Research Point: Collections and Unusual Materials

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17 May 2017. I am looking forward to the wondrous task of being allowed whatever materials come to my mind and painting collections, which is the main subject for Part 2 of this course. After having posted Assignment 1 this area, which is totally new to me, has settled firmly in my mind. Although the study guide advised us not to spend too long to decide on a collection to gather together from my own household, I do not want to take the opportunity too lightly. I feel that it allows me to start thinking in different dimensions. In order to set the scene, I am to research a number of artists again. It appears to me that many of these use their respective approaches to voice criticism on a large variaty of societal matters.
22 May 2017. The study guide (Open College of the Arts, p. 53) points out some crucial aspects the making and presenting collections is based on, which can be of great limiting significance to the actual value of a collection. The latter is intimately connected with the laws of history. As Walter Benjamin points out in his – at first for me hard to read and understand – essay “Theses on the Philosophy of History”: “The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.” (v, p. 255). We are thus advised to collect and treasure these images, as otherwise they will be lost and never become available again to assist the development of future generations. Benjamin sets this into a contect of class struggle against Fascism, whose success depends crucially on seizing “…hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.” (vi, p. 255). This, I think, can only be achieved, if people are aware of the possible harm arising of such a loss and take collective action in space and time to counteract it. Benjamin points out the fact that the existence of our socalled “cultural treasures” was made possible not only by their creators but the uncounted anonymous people, who were their contemporaries (vii, p. 256), which I interpret as an instruction to makers of collections to be aware always of the mostly cruel environment giving rise to our cultural possessions and interpret their significance with respect to that knowledge. In this context, Benjamin utters a word of warning to dismiss remembrance of the past for an unfounded belief in a better future, because “This training made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice …” (xii, p. 260). Crucially, he values historical subjects as soon as they can be identified as distinct entities, because by singling out these special instances on any hierarchical level, even if they are separated by long periods of time, one has a tool of change in hand. In this process the factor of time has no value. (xvii and xviii, p. 263). This seems to be one of the major tasks for curators of collections. The latter are not merely assemblages of artefacts placed in an artificially linear past, but if seen as ultimately connected in space and time, there can arise a deep understanding of the often repetitive circumstances leading to particular outcomes.
While Walter Benjamin emphasizes the societal value of remembrance, the essay written by Sigmund Freud (1909) places its focus on the personal level. Like many others I am not happy with his merely sexually biased interpretation of cause-effect relationships in the growing child, but overall he observes that however negative one’s childhood memories there remains a lasting deep connection with one’s parents from a time “when his father seemed to him the noblest and strongest of men and his mother the dearest and loveliest of women.”, and the turning away from one’s parents to higher placed new role models is an expression of regret for this loss (Freud, p. 240). For me it is difficult to read from this essay a substantial direct contribution to the subject of collections. Of course, I can interpret whatever meaning I like into Freud’s observations, but the most important will probably be an awareness that attitudes and actions in a grown-up may be heavily influenced by childhood recollections. The latter word points to a relationship with the subject of collections and may play an important role in the subconscious choice of subjects to work on. Unless one becomes aware of such influences, the bias introduced by selective memory may be considerable. In case I want to make a valid contribution to society, I need to take the responsibility for looking back and reappraising the collection I have assembled of my own history.

18 May 2017.

Julian Walker (*?, UK)

I had a close look at the extensive website maintained by Julian Walker (Walker, 2017), which appears to me as much a collection as some of his works are. He has the most complex of all artists’ menus I have seen so far, the menu points are a jumble of personal and professional items, very hard to find my way round. I would be interested to know whether this is deliberate. Also I have not seen any artist before to have as much text coming with his work than Walker. Some of his collection pieces of work are of giant dimensions, one of these is “Acts of Faith”, which is rows upon rows of tablets carved into organs and sorted into a regular rid, whose subject he describes as “The theme then is one of consumption, faith, dependence, subjection of the self, and thankful homage” (Walker, 2003) or as explained by Coe (2013): “So Julian Walker based his ‘Acts of Faith’ piece on this idea of votive body parts by using pills, the contemporary equivalent of an object in which we can place our faith for a cure.” For all his collection pieces Walker provides a comprehensive written guide for how to read the work, e.g. in “Words and Forgetting” (Walker, 2007), where it seems that the whole adventurous life of George Vancouver was plucked apart, sorted and put in order by the lining up of an awesome 4300 items. From what I read from the associated text the work is no longer in existence today. I will have to come back to Walker’s way of approaching a subject again, because for me the following peculiarity is difficult to understand: The items on display are all small, they come together to form an orderly grid. In Walker’s work the grid as a whole has, to my understanding, no other function than to contain the collection, here to provide a framework for the leftovers of a human life. He could thus have used any other means of displaying the items without adding or losing information. Also, a piece of work like this cannot be deciphered without extensive explanation. It seems that what Walker does is to produce a museum show in two dimensions. For these reasons his overall approach does not feel comfortable to me, although of course the collections themselves are full of great ideas.

