Thanks to the oval I have discovered the meaning of the horizontal and the vertical.
— Georges Braque I’ve learned that it’s what you leave out of a performance, not what you put into it. Fred Astaire taught me this. He explained: ‘‘When you have a show and it’s perfect, where every song works, no matter how perfect you think it is, go in and pull out 15 minutes of it. Don’t stay onstage too much. Know when enough is enough.’ I’ve learned that less is more. It’s not because of age, but it’s the right thing to do. Don’t overstay your welcome. — Tony Bennett
Value does the work, color takes the credit. — Author unknown (everyone who has ever painted)
You speak. Some will listen, others will not. You cannot choose who will and who will not. Do not concern yourself, do not adjust to please. Let those you please find you. Good things come when one no longer cares about pleasing anyone else. — Ken Kewley
Everything I say is only true in some limited way.
— Lois Dodd.
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. — Winston Churchill
To simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. —Hans Hofmann
Long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little. — Helen Keller
Don't think: look! — Ludwig Wittgenstein
In art you never hit what you’re aiming at, but the difference may not be downward. — Robert Kulicke
There’s no story. I don’t want to tell stories. Other people always read things into your work, which you can never see. That’s fine, that’s great. For me it was just exciting to look at it and try to do something with it. — Lois Dodd
You have to accept your nature. And this is who I am. — Catherine Murphy
To strain after innovation, to worry about being on ‘the cutting edge’ (a phrase I hate), reflects a concern for a place in history or one’s career rather than the authenticity of one’s painting. — Jane Freilicher The most beautiful things in in art come from renunciation. — Edgar Degas I do not think about you when I paint. I paint for myself, to follow my interests — to satisfy my curiosity. — Catherine Murphy To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. — William Shakespeare
Everything I have done has been influenced by Cezanne, and this gave me a new feeling about composition. Up to that time composition had consisted of a certain idea, to which everything else was an accompaniment and separate but was not an end in itself, and Cezanne conceived the idea that in composition one thing was as important as another thing. Each part is as important as the whole, and that impressed me enormously. — Gertrude Stein
I have a criterion which requires my subject to have a precision which says, "I am a particular tree," or "This is a real location." I love this idea that correctness in nature brings about another dimension to the painting, at once abstract and specific, a line that speaks in the particular and alludes to a lot more. — Sylvia Plimack Mangold Some objects are less susceptible to metaphor than others. The whole world is less susceptible to metaphor than a tea-cup is. — Wallace Stevens, Miscellaneous Notebooks
The secret to being a bore is to tell everything. — Voltaire (1694 – 1778) If you can turn off the mind and look with only the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract. – Ellsworth Kelly
If a person will begin with certainties, she shall end in doubts; but if she will be content to begin with doubts she shall end in certainties. — Francis Bacon, 1561-1626
In art, as in everything else, one can only build upon a resisting foundation: whatever constantly gives way to pressure constantly renders movement impossible. My freedom will be so much greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. — Igor Stravinsky
Precision is not the opposite of mystery. — Louise Glück
“The art of painting, for those who know how to use their eyes, resides in an apple on the corner of a table. What could be more stupid than painting an apple! And yet to make of such a simple fact something that will be elevated to beauty, painting will have to engage all of its means; it will have to be solid, flexible, and rich in substance, suggestive too, so suggestive that it will have the luxury, the grandeur of revealing man’s presence in the apple — the apple surrounded with an atmosphere of thought.”
From "To Myself," Odilon Redon
If we substitute cabbage, gourd or pumpkin for apple, this quote of Odilon Redon perfectly suits and describes the achievement of the paintings of Ruth Miller on view (October 12-November 12, 2011) at Lohin Geduld Gallery. Few painters of our time could renew the sentiment of these words and convince us of their continual relevance. Miller is an artist who clearly knows how to use her eyes. Her vision has been honed by over sixty years of working from nature, studying the work of the past, and in communion with the best artists of the New York School. She is an exceptional draftsperson, as demonstrated by the drawings in the exhibition.
In view of the interest in Euan Uglow I thought I'd say a few things about what I understood from his teaching. I was taught by Euan for all my 4 years at the Slade and I’ve used speech marks where I am pretty certain of his terminology and meaning and use of words that were constantly on his tongue when explaining stuff to me.
