Friday, October 19, 2007

Great Expectations

"The Cerynian Hind" 2006

"the Cerynian HInd" 2006

Response to "The Wyndham Sisters"

The painting is "The Wyndham Sisters", by Jonathon Singer Sargent.
Three young ladies pose in a sitting room surrounded by flowers. They themselves wear white and two even wear pearl necklaces. As a "painting within a painting" , a portrait of what appears to be the girls' mother hangs on the dark wall behind them. The gold frames of the four paintings glimmer in the dimly lit space and add interest to the scene. The girls appear in a stage-like setting where the background and foreground are clearly separated into scenery and players.

Effective brushwork creates the vloumes of the girls' dresses. Included in the composition is an arrangement of white flowers which provide a metaphor for the transcient beauty of the girls, and also act as compositional aids balancing light across the canvas. The way the skin is painted is in complete contrast to the energetic brushwork describing the texture of the satin and lace. Instead, the features of the figures are carefully rendered, and Sargent expertly employs the techniques of chiaroscuro, modulation, and sfumato.

Two of the women gaze from the painting out at the viewer and the third looks over her shoulder at something or someone positioned behind the viewer, outside of the space of the painting. The youngest in appearance sits in the middle, in the most protected seat on the couch. Flanked by her two older sisters, she stares provocatively out of the painting almost naively seducing the viewer. She is the most attactive, and does not seem aware of her innate beauty.

Response to Death and a Funeral

The painting is by David Alfaro Siqueros, and is called "Death and Funeral of Cain" c 1947. What initially attracted me to the painting was the color. I was in search of a palette which I could adapt to fit my next composition, another nude portrait of a friend. I specifically needed colors which would allow me to paint flesh in a compelling way.

I was surprised to come across a piece which seemed to me to includ every color I had anticipated needing in my next painting. More startling, however, were the similarities and contrasts in the content of "Death and Funeral", and the ideas I have of my own work.
The painting depicts a surreal scene in which a crowd gathers on a barren cliff to worship a monumental dead chicken. The mix of reality and fantasy lends the painting an eerie authenticity. Siqueros paints freely, using chalky whites and dry-brush techniques. The shapes are well-defined by glimmers of dark contours and areas of flat color which create strongly solid forms. The dark, green-black shadows cast on the ground reverberate my own interest in manipulating shadow and light in a composition.
The entire painting emits a feeling of anticipation. The gathered crowd seems to be awaiting the experience of a miraculous religious vision. The chicken could be some sort of sacrifice. Slumped awkwardly over the cliff, it somehow demands veneration. As an icon of worship, it recalls images of a Christ-figure.

The way the dead chicken is painted also sparks a connection in my own content. The flesh of the bird takes center stage and becomes the field on which the most sensual display of painting and color is presented. The sun seems to be beating down on the scene. It reflects off the plucked skin of the chicken and casts inky, opaque shadows onto the rocks behind. I originally got the idea of dramatic lighting and shadow from the interest I have in the paintings of Wayne Thiebaud. I have been experimenting with lighting subjects and using shadow as a figurative element itself in the composition.

The idea of idol worship and the pagan aspects of revering a dead animal are also echoed in my next sketch. I want to return to iconic, confronting poses. There is something disturbing about the way the chicken's head flops down and hangs over the cliff. My painting "The Cerynian Hind" comes close to this same creepiness. Death is universal and therefore transcends contemporaneity.
The people form geometric masses, each wearing different colors and some waving red flags. Are they participating in some form of worship or prayer? The painting could possibly be a metaphor for contemporary society's tendencies towards hero-worhip and celebrity.
I think the piece will not only give me ideas for color and content, but even the paint-handling offers new ways of working. The "push-pull" technique visible in the work of Hans Hoffman can be seen here, as well as the idea of "cross-pollination" of color. I have found that as I am working from photos I often isolate and localise colors as opposed to allowing hues to mix and interact on the canvas in ways which are unexpected and spontaneous.

I've decided that the big development of this next painting will be to darken the background behind the figure. Like in "Death and Funeral of Cain", and in my last paintings, the flesh will maintain its own vibrancy and lush paint application. This aspect will only be made more apparent in contrast to the bland and austere neutral tone of the background. I also want to utilize the "push-pull" technique, implying an osmosis of sorts, like the background is literally sucking the life out of the figure.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The only thing I was thinking when I was drawing was how to manipulate the original idea of the painting I saw into a new version, different from the last one I just did. I didn't think about what I would be drawing next, or even what my next move would be. Color was the only variable.
Visibly, however, the direction of my sketches was entirely circular. There was no exciting metamorphosis between points "A" and "B". Instead, I was just focused on experimentation. My convention (learned?) was to abandon representational drawing. I just wanted to get the color down onto the paper in a different way than the last sketch. I had never drawn like that before, it appeared to be completely automatic.
I had to limit myself to no more than a few colors at a time, otherwise all the drawings would have turned out the same. Variables only existed in the arrangement of colors and shapes of colors. You could say the compositions were "abstract". To me it felt like gesture drawings, or warm-up exercises. I drew with the same energy I have when doing figure studies.
I didn't have much of a problem with the time constraint. I could have kept drawing, and often a minute felt like insufficient time for the sketch.
Even though they weren't realistic, and I didn't show any development from figurative to abstraction, I still think the sketches show an important progression. Even just the changes in color were enough of an evolution for me. Composition is not only dependent on figure/ground relationships, but color lends weight to the lines and shapes. Experimenting with those weights and placements is enough for me to work with.