Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kandinsky Again

For our next assignment in Color class, a calendar of Kandinsky's works was cut up into pieces, each student got a piece.  Our  mission is to duplicate the colors as precisely as we can.  My piece was the lower left quarter of this work, Landscape 1913.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Quilts and Color

Michael James' "Lush Life."

This week's assignment for color class was to go to the museum and look at the quilt exhibit.  There is no way I can call that "work!"  We were asked to pick one piece and write about it in relation to the color combinations used.  I felt a little bad for not picking the Nancy Crow piece, but it was "March Study," from the 1970's, and the use of color in it didn't really excite me.  Since James uses strip piecing I thought it would be more relevant for me.    Here's my essay.

 I chose Michael James' "Lush Life,"  which was created in 1992.  The piece is constructed using strip piecing, a method I am exploring in my current series, so I thought it would be interesting to look closer at a master's work.  

Very generally, strip piecing involves cutting long thin strips of fabric, then sewing them back together into new "made fabrics."  The "made fabric" is then usually cut up and reassembled in various ways.  This is where any similarity between Michael James and I ends.  Obviously there are an infinite number of ways to slice up and reassemble fabric.
Unlike some of his other works, such as Rhythm/Color: Morris Men,(See below) in "Lush Life" the  the strips are arranged in a very simple allover 45-degree diagonal pattern.  Although each made fabric is made up of various colors and patterns of fabric, the simple overall piecing design allows sections of dissimilar value to read as solids when placed adjacent to each other. 
Looking at the piece from a distance, or on a small screen,  what you see first is the stencil-like cut-out shapes that appear overlaid on a contrasting background.  Low value figures on a high value background.  Or is it the other way around?  James is able to achieve subtle gradations of value and hue by carefully selecting the alternating color strips.

 In places the light fabric gradually transitions into dark rather than being sharply contrasted with it.  Where does one figure end and the other begin?  This draws you in closer, to the point where you realize it is all one very, very, carefully constructed symphony of strips.  Or stripes.  The lightest areas use pale gray and  pastel tints, so that there is little contrast between them.  The fabric reads overall as light.  In the mid-range values there is more contrast, so that the patterning is more evident.  In the darkest sections contrast is reduced again, and the overall image is "dark." 

I think that blue is the dominant color, but that is by no means certain.  There is also a lot of yellow and pink.  The blues tend toward blue-green and range from palest tint to darkest shade.

To me, this piece is so complex I can look at it, and try to understand it, for hours.  There are so many levels of color, shape and design that it's hard to know how to take it apart.  Here is the Nancy Crow piece that was featured in the show:
Nancy Crow, "March Study"
And here is Michael James' other work mentioned,  Rhythm/Color: Morris Men.

Rhythm/Color: Morris Men by Michael James
Morris Men

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Art of Color Class

I've been so busy actually doing art that I have not had much time to blog about it.   No complaints, that's the way it should be.  I waste way too much time staring at a screen and not creating.  But I like to keep the blog up, if for no other reason, to have an ongoing record of what I was doing and thinking at various times.  And it's stored in a place where I can't lose it, unlike paper or even digital files on my computer.  
So today I am sharing last night’s projects in my Color in Art class.  I didn't know we would be using oil paints or I would probably have been too intimidated to take the class.  Not sure why painting and even drawing scare me off, but they do.  It's like this little hidden secret, I'm afraid someone will find out that I really can't draw to save my life.  I know I could learn, and I think I eventually must go there.  The whole idea of learning how to use oils seemed intimidating and I feared failure.   But the experience so far has been the total reverse of that!  Being told exactly what to buy and how to use it solved much.   Last night when I started seeing all the amazing colors that would emerge out of mixing the six simple primaries (two of each) I never wanted to quit.  Merging two things that I was sure would produce a brown muddy mess instead created a mind bogglingly beautiful teal blue.  Wow. I'm hooked.  So - yesterday:
The first project was to try out all the combinations of our primary paints to see which ones produced what sort of secondary colors.  I knew nothing about oil painting, so it was fascinating to me to mix the colors and see what came out.  We did this in the classroom, but mine was a smeared up mess so I redid it.  Sorry the photo is crappy.

