Artist research: Allen McCollum

6 September 2017. My tutor suggested I have a look at a set within Allen McCollum’s (*1944, USA) famous surrogate paintings, basically empty frames painted in vivid colours and lined up in rows along a wall (McCollum, n.d.). Despite the connection my tutor tied (“where absence and shadow can speak volumes”), I was not attracted. The frames look rough, their colours haphazard. Looking at them again during a quiet minute they reminded me distantly of the multitude of doors leading to the childrens’ bedrooms in the great film “Monster Inc.”. In contrast to McCollum’s frames I find a real purpose to the doors besides serving as symbols for individual lives. Of course I can fill the absences in McCollum’s frames with whatever (shadows) I like, but this I can do with everything that is empty around me, so I do not really need the frames.
McCollum not only works with sets of blank frames, but also with multiples (similar but not the same) of drawings, sculptures or even collections of natural objects such as fulgurite tubes (glass lined hollow tubes formed where lightning strikes sand), which I was not happy to see either. I am having difficulties again with the lining up of multiples of objects into grids and rows, no matter how sophisticated the connection with some important human issue such as a discussion of the mass-produced versus individualized, the issue of a painting being an object representing itself and such like, in the late 20th century (ARTCenterMFA, 2015). At the risk of outing myself, again, as a philistine, the addressed issues feel vastly insubstantial to me in the face of the enormousness of the universe and the mystery of life. The produced objects are sometimes attractive, more often nice to look at, but this is where my interest ends somehow. I believe that most repetitive patterns look attractive to the human mind because they are aesthetically pleasing, but this does not automatically make them qualify as works of art. Is this the same sort of decoration my tutor saw in the first stages of my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017)? I am probably not the best person to judge here, because to me the umbrella is a multidimensional analysis of a highly personal legacy. However, I will be taking my own experience with McCollum’s work as a warning to myself, so that I do not wander, starry-eyed, into the same trap.

References

ARTCenterMFA (2015) Allan McCollum, Graduate Seminar 2/3/2015 [online]. Department of Graduate Art at Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Available from: https://vimeo.com/118767506 [Accessed 6 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 6 September 2017]

McCollum, A. (n.d.) Allan McCollum [online]. Allan McCollum, New York. Available from: http://allanmccollum.net/allanmcnyc/ [Accessed 6 September 2017]

 

 

Assignment 2: Tutor feedback reflection

1/3/4 September 2017.

Note 1.
For my tutor: I am very happy to be your student. What follows is nothing personal, but what I guess may be a general communication issue between the OCA and its student(s). I noticed and mentioned some of that in earlier courses also.

Note 2.
When I wrote my feedback reflection for Part 1 of UPM, I did so immediately after the video tutorial to then supplement it by the summary provided by my tutor in written form. I noticed weird discrepancies between study guide instructions, the oral and the written content of my tutor feedback. As this repeated itself for Part 2, I decided to pay particular attention and compare the things said and written. I found it very difficult to make this blog post a “compare and contrast” exercise, because my observations are virtually impossible to separate into isolated entities. Still I hope to have described my issues clearly enough to allow them to be discussed in depth and hopefully solved, because far too much of my limited study time is still going
into making sense of what is expected of me.  

Video tutorials with my UPM tutor I perceive as very lively and encouraging conversations. After about 4 or 5 video talks so far over the course of my OCA studies I believe, however, that despite the great advantages of immediate feedback and getting to know my tutor personally there are severe limitations to video communication for a number of reasons. A lot of information needs to be passed in what I feel is far too little time via a sometimes poor skype connection. I find myself unable to ask relevant questions during the tutorial, because I can only pinpoint inconsistencies I feel during the talk after having digested the more complex subjects covered. The above issue is made more difficult by receiving follow-up written summaries which I think sometimes are not completely in line with the oral information. This effect does not concern all of the advice given, but mostly affects my tutors’ remarks regarding the intentions behind my work.
I have to admit that trying to make sense of both confuses me. Therefore I will probably not go for a video tutorial next time but for a written-only statement. The latter I experienced, in Drawing 1 and Practice of Painting, as clear analyses of all the submitted pieces as compared to the more general overview provided by combined video/written feedback. For many of the reasons stated above I also decided that I will need to contact my tutor at shorter intervals while working on the exercises.