GEOMETRY Euan was crazy about geometry and he knew a great deal about the methods of the Egyptians with regard to geometrical construction. This obsession was something he shared with another painter I knew and was friends with, Patrick Symonds, and relates directly to the length of time he spent on the paintings; particularly the big pictures, ‘the machines’ as Euan liked to call them. Here’s why: He was not interested in “painting something out of the corner of the eye” but wanted to “attack” it head on. Everything was to be looked at directly and “in focus”; he wasn’t interested in painting the sensation of a glance for example. He would look at something and ask himself “How can I make something out of that?” The emphasis here is on ‘make’; an optical experience needed to be “nailed down”. “I can easily splodge something down in an hour or two. But such paintings do not interest me,” he said. He used to laugh about Delacroix’s admonition to be able to draw a man falling from a building before he hits the ground.
This desire to “make something out of” what he was looking at meant he was obsessively fastidious about maintaining the constancy of the set up which was arranged to accord with a pre existing idea. The painting ‘The Diagonal’ is a good example of this. So strong was this “idea”, that when a model gave up on him he would hire another model and continue the same painting with the new one. (I know this to be true because the first model for ‘The Diagonal’ Suzy King, gave up after about 6 weeks and was replaced. I shared a house with Suzy in London for 4 years during my student days at the Slade and she told me this herself).
The business of “making something out of” involved heavy uses of geometry. But it was geometry mined out of the model set-up itself, never imposed on it once the painting process had started. He did this “To build harmony into the image,” a patient “investigation” into what made the image tick. I remember asking him about a painting I was working on and saying that I found the light on a model’s foreshortened leg absolutely marvelous and wanted the painting to be about that. “Find out why it’s marvelous, what makes it marvelous,” he said. “I won’t let chance be there unless it’s challenged”. The nature of that challenge was to dig into the wonderment of what he was looking at with geometry. However, the geometry and obsessive measurement that “trapped” the optical phenomenon he regarded as in no way an answer to the miracle of the model’s appearance in front of him; it was not an explanation of its beauty. Geometry, for Uglow, was a means of objectifying his subjective response so that he could “remake” the phenomena in front of him. Geometry was a tool out of which he constructed a paradise in faithful parallel to the model’s unassailable miracle of existence. If the geometry came out of her, then in some way he felt he had touched the flame itself, albeit vicariously. Hence the inordinate amount of time spent on these paintings in relating every mark to the harmony of the rectangle’s proportions. (Hence his love of root rectangles – “I like a rectangle with reason,” he said.) It was a way of becoming intimate with the subject. A method by which he could rid himself of “assumptions about what the model looked like.” “Innocence is not the same thing as naivety” he once told me, sagely.
A sort of pragmatic meditation, if you will. And although a thoroughly pragmatic soul, Euan believed in the “magic moment”. “I get about one a week after painting for 5 days from the model, it’s not common, – how many do you get?” he once asked.
COLOUR He became increasingly “excited about colour” as the years passed. The fruit pictures are “about colour”. Colour was seen as volume. Thus the painting of a lemon was an attempt to represent the “presence” of its volume by colour. This was why the fruit pictures were so often as flat as possible; the yellow became the lemon as it were. This was why he raised up the shadows to as high a key as possible without them ceasing to read as shadows. Thus his pictures explained form through shape rather than chiaroscuro, and, as much as was possible, by its local colour. But what that local colour was, was never assumed. He loved to be surprised by colour. “Something has to happen,” he said, when one colour buffets against another. But not so that it could be made to look pretty - he considered prettiness for its own sake as extremely vulgar. These buffetings of colour in his paintings, or colour sequences, were derived from the model as much as the geometry. If something "happened" when the colours were next to each other, then they were de facto, beautiful. "Happened" referred to their ability to affect the drawing. The shapes that he selected from the infinite variety suggested by the model were as much governed by the colour as how well they drew or "explained" the forms. “A carpenter making a good joint is drawing beautifully,” he said in one monograph. Change the colour and you have to change the shape. Change the shape and you have to change the colour. They are mutually dependent. He once gave me a lesson in colour and asked me to provide a bit of white board and sat down at my easel in front of the model (This, for Uglow, was unheard of at the Slade and I enjoyed a brief period of celebrity among my peers! – The hubris of youth meant that, to my eternal regret, I didn’t keep his ‘painting’…). He observed the colours on the model's body by looking through his fist and seeing a tiny speck, devoid of context, at the end of its tunnel of darkness. He then mixed up a colour to correspond to what he had seen in this way. He repeated this a number of times until he had a series of colour patches set down in approximate positions on the canvas. These would be carved into and drawn into shape later. What he was doing was making sure he could be innocent of any preconceptions about the colour scheme; a device for cleansing himself of images he new about and avoid imposing them as a ready made solution to what was in front of him. Maintaining the preciousness of innocence again...