The second assignment was to create some sort of grid on a piece of paper 6″ x 9″ and then make an exact copy of it. One version was supposed to illustrate “color harmony,” and the other “color dis-harmony.”    No explanation or definition was given of those two terms.   In class each person put up one of their pieces on the wall and others had to guess which one was which.  Not as simple as it seems!  Very fun, though.  Everyone had quite different interpretations.
The other thing that is fun is that our teacher is very into Nancy Crow and quilts in general, and unlike most people already recognizes that there is such a thing as an art quilt, so it's nice not to fight that battle.  In fact, our assignment this week is to go to the local museum exhibit, American Quilts, the Democratic Art, and write an analysis of the color use in one of the quilts.   Fun! And an excuse to go back and soak in the exhibit one more time before it closes next week. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

WIS Assignment #3 - Shape and Texture

Looking at Art - Kandinsky

One of the things I am learning in the Lisa Call "Working in a Series" workshop is how to look at art critically.  This is something I always thought I "sort of " knew, but never had any concrete way of doing, other than staring at a piece, thinking about "What does it mean?" and "How did s/he DO that?"  Lisa has provided a couple different ways of evaluating or critiquing.  One is a standard four part format that I've seen a few other places as well:  "Description, Analysis, Interpretation, Judgement."   This method produces the type of critique you would read in a review of a show or exhibit.

The other method Lisa offered was a much more detailed set of questions to guide thinking about the design elements that are used in the work of art.  I decided to try out her questions and evaluate one of my favorite works of art, Yellow, Red, Blue, painted in 1925 by Wassily Kandinsky.

Here is my analysis, with thanks to Lisa for permission to reprint her questions.

Yellow-Red-Blue -  Wassily Kandinsky

Write answers to the following questions about the elements that make up the design:

§  What is the color and value usage?  There is a wide range of values from almost-white and very light yellow in the background and the left figure, to the dark red, blue and purple masses of the right side.

§  What impact do the colors have on you? They seem to represent an opposition of a dark, sinister element with a bright happy one. Although I don’t know what they are or if they are anything objective, but I sense opposition between them.

§  How are they using the space?  The two major figures occupy most of the picture plane, both of them seem to float in mid-air.

§  Flat picture plane or 3D?  At first it seems mostly flat, but especially in the dark element there are checkerboards and fields of color that are shown in perspective, as if they are floating off into the distance.

§  How are they achieving the 3D illusion?  Perspective (vanishing point) and smaller size.

§  How does the use of space make you feel? The dark element seems to be menacing or crowding the light one, while the light one firmly stands its ground.

§  What is the figure?  There are a number of figures, the mass of dark elements collected together, but with small peeks thru them to the yellow background, then the yellow figure which is more ambiguous.  Parts of it are really yellow background, but the whole collection of “things” plus the yellow background seem to be figures on the blue ground.

§  What is the ground?  The ground is a blurry fog of pastel colors, violet, yellow, blue/green.

§  What is the ratio between them?  The figures take up at least 75% of the picture plane,  with the dark one pushing close to the border, crowding the image, and adding to the aggressive feel it has.

§  What story does that relationship tell?  The figures are the point of the story, the artist wants them to be the only thing you observe, there is “nothing” in the background to distract you.

§  What quality do you notice about the lines?  Lines are an important element in this work, and there are a number of different types of lines, thick, thin, straight, geometric arcs, different colors, some vary in width, many are grouped in parallel groups, some equal size, some not, etc.  One of the most noticeable lines is a freeform squiggle that is the foremost element in the dark shape.

§  What story do the lines tell?  What is interesting is that the light figure is mostly amorphous color, with few lightly drawn more geometric lines and shapes, while the dark figure has colored shapes without any lines bordering them.  I think this is a message Kandinsky was trying to convey, I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I have always interpreted this painting as a representation of Good vs Evil.  I’m not sure if he had something more specific given the political climate at the time, and knowing the fact that he had been forced to flee his native Russia and then later to also leave France (?) for Germany I think he may have been representing the chaos of totalitarian governments in the dark figure with lack of borders and haphazard organization while the light figure represents the good in human nature, free, open, light thin, controlled shapes. 