Fred Wilson (*1954, USA)

When reading the short comment in the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2017, p. 51) about Fred Wilson making “work that comments on the bias of historical and contemporary collections”, this links directly to another feeling I just realise I had about Julian Walker’s work. The former simulates, or at least appears to present, a comprehensive exhibition owed to the sheer size of each collection, but of course the selection process by the original owner of the items, the selection process by events in history, the selction process by chance and that by the artist together can add up to a whole distorted overall image, IF one is naively looking to gain one from such a work of art. Without having had a first look at Wilson’s work, another creepy feeling comes up about a possible double bias arising from such an approach. Wilson can of course only comment on the collection bias he is aware of and so, unless he is in the possession of 100% of the evidence he is commenting on, he will add more bias by his own process of selection.
19 May 2017. Wilson says of his work that that his primary goal in his life as an artist as it is today is to bring “together objects that are in the world, manipulating them, working with spatial arrangements, and having things presented in the way I want to see them.” (art21, 2005). From the tiny snippet of film showing how he uses a collection of extreme kitsch objects he wants to get out of his life to set up a presentation on a table, I cannot guess at his intentions beyond “it flows out of me”. The objects are as fun to see as they are horrible in their kitsch existence, but I need help to be able to see them as what they are: “[…] he alters traditional interpretations, encouraging viewers to reconsider social and historical narratives.” (Pace Gallery, n.d.). Also, as a museum educator he uses his inside influence to “create a series of “mock museums” that address how museums consciously or unwittingly reinforce racist beliefs and behaviors.” (Alchetron, n.d.(a)). As a museum person I can only agree with Wilson’s concern. It is in fact incredibly easy to give and leave a totally wrong impression of a subject and in case of presenting matters of grave concern museums often do not recognize their errors and degree of influence on streams of trusting visitors. It is not for no reason that the Nazi regime tried to recruit natural history and art museums for its own purposes (from own experience as science museum exhibition planner and educator). An example for Wilson’s work, for which unfortunately I could not find any background information is two life-size statues on one platform, one black and rigid, one white and playful, the former presumably of Ancient Egyptian origin, the other probably Ancient Greek (Alchetron, n.d.(b)).
20 May 2017. Both the above statues are wonderful examples of their respective cultural backgrounds, but as soon as they come to be placed side by side they initiate an awkward, unpleasant thought process of unchecked black-white comparison. Having said that I believe that this process would not have been started in my case if I had not known about Wilson’s intentions before I first saw the image. Additional bias!

Lisa Milroy (*1959, Canada)

An initial image search of Milroy’s work gives a splendid overview over her areas of interest. It appears to be a classical woman’s world including painting collections of shoes, fans, buttons, fruit, superficially trivial, but arranged with uncanny sensitivity in fascinating and tasteful ways, which my eyes want to keep returning to. While Milroy calls herself a still-life painter, she is intensely interested in the connection between stillness and movement, which is visible in her painted arrangements, especially e.g. in “Tyres” (1988). Milroy does this by placing with care different objects, objects of the same kind in well-thought-out patterns or using paint in different ways in one painting in order to draw the viewer’s attention to this aspect (Fer, 2015). While the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 51) emphasizes her work from the 1980s and 1990s, she has increasingly moved from grid-like arrangements on monochrome backgrounds to placing collections within an environment among an multitude of other approaches (Milroy, 2017). She has been making series of paintings of places, as e.g. in “Tokyo” (Milroy, 1993), or series of painted 3D objects, as e.g. in the series “Dresses” (Milroy, 2011/12), which may also count as creating collections. If I had to make a choice, I would prefer her earlier work, however, which to me seems to be more distinct and distinguishable from other artists working now.

Paul Westcombe (*1981, UK)

Westcombe’s cartoon-like style of painting and drawing is highly colourful. Other than mentioned by the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 51) he does not restrict himself to coffee cups (as e.g. shown by the Saatchi Gallery, 2017) to create his small images, but uses many different 3D surfaces, e.g. used batteries, eggs or tins, and also he paints large street-art-like murals in different inside settings (Westcombe, 2015). His choice of subject is not exactly what I would prefer myself, but his style combining ink drawings with watercolour is quite attractive in its own way. What makes his work classify as “collection” is not obvious to me, because the mere repetitive usage of a certain type of surface seems too vague, but it is maybe the unusual surfaces which made him appear in the list in the study guide.

Lee Edwards (*1981, UK)

Edward’s work immediately stands out for its incredible amount of detail, whether on standard surfaces, as e.g. in “Tight” (Edwards, 2014), which was drawn using graphite on paper and appears to show rolled up pieces of cloth or knitwear, or in equal detail on tiny pieces of limb wood or conkers as in “Babes in the Wood” (Edwards, 2010). Looking at other work he did in the past, as e.g. cutting out tiny pieces from photographs and placing one each on a comparatively giant piece of MDF board, and together with many – what I believe – telltale titles I guess that Edwards takes the mickey now and then. While I very much like Edward’s new work on paper, both his style of drawing and unusual compositions, I am not so much taken by the mini portraits he makes. In some of the  latter there is a lovely subtlety of interaction of the facial expressions of the portrayed persons and the characteristics of the wood immediately surrounding them (Edwards, 2011). But others remind me of the romanticizing lockets people used to wear around their necks, while the wonderful detail can only be appreciated after artificially enlarging them.