Thus, over time, he could extract and “learn” the colour scheme of the model. As the painting progressed he would start to organise the colour into the idea developing out of his constant looking at the model over the weeks and months. Slowly, he could make chromatic decisions about the organisation of the colour secure in the knowledge that what he was dealing was sourced from the model and not other paintings he knew about. This was, I believe, how he was able to continue to work from fruit that had literally collapsed into a pile of mould - there was a painting in his studio of a ripe peach being made from a black, withered blob sitting behind the plumb lines and marks of his set-up. Strange, but entirely true. This was not always the case of course. “Every picture is different” and he discovered new rules with each painting. This was the “idea” he was painting. An idea that gave birth to the painting, for example: three colour primaries arranged as a pyramid of fruit. But often a new idea would emerge from the encounter with the set-up itself. The tyranny of preconceptions and how to avoid it was why he evolved his extraordinary procedure. A preconception was antithetical to discovering something worth painting about.
— Chris Bennett studied with Euan Uglow at the Slade School. Bennett lives in Sudbury, Suffolk, England.
26TH NOVEMBER – SATURDAY 3RD DECEMBER 2016
Patrick George died in April this year, a few months short
of his 93rd birthday. Early next year there will be a memorial at
the Slade School of Art - where he taught for 4 decades -and an exhibition at Browse & Darby.
However, before then Cobbold & Judd are organising a retrospective
exhibition at the Minories Gallery in Colchester.
Patrick George featured in the seminal “Eight Figurative
Painters” exhibition curated by Andrew Forge in 1982, his only major appearance
in the United States. His co-exhibitors were Francis Bacon, Euan Uglow, William
Coldstream, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, Lucian Freud and Leon Kossoff. That
Patrick is not as famous as any of them is in a large measure due to his
modestly and lack of worldly ambition. As a consequence his work is not nearly
as well-known as it should be.
The Cobbold & Judd exhibition consists of approximately
40 works spanning Patrick’s career and includes drawings made in the late
1940’s at Lower Marsh (behind Waterloo station) where he shared a house with
fellow painters including Andrew Forge, Christopher Pinsent and Myles Murphy.
Patrick’s early maturity as an artist is demonstrated in an
impressive landscape of Sheepscombe in Gloucestershire.
In 1961 he moved to Hickbush, a tiny hamlet south of
Sudbury in Suffolk, where for 25 years he painted many of his most impressive
landscapes. The Tate Gallery owns two examples.
The last 30 years of Patrick’s life were spent in an
eccentric hexagonal folly called “Grandfathers”, a few miles outside Bury St
Edmunds. The largest painting in the exhibition depicts “Grandfathers”
surrounded by trees. In recent years Patrick’s work became more instinctive and
open-knit. A late interest in the work of Pierre Bonnard suggests how far he
had come since the days of Euston Road-inspired monocular measurement.
Although the majority of the works in the exhibition are
landscapes, Patrick George also produced a number of high quality portraits.
Arguably the finest of them, “Hilary Lane, Night Painting” features in the
Minories show. It hasn’t been exhibited since his major retrospective at the
Serpentine Gallery in 1980. In an excellent documentary film made towards the
end of his life, Patrick discusses this portrait and with typical
understatement describes it as “quite
respectable… might even be called interesting”. Well, yes. It might also
with some justification be called one of the most impressive and original
portraits painted in England in the last 70 years.
Even though these artists' ideas may differ, they have a shared interest in infusing geometric abstraction with gesture, and using non-traditional processes, materials and forms. The forms are kept simple. As a result it is open for interpretation from one's own experiences, demanding personal aesthetic perception from the viewer. I see drawing in these artists' works, a play of horizontal and vertical lines in contrast with curved lines. The curve symbolizing fluid and dynamic aspects; the straight line symbolizing the static, structural and orderly. The two combined create a powerful and dynamic composition.
