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Showing posts from September, 2010

On looking through old sketchbooks: 19

"I make sure to have time to draw every day. That way I can find out what I'm feeling, then use those ideas in my paintings and drawings." - Robert Levers.
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On another old picture for the public art project

We received the following picture from a Mount Carroll resident last weekend:
It shows the chap's grandparents, sometime in the 1930s. Strictly speaking, we can't use it for the project as it doesn't show the person who contributed the photo. But I thought it was such a good picture that I would post it here anyway.
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More pictures of the luminaries

I took some more pictures of the luminaries in the workshop in Mount Carroll the past weekend:
As you can see, each one will be about six feet high. All I have to do now is to transfer the images to the plexiglass panels, before final assembly a week before the unveiling on October 30th. To that end, I experimented with using Lazertran on small pieces of plexiglass. Lazertran comes in sheets that you can run through an inkjet printer, thus printing out any image that you've stored on your laptop. You soak the Lazertran in warm water for about 30 seconds, and then the image is released from the backing paper, enabling you to slide it off onto the plexiglass (or any other surface). The gum on the back of the image is enough to adhere it to the plexiglass surface. It's basically a high-quality decal.

To test the bond and to subject it to temperature similar to how it'll be outdoors in northern Illinois in November, I left a couple of pieces of plexiglass with Lazertran-sfers o…

On 'Salut Tom' by Joan Mitchell

Web-talk/meditation number 37 is on a painting by one of my favourite artists - Joan Mitchell. No, not the Canadian singer who wrote "Clouds" and "Big Yellow Taxi" ...

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Van Gogh on painting

Warning to readers prone to fits of nervous fainting: this quotation contains a dodgy un-PC simile.

From a letter written in summer 1888:

“Painting is like keeping a mistress of ill-repute who does nothing but spend money and more money and never has enough.”

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Delacroix invents Impressionism

From a journal entry dated May 5, 1852:
“A picture should be laid in as if one were looking at the subject on a grey day, with no sunlight or clear-cut shadows. Fundamentally, lights and shadows do not exist. Every object presents a colour-mass, having different reflections on all sides. Suppose a ray of sunshine should suddenly light up the objects in this open-air scene under grey light, you will then have what are called lights and shadows but they will be pure accidents. This, strange as it may appear, is a profound truth and contains the whole meaning of colour in painting.”
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Construction begins in the public art project

I've just been sent some photos from the workshop in Mount Carroll, IL, where the giant luminaries are being constructed for the public art piece of the community memoir project:

Four plexiglass panels will slide into grooves that have been routed into the uprights. Three of the panels will have photo/text combinations from the workshop participants printed onto the surface. The rear panel will have a list of the contributors shown on the other three sides. A solar light will be hidden in a box at the top of the luminary with the lamp pointing down into the column, so that they will be illuminated from the inside at night. Only 35 days to go, and it's pretty exciting watching it all come together.

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Van Gogh on ideal v. reality

From a letter dated c. June 18, 1888:

“Alas, alas, it is just as the excellent fellow Cyprien says in J.K. Huysman’s ‘En menage’: the most beautiful paintings are those which you dream about when you lie in bed smoking a pipe, but which you never paint.

“Yet you have to make a start, no matter how incompetent you feel in the face of inexpressible perfection, of the overwhelming beauty of nature . . .

“The symbol of St. Luke, the patron saint of painters, is, as you know, an ox. So you must be patient as an ox if you want to work in the artistic field. Still, bulls are lucky not to have to work at that foul business of painting.”

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On free gifts

As a way of engaging the students in the Fiction and Film International class on Thursday nights, I'm making a collage related to the film, and then giving it away to the first student who gives a correct answer to a question about the film. Last night we screened 'Maria, Full of Grace' (2004), and this was the prize:

Click on the image to embiggen it if the text isn't legible.

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Delacroix on Titian and Rembrandt

From a journal entry dated November 3, 1850:

“Titian probably never knew how he was going to finish a picture, and Rembrandt must often have been in the same state. His extravagantly vigorous brushstrokes were less the result of planned execution that of feeling his way with repeated touches.”
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On politics and art

With the US mid-term elections just a few weeks away, politics is much on my mind lately. It's a dirty business that I wish I didn't take so seriously, but here in the USA, the stakes seem so much higher than in England, my home country. Anyway, to relieve myself of my worries over whether or not the Democratic Party will preserve its congressional majorities, I thought about some political art that I used to see very often here in Chicago:


It's a mural on the interior wall of the post office at Irving Park and Southport, near the apartment where we used to live. It was painted by Harry Sternberg for the WPA, back in the 1930s. It's a classic WPA image, with its celebration of industrial progress, collaborations of workers and scientists, the city and the country. We no longer believe much in this idea of the unbridled benefits of progress, just as artists don't much believe in unironic portrayals of political ideals. I think we've gained some things from these…

Van Gogh on Wagner & on Cezanne

From a letter date June 12-13, 1888:
“What an artist! A man like him [Wagner] in painting would be quite something, and one will come. . .
“I must try to achieve the solidity of colour I got in that picture which slays all the rest. I remember Portier used to say that his Cezannes, seen on their own, looked like nothing on earth, but that when placed next to other canvases they wiped the colour out of all the rest.”