David Dipré (*1974, UK)

It is strange how some well-known artists do not seem to be featured in any of the leading art websites. David Dipré is one of them, at least with my search engine. I got mostly Saatchi online, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook, but hardly any external media. One website presenting a new exhibition format ((detail), n.d.(a)) introduces him in the following way: “David Dipré uses portraiture as a basis for exploring the language of painting. Repeated subjects are refined through an accumulative body of work, that sets out to challenge traditional notions of representation. More recently, the work has moved from the flat surface into painted, sculptural objects that further explore ways of recording the physical world.” ((detail, n.d.(b)), 2014). Which, in my opinion, says exactly nothing. On Saatchi Art (n.d.) Dipré explains himself: “My work is an attempt to push further the language of painting, by adopting processes that disrupt a straightforward depiction of a traditional subject matter.” When looking closely at samples of his work, e.g. “Compressed” (Dipré, n.d.(a)), there is a weird 3D effect, as if the colours had been painted on layered acetate sheets, but as far as I can see it is a 2D painting in oil, in fact a self-portrait. The study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 51) mentions his impasto technique, but as this is nothing I would consider unusual, I went to look further to find self-portraits on various surfaces, e.g. concrete as in “Face Form Painting” (Dipré, n.d.(b). Dipré’s style is nothing I would consider for myself, but will nevertheless try and copy one of his weird self-portraits.

Cathy Lomax (*1963, UK) and Alli Sharma (*?, UK)

21 May 2017. When writing my first research post (Lacher-Bryk, 2017), I found that I was not too much drawn to the work of either Cathy Lomax or Alli Sharma, but since they keep coming back, I am looking forward to discovering what I missed the first time. The study guide mentions that both painted onto handbags (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 51), so I went to have a look at if and how they might be working together now and then.
Transition Gallery (http://www.transitiongallery.co.uk/) was founded by Cathy Lomax and has had Alli Sharma on show. This is where I found the handbags mentioned in the study guide. They were part of a group project called “ORNAMENT. A subversive look at female adornment played out on found handbags and real faces” (Transition Gallery, 2013). While the idea is quite original, I still do not feel comfortable with what they do. This is probably because I have never been attracted by clothes, shoes or handbags and generally have few of the characteristics usually classifying with the “female” stereotype. So I feel that I have no right to utter either a straight or subversive opinion in that respect. Overall, with respect to the subject of this post this is another example of how a support chosen with care may add to or emphasize the message of the work itself.

Tabitha Moses (*?, UK)

Textile artist Tabitha Moses appears to belong to the Cathy Lomax/Alli Sharma type of approach by focusing heavily on female subjects, especially after her own traumatic experience of IVF (Moorhead, 2014). Also before that she made collections of typically female items, as e.g. in “Bride” (Moses, 2007), where she arranged a number of vintage wedding accessories. She now produces embroidered “drawings” of complex phenomena circling around fertility. Like Lomax and Sharma she also uses dedicated surfaces, e.g. hospital gowns.

As we are required to try and find additional artists working with unusual surfaces or collections and I often find myself unable to fulfill the task using a combination of books and the computer, I went through a list of names I came across when doing the above research. Here I chose only those artists whose work had an immediate appeal to me:

Michael Ajerman (1977, USA)

Ajerman’s expressive use of line in combination with tone is something I want to remember. While he mostly uses conventional materials and methods I found some of the attractive results to have been painted in oil on aluminium (e.g. “Window”, 2011-2013) or oil on copper (“Brighton & 10th”, n.d.(a)). I am very impressed by the way Ajerman sometimes produces a luminous layer of bright colour as the background, painting over that with dark colours and leaving parts of the background to either shine through or uncovered, as e.g. in “Sleepwalker” (Ajerman, 2010-2014). Sometimes he uses joined paper as his background as e.g. in “Early September” (Ajerman, n.d.(b)). Both Ajerman’s style of painting and his weird sense of humour I will keep in mind and hopefully come back to in the exercises to follow.

Juliette Losq (*1978, UK)

When I first saw the work of Juliette Losq I hardly believed my eyes. The detail, painted in watercolour and ink, is just breathtaking. Recently she appears to have focused on making collections of similar views of abandoned concrete walls covered in graffti with nature about to reclaim that land (Losq, 2016). Some of these, the last few in the series, are on unusual backgrounds like layered sheets of paper or 3-dimensional objects, which add to the impression of abandonment and decay, which is described as follows: “Her fragmented works inhabit these environments, transforming them into theatrical spaces that the viewer is able to navigate almost like a stage set.” (Coates and Scarry, n.d.). They left a lasting impression on me, so that I may come back to try out the layering technique with one of the collection paintings I am required to do for the exercises in this part of the course.

I am aware that I could write a nearly endless post about the usage of unusual materials in painting, so I decided to stop researching artists at this point. Having a final look at unusual materials I came across Tape Art, artwork created using duct tape (Bock, 2015), which is used to create mostly large-size geometrical patterns but also representative “drawings” and “paintings”. Most of it remains two-dimensional, but some work amounts to room-filling installations. For a good overview over the range of applications see e.g. Pinterest (2017).
Having concentrated on the unusual for a relatively long time, I realized that strangely enough one of the personal outcomes here was the decision to finally get my ancient oil paints out of the cupboard. I had bought them 15 years ago, had a very reluctant unthinking start without getting the right type of information on how to use oils properly, then went back to watercolours for a very long time, before making the jump into the world of acrylics. Now, as I do seem to be making some progress using painting materials, I keep reading how much superior oils are to acrylics. I do not know yet how to use them in my home workshop because of the fumes, but I might try some small scale experiments while preparing for Assignment 2.