I try to achieve this in my
own drawing. In music, Miles Davis, one of my favorite musicians, uses
notes economically, playing simple, perfectly phrased melodic ideas, and using
space to imply more than what he is actually playing. If an artist
can appreciate and see beauty in simple things it will reflect in their own
Drawing for me is basically responding to a subject and working intuitively to find the right placement of lines and shapes in relation to one another — deciding what to add and what to leave out. Finding these lines is a compromise between seeing and feeling.
“What is it for?” Garrison Keillor's mythical house-cleaners the Jettison Brothers ask, “When did you last use it?” If you can't answer either question — Out. It’s an uneasy joke, reminding us of just how complicated is our relation to things. Think of a house sale and of those hundreds and hundreds of possessions laid out for bids, each one imprinted in its own way with use, care, neglect, memory, pride, indifference, carnival or lent. And how these imprints fade — from living attachments, through some sort of melancholy haze to nameless rubbish. One man's treasure another man's junk, and vice versa.
The pathos of objects fascinated Van Gogh. His boots, his pile of yellow-backed French novels carried a heavy freight and their worn heels or dog-eared pages spoke of a view of the world.
In its early days, of course, still life was all about objects as emblems. Everyday connections could be diverted to grand purposes of love and status and death. Since Romanticism put painting on the road to autonomy, still life has offered the example of ‘pure’ painting. Cezanne's instruction to Vollard: "Sit like an apple."
In practical terms, the feature that distinguishes still life from any other genre is that the painter's power over her subject isn't limited to the canvas but can extend in a literal way to the subject itself. She chooses, arranges, commands. She can add or remove, line up or disarray at any point and, as if playing both black and white at chess, she can set up traps or force solutions on both sides of the board: Cezanne tilts his plates on a coin; Morandi paints his bottles white; Soutine arranges his tomatoes in a coronet. Hand and eye command the table no less than the canvas. This is not the same as asking the model to turn his head to the right, nor is it the same as making things up.
First, the painter has to break through that tissue of connections that tie objects to living use and to see them as pure appearance. A napkin, off the dining table and into the studio, is folded into a white patch or a cloud or a mountain. The juicy ripeness of a handful of cherries is set aside so that their scattered pattern can be secured; the horror of a pile of sheep's skulls is neutralized for the sake of geometry. And then a return! Suspended meanings and cut connections are restored in new and more demanding registers. A dead chicken's wing that Soutine had exploded into smears and jets of paint, comes back with as much chicken energy as it ever had in life, only now stronger for being fixed in tension like a set trap. The plums, whose purple Bonnard had stolen for the sake of the orange-gold sunlight streaming in behind them, are miraculously restored in their blooming fullness, reconstructed by the eye that takes in the whole painting.
If you like what you see
then it seems natural to try and describe the thing you like. Painting is an
expedient way of doing this. But why from a single
viewpoint? When I notice something I stop to look at it. It has always seemed
to me that my way of looking corresponds to a series of single views, and I do
not think they are views seen in the round- my visual experience does not
correspond to the experience of free standing sculpture, when there is more
round the other side than I expected. I believe I see in views of high relief,
for instance the angle between the pavement and the houses is opened out more
Also because it is the
particular relationships from a single view that are interesting. It is usually
from just somewhere that I am struck by what I see and nowhere else will do or
be the same. At once my position becomes significant, and the longer I stay
there the more important my position becomes. The subject holds me fast by
radiant lines to my eye like guy ropes to a tent pole.
One more reason is that it
is the only way I have found of making a representation of what I can see and
so being able to catch some indisputable facts that do not simply depend on my
It is not easy to see. The
partiality of vision is well known. The selection of what is useful to see for
everyday life varies with each person. Some people hardly look at all. They use
a code of recognition similar to the abbreviations of recognition used by the
army- ‘all trees are fir trees or bushy topped’. Everyone has their sight
conditioned by every experience, not by any means just visual experience. We
are all prejudiced and very conservative in what we recognize from what we see.
It would anyway be impossible to get through everyday life if we looked at
everything. Few people are interested in looking at the actual appearance of
things and few painters are interested in the problem of painting what they see
in front of them.
Painters look at pictures,
their own, fine art, coarse art, photographs, advertisements, everything, so
what they choose to see is not only conditioned by their everyday
rationalization, but includes their own aesthetic preference; it is likely that
they only choose to paint what is paintable and what echoes their experience of
But if it is not easy to
see it is certainly more difficult to translate what you see into two
dimensions even from a single viewpoint. By this I do not mean a fixed stare, but
using the amount of scansion necessary to view the subject.
