Friday, October 28, 2016

Fantastic Paintings by Cornelia and Stephen

Today at the Florence Academy of art was our Friday lecture. It was a real treat because it consisted of a presentation by Cornelia and Stephen, two of our instructors, about their show that is opening at the academy on Sunday.

See the Facebook invitation here:

Bauman and Hernes: Selected Works

Both of them graduated from the Florence Academy at about the same time and have been making paintings ever since. It struck me how different their work is from each other as well as how their talks differed. Stephen opened with a quote from Frankie Valli that goes like this:

They ask you "what was the high point?" Hall of Fame, selling all those records, pulling Sherry out of the hat, it was all great. But four guys under a street lamp, when it was all still ahead of us, the first time we made that sound, our sound. When everything dropped away and all there was was the music. That was the best.

Stephen then went on to describe how he has followed that "sound" which is his in his painting career. And, he showed slides to illustrate that process.
Cornelia, on the other hand also showed us a number of slides, but they were grouped into genre, and she went into quite a bit of detail about the composition and process of painting each one.
Both talks were fascinating, and the work is really beautiful.
The thing that impresses me is that both Stephen and Cornelia were trained at the same school, in the same discipline, and both focus on the human figure as their subject matter. And yet, within this narrow focus, the range of emotions and ideas they communicate in their paintings are very different. Each of them has a unique artistic vision which is transmitted the classical realism of their paintings.
I think that the thing I take away from this is to not be afraid to engage in the styles of mediums that attract me simply because other people already use them and because they may have connotations which with I do not want to be associated. Even though I am being trained in a very particular method, the method is only a vehicle. It is my responsibility to make it my own.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Gesture and Rhythm

Done with week three of my first trimester at the Florence Academy of Art. We just finished up our first 2-week long pose in the model room. This means that for 3 hours a day, every day for 2 weeks, the model stands in the same pose and we draw that same pose on the same sheet of paper for those 2 weeks. The point is not to have a finished drawing in the end. It's an exercise. It involved lots and lots of tweaking. Draw a line, check it, move it. Move the drawing forward, more checking and moving. Once a day, the teacher comes by and give an in-depth critique. 
This week, I received a paradigm-shifting critique from Jordan, one of the teachers and the director of the school. He told me to focus on rhythm and gesture, that my figure looked stiff and dead. Now, this is not the first time someone has told me to, in essence, "loosen up." I remember my high-school violin teacher telling me this over and over again, and I wanted to clock her. 
I felt like clocking Jordan too, but I asked him a question instead. I said, "Jordan, I understand the concept you are telling me, but I do not understand what is means in terms of the marks I make." And, Jordan told me something very interesting. He said that how we look determines what we notice. So, if I am doing a rough diagram of a figure and looking for major points to mark out the big shapes of the body, I am going to be moving my eyes from side to side on the figure and looking for general distances between unconnected points. However, if I am looking for the gesture of a line as it runs down the body, I am going to move my eyes down the line. So, if I want the gesture to be accurate, I have to look for gesture. The difference between a line made my connection accurately marked points and a line made by imitating a gesture can be very subtle, but it is also the difference between a living and a dead thing.
Indeed, Jordan pointed out that this sort of very small variation in elements of a drawing can make a very big difference in the final perception. This comment made me think of an experience I had in college when I sang with a polyphony choir. It was an intense choir. We each had private voice lessons - not so that we individually could be awesome singers, but so that we would sing correctly together. We practiced in sections and in full choir, and we went over the words of the songs so that we could pray them. And, the result was that when singing with this choir it was necessary to deliberately shut off my emotions because otherwise I would be a quivering puddle on the floor. It was powerful stuff, and when we sang for mass once a month, the church was packed. 
I've sung in other choirs since, and they were all fine choirs, and none of them were nearly as obsessive about the quality of the music as my college polyphony choir. Both choirs sang (in many cases) the exact same songs, and both pretty much were on-key and sang the notes right. But, oh, one of them transported you into the realms of God and the other was mostly accompaniment. So, as an artist, one of the things I crave is that kind of perfection. That's why I'm at a school like the Florence Academy. Not sure *what* exactly I'm going to make, but, man, it's going to be good!