General references

Benjamin, W. (1940) ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ [online] in W. Benjamin (1969) Illuminations. Schocken Books, New York, pp 253-264. Available from: http://pages.ucsd.edu/~rfrank/class_web/ES-200A/Week%202/benjamin_ps.pdf [Accessed 17 May 2017]

Bock, S. (2015) Berliner Liste 2015. fair for contemporary art. Portraits und viele Mixed-Media-Arbeiten. KULTURA-EXTRA, das online-magazin, 18 September. Available from: http://www.kultura-extra.de/kunst/spezial/berlinerliste2015.php [Accessed 27 May 2017]

Freud, S. (1909) ‘Family Romances’ The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume IX (1906-1908): Jensen’s ‘Gradiva’ and Other Works, 235-242. Available from: http://www.arch.mcgill.ca/prof/bressani/arch653/winter2010/Freud_FamilyRomance.pdf [Accessed 17 May 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.

Pinterest (2017) Tape Art [image collection] [online]. Pinterest. Available from: https://www.pinterest.com/IPGtape/tape-art/ [Accessed 27 May 2017]

Julian Walker

Coe, N. (2013) Object of the Month: Acts of Faith [online]. Wellcome Collection, London. 11 November. Available from: https://next.wellcomecollection.org/articles/object-of-the-month-acts-of-faith [Accessed 18 May 2017]

Walker, J. (2003) Acts of Faith [collection][online]. Wellcome Collection Gallery, London. Available from: http://www.julianwalker.net/page18.htm [Accessed 18 May 2017]

Walker, J. (2007) Words and Forgetting [collection][online]. n.k. Available from: http://www.julianwalker.net/page18.htm [Accessed 18 May 2017]

Walker, J. (2017) Introduction [online]. Julian Walker, …… Available from: http://www.julianwalker.net/page2.htm [Accessed 18 May 2017]

Fred Wilson

Alchetron (n.d.(a)) Fred Wilson (artist) [online]. Alchetron. Available from: https://alchetron.com/Fred-Wilson-(artist)-908831-W [Accessed 19 May 2017]

Alchetron (n.d.(b)) [n.k.]. [installation] [online]. [n.k.]. Available from: https://alchetron.com/Fred-Wilson-(artist)-908831-W#demo [Accessed 19 May 2017]

art 21 (2005) Art in the Twenty-First Century, Season 3 [online]. art21, 1 September. Available from: https://art21.org/watch/art-in-the-twenty-first-century/s3/fred-wilson-in-season-3-of-art-in-the-twenty-first-century-2005-preview/ [Accessed 19 May 2017]

Pace Gallery (n.d.) Fred Wilson [online]. Pace Gallery, New York. Available from: http://www.pacegallery.com/artists/507/fred-wilson [Accessed 19 May 2017]

Lisa Milroy

Fer, B. (2015) Lisa Millroy: Life is not Still [online]. Lisa Milroy, London. Available from: http://www.lisamilroy.net/c/4/texts/p/598/lisa-milroy-life-is-not-still-2015-briony-fer [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Milroy, L. (1988) Tyres [oil on canvas] [online]. Lisa Milroy, London. Available from: http://www.lisamilroy.net/c/23/tyres [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Milroy, L. (1993) Tokyo [oil on polyester paintings] [online]. Lisa Millroy, London, Available from: http://www.lisamilroy.net/c/1000015/places [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Milroy, L. (2011-2012) Dresses [mixed media paintings] [online]. Lisa Milroy, London. Available from: http://www.lisamilroy.net/c/1000004/dresses [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Milroy, L. (2017) Lisa Milroy [online]. Lisa Milry, London. Available from: http://www.lisamilroy.net/ [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Paul Westcombe

Saatchi Gallery (2017) Paul Westcombe. Selected Works by Paul Westcombe [online]. Saatchi Gallery, London. Available from: http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/paul_westcombe.htm [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Westcombe, P. (2015) [n.t.] [blog] [online]. Paul Westcombe, London, 15 August. Available from: http://paulwestcombe.blogspot.co.at/ [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Lee Edwards

Edwards, L. (2010) Babes in the Wood [oil on wood] [online]. [n.k.]. Available from: http://leeedwardsart.co.uk/works/2009-2011/babes-in-the-wood [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Edwards, L. (2011) Looking for Something that Wasn’t There [oil on wood] [online]. [n.k.]. Available from: http://leeedwardsart.co.uk/works/2009-2011/looking-for-something-that-wasnt-there [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Edwards, L. (2014) Tight [graphite on paper] [online]. [n.k.]. Available from: http://leeedwardsart.co.uk/works/2012-2016/tight [Accessed 20 May 2017]

David Dipré

(detail) (n.d.) David Dipré [online]. (detail), [n.k.]. Available from: http://www.paintingdetail.com/david-dipre/ [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Dipré, D. (n.d.(a)) Compressed [oil painting] [online]. [n.k.], [n.k.]. Available from: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Compressed/8152/1783567/view [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Diprè, D. (n.d.(b)) Face Form Painting [oil on concrete] [online]. [n.k.], [n.k.]. Available from: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Face-Form/8152/1783645/view [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Saatchi Art (n.d.(a)) David Dipré. About David Dipré [online]. Saatchi Art, London. Available from: https://www.saatchiart.com/daviddipre [Accessed 20 May 2017]