The picture starts off
uniquely. Each seems brand new and different from any other and the painter has
high hopes and an arrogant assurance of success. The paint looks beautiful on
the clean canvas and the subject looks innocent. One hopes to ride in like a
surf bather on a wave of enthusiasm, but the doubts come, are ignored, but
persist. The subject changes, wriggles clear and is inviolate and the canvas
looks like paint. The picture comes to a stop, the subject still looks
beautiful, perhaps in a different way, and the canvas looks like yet another of
one’s pictures- it is a moment of despair, when one understands the absolute
difference between the canvas, the horrible canvas and the beautiful thing one
sees. One has lost, so one casts about for anything, anything that will
establish a connection between the canvas and the thing one looks at.
I think it is possible to
establish some sort of elementary comparative similarity between the canvas and
the appearance of the subject. Looking at a window it may be possible to tell
whether it appears higher than it is long and it is possible to mark off on the
canvas two distances with this comparative similarity. So one builds up a
system of empirical proportions- the distances and intervals alike and unlike,
the same, greater or less. Each time one finds a new ‘position’ and its
corresponding ratio with what has gone before, so one more comparative fact has
been gathered from the subject and each is precious, particularly the ones of
absolute certainty- slowly the picture accumulates information, the like
distances and intervals make a rhythm which multiplies across the canvas. The
first distances become significant units and their length(in fact the first
distance) is the measure of every other position. The subject is still as
completely beautiful, the canvas acts like a ledger; the marks of interval
describe what has been found out. They are selective, but in so far as the
answers are correct they are outside the influence of opinion.
A number of positions can
be described by a line. The object can be seen in terms of a collection
reciprocal lengths. The lengths smaller or longer depending on the proportions
of the object, the distance away, and the angle they make to the eye. (It is
not easy to see the receding railway track as a near-vertical line.) The first
line on the canvas is qualified by the second and so is understood to be
longer, shorter or the same, and the lines of apparently the same length echo
each other. The lines have direction; they point in the same or different ways
implying movement that is halted or reinforced; they lie on the canvas and
their tilt and balance make an equilibrium with the rectangle. They may join
end to end to become an articulated line whose length is made from the sum of
the parts, they grow like a shoot into twigs and all the articulations are like
branches of one tree. Seen simultaneously the articulated line becomes a
character. The appearance of the object is translated into these characters.
The characters whose shapes depend on the viewpoint(because they do not exist
in the actual object) can, if made without mistake, lead to an unprejudiced
If the articulated line
joins on itself it cuts off an area of the canvas. The area is described by the
lines like a field surrounded by hedges; the limits of a field may be described
by hedges, but the field is not the sum of the hedges and the shape is not the
sum of the lines. These shapes particular to your point of view have to be
identified as two-dimensional patterns so that they may be made on your canvas.
A rectangular tabletop cornerwise on becomes a diamond shape. When things are
placed on the table the top is obscured and new shapes are made. If the objects
overlap they lose their familiar outline: the side of a matchbox becomes a
yellow flag, piece of table a cooling tower, the arrises of the inkwell cranes
and signal arms, the half-seen dish a moon.
The shapes are juxtaposed
into an irregular mosaic. The adjacent shapes condition each other by their
common boundaries until they lock together and form a third shape that encloses
them both and is more than the sum of the two. The shapes expand, each
continually refined to accommodate the last, and the last by a series of
compound comparisons influences the appearance of the first. The shapes expand
until they add up to a description of the diamond-shaped tabletop. Some shapes
are more difficult to see than others- if the real-life shape is in elevation
then it is easier to translate it than if it is seen obliquely, like the
tabletop or a field. It is the oblique shape, the surface running away from the
canvas that is the difficulty. It is incompatible with the surface of the
canvas. In the translation one’s mind has to force the far boundaries forward
and the near surfaces back so that they can be comprehended in terms of their
optical appearance. Malevich’s picture of a single yellow plane receding into
infinity seems to me a marvelous illustration of the crisis of appearance. I
believe everyone is aware of this when they stand looking over the sea. The
impossibility of mentally tipping into elevation what we know to be a huge flat
area stimulates our appreciation of what a great distance we are looking over.
