Picasso to Warhol

There were many paintings, prints, and sculptures in the High Museum’s Picasso to Warhol exhibition that captured my attention as I meandered through.

Alexander Calder

 

 

I blew wholeheartedly at the mobiles in the side room devoted to Alexander Calder, watching as they cast shifting shadows on the walls.  Their fluidity, the ability to assume a new identity with a small gust, was alluring.

 

 

“Summer,” Jasper Johns

 

Jasper Johns’ Summer gave me pause and made me contemplate who the shadow belonged to.  Were they connected to the table on the other side?  Off to a picnic? Walking home? Arriving/Leaving?

I admired the rendering of the wall and recreation of the Mona Lisa; felt a burn of appreciation and jealousy at the skill.

 

 

But the small alcove just beyond the room full of Marcel Duchamp drew me in.  I sat behind two kind old women and was enraptured by a short film about Jackson Pollock.

I watched as he painted with a cigarette hanging from his lip, using one paint can and brush after another to flick paint on to the canvas.  He was methodical, at times slowly drawing or rapidly zig-zagging the brush through the air.  He seemed to know the different patterning each brush and amount of paint made. There was always a look of intense concentration on his brow, a purpose hunching his back.

Jackson Pollock

When the film ended, I shuffled to the works displayed.  I planted myself in front of one and just stared.  The haze of pink, black, white, and red nearly swallowed me whole as I examined it.  It was a smattering of paint splatters, a uncleaned painter’s floor, chaos. Every mark held purpose, or at least it was made purposefully.  Pollock purposefully placed it there even if I couldn’t quite understand why.

It reminded me of when I looked at my chair drawing, my puzzlement at a smudged line that looked nothing like I had seen.  I had once made the line with a purpose, even if it was now lost. (It held two purposes: recording and learning.) There was a purpose to every mark I made (both on the chair and every other drawing done in class), an attempt to record what I was seeing.  While Pollock may have been attempting to illustrate an abstract idea and I, a concrete idea, the intent of recording it was clear.  Even something as innocuous as a thin line holds a purpose.  Be it design or learning.


Collage

With the opening of Collage came a whirl of delightful and thought provoking work from art and art history students across Atlanta.  I tagged along with my friend, Samantha, to walk the gallery and watch the release of the cranes (a project we both submitted a fear for).

“Just a Little Bit More,” Joshua Sheridan

“Anansi Shattered,” Ato Ribeiro

We were drawn to the magnolia seed spider toward the back of the gallery, curious about its construction.  We tried to pinpoint each item on the poor man’s back.  We giggled immaturely at a few pieces and postulated the messages of the displayed short films.

But what we waited for was still what I found to be the most interesting part of the experience.

“Releasing Cranes,” Iwona Dzialak

We waited just outside the front door of the Dalton Gallery, sitting on the steps and joking with one another.  We stood as a stream of other patrons came through the door and toward the modest bowl of paper cranes laid out.  As everyone settled into a ring, we listened as Iwona described her purpose, giving us her story.  Burning the cranes released the participants of the burdens or fears or desires they had written.

As we stood there and watched the cranes slowly burn down to ash, I thought of everything I had learned thus far in class.  I thought of how with each bit of knowledge I gained through the guidance and advice of my fellow classmates and Nell, a little bit of my self consciousness and doubt left.  They helped me to blot away the part doubting my own sight; to see it wasn’t about skill, but the attempt.

As the flames darkened the surrounding area and burned away my recorded self consciousness, I felt lighter. Less burdened.


The Abyss Stares Back

The critique for our self portraits was an interesting one given that most (if not all) were unfinished.  [Nell hadn’t been joking when she told us it would take a while to complete.]

We lined our work in a row and just allowed it all to sink in for a moment.  A spectrum of work was displayed in front of us, everything from full faces to finely detailed nostrils, deeply contrasting highlights and lowlights to subtle variations, noticeable marks to smooth expanses, eyeless to mouthless faces.  Everyone’s work was so definitively different, and yet similar in a profound way.  We knew one another’s struggles from our own experience; we shared in each other’s knowledge when we could no longer rely on our own.

Everyone’s work could be told apart: this one belongs to her and this one to her, et cetera.  They were all unique interpretations of the artist, through her own eyes.  The subtle asymmetry of a nose or pair of eyes giving the portrait a certain realness.

Leading up to the end of critique, Nell asked that we each point out something we liked in a classmate’s work.  It was difficult to find the one piece I liked the most, stuck between the high contrast in Adia’s portrait, the photorealistic quality of Lydia’s nose, and the Tasha’s shading.  But I found I particularly liked the juxtaposition of the hard edge of Solange’s glasses and the softness of her skin.

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Come the end of critique, when I was sitting once more before my unfinished portrait, I found myself staring dreamily into the mirror.  I had grown to loathe, and love, the asymmetry of my features.  But a sense of accomplishment was dawning, something akin to what I feel after completing a particularly trying paper.  I was comfortable enough with my judgement of my progress and didn’t have to rely heavily on Nell’s approval (but I thrived on the compliments).  I learned a sort of independence through the portrait, where I didn’t need validation to be correct.

I can appreciate the range of tints, and shades, and tones hidden in the crevices of my world with a new vigor.  I know I can never quite quantify all of them, but they exist and given dimension to a narrow world.