Cathy Lomax and Alli Sharma

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Research Point: Painting Style – historical and contemporary painting [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 25 April. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/research-point-painting-style-historical-and-contemporary-painting/ [Accessed 21 May 2017]

Lomax, C. (2014-15) Black Venus [oil on linen] [online]. Priseman Seabrook Collection. Available from: http://www.cathylomax.co.uk/pages/year/2015/Vanity/blackvenus.html [Accessed 21 May 2017]

Transition Gallery (2013) ORNAMENT A subversive look at female adornment
played out on found handbags and real faces
[exhibition] [online]. Trasition Gallery, London. Available from: http://www.transitiongallery.co.uk/htmlpages/Ornament.html [Accessed 21 May 2017]

Tabitha Moses

Moorhead, J. (2014) I didn’t know how much I wanted a baby till it was almost too late [online]. The Guardian, London, 13 December. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/13/i-didnt-know-how-much-i-wanted-a-baby-till-it-was-almost-too-late [Accessed 21 May 2017]

Moses, T. (2007) Bride [vintage fabrics, thread, plastic, wire, bits and bobs] [online]. [n.k.], [n.k.]. Available from: http://www.tabithakyokomoses.com/page23.htm [Accessed 21 May 2017]

Michael Ajerman

Ajerman, M. (n.d.(a)) Brighton & 10th [oil on copper] [online]. [n.k.], [n.k.]. Available from: http://michaelajerman.com/page2.htm [Accessed 25 May 2017]

Ajerman, M. (n.d.(b)) Early September [watercolour on joined paper] [online]. [n.k.], [n.k.]. Available from: http://michaelajerman.com/page4.htm [Accessed 25 May 2017]

Ajerman, M. (2010-14) Sleepwalker [oil on linen] [online]. [n.k.], [n.k.]. Available from: http://michaelajerman.com/page2.htm [Accessed 25 May 2017]

Ajerman, M. (2011-13) Window [oil on aluminium] [online]. [n.k.], [n.k.]. Available from: http://michaelajerman.com/page2.htm [Accessed 25 May 2017]

Juliette Losq

Coates and Scarry (n.d.) Juliette Losq. About [online]. Coates and Scarry, Bristol. Available from: http://www.coatesandscarry.com/originals/juliette-losq [Accessed 26 May 2017]

Losq, J. (2016) Recent Work [series of paintings] [online]. Available from: http://www.losq.co.uk/page9.htm [Accessed 26 May 2017]

 

 

 

Part 1 and Assignment 1: Self-evaluation

9 and 10 May 2017.

Note. – I was unsure as to whether I was supposed to write separate self-evaluation posts for Part 1 and Assignment 1, but since the two are inseparable really, I decided to combine them here.

Overall it took me a little while to settle into this course, which is quite different from the two I did before (Drawing 1 and Practice of Painting). In my case it would probably have been better to start my degree path with a course like Understanding Painting Media (UPM), because it teaches beautifully the expected way of how to use sketchbooks and develop a project, two aspects I am struggling with. After the first months with UPM I feel, to my own surprise and joy, much more at home now with both sketchbook and project development. The experience is enjoyable, playful and relaxed. UPM is my favourite course so far and I think that this one is the one I learned the most from in a very short time.
Here is my appreciation of my development with reference to p. 5, 42 and 47 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015):

  • Demonstration of visual skills

Over several years now I have done a lot of continuous line drawing in my everyday sketchbook and elsewhere and I think that in this respect I have now developed a highly personal style (see e.g. Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). This skill has started to slowly become influential on my developing painting techniques, especially with the use of acrylic paint. I can do line drawings with paintbrushes quite successfully now, although the more painterly aspects of this skill need to be developed further.
My practical artist research, especially of Brian Alfred’s and Cecily Brown’s work and own derived experimentation allowed me to incorporate, with previously unknown confidence, the experience gained into my work for Assignment 1. This process has taught me some important initial requirements of how to approach the different aspects of a more complex project. Apart from the above this part of the course has given me, in a beautifully arranged way, the opportunity to get to become acquainted with some of the work of a considerable number of important contemporary artists and learn directly by engaging with it in a practical way, sometimes from surprising sources, which I would probably not have chosen for myself had I been presented with the opportunity (e.g. Jasper Joffe or Daniel Richter). Before I started this course I had never been sure of how to best accomplish this task, but now I feel in a good position to learn considerably. In a similar way my visual skills have sharpened. I am bolder, more creative and less afraid of “doing something wrong”. Years of drawing and painting in a figurative manner have given me some now relatively reliable knowledge of natural forms, which allows me to play with these forms to deliberately deviate from the original without having to give up the truth behind the changes any longer.

  • Quality of outcome

I am still keenly aware of the fact that I have had to relearn that one of the secrets of mastering the art of painting is in playing. This course has made this way of learning accessible to me once more. This means that I can start doing authentic things again, which I know from experience in a variety of other fields are the key to true communication with a viewer. Since I am by nature obsessively curious I do not think that I will ever be able to settle on a main area of interest, as there will always be a multitude of influences to consider and weigh against each other. This can be a very difficult task, but is also a chance to develop novel ways of seeing the world. This, however, also means that the quality of my work so far depends very much on how familiar I am with a subject, technique or material and whether I find a way of communicating my intention. In the past I found myself often struggling with tasks far too complex for my level of expertise. This course allows me to break down my subjects into manageable portions, so that I expect to be able to steadily increase the quality of my work. Along with this I noticed that my appreciation for the quality of work in the artists I come across has also increased and I feel more at home now with critically viewing and enjoying their particular contribution to the art world. My pieces for Assignment 1 I am very happy with in this respect. I think that the twenty paintings contain some of the best work I have made so far (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b).

