted to play the clarinet.  So a couple of years ago in my mid-50s I finally started to learn the clarinet.  I decided this would be the subject for my assignment.

I collected a few things together (clarinet, reeds, cork grease, metronome, reed case, cleaning rag, etc) and tried a few quick small sketches to look at the composition.

The trouble with the clarinet was its length compared with the other objects made the composition unbalanced so I preferred the close-up cropped composition.  I also thought this would give a more abstract quality to the drawing.  Drawing objects close-up and detailed was quite difficult so I used a transparent picture finder with a grid inscribed to focus in on a small area and ensure I always came back to the same position when viewing the objects.  I completed a small A4 study using various grades of pencil to see if I liked the composition in a slightly larger format.

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I did like the resultant image and although the perspective on some of the keys is slightly out and some of the white tones could have been whiter, I thought the drawing itself was fairly successful.  However, it did not have that abstract quality I was seeking and after experimenting during the unit I knew I had fallen back into the safe option for the assignment and produced a drawing showing the visual appearance of the objects.  I thought about repeating the drawing using more free and gestural marks but I felt this still meant I was not taking enough risks.  I began to think about Ernst and the Surrealists and wondered if I should try a Surrealist drawing.

I decided to have a go at an automatic technique as a basis for a final drawing and settled on the oscillation technique used by Ernst (see Ernst post below) as this seemed to fit in well with the rhythm and beat of music.  I set up a cage (an old cloth wardrobe frame) and hang a small bottle with the hole in the bottom from string and then swung it is a pendulum motion.

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At first the ink just dripped rather than flowing freely so I had a number of attempts before getting an effect I liked which showed both drips and lines.

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I now started to look at the result and used my imagination to see what images emerged from the lines.   I could see an orchestra pit, a clarinet player, footprints, etc but each time I tried to develop the image it just did not work.  I then decided to take time out and let the image emerge but the more I looked, the more confused I became.  After about two weeks of doing not much,  just staring at the page and getting depressed at my lack of imagination,  I abandoned this experiment and decided I would come back to it another time.

I still wanted to try a surrealist type drawing so began some thumbnail sketches to make a ‘clarinet landscape’.  I thought about the important elements of playing a clarinet – embouchure, fingering, timing, listening, reed and incorporating these into the landscape. I finally found a composition I liked with a cityscape at the top of a hill (it now reminds me of a visit to San Francisco earlier this year and a view from the harbour front).

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I then started to produce the final drawing (A3 size).  The music I had heard as a child which made me want to play the clarinet was Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto so I decided to use the music score as both a background collage and to form some of the buildings and trees.

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I wanted to keep the drawing quite free and used an old metronome arm to print the foreground plants marching across the front of the drawing.

I think the drawing is quite successful and includes a lot about my quest to learn the clarinet and play the Clarinet Concerto (a work still in progress).  The composition does not quite work, as originally I wanted the eye to flow up the drawing from lower left to right in a zigzag motion until the top is reached; however, the inclusion of the building at the bottom right means the eye is drawn more to the right side and moves in a vertical motion up to the top buildings.  I think the collaged music score text and the use of the staves for the buildings and some of the trees is quite successful.

Research: Odilon Redon

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Odilon Redon (1840-1916) was a member of the French Symbolist movement.  The image the Two Trees (part of his noir series) uses tone to create both a way into the image with the lighter tone leading into the trees from the bottom right and a sense of foreboding with the very dark tone between the two tree trunks.  You want to go up to the trees and peer up the path beyond without venturing into the space as you are fearful of what you might find.   Tonal variations on the tree give a sense of the rounded form of the trunk and of the weight/solidity of the tree.  The shading lines and spots provide texture to the tree and give a strong feeling of the roughness of the bark.

Other images include:

All the images use tone to both define the form and create a somewhat sinister, mystical atmosphere.  This atmosphere is particularly created by the dark background tones with the face almost fading back into the picture and the dark tones around the eyes which add a sadness to the images.  With the Temptation of Saint Anthony, even though the face is mainly in light tones, the background dark figure and odd bat-like wing adds a dark feeling to the image.

Up to now I have mainly thought of tone to create structure and form to the objects within my drawings, however, Redon shows have tone can also be used to give a dark (or light) atmosphere to a drawing and it is something that I will need to consider in the future.

Proj 2, Ex. 4: Shadows and Reflected Light

For this exercise I choose a stainless steel expresso coffee pot and a ceramic expresso coffee cup and saucer.  I used compressed charcoal as the medium which I must admit is not my preferred choice as I find it messy and somewhat difficult to use but I thought I would give it a go.

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As well as the cup and saucer casting reflected images and shadows on the pot, the surrounding room and myself were reflected onto the stainless steel surface creating some interesting patterns.

Looking at the image the shape of the coffee pot is not quite right, particularly the domed top, the sprout and the sides.  I also found it difficult to get back to the white paper using a putty rubber so tried a white pencil to create some of the highlights but this gave a different texture to the surface which is quite noticeable in the actual drawing.