Part way through the figure drawing, trying to find the gesture.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Imaginary Animals

And, it's the end of week two at the Florence Academy. I'm still working entirely in pencil, copying Bargue drawings or anatomy drawings, and drawing the human figure from life.
This week, the thing that excited me the most was seeing a dog in my drawing.
See it? He's got an open mouth with his tongue sticking out, facing to the right.
I know, this sounds silly, but bear with me. Cornelia, one of the instructors was explaining using one's imagination by seeing shapes (like animals) in a drawing can help to see the drawing in a fresh way. Drawing involves seeing relationships - relationships of length, volume, value, etc. In order for me to draw, for instance, a hand, I need to be able to visually deconstruct all the visual relationships and see the hand in terms of visual realities. The "animal" trip is one trick that helps with visual deconstruction.
It's funny, I think people think of artist as creative. Sometimes, I'm not even sure was that word means. I'm not particularly good at "coming up with things." I found myself staring at my drawing for quite awhile, trying to see some kind of animal. When the dog jumped out at me, I actually burst out laughing. It was really a surprise, and it delighted me.
Maybe this is significant because, especially in areas in which I may consider myself knowledgable, I have a hard time seeing things in new ways. And, I do think that is part of what art does. It gives a view of something *according to someone.* And, maybe, I see a dog and a spaceship, and a pigeon where other people see a hand - and that means I can represent it more fully and accurately.
So, I'm going to try to see some more dogs this week and be surprised at what jumps out at me.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Week 1 at the FAA

We started Bargue drawings and human figure drawing sessions this week. No evening classes. Here are images of a Bargue drawing and a figure drawing. A Bargue drawing is basically an exercise that involves copying from a 2-D original. A human figure drawing is basically an exercise that involves drawing a 3-D model from life (so, not entirely stationary.)

Human Figure Drawing

Bargue Drawing Original

Bargue Drawing Copy in Progress

The thing which strikes me the most about my first week of class is the sheer quantity of time spent in front of the easel doing essentially the same thing over and over again. Making lines, checking the placement of the lines using a plumb line or skewer, moving the lines, checking them again, looking at the lines in different ways using a mirror or standing back, and on and on. In a certain sense, this work is engrossing. In another, it is terribly boring. The human figure is both a subject and a didactic tool. It is a complex form, and so, I think the idea is that if you can represent the figure, you can represent anything. The standing in one spot is boring. So is the medium - I'm not such a fan of pencil, really. It's all very tedious. On the other hand, it is truly amazing how the relationship between the pattern of lines that make up one side of the human body (when visually simplified) and the pattern of lines on the other side is never the same from person to person, pose to pose, or viewing angle to viewing angle. And, getting those lines right and watching them click and give life to what were previously dead angles, that is nothing short of marvelous. As in, "marvel." I marvel. And then there is no time.
So, what I take from this week is to commit to putting in the time necessary to mastering this process and also to enjoy it. To let myself marvel at the lines.

Back to School

This past week, I started the drawing and painting program at the Florence Academy of Art. A day at the academy consists of 3 hours standing at an easel in my studio and 3 hours standing at an easel in the model (human figure) room. Three times a week, there is a supplemental 2 hour class either on anatomy, figure drawing, or other topics relevant to the kind of art we are making. The drawing and painting program lasts for 3 years. There are three trimeters, and I will have summers off. Given the time commitment, it is likely that I will be much less productive as far as my own personal work goes.
Lately, that personal work has been watercolor landscapes and decorative, concrete paving stones. Both of these types of art are not what I would consider purely "fine art." They are decorative objects. There is nothing wrong with that fact. It is simply worth acknowledging that I make them because they are at some level practical. They serve a function and/or aesthetic need.
At the heart of it, though, art making is a liberal art. (For more on the definition of liberal art, read Josef Pieper's book Leisure, the Basis of Culture.) This means, in part, that in order for me to sustain creative activity, I need to be connected to that source in me that delights in creating for no other reason than because it delights in creating.
This time at the Florence Academy of Art is likely to be a time of intense focus on technical development. I am going to learn *how* to represent things visually in a few specific mediums. At the same time, I hope it will also be a time of deepening my understand of what I, as an unrepeatable person with a unique perspective, must/desire to make. I indent to continue to do my plein air and sell them because, hey, being about to sustain myself financially is a really important part of being free to make those great things I'm going to learn to make. But, again, there's more beyond the landscapes. I can feel it, and I want to dig.
So, what I'm going to try is this: at the end of each week, I'm going to post a reflection on what went on at the academy that week and what that has to do with the big picture of what to make and why. Maybe I'll go beyond that, but I don't know.
Anyways, for an exercise like this, it helps to have an audience. Then I know I am "talking" to someone. So, enjoy...