We are never more aware of how far we can see away from us than in the
absolutely flat parts of East Anglia; mountains which are landscapes in
elevation, do not so particularly stimulate our sense of distance. The single
viewpoint painter has to make the difficult imaginative effort to see the
horizon and foreground in the same plane, the plane the shapes occupy on the
representation of the two-dimensional appearance constitutes and appreciation
of the three-dimensional form; far from projecting himself into the three
dimensions of the object, which is a way of reducing the object to what we
expect to find, this effort to see flat the three-dimensional object provokes
the sense of form by describing the difference found between the real-life
object and the canvas. These ways of coming to terms with the thing in front of
us depend on relative proportions. (With certain reservations these proportions
can be gauged with the help of a brush or pencil held at arms length and at right
angles to the line of sight.)The time
is spent exactly
proportionate lengths and intervals and directions. The marks are made again
and again until the pattern rings true, or as true as the painter can make it,
the actual look of the picture is determined by when the painter leaves off,
and often he does so for quite circumstantial reasons; the leaves fall off the
tree, the model cannot come any more. But the amount of contact that he manages
to correlate mainly depends on his own capacity; obviously great painters can
manage more than less great. The picture at first seems to go swiftly, but as
more information is gathered and brought to bear on what has gone before the
pace slackens off like a graph that first rises steeply, but as time passes
eases off until the curve flattens out and hardly advances against the time
spent. The changes get smaller but are as difficult to make. Like the tide
coming in, the waves go back and forth and it is often necessary to spoil what
is done before the painter can get further. Sometimes the wave goes out and
does not come back, but in any case the picture will never be finished. The
knowledge and selection from the appearance of the subject always changes and
there is no absolute solution. The picture does not stand for a reflection of
the object but for a prejudiced account- for the visible compound of
experiences and the efforts to translate them in front of the object.
*with an inordinate amount
of quotations from other artists and
Robert Dukes after Veronese Other writers (usually
painters themselves) have written far more perceptively and intelligently than
I ever could — I would urge anyone interested in drawing to read Patrick Heron’s
essay on Constable’s drawings (1). Sargy Mann has written so well on Bonnard’s
drawings (2) that I imagine anyone reading his commentaries on that artist
comes away with an enriched experience. Both these artists write so well about
the nature of drawing itself that it would be futile for me to try and do
anything other than point you in the general direction of their writings (see
list at end of this essay). Sargy Mann in particular explains very clearly the
difference between illusionistic drawings (which only tell us what we already
know) and “real” drawing.
Drawing and painting are
very closely combined. This might seem a surprisingly obvious statement: after
all, the act of painting could hypothetically be broken down into drawing,
colour and tone – yet some serious observational painters nowadays hardly draw
at all. For me, regular drawing (with a pencil) is necessary for me to “get my
eye in.” In order to perceive colour-shapes clearly, I need to draw first.
Drawing — really drawing — is really difficult!
“Drawing is an effortful activity.” Euan Uglow
The recent Daumier
exhibition in London was a perfect manifestation of his contemporary Delacroix’
opinion that “Cold exactitude is not truth.”
Line drawing is not putting
a silhouette around an object (the reason those who project a photograph on
their canvas and fill it in produce dead images).A good drawing like a good painting consists
madefrom a sense of mass, not a
sense of shape.” (Frank Auerbach)
Paintings and text by Dik F. Liu Dik F. Liu website A cityscape from life. The light is from 8:45 a.m. to around 12:45 p.m. Different time of day for different parts of the painting. It's from a large 9th floor balcony of a university I teach in. I painted while standing on a stool to make the view possible. The viewing angle is wide enough that the perspective on the right side begins to warp. I guess it is a phenomenon unique to observational painting — unless one is using a wide-angle camera lens.
If the lines were straight, the painting would look more “realistic.” That has always struck me as the fundamental difference between a realistic painter and an observational painter. The observational painter paints the world as he sees it, even if the resulting painting does not fit the accustomed paradigm of realism. I have wondered the extent to which one can be a PURE observational painter. As Kant noted in Critique of Pure Reason, percept without concept is blind, as concept without percept is empty. Pure seeing sans knowing might well be an impossible task. Later in that book, Kant bluntly rephrased that idea as “The innocent eye is blind, as the virgin mind is empty.”
I think all observational painters edit to some degree, even if they do so unknowingly. I never feel that I know enough about what I am seeing to knowingly edit my paintings. The visual world has so many surprises that when I‘ve tried to work from imagination, the results look programmatic and unimaginative.