The main discrepancies I stumbled upon in this case were the following:

  • study guide instructions and tutor comments on respective work:

    I cannot help the impression that often tutor and study guide may be at odds.

    • Written tutor comment on photographic collections: “tension between your work from working with unpredictable diluted paints and the ordering of your objects” and “you have thought about the arrangement of them in grids and boxes”
      This combination was owed both to my tutor’s previous suggestion to keep working with inks and to the prescribed preliminary research on artists working with and presenting collections – they all came in grids and boxes. I even wrote a note in my sketchbook stating that I do not like to work in grids for several reasons.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.1: “continuing with the ordering of objects, your work is showing your interests of regularity and design- does this emulate your life style?” and “However avoid twee subjects like the teddy bear and necklace, as it does not match the inventiveness of the affects.”
      I do not embrace regularity, neither in my life nor in my work (although we as a family are going through a very long-term challenging period and sometimes I would wish for a little more peace and quiet). I experience myself as excessively inquisitive with spontaneous interest in everything and I will order my work only because it is expected from me. If I do so, however, my scientist’s training will probably create an impression of wanting to bring “a field of ideas into fenced areas”. I believe that fences hinder development, both at the personal level and in society as a whole.
      Both teddy bear and necklace were parts of collections of household items the study guide instructed us to produce. I mentioned in both sketchbook and blog that I did not like any of the two choices and would never think of working with them on my own. However, I was happy with the quick palette knife caramel study of my teddy bear, which made him look fierce and aggressive (I like playing with contradictory elements, also in my work as political caricaturist). As I recorded in my sketchbook, after further experimenting the caramel painting exists only as a photo now.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.2: “Your sources are wide ranging to start this project. Sometimes less is more.”
      We were required to select several from a long list of sources and use these to experiment. I did exactly what was required in the study guide. On the other hand, in the video tutorial, my tutor asked me to continue doing what I like best and experiment to the full.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.3: “Do you like to collect? You work with multiples and more than one object.”
      No, I don’t like to collect, but this is what we were supposed to do, it is the basis for all of the work required in Part 2.
    • Written comment on assignment: “your panels started off by being too decorative and literal”.
      I don’t understand this, because at the outset I had no plan that I would create fields and many of my finished scenes travel into the next panel on the umbrella. The scenes themselves, evolving from a very quickly produced background of roughly mixed acrylic paint, were purely intuitive (e.g. “I want to address anxiety, can my inner eye see something in the swirls of colour that might transport this emotion?”). I never even thought of a literal translation, let alone decoration. The way I chose for creating the persons acting on the panels I felt to be extremely rough, both in testing them on my printouts (without which I would have been unable to see the patterns in the original) and the nylon support of the umbrella.
      I was surprised that my tutor called the use of an umbrella “clichéd” and then added “However, if the umbrella is intentional …”. I explained the background to my – of course intentional – choice of an umbrella as my support widely in my blog. Besides that, at level one I firmly believe that I should not be overly concerned about clichés really, in the same line as my tutor’s suggested not to worry about a personal voice at this level.
    • My tutor emphasizes the necessity to show continuity, e.g. by returning to the same materials (“Be careful you are not starting again in each assignment”, “It is easy to forget what you have already done without celebrating the successes. I think this is why you can be a little frightened each time- because you feel you are starting again.”).
      While I will very happily celebrate what I think was successful, I think that either it is me misinterpreting or the study guide failing to explain clearly. I still do not understand how we are supposed to show continuous development throughout the course, because parts/exercises read very differently regarding the required outcome: e.g. “curating” and painting collections of household items in Part 2 and learning how to make monoprint portraits in Part 3. For me these two have very little in common and I am not sure yet how I am to combine study guide requirements and tutor suggestions.
  • technical aspects:

    In her pointers for the next assignment my tutor suggests that I need to make my results more sophisticated by thinking about a coating for my results. This I thought odd, since I had added protection wherever I thought a piece finished. Some of them, as e.g. the aluminium cans, I have left unsealed so far, but only because I want to keep the option of working on them again at a later point (this I mentioned in my blog). The suggestion by my tutor also confuses me, because in her feedback on Part 1 she mentioned that I must not worry about leaving things unfinished.

