Saturday, 22 March 2014

#LiveArtHistory W4: World Making

This week we explored ‘world making’ – where art both constructs worlds and creates a narrative or commentary about the world. We saw different ways of tackling the 2D aspects of flat planes to imply 3D space – with geometry, lines and grids in the Renaissance and with oil paints creating light to solidify subjects bursting out of 2D space, in the Baroque. We considered Mondrian’s refusal to accept this melody and illusion; stripping away shape and shading and texture in favour of flat paint in primary collars. Reality squared. Pollack’s definitely 2D dripped paint canvas, however, draws the viewer into the implied 3D, immersing in a something, an ‘other’, to experience. And thus we see how the artists create specific conversations with their ‘public’ – engaging – challenging – puzzling – distancing - immersing…The conversation created as much a revelation of the world view as the paint and light and canvas.
This week – Drum Roll - First Compulsory Assignments
The courses offers a Track A option – to produce an artwork; or B – writing; or both. In each case the whole assignment requires the preparation and submission of the piece PLUS peer review of three other pieces. If you do both A and B, you will have to peer review six other pieces in total. I chose to do both assignments. Both options were taken from Draw it with your eyes closed: the art of assignment (New York; Paper Monument, 2012). MUST GET THAT BOOK!!
Track B: Thick Description - required us to spend an hour with a work of art – being with it – recording thoughts and perceptions not just of the artwork but of its surroundings… After an hour we were required to organise our thoughts and write a 300-400 word essay, list or narrative.
Mostly it’s brown paper: spending an hour with a primitive portrait of my mother
I live half the week in the country not able to get to a real gallery till Monday, when I hope to see Hannah Hoch’s collages in the Whitechapel Gallery in East London, UK. I wanted to do this exercise with a real picture and not an image on the screen. I wanted to be with a real picture – and to see and feel that experience: to learn to really see a picture by being with it. So I chose a primitive portrait of my mother that I have hanging in the front room – and that was drawn by a friend of the family who is a self-taught artist. I thought that the sitting with the picture would be a meditation experience and that I would learn a lot from it… but again – only if it were a real thing. So even though this picture might not be classified as art by many – it is art to me – and it is real – so this is what I did.

The thick description:
The picture is about 12 X 6 inches on heavy cheap brown paper. It is pasted onto white paper and set within pale yellow card within a light wood simple frame. It is a head and shoulders portrait of Jeanne Marie Victorine Dierrieckx Sinfield – my mother. This picture seems to have captured her at about the age of 69 (1995) – but it is unsigned and un-dated – although I know the artist was Anita Melloche. 
The outline is sketched in with heavy soft black pencil which thickens as the hair is sketched in: unruly as if just back from working in the garden. The pencil outline is filled in with only three colours; water colour crayons of red, brown and white – they sketch in the hair, face, eyes and a red and white striped top. 
My mother would have hated the picture as un-flattering and not life-like; but whilst it is not exactly what she ever looked like – it really is ‘her’. It has captured her eyebrows – those slightly fine, thin eyebrows of old age. The eyes below are a bit doe-like, a bit cartoonish – not ‘real’ at all – but they have her direct gaze – and are somehow brave, strong – full of character. 
The character is also there in the closed mouth, the calm. The face is slightly at an angle looking to the right of the frame, her left. The left side of the portrait feels more three dimensional than any other bit of the picture – due to the white highlights that bring shape and substance – and push out that side of the face from the two dimensional plane. 
Mostly the whole picture is created by the brown paper; the very few bits of black, red, white and brown crayon create the illusion of the head, hair, face, shoulders and top by laying very few lines on the brown paper: carving the face from the paper. 
The background is simply brown paper; no contextual setting. The most in-filled sections are the hair and the top – but even there – brown paper peeks through adding another colour and another dimension to the portrait. The most amazing thing for me was seeing for the first time how much brown paper makes up the face – and I thought: it is mostly brown paper – and it is my mother. 
Ways of seeing
To spend this hour with a painting was both moving and illuminating. I definitely saw it differently by spending this quiet focused hour with it. At first I just sat and looked and looked – describing things to myself. After 30-minutes I started to sketch the picture and annotate. After that, I painted the sketch – using that painting as another way of analysing the painting itself. Then I free wrote a response – briefly looking at my notes. I could not get in all the information that I had noted down. When it was as edited as possible, I pasted it into the Module Box – and found that it was still 200 words too long. I managed in the end to get it down to 399 words! Dead chuffed with this – and I hope I take these eyes to the Whitechapel Gallery on Monday.
Track A: World in a Box: Using any means, materials or style – we were asked to put together a collection of objects and a means of displaying them. We could operate in 2D as well as 3D – we could make the objects or find them – we could create a narrative or not – it could just be what it is. We had to think about how to display them – and then how to frame them in the photograph.
I like to create spaces around the cottage that are curations or artworks designed to tease or please the eye – to create a look or feel or experience… So I thought that I would photograph and present one of these small spaces. Unfortunately I could not cut the photographs that I initially wanted to up-load (technologically challenged) – and so was only getting a third of whatever world I wanted to share. In the end I worked with this limitation, uploading a picture that would be de facto cut in the Module Box – to create the frame I was after:
Schwitter’s Bedroom: The Buddhist Temple

Schwitter treated his studio as a collaged art spaced – bit like my approach to my home – so a cool title was born. The submitted piece is just the left side of the above picture - just over a third and just under a half of the total width. This cut emphasised the contrast between the Buddhism trail up the bookcase - and the bloody detective fiction that frames it.
End: The Assignments this week were really engaging and thought-provoking. I learned a lot about looking, seeing – and really seeing. Activities that I want to bring into my real world teaching… (Oh and I got 14/15 for the quiz – and I DO KNOW what Baroque is – but obviously did not describe it well enough on the day L )

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