I have thought that Fairfield Porter was as close to a pure observational painter as there was. I wonder if that's why his paintings were so hit or miss.
Tim Kennedy Claw and Cone CLICK HERE TO VIEW ALL PAINTINGS IN THE SHOW An exhibit of paintings at Grunwald Gallery of Art, Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, Indiana University, Bloomington, featuring work by Catherine Kehoe, EM Saniga, Ken Kewley, Eve Mansdorf and Tim Kennedy. October 19 - November 16, 2012 Small paintings that stand on their own – as a category distinct from painted studies – are capable of producing a powerful effect on viewers. Paintings done on small scale communicate intimacy. The viewer becomes intensely aware of his or her own space as well as the space in the painting. Viewing a small painting one can feel the contradictory sensations of nearness and distance experienced simultaneously. We see the artist’s hand in the marks on the surface of the panel or canvas that magically transform themselves at the same instant into a house or a flower – and then back again. It is an endless circuit that produces the hypnotic illusion of stopped time.
The physical terms of confronting a small painting are quite different from the approach to a large painting. The space of a large painting can envelop or contain a viewer: architectural in a way, like a room. The small painting exists at a permanent distance, its space accessed as if through a portal. There is a crystal ball aspect to a small painting: we peer into it. Like the twisting of a kaleidoscope, the images turn and hover on the edge of recognition, often without clear context. Skilled interpretation is required, and sometimes outright divination.
We are in constant motion and the motion seen with two eyes gives us information about our place in space and the relationships of forms within space. We have since babyhood developed a keen understanding of the world as form and space. We use this knowledge plus the flat world we see (if we don't move) to paint images. What is the flat world we see? Monocular vision?
Even though we have two eyes, what we generally see is one clear object. Or think we do. Up close if we look with only our right eye we see the object and a background. If we close our right and look at the object at close range with our left eye, we see the object slightly moved and the background moved quite a bit. Because we are focusing on different parts of the site we do not notice this discrepancy. The mind makes it simple for us to see what we want to look at. Like peripheral vision. I remember Dickinson telling us that when we are studying an object to close one eye to see it clearer. And that is monocular vision.
These notes run parallel to my own work; they are a work in progress.
Look for revisions and a part two. — Ken Kewley
Love of color makes a colorist. This passion gives one an unlimited vocabulary. Color is used to create steps to direct the eye around the painting parallel to the vision of the artist. Along the way, like a songwriter, rhyming words that may or may not rhyme, we invent color relationships to get at the surprising juxtapositions that are found in nature.Color, one of those things that matter in painting, is an abstraction. It would be very hard to consciously compose a thousand colors. It is more easily done with a few.
One color needs to be found to stand in for several colors. Each color needs to be chosen in consideration of the whole. Color does not become itself until the whole work is completed. A painting that in its early stages resembled a poem, as it gets filled in, cluttered with color that changes or dilutes what was there, loses its poetry. If a painting isn't working, often it is not because something is missing but that there is something that is not needed and therefore harmful. A colorist loves colors as a writer loves words. It is the love that comes through when the mind gets out of the way. Don't think too much. Trust your instincts. We all have the colors needed to make beautiful paintings. I try not to worry about what I do not know, what I have been unable to teach myself. My inabilities serve me better than my abilities. Art is not something that is learnt and then practiced, it is a form of communication and one is always trying to say something clearer. The mind messes up love and it messes up painting.
Start as if putting down the one thing that will finish the work. Put down the one color shape that excites you the most, let that color lead you to your next, when you put down the first it will call to mind another, put that one down. It is the visual equivalent of saying the first word that comes to mind on hearing another. You are relating colors. Comparing colors. Finding relationships that excite you. With each color you are relating everything to the whole, attempting to complete the whole. You are emphasizing what interests you and minimizing others, leaving out altogether what distracts.
I tend to like paintings where the abstraction is strong. By this I mean that the paint, the colors and shapes, are distinct, like strong actors in a play. Going towards abstraction does not mean going away from representation, from realism. It is more like describing something real by other means than illustration. It is like describing an apple with your hands, forming the shape in the air with your hands, by enclosing an imaginary object with two hands. You do not try to make your hand look like an apple. Paint takes over the role of the hands and does not hide the fact that it is paint. Painting is talking with the hands made permanent.