  • analysis of development:

    In the video tutorial I received the impression of a considerable step forward. The written feedback, which arrived a day later, was far less enthusiastic in that respect. It contains the remarks “There has been a change in direction” and “Previously- you worked with shadows, monochromatic applications, atmospheric work and looking at shadows as traces, footstep and legacies to extend your context.” I certainly did not intend any change in direction and continued to work with shadows as planned. I expanded on my work from Part 1 in e.g. my sketchbook, set of cans, large scale drawing and Assignment 2 and continued to develop my work with shadows, traces and legacies, all of these combined in my umbrella project. My tutor however identified a change insofar as a new subject of mine appears to be “ordering the chaos”. This is not so. My interest in multiples is owed to study guide instructions, at least at the moment. The addition of mind mapping as an invaluable tool has purely organisational reasons and I am positive that I do not want to make it part of my work at this point in time.
    My tutor advised me also to shift my attention from focusing on shadows as a main course theme to what has started to show in my recent work, which is the use of a large variety of unusual surfaces and painting materials, working with found objects and working with multiples, but again I only followed instructions here. A comparable experience I had in Part 1, where I believe that my tutor received the wrong impression that I had set myself the goal of painting 20 squares for assignment, as she mentioned a certain lack of inventiveness in repeating same-sized paintings.

  • analysis of written work:

On p. 2 of her written feedback my tutor mentions that “I say my work is unprofessional because I am repeating”. I cannot remember saying such a thing, I rather wrote that by a lack of organisation “I still find myself working intuitively, which results in “discovering” the same things over and over, which is not just annoying but highly unprofessional.”. Which is something altogether different (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). What I mean is that by having no structure in my approach to experimenting (at the time before mind mapping!), I do things again and again without realising that I am repeating myself and without making a working connection between the repeated parts. I know that the conscious and comparative repeating of techniques and subjects is absolutely essential in developing a better understanding of the respective outcomes. Mind mapping will however help me organising this part of my studies better.
I am not sure whether sometimes the way I express myself may lead to misunderstandings.

Apart from the above contradictory observations I received a number of invaluable pointers for development:

  • The working with multiples/grids/fields ties in with some of my earlier work, including the charcoal animations I did as part of Drawing 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). My tutor suggested that I try animations again, including simple ones like spinning my umbrella and making a film of that (zoetrope effect).
  • make anxiety part of my work (which I already do to a large extent)
  • select working textures from my sketchbooks and use them at a larger scale
  • continue working with unusual materials such as Coca-Cola and charcoal, caramel, beetroot juice etc. as well as unusual supports
  • try and work on a number of different pieces simultaneously to allow switching between pieces intuitively according to the communication channels working best at the time
  • regarding the issue of “putting order in my chaos”:
    e.g. use beetroot juice, make a mind map to set the scene, paint with a paintbrush (orderly) and then “let go” by e.g. painting with my hand only, always keep working quickly
  • do whatever I like best and continue experimenting to the full, putting imagination first, but now with my mind on “ordering the chaos”
  • Regarding the use of mind maps as means of artistic expression my tutor suggested that I have a look at the work of Mark Lombardi (1951-2000, USA) and the conspiracy theory surrounding his work and premature death. I did a quick search on the internet and instantly felt something familiar. Actually Lombardi’s cleverly devised mind maps, named “Narrative Structures”, remind me of some analysing tools used in evolutionary biology and ecology. Though static in appearance, his mind maps are in motion, both by the way the lines are arranged and by the way they indicate growth, and probably evolution. When doing some research on his intentions, it was not a biological background, but rather analyses of financial and political development (see e.g. Lucarelli, 2012). Although these subjects could not sound more different, they of course share similarities via emerging properties (which leads me back to an observation I made for myself when working on my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b). It would both take me too far and be at the same time be short-sighted to consider making “evolution” a new focus of my course. The whole course itself is evolution and I must not use something I cannot know, because it lies in the future, to plan continuity with.

