30 July 2017. I had been looking forward to this study visit for weeks. Every since I had read in the local newspaper that William Kentridge would be working for the Salzburg Festival this year and at the same time show his work in the Salzburg Museum der Moderne (title: ‘Thick Time’), I had been determined to learn more about the artist who stimulates my starting development like no other. Yesterday there was another article in the newspaper with an analysis of Kentridge’s main concerns and a preview walk through the exhibition (Panagl, 2017), so we took the opportunity of having a day off to go and see it on the first day it was open to the public.
The exhibition comes in two parts, shown separately in two museum buildings, one in the main museum on Mönchsberg, the other in the town centre. As my main interest was in Kentridge’s films and installations, we went to see the part on Mönchsberg only and the right decision it was. There was far too much to see in what I felt may have been an attempt at showing everything there is, too much noise, too many flickering images, too may films crammed into a huge but still limited space, stealing each others’ shows.
Usually I am fascinated by the sensitivity in Kentridge’s approach, the wonderful, subtle harmony of visual and audio effecty in his charcoal animations. In this show this was swamped by gigantic screens and sound turned up to a maximum. I understand that every visitor wants to see and hear, even if the museum is full, but here I felt that the attempt damaged some of the key elements in Kentridge’s work. As also there was little to see in the exhibition that is not available online, I decided to go home again, sit in front of my computer screen, turn down the sound level and enjoy.
On the way out, in the museum shop, my husband found a German language book by Kentridge, Sechs Zeichenstunden (2016) (Six Drawing Lessons). It contains the transcripts of a series of lectures Kentridge held, explaining his approach to work, and looked like just the thing I had been hoping to see in the exhibition. We bought it and I will report on it when finished.
Kentridge, W. (2016) Sechs Zeichenstunden: Die Charles Eliot Norton Vorlesungen. Verlag Der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln.
Panagl, C. (2017) ‘Ein Bild ist erst der Anfang’. Salzburger Nachrichten, 29 July, p. 9.
23/24 July 2017. Bill Brandt (1904-1983, UK), André Kertész (1894-1985, Hungary) and Brassaï (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984, Hungary-France) were groundbreaking photographers, who shared a love of black and white photography at a time when colour photography was already available and a keen eye for the unusual view on the seemingly mundane to create striking compositions.
My tutor very likely intended for me here that I investigate the principles of distribution of light and dark areas in a composition devoid of colour. Since in black and white photography there is no colour to distract the eye (which humans have a great innate affinity for), any compositional imbalance is noticed immediately. Gibson (n.d.) points out that “the emotional power of color can mask poor composition”, which requires that particular attention is to be paid to “tonal contrast, texture, line, shape, pattern, and negative space”. This will be absolutely true for black and white painting as well. Another vital aspect listed by Gibson (n.d.) for successful black and white photography, the requirement of having the best possible lighting conditions, will of course be of great advantage in setting up the arrangement for a painting. However, in painting there is a large creative space on top of the properties of a setup, within which the respective weight of light and dark may be analysed, played with and adapted further. Which means that deviation from the original arrangement may be such that it is no longer recognizable in the finished work.
Among the three pioneering photographers I feel the greatest affinity with Brassaï. His compositions include many textural elements I might find in a contemporary painting. Troiano (2016) analyses his “The Language of the Wall” graffiti series from wartime Paris (ASX team, 2013) as a purposeful journey through the history of man. This may not be immediately obvious to the first-time viewer, but graffiti is often based on symbols common and intelligible to a large percentage of people through the times. One such photo in connection with the other members of the series thus becomes the carrier of several embedded layers of narrative, allowing a viewer to travel with it for as deep as they want the journey to be, from a superficial interest in the depicted wall texture to prophetic messages encoded in the series.
Bill Brandt, on the other hand, appears to me to have been a more direct commentator of contemporary everyday and political life, and, as black and white photography lends itself beautifully to that purpose, the documentation of the world at night. As far as I can see there are fewer encoded messages than in Brassaï’s work and this is probably included in his explanation of his approach to photographing the human body: “Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). This appears to me as a highly experimental, 21th century approach, since while the absence of planning will have opened doors to a new way of seeing the world, it will also have been accompanied by a great many failures. Brandt however also edited photographs in his darkroom to achieve effects he had in mind (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). In images which were not pure documents of a situation, Brandt’s compositional qualities are strikingly evident. In the same way as in a working painting he leads the viewer into and through a story, for example in his “Coal-searcher Going Home to Jarrow” (1937).