  • Demonstration of creativity

Over the first two years with the OCA I have started to gain a different understanding of the meaning of the word creativity. Before that for me creativity was to have a ready-to-use idea in mind, which I then put into practice without further critical considerations. Now I am beginning to understand the difference in being creative while developing a project. I am more familiar now with the requirements set by the OCA in this respect and this allows me to come to more clearly appreciate the steps characteristic of creative processes. Over the first part of this course I felt that a self-sustaining development has set in and I hope that this is here to stay. In my experiementation, in particular with respect to practical artist research and painting response to their work I think that I made a large step forward, which I was able to carry over to planning and carrying out, in a consistent manner, the tasks for Assignment 1. In this respect I was glad to have taken with me from Assignment 5 of Practice of Painting my subject of shadows. This settling on an area of interest also helped me sharpen my view while not becoming overwhelmed by the creative possibilities open to me. I think that I am now relatively confident in selecting and using with (varying) success many different and creatively mixed painting and drawing media appropriate to the message I want to transport.

  • Context

I think that starting the course with a both theoretical and practical research project including a large number of artists was an incredibly efficient way to set the scene (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c). Now I am much better equipped for doing my own preliminary research, although I am aware that without the help of the OCA I would not yet be able to find the most important artists working today. I think that with respect to artist research it is always possible to do more, but to me it is an important first step to learn how to appreciate and use the invaluable contributions artists make for their respective work. For the first time I think that I successfully managed to incorporate techniques and ideas developed by other artists into my own assignment work (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b).
I also find that I have always intuitively incorporated ideas from my previous experiences, especially from my work as biologist and exhibition planner, as well as, and this in a largely subconscious manner, from my experience in fighting for our son, who is the victim of a massive hospital error.
My everyday life is highly demanding timewise and so I have to be very efficient at planning and carrying out my projects. This means that at least for the foreseeable future I cannot afford to let a project take its own pace, which may also have its advantanges. At times, for example, I need to spend several days in various hospitals together with my son. While this puts a halt to a continuous working process, it also helps me to step back from the work I have done and reappreciate it on returning from a completely different task. This helps me also to gain access to a set of possibly colliding viewpoints from which to observe and critically evaluate. What I do miss as compared to my previous two courses is some exchange with fellow students. As there do not seem to be many studying this course at the moment, my tutor contact is my invaluable resource for contextual concerns.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Everyday sketchbook: little May update [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 4 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/everyday-sketchbook-little-may-update/ [Accessed 10 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 1: Twenty 15×15 cm Shadows [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 9 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/assignment-1-twenty-15×15-cm-shadows/ [Accessed 10 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 1: Own experimentation supplementing introductory research point [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 9 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/category/research-and-reflection/ [Accessed 10 May 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.

Assignment 1: Twenty 15×15 cm Shadows

4 May 2017. During the final weeks of Practice of Painting I had realised that I would want to continue working with shadows in this course as well. My assignment subjects will all be related to this area of interest.

For the first assignment we were required to choose the materials liked best so far to produce a series of twenty 15×15 cm square paintings on watercolour paper. When finished we were to arrange and rearrange them, to compare the relative effects before settling on an arrangement to submit (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 44).

Sequence of preparation:

  • selection of twenty of my found images, which I had already pre-selected to include a large number of shadow-related views
  • preparation of paper squares from 600 g watercolour paper
  • selection of attractive square views from found photos (was done using my square viewfinder)
  • cutting out photos to choice of view
  • selection of fitting materials and painting styles for each photo, intuitively restricting myself to 4 different painting styles overall, so 5 paintings per style

My grouping the 20 paintings into sets of five felt appropriate, because a typical arrangement into 4 rows of 5 would be possible in a believable way. Also, I have the intention of telling a story in my sequence of images, which this will depend on the overall impression achieved by each tested arrangement, overall it will be one of how light and dark influence and structure the life of human beings through the day.

The selection of painting style was a mix of what I discovered for myself during exercises and styles I came to like when doing my artist research:

  • 5 paintings in a negative space technique discovered when painting with dilute white gouache on black acrylic background
  • 5 blurred shadows of diverse origins requiring additional research for “eroding” technique
  • 5 paintings using white and black ink in Brian Alfred style
  • 5 coloured paintings in Cecily Brown style

8 May 2015. Over the last five days I spent a very long time preparing my paintings. They were great fun to make, but I am glad to have been able to muster the energy to more or less work through. The results are more homogenous, having in common a particular atmosphere and mood, which might have got lost if I had allowed myself to take breaks.