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Only one week to go

It's only one week to go until the Journal and Sketchbook class at Shake Rag Alley, in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. This is an ideal class to get started on a writing project you've been thinking about, whether memoir or fiction, or to get fresh inspiration for something you've already started. The drawing and writing exercises are ideal for complete beginners or for people with previous experience of writing and drawing. There are still places left, and it costs $185 for Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday. We did a similar abbreviated version of this class at Interlochen in June. Here is what one of the students from that class, called David, said about it:

"As one of many who attended Interlochen 2010 and were introduced to Philip and Patty for the first time: it is well worth the small fee to attend. For those of you who are concerned that you have neither writing or artistic talent, this event will generate an enthusiasm and willingness that you did not know you po…

Delacroix on communicating through painting

From a journal entry dated July 18, 1850:
“I have said to myself over and over again that painting, i.e. the material process which we call painting, is no more than the pretext, the bridge between the mind of the artist and that of the beholder. Cold accuracy is not art. Skilful invention, when it is pleasing or expressive, is art itself. The so-called conscientiousness of the great majority of painters is nothing but perfection in the art of boring. If it were possible, these fellows would labour with equal care over the backs of their pictures.”
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On 'Catherine' by Sean Scully

British born artist Sean Scully is the subject of my 36th web-talk of the year. Looking at his paintings has the same optical effect as seeing Rothko's chapel paintings: deceptively simple abstract art that almost shimmers before the eyes because of the depth of tone.

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On looking through old sketchbooks: 18

"Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence." -- Henri Matisse.

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Delacroix on Titian and Rembrandt

From a journal entry dated November 3, 1850:
“Titian probably never knew how he was going to finish a picture, and Rembrandt must often have been in the same state. His extravagantly vigorous brushstrokes were less the result of planned execution than of feeling his way with repeated touches.”
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Van Gogh on the effort required by painting

From a letter dated c. May 20, 1888:
“And sometimes one lacks the will to throw oneself back wholeheartedly into art, and to regain one’s capacity for it. One knows one is a cab horse, and that one is going to be hitched up to the same old cart again—and that one would rather not, and would prefer to live in a meadow, with sunshine, a river, other horses for company as free as oneself, and the act of procreation . . .
“We do not feel we are dying, but we do feel that in reality we count for little, and that to be a link in the chain of artists we are paying a high price in health, in youth, in liberty, none of which we enjoy, any more than does the cab horse pulling a coach load of people out enjoying themselves in spring.”
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Delacroix on seeing a Rubens painting in Brussels

From a journal entry dated August 10, 1850:
“It is of his finest period; the half-tint in the underpainting is evidently used to give the modeling, and the bold touches of light and shade are laid into quite thick impasto, especially in the lights. How strange that I never noticed until now the extent to which Rubens proceeds by means of halftone, especially in his finest works! His sketches ought to have put me on the track. On contrast to what they say about Titian, he first lays in the tone of his figures which appear dark against the light tone. It also explains how, when he afterwards comes to put in the background, and in his urgent need to obtain his effect, he deliberately sets out to render the flesh tones exaggeratedly brilliant by making the background dark. The head of the Christ and that of the soldier descending thr ladder, the legs of the Christ and of the crucified thief are very strongly coloured in the preparation, and the lights are placed only in small areas. The Ma…

On teaching a fiction & film class

I've just started co-teaching a class at Columbia College Chicago called Story in Fiction and Film International. For 14 weeks, we'll be screening a film during the class, then discussing the film and some pieces of fiction that use similar story elements (voice, scene, character, dialogue, etc). We started with the British film "Dirty Pretty Things" (which from the US point of view is a foreign film), so as not to scare the students too early by subtitles. If you haven't seen it, here is the preview (with the voice-over by that guy who was parodied for making everything sound heavy and portentous):



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Van Gogh on colour

From a letter dated c. May 4, 1888:
“But the painter of the future will be a colourist the like of which has never yet been seen. Manet was getting there but, as you know, the impressionists have already made use of stronger colour than Manet.”

“I can’t imagine the painter of the future living in small restaurants, setting to work with a lot of false teeth, and going to the Zouaves’ brothels as I do.
“But I’m sure I’m right to think that it will come in a later generation, and it is up to us to do all we can to encourage it, without question or complaint . . .”
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On three new collages

Here's three new small collages from my sketchbook, as yet untitled:



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On looking through old sketchbooks: 17

"It is often said that Leonardo drew so well because he knew about things; it is truer to say that he knew about things because he drew so well." -- Kenneth Clark.

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Van Gogh on how his art changed in Arles

From a letter dated April 9, 1888:
“I think that what Kahn says is perfectly true, that I haven’t taken tonal values into account enough, but they’ll be saying something very different later on—no less true. It’s impossible to deal with tonal values and colour. Th. Rousseau did it better than anyone else, but because of the mixing of the colours, the darkening with time has increased, and his pictures are now unrecognizable. One cannot be at the pole and the equator at the same time. One has to choose, which I hope I do, and it will probably be colour.”
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