The fewest connections I notice with André Kertész. There seems to be a strange modern commercial feel to the photographs I found, which is strong enough for me to lose interest. While the compositions are immaculate, for me they do not radiate the mystery of Brassaï’s work and also lack the political statement of Brandt’s. This is not surprising, really, as Kertész used to work for magazines such as “House and Garden” (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.).
For my own work to come I will have printouts on my wall of those photos which left the strongest impression. I just hope that I can learn from them.
20 July 2017. Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss artist (1901-1966) prolific as sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printer alike. I have to admit that I greatly admire Giacometti’s sculptures, I find his portrait paintings and drawings harsh, distant and forbidding without being able to find a reason. As my father is a sculptor, I am aware of the drawing hand typical of sculptors, which can add unintended harshness. The connection my tutor intended me to make was not immediately obvious to me. Maybe she wants me to have a closer look at the Giacometti’s use of line in connection with the wonderfully communicating painted backgrounds as e.g. in “Annette” (1951) (Leopoldmuseum, 2014).
Of course Giacometti’s famous emaciated figures addressing the suffering after the war leave an impression never to forget. They themselves are shadows of a being and they leave a shadow imprint of what they are and represent on me. Highly complex, highly intuitive and far beyond my present abilities. One of the sculptures I will not forget either for its originality and wit is “The Cat”, one of his very few bronze sculptures made of animals (Fig. 1).
For my next exercise I am to make a line drawing with paint. When I look at Giacometti’s sculptural work, it may even be described as line drawings in space. Maybe this is what I might be doing: take my collection of photos from the past and put them into space. This reminds me that I already made some 3D drawings in Part 5 of Painting 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017) (Fig. 2):
So this is what I want to do for Exercise 2.2: A large size collection of 3D line drawings of my photos from the past.
20 July 2017. I had planned to plunge directly into the next exercise, but a sense of foreboding kept me from doing that. There was an uncomfortable feeling of not yet having done some of the research suggested by my tutor and of, just maybe, missing the essential bit of emotion to start the exercise in the right mood.
Tacita Dean (*1965, UK) was one of the first artists I was made aware of by my Drawing 1 tutor and at the same time one of those who I felt instantly akin with, not always with their artistic output, but the feel of the world they transport. While Tacita Dean primarily works as a highly original film-maker (Frith Street Gallery, n.d.), she also produces wonderful giant black and white landscape drawings and etchings. Most famous among these are “Fatigues”, a series of connected chalk drawings on black boards made in 2012 over the period of a few weeks in Germany (Art Observed, 2013). For my own work I have always loved the power of black and white, hence also my interest in shadows, but as for now I can find no additional inspiration for my ongoing work. This may of course change any instant so I decided to remain vigilant. Maybe Dean creeps into the work I do unnoticed.
18/19/20 July 2017. Looking at the images my browser came up with when searching for Ellen Gallagher (*1965, USA) on the web, I got an immediate first impression of comic strips. On closer inspection I found this completely wrong, and only a very limited segment of her oeuvre, but her working in large series, the reduced palette with an affinity for yellow and grey and her style reminded me somewhat – but not exclusively – of a number of pop art painters. The above is but one of the many different styles and techniques Gallagher uses, many of these including collage, video, traditional and innovative types of printing and also mechanically working into the surface of her paintings (Gagosian, n.d.). In a series of videos Gallagher explains, among others, her keen observation of initially unwanted side-effect of her techniques, which over time may become central ingredients of the work she makes, e.g. trapped air bubbles which she then used to recreate biological structure. It was also an eye-opener to me to get to know how Gallagher approached a project of capturing the usually fleeting impression left by the activity of birds (Forster, 2014). In her subjects Gallagher often deals with racial and gender stereotypes as she finds them transported by the media (Tate, n.d.). At first I was not too much drawn to the appearance of her final pieces, but having listened to her explaning the ideas behind her work, I started feeling close to her unusual, highly sensitive, honest and witty ideas of making her intentions known.