Besides, I am extremely happy to read that my sketchbook at last starts to take shape and research as well as blog meet the requirements. These points I was really worried about, because it took me felt ages to learn the basic requirements.

Overall, in order to gain the most from my work so far, I have started to sit down with my results for Parts 1 and 2 to do a synthesis and then decide, using mind maps, in which direction I want to proceed. This aspect is one of the aha-experiences I had during our video talk. So far I saw the parts of all courses as more or less separate entities with the main goal of introducing many different options of artistic expression. Tutor and assessors will however, despite the felt enormous difference between the subjects of each part, look for a continuity in artistic development. So, in Part 3, for example, where I had thought I would need to follow instructions on how to make monotype prints, I will also be expected to include insights gained in other parts, irrespective of their superficial dissimilarity. For example, although many of my subjects are figurative, I am semi-abstract in my use of materials. In keeping doing so I will be showing the required continuity over the parts of the course. This is completely new thinking for me and I will need to approach Part 3 with care to make this aspect a working tool.

Research on artists suggested by my tutor will be posted separately.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2015) Assignment 2: “Ghost from the Past” – a stop motion experiment and the finished drawing [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA study blog, 17 June. Available from: https://andreabrykoca.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/assignment-2-ghost-from-the-past-a-stop-motion-experiment-and-the-finished-drawing/ [Accessed 1 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Part 2, exercise 2.1: Unusual materials: collections – unusual painting media [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 14 July. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/07/14/part-2-exercise-2-1-unusual-painting-media/ [Accessed 3 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 1 September 2017]

Lucarelli, F. (2012) Mark Lombardi’s Narrative Structures and Other Mappings of Power Relations [blog] [online]. Socks, Paris, 22 August. Available from: http://socks-studio.com/2012/08/22/mark-lombardi/

Part 2, exercise 2.1: Unusual materials: collections – unusual painting media

13 July 2017. Taking a deep breath and getting back into course mode.

When looking at the works of artists using collections and my own preparatory photographs I find that am attracted more by regular patterns or those that allow me to focus on, then wander without getting confused or distracted, such as the giant wall created by Julian Walker (Fig. 1 below and Lacher-Bryk, 2017). I kept this aspect in mind when selecting from my collection of template photographs.

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – top half: Investigating the properties of collection items presented in regular grids

I am also attracted by unusual surfaces to paint on. In Painting 1 I produced a self-portrait with acrylics on aluminium foil (Lacher-Bryk, 2016) and was intrigued by the interplay between opaque and shine-through parts. I returned to aluminium foil, but used ink instead of acrylics this time, since my tutor had advised me to concentrate for the time being on investigating the properties of ink. I chose one of my soup cube images to start the series (Fig. 2). Although I thought all of the soup cube interactions worth investigating, I decided to stay with a grid and one that allowed to keep an eye on shadows, i.e. the last of the four.

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Figure 2. Sketchbook – Soup cube options

In order to get acquainted with painting with inks on foil I went through a sketchbook serie of tests. Unfortunately it was nearly impossible to produce a truthful photo or scan of that page, but here it is anyway (Fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Sketchbook – Testing Plaka gold casein paint with gloss medium, water-proof antique ink, water-proof white ink and water-soluble black ink.

There were quite a few attractive effects, especially where paint and ink tended to pull out of some areas but not others. I could not identify the reason for this behaviour, since I had taken great care not to touch the foil with my fingers. Maybe there were some minor differences in the physical properties of the foil, if only slight denting or similar. With the above results in mind I covered a piece of high quality A4 sketch paper in aluminium foil, taking care to produce a smooth surface without creases, then painted a section of my soup cube pattern using Plaka Gold (Fig. 4). My tutor had advised me to keep working quickly, so I tried not to spend too much time with this. Again the paint pulled out of some spots:

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Figure 4. Painting on aluminium foil with Plaka gold casein paint.

When the Plaka layer was dry, I continued using Persian red antique ink, water-soluble black ink and a water-proof ink pen (Fig. 5).