I like to imagine that each of the different pieces of the composition represent different elements of the artists’ life or maybe different aspects of good and evil  I know the labored over each element and how to portray it in the picture.  Maybe they represent truth, beauty, goodness vs. greed, hatred etc….

§  What shapes are they are using?   Kandinsky uses lines for lines’ sake, mostly they are “just” lines, but there are also lines that make up squares, circles, and other geometrically created shapes as well as dark heavy lines being shapes themselves.

§  How are the shapes related?  The lines from each figure are intertwined, overlapping and layered.  But there is only one single point where the end of one thin line on the light side touches one of the dark figures.  This becomes a focal point of the painting.

§  What response do these shapes evoke?  They evoke a sense of tension as the dark figure seems to be menacing the light one and encroaching on its space.  I have a sense of fear for the light shape, and it’s abstract form for me seems to resemble the side view of a human head, with the red circle the eye and the blue arc shape the nose, so I feel like the light shape has its back turned to the dark one. Does it know he’s coming or is he oblivious to the threat?

§  What texture does the artwork have?  none that I can tell, though the background appears to have a misty translucent quality.

Next consider the overall design of the composition.

§  How have they used repetition?  Lines are repeated in groups, the concept of line groups are repeated.  Other repeated elements include the Circles with glowing halos, the translucent squares with outlines, the translucent shapes with no borders, and the checkerboards.  The types of elements are completely confined to one side or the other, except that a thin “mast” carrying three light yellow lines seems to be a flag standard trying to march toward the other side.

§  How have they used variety?   Each group of shapes has its own character, no two are exactly alike.  They seem to indicate that there are unlimited possibilities to be considered on each side.

§  Is it a big variation or small? The shapes are mostly in proportion to each other within the picture plane, other than the big black squiggle that seems to dominate the space.

§  What is the rhythm? The grouped lines create rhythm within each group itself, but not really any in the picture as a whole.

§  Is the design balanced?  yes, somewhat.

§  Is it symmetrical, asymmetrical or off balance?  It’s symmetrical in the sense that the plane is divided into two halves, but there is no actual symmetry of repeated elements on each side.  It is off-balance due to the heaviness of the dark figure and the way it encroaches on the light one.

§  What is the focal point of the artwork?  Hard to say.  at first it’s the bright yellow shape, but many of the other shapes vie for attention.  I think the thin line touching the gray shape is a focal point when you begin to look closer
§  How does the artist achieve that emphasis? The yellow space is one of the few pure colored areas, versus the ones that have a misty or cloudy quality.  It is surrounded by a brownish shadow to call further attention to it.

§  Is the message of the artwork clear without a lot of distracting elements?  Have they added only what is needed?  At first it seems like a lot of distracting shapes, but I think they are all necessary to convey the message the painter had in mind, the careful graphic balance of them makes them all necessary to the balanced appearance of the whole. 

§  What story are they telling?  See discussion under lines. 

§  Is the artwork successful?  Yes, extremely.  it draws the viewer in, wanting to know more, understand more, see more.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Round Robin Wrap-up

Remember this round robin Tree of Life that started the rounds at Moonlight Quilters about two years ago?  I got the finished product back earlier this year.  What do you think?  It's not quite what I'd envisioned, but then  I bet no one's was.  There were a few I liked better, but also some that were pretty scary.  I guess I'll bind it and be done, since I've already removed it from the UFO list.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

No Right to be Cranky

I just caught myself feeling cranky that my favorite bloggers don't update very regularly, and thought about how long it's been since I posted anythings substantive.  As I'd fully expected, the intensity  of Lisa Call's Working in a Series class, and now the addition of the color class is taking time and mental energy, but it's such good energy!  I've finished my first asignment in the series class, and am very happy with it, and with the class.  Now to learn about oil paints!  I didn't know that the color class was going to involve painting, but now that I've recovered, I'm up for it.  Might be useful in the future.
I also have to be carful when I find myself feeling cranky about not having enough time, that I knowingly willingly, eagerly got into this, now it's up to me to manage my time so I can enjoy it!

More details and photos promised soon!