Here are the individual results, grouped into their 4 sets:

  1. Negative space technique (Fig. 1-6)

I had discovered the technique during Exercise 1.2, when working on my black and white found images (Lacher-Bryk, 2017). When painting on a dry acrylic background with dilute white gouache paint, the paint dries up leaving distinct highlights along the wet/dry boundaries and in dents developing in the wet paper. To me the effect is wonderfully mysterious and given the right amount of practice can be used to create intriguing patterns. I tried various degrees of dilution in my sketchbook first (Fig. 1 below). The heavy watercolour paper I used for my finished paintings did not quite have the same efficiency regarding the weird highlighting, but was attractive in its own way.

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Fig. 1. Sketchbook: Testing effects of various degrees of dilute gouache on black acrylic background
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Figure 2. Painting 1: Shadow of a bicycle on a tent
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Figure 3. Painting 2: Entering a cave on a sea shore in Curaçao
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Figure 4. Painting 3: Playing Frisbee
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Figure 5. Painting 4: Krampus run
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Figure 6. Painting 5: Family shadows (this painting is not as dark in reality, but was impossible for me to correct on the computer)


2. Blurred shadows (Fig. 7-14)

In our bedroom street lights and lights in the houses around us at times produce the most beautiful shadow images of the plants we have on our windowsills. I spent hunting  for the best photos for nearly a year, as conditions change and plants get moved, so I had to wait a while to come up with a good set suitable for this part of the assignment. I had never produced deliberately blurred paintings before and the artists to be researched in the study guide do not do this either, so I spent some time looking what I could come up with myself. There do not seem to be too many painters working with blurring, but I had a look at J.M.W. Turner and his “Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway” (Fig. 7). While I greatly admire his incredible skill at staying indistinct over most of the painting to emphasize a few selected spots, this was not what I had in mind. Gerhard Richter’s “Self-portrait” (Fig. 8) came much closer to the effect I was after. The descriptions of the techniques applied by him were however also different from my idea, so I did my own practical research here (Fig. 8 and 9). In the end what I came up with was a white acrylic background covered in a thin layer of gloss varnish, then in grey gouache when dry. Again, when all three layers were dry, I used a very old, word-down small flat brush, water and a piece of cloth to wash away the sections of the background I wanted to highlight. This worked beautifully, allowing both precision and blurring as required.

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Figure 7. Sketchbook: Investingating blurring effects (1/3)
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Figure 8. Sketchbook: Investigating blurring effetcs (2/3)
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Figure 9. Sketchbook: investigating blurring effects (3/3)
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Figure 10. Painting 1: Shadow of plant on windowsill no. 1
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Figure 11. Painting 2: Shadow of plant on windowsill, no. 2
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Figure 12. Painting 3: Shadow of plant on windowsill, no. 3
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Figure 13. Painting 4: Reflection of wooden candle holder on flatscreen TV
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Figure 14. Painting 5: Moon shadow


3. Clear ink paintings (Fig. 15-20)

When doing my Part 1 artist research I decided that Brian Alfred’s particular flat style does not correspond at all to my intentions, but the attempt at recreating one of his paintings with materials of my own choice produced a result (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b) I wanted to explore further in my third set of assignment paintings. Since the technique was straightforward to apply (grey acrylic background, ink line drawing, then water-soluble black ink and water-proof white ink), I placed the focus on testing the white highlights in my sketchbook before attempting the final paintings (Fig. 15).

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Figure 15. Sketchbook: Testing the placement of white in the paintings (thumbnails)
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Figure 16. Painting 1: Lense light in our bedroom and window
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Figure 17. Painting 2: Holocaust memorial in Berlin
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Figure 18. Painting 3: My workshop lights
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Figure 19. Painting 4: Fire station
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Figure 20. Painting 5: 24 hour video EEG

Coloured Cecily Brown style paintings (Fig. 21-27)

This was the most demanding of the four sets. Cecily Brown and her approach to integrating the figurative and abstract into one painting is a very attractive concept to me (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c) and while I know that I am not yet able to work in this way consistently I felt that this style was required to complement the three more figurative black and white sets. I had chosen five photos, which I needed as figurative starting points to what was to become abstractions (Fig. 21).

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Figure 21. The photos selected for the Cecily Brown set

I then prepared white acrylic backgrounds to paint on these with an intuitive selection of colours of acrylic paint. In my sketchbook I made thumbnails first, which helped me to find initial ideas for the abstraction process (Fig. 22). The rusty parts on the deck of a boat became a bathing scene, the wooden fence and shadow in our garden turned into attacking soldiers, the shadow of a tree on the street became a coral reef, some flamingos and their weird shadows turned colourful and the shadow of a tree on a building stayed what it was, but was painted upside down to result in a view I would not have been able to make up without turning it upside down in the first place – here I included some very valuable insight gained in exercise 1.4 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017d).