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Figure 5. Working with Persian red antique ink, water-soluble black ink plus water-proof ink pen

At this point I realized that these were no longer soup cubes but rather looked like flooded high-raise buildings. Since I love to grasp unexpected opportunities, I finished that painting adding reflections of sunlight on the roofs of the buildings, suggestions of windows as well as shadows on buildings and in the dark water (Fig. 6).

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Figure 6. Finished soup cube flooding painting.

The above is no great work of art, but it contains a multitude of attractive aspects of both design and painting media I will with certainty come back to throughout the course. It also offers many technical options of how to proceed with investigating the shadows I am thinking of for my Assignment 2 piece. I am happy to have kept in mind my tutor’s advice of making colour a secondary property for the moment.

Next I went to choose some painting media from the list on p. 55 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015). Since I will always try and make life as hard as possible for myself, I decided to start experimenting with Coca Cola. A first attempt at using it straight from the bottle produced a very faint, though admittedly non-sticky mark. I then boiled some of it down as far as possible without burning it, then tried again. The resulting darker colour was nice to look at, but remained horribly sticky at every possible degree of dilution. I then had a look at the work of the artist mentioned in the study guide in connection with the use of Coca Cola, Marcel Dzama (*1974, Canada) (Zwirner, n.d.). I could not find any such paintings, but some using root beer. This most likely shares the stickiness, while Dzama did not share the secret. In order to find a solution for myself and at the same time see whether I could put the stickiness to some good use, I covered the painted patterns in crushed charcoal (Fig. 7). It would faithfully stick to where it was supposed to and after some experimenting with removing the loose bits I was able to create a pleasant irregularly faded look. I cannot say whether it is worth the effort to pursue further.

 

 

 

Figure 7. Sketchbook – experimenting with Coca Cola and crushed charcoal

I then wanted to move on to other painting media, but my husband suggested to make caramel colour by deliberately and carefully burning sugar, and, since he was already in it, by boiling down beetroot juice. While the beetroot juice proved entirely non-sticky and produced a beautiful dark wine red hue, the caramel colour came out thick as treacle (which of course it may well be) and every bit as sticky as Coca Cola. In order to contain the stickiness, I placed the caramel on a bit of baking paper and folded it up. The resulting matt look I think quite attractive and probably very useful for my future shadow projects (Fig. 8).

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Figure 8. Sketchbook – Testing caramel colour (top) and beetroot juice (bottom) inside folded baking paper


14 July 2017. The next day both caramel and beetroot juice had thickened somewhat. I tested their new properties. The beetroot had turned sticky and a deep red colour, while covering the viscous caramel in baking paper allowed me to push it around under the paper (Fig. 9, top right corner).

11_Testing_caramel_beetroot_juice_v2_14072017
Figure 9. Sketchbook – testing the higher viscosity of day-old caramel and beetroot juice

This effect reminded me of the magic drawing board I used to play with as a kid, and so I made one to test my white on white collection on (Fig. 10 below). I found that my own board suffered from the same limitations as the commercial one, especially the accumulations of excess stuff in non-ideal places, thereby limiting the resolution of the image, but more so the slow flowing back into the original position. The drawings made are thus non-permanent and need to be preserved on photo.

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Figure 10. My own caramel magic drawing board

Despite the limitations I decided to carry out one last experiment without the baking paper, pushing the caramel around with a palette knife (Fig. 11).

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Figure 11. “Painting” with palette knife and caramel colour, temporary result due to viscous flow

To me the resulting bear sketch looks energetic and somewhat fierce and I was quite happy with it. However, since I had discovered that covering the caramel with a thin layer of beetroot juice would result in a beautiful glow of the thinner caramel layers, I decided to try this technique on the bear. What had worked beautifully the day before, resulted in a disaster, because the beetroot juice had become too thick to flow quickly. It did flow, but took the caramel with it and destroyed the bear (Fig. 12, top). In order not to lose the idea completely, I added another layer of baking paper and painted bear and some other items from the collection on that with white ink (Fig. 12, bottom).

14_Testing_caramel_magic_board_v3_14072017
Figure 12. Sketchbook – top: destroying the bear with beetroot juice, bottom: painting on the baking paper-covered image with white ink.