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Figure 22. Sketchbook: Thinking about possible abstractions from original photos (thumbnails)

9 May 2017. Here are the results for this set:

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Figure 23. Painting 1: Bathers (derived from image showing rusty deck of boat)
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Figure 24. Painting 2: Flamingos with coloured shadows
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Figure 25. Painting 3: Coral reef (derived from image showing shadow of tree on street)
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Figure 26. Painting 4: Attacking (derived from image showing wooden fence)
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Figure 27. Painting 5: Tree on wall

Today I arranged the paintings in grids and, overall, given a nearly endless number of possible, plausible and attractive arrangements, I decided that I would need to place my focus on the most important aspects. These did not include, as I had first planned at the start of this assignment, a story. Any sequence would have allowed any number of stories to be told, which is a consequence of selecting images as instructed by “wanting to paint them”. So I tested black and white backgrounds (Fig. 28 and 29 below). Of these white was more neutral towards the placement of my coloured paintings, so I continued with white, although I liked the stabilising effect of the black. I might have included any number of possible grids like single rows, double rows, pyramids, diamonds, patterns including the background, whatever. It was overwhelming to even think of these, so I stayed with the rectangular, testing narrow, wide and no gaps (Fig. 28-34), landscape and portrait versions (Fig. 33-34) as well as “quiet” and “loud” impressions (Fig. 30-31 appear particularly “loud” to me). It took me a while to come up with a solution I liked, which was overall quiet enough to allow a viewing of the individual images. The rest produced interesting patterns when viewed from a distance (difficult to test in my workshop), but invariably made my head burst when trying to see each single painting. The – what I would call them – energy clashes running along the individual borders appear to determine the overall impression to a greater extent than the contents of each painting. Also, all grids are far easier and more pleasant to view on the computer. What looks nice and sorted in the photos below was mostly none of the two in real life.

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Figure 28. Testing on black background, paintings in sequence of production, narrow gaps
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Figure 29. Testing on white background, paintings in sequence of production, narrow gaps
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Figure 30. White background, no gaps, random order of paintings except for strategic placing of coloured images (horrible effect, gaps are very important obviously)
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Figure 31. White background, narrow gaps, placing “loud” images at strategic positions
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Figure 32. Creating a quiet centre and plaing directional images to make them point towards the centre. This alone is sufficiently stable to give the loud, coloured images the “rest” they require.
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Figure 33. Same sequence as above, but widening the gaps (less attractive on the computer than Fig. 32 above, but better in real life, optical illusion of black circles in gap intersections only present on the computer)
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Figure 34. Same sequence and gap width as in Fig. 30 above, but turning the paintings to make a portrait view (less attractive on the computer, nearly impossible to take a good photo, but my preferred version in real life)

The version from Fig. 34 above is the one I want to present as my Assignment 1 piece. I would not be able to tell which particular combination of factors works here, but I am pleased with the outcome. I could spend weeks rearranging my paintings, as there are so many interactions to learn to see, feel and consider. When assessment time comes up, I will prepare a set of preferred sequences and present them together.

Self-assessment for Assignment 1 to follow in a separate post.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Part 1, exercise 1.2: Using found images – black and white [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/part-1-exercise-1-2-using-found-images-black-and-white/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Research Point: Painting Style – historical and contemporary painting [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/research-point-painting-style-historical-and-contemporary-painting/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 1: Own experimentation supplementing introductory research point [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/part-1-own-experimentation-supplementing-introductory-research-point/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017d) Part 1, exercise 1.4: Look at what you see – not what you imagine [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/part-1-exercise-1-4-look-at-what-you-see-not-what-you-imagine/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.

Part 1, exercise 1.4: Look at what you see – not what you imagine

4 May 2017. The last exercise in the first part of the course, another relaxed but highly rewarding and playful approach to learning something essential. On A4 or A3 paper we were to paint one 10-minute and one 20-minute copy of a found image put upside down, in order to practice close observation, avoiding the painting of what we think there is (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 41). Since the instructions were not restrictive regarding the quality of paint used, especially the degree of dilution, which was a must for the first three exercises, I decided to use gouache, which I would rarely choose these days, and take the liberty to add undiluted paint as well. I chose a photo we took at a fun fair, because in addition to exercise requirements it also looked a lot more dynamic when turned upside down:

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Figure 1. 10-minute painted sketch of a found image turned upside down, gouache on A3 watercolour paper primed with gloss medium
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Figure 2. 20-minute sketch of the same

I noticed that if 20 minutes was not a lot, 10 minutes was next to nothing timewise. Decisions what to include and what to omit I took on the spot and found at the end that I might have chosen a different focus. What is interesting to see in the finished sketches, is that the areas left white due to lack of time might have been left intentionally also, so are not all that badly placed. Turning the paintings back to the original position to judge whether any elements are out of place, I can see that everything is in its place and believably so. Which means that an immediate unprejudiced translation of an unfamiliar view into paint can work surprisingly well, although by turning the view upside down it is not possible to stop the stream of associations. I had to force myself not to think “Well, I know this is upside down. I just turn it back in my head and paint what I think there is.”
Overall, while certainly not the best work I ever produced, the 10 minute sketch is probably more successful regarding composition. In the 20 minute sketch I started fiddling a minute before the time was over. I thought “Oh, another minute to go, what else can I fit in?” and added the baroque window in the bottom left corner, which seems to put a brake on the momentum produced by the chains and upside down persons. This is certainly a lesson to remember: No need to use something only because it is there…

Now, finally, straight to Assignment 1. Time is running out again…

References

Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.

Everyday sketchbook: little May update

4 May 2017. There has been far less time recently for my everyday sketchbook, but I have three ink pen drawings I would like to share here (Fig. 1-3).

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – very quick drawing of a group photo
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Figure 2. Sketchbook – quick drawing of shadows made by cars parked along the pavement
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Figure 3. Sketchbook: 15-minute study of some bicycles parked for good

I think that by now I have acquired my individual style of drawing. Likenesses are always good now and I have lost, more or less, my deep fear that the skill may magically disappear one day. Very happy!