The result (Fig. 13) appears to me to be far less attractive than the original bear, but there is a certain floating impression, which I might be able to use later in the course.

15_Testing_magic_board_v3_large_14072017
Figure 13. White ink bear on destroyed caramel and beetroot bear

Next in my series of tests I used my necklace collection and “painted” it using sand rescued years ago from our son’s sandpit and some blue deco sand I had been given by an aunt moving house. I prepared a background layer of sandpit sand, painted grooves with my finger and a palette knife and filled them with the coarse deco sand as quickly as possible. The result looks like something I might find as part of the summer decoration in a cheap jeweller’s shop window. Certainly needs a lot more practice and better quality sand plus a better selection of colours (Fig. 14).

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Figure 14. Painting my necklace collection with two types of sand

And since it IS summer and the painting temporary, I let a wave destroy it (Fig. 15):

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Figure 15. Sand painting destruction by wave action :o)

In order to test different backgrounds I next covered a carefully selected newspaper page containing an article on recruiting talents and thought it appropriate to combine this with one of my photos showing a selection of keys. I covered the newspaper page with gloss medium and painted on that using Senegal blue antique ink (Fig. 16):

18_Keys_newspaper_14072017
Figure 16. Sketchbook – Key collection on newspaper article

It is nearly invisible on the above image, but I like the rough brushwork preserved in the dried gloss medium, which is heightened by the ink. Painting the keys was a somewhat awkward affair, because the same grooves left by the brush used in spreading the gloss medium caused the lines to thicken. Also, in order to produce a working painting I would need to think carefully about where to place my objects in relation to the newspaper text and photos. As it is, background and foreground get in each other’s way in places. The bit working best in my opinion is slightly above and left of the centre. I am intrigued by the possibilities this technique may offer for my own shadow project and may come back to it when starting to work on Assignment 2.

And finally, to demonstrate that I will do anything to discover new techniques, an excursion into the joys of experimenting with a sheet of Nori alga :o). I love the dark green of this Sushi ingredient and thought that with a little background knowledge I would be able to paint on it by bleaching. I tried boiling it, adding lemon juice, vinegar, citric acid, white spirit and even chlorine bleach. In most cases the effect was zero, bleach and boiling caused the sheet to disintegrate but the pigment was not impressed Other than my T-Shirt, which promptly succumbed to a droplet of bleach, it remained as it was, a beautiful dark green. I gave up and painted a few lines with acrylic paint on the intact sheet (Fig. 17). This caused no problems, but had no effect I could not have achieved using more conventional means. I am thus looking forward to the beautiful Sushi the remainder of the sheet will eventually turn into.

19_Nori_alga_14072017
Figure 17. The pathetic outcome of a series of experiments using a sheet of Nori alga

Resumé

I think that I am getting better at identifying new painting media and observing  possibilities they may offer as a means of expressing myself. Also, I am less likely to give up on a superficially failed experiment, because I have more knowledge now regarding adapting techniques. However, a central area I will need to work on is the systematic inclusion of discoveries made into the planning of projects. I still find myself working intuitively, which results in “discovering” the same things over and over, which is not just annoying but highly unprofessional. Hopefully I will be able to find a working solution over the summer holidays.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Part 3, project 2, exercise 1: Looking at faces – self-portrait [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Paintiong 1 blog, 7 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/part-3-project-2-exercise-1-looking-at-faces-self-portrait/ [Accessed 13 July 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Research Point: Collections and Unusual Materials
[blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 27 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/research-point-collections-and-unusual-materials/ [Accessed 13 July 2017]

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

Zwirner, D. (n.d.) Marcel Dzama [online]. David Zwirner, New York. Available from: http://www.davidzwirner.com/artists/marcel-dzama [Accessed 13 July 2017]

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.

Assignment1_sketchbook1_08052017
Fig. 1. Sketchbook: Testing effects of various degrees of dilute gouache on black acrylic background
Assignment1_Set1_1_Bicycle_06052017
Figure 2. Painting 1: Shadow of a bicycle on a tent
Assignment1_Set1_2_CuracaoCave_06052017
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.