Narcissist by Default

For our fourth in class assignment, we were to do an erasure self-portrait.  I knew this was going to be difficult from the get-go, but I did not fully anticipate the time needed to finish it.  When Nell said it would take upwards of twenty hours, I thought she was joking.

It began with a white sheet of heavy weight, handmade paper.  It was a shame to cover it completely in charcoal dust, really.

The amount of charcoal dust I needed to get the paper properly darkened was astonishing, but not completely unexpected.  I didn’t quite like how it got everywhere: under my nails, in my nose and throat (oh, the coughing fits), my clothes, the table.  But I felt accomplished when the page was fully darkened, if not a little achy. [total: 2 hours]

After one class worth of work, I had the beginnings of my right nostril.  I still wasn’t used to the eraser method and found myself removing charcoal where I needed to keep it.  It was a definite learning process throughout. [total: 4 hours]

Come the end of the second class I hadn’t branched out very much.  When I circled the room before cleaning up for the day, I saw others working on their mouths or cheeks.  I was disappointed that I wasn’t working fast enough to be at that point; I was frustrated at the time it was taking.  But I wanted to be right. [total: 6 hours]

By the third class, I had resigned to the fact that I was being meticulous and thus taking forever to do anything.  I was proud my nose was mostly done and branching out to my upper lip area, per Nell’s suggestion. [total: 8 hours]

In the fourth class, I worked mainly on the left side of my upper lip/nostril area.  (The upper image is an example of my struggle with erasing where I needed to shade.) I tried over and over to get the value of the skin correct without flattening it. [total: 10 hours]

I worked on the drawing a bit that night; branching up the right side of my nose after extending down to where my lip would be.  I attempted to recreate the awkward triangular area of light on my left cheek and it came out fairly well.  Too bright, but it was the right shape. [total: 11.5 hours]

I spread out even further the next day, wanting to get as much done as I possibly could. [total: 12.5 hours]

The next day I worked to get the shading on the left side of my face just right.  It was difficult to keep everything from looking very flat. [total: 14.5 hours]

I was working on my lips by the end of the fifth class.  I worked a bit the next day to finish up the other half of my lips. I found this to be my favor area to work on, thus far. [total: 17.5 hours]

After critique, I worked to get my eyes down as Nell suggested.  I found myself creeped out by the outline of the eye and later the pitch pupil. I was staring into the abyss. [total: 18.5 hours]

I sank an afternoon on the second reading day to finish the portrait up.  I spent a majority of the time getting the shades just right and tweaking small spots (nose, corners of the eyes, shine of the lips).  I’m proud of the result, even if it frightens me just a touch. The abyss in my pupils was staring back. [total: 24 hours]

Nell left me alone for a majority of my work, only instructing me on size relationships and shade depth.  I entered my own little bubble when I put my ear buds in and turned on my music, “tuning into,” as Nell said, the portrait.  I became Narcissus and gazed gravely at myself for hours on end, hoping to find the likeness in the mirror on the page.  I was meticulous about small details and hoped it would look human in the end.  Maybe I was successful, perhaps I wasn’t.

I can walk away from this erasure self portrait with the reinforced notion that small details matter.  Whether it be in my English class or Art class, in a paper or on paper, the details are what create the whole.


Thinking Like an Artist

The Creation of Reality

            Art and writing coexist within a world where they are two different disciplines.  While they may overlap in some aspects, like with realism and non-fiction, they are generally regarded as two separate areas of expertise.  One does not typically regard a writer as an artist, but their creation processes overlap rather heavily.  They express themselves through different media, words versus images (sculpture, paintings, et cetera). Both artists and writers take the world around them and create a new world for their audience to witness and enjoy.

“Dalies: May 19-May 20″, Kerry James Marshall, 2010 via koplindelrio.com

Kerry James Marshall is one such artist that takes the world around him and morphs it to his purposes.  Marshall’s subject matter deals predominantly with African-American pop culture.  In order to garner authority among the art world, Marshall chose to reference a variety of works, from Renaissance paintings to black folk art.1  As he said in an interview with PBS for Art 21, “I had to adapt the same technique to gain the authority.”2   Marshall takes the affluence associated with the referenced works and morphs it into a vessel for his own work; this makes his work more approachable, something familiar that tells a new story.  His work with comics, like the one shown on the previous page, was one such use of that authority.  Marshall takes the approachability of comics and introduces a new concept.  Rather than a tale of white super hero, he introduces African mythology to a futuristic world close to touch with tradition in RYTHM MASTR.  Marshall gains authority through use of known styles and uses the authority to introduce the audience to a different world.

Benjamin Percy is a writer that does much the same.  However, instead of adapting styles to gain authority among his audience, Percy grounds his fictional worlds in his own experiences and present day events.  He utilizes his childhood home state of Oregon as the backdrop of many of his stories; he uses a place he knows personally to give the audience a visceral, yet completely fictitious stage for his story (or stories).  He works elements of friends and family into his character designs, using bits and pieces to create a unique, yet human character.  He uses events that he has read about in the paper, such as fourteen National Guardsmen dying, and transfers it into his own backyard.3  In his stories, he says, “there are elements of [his] life, and over the top, a healthy serving of imagination.”4 By utilizing personal experience and real world events, Percy builds a believable stage for his fiction to play out on.

Both Marshall and Percy utilize familiar elements from the world around them to create their own worlds.  Marshall uses the vehicle of comics to deliver a reality not typically addressed in modern times, fading African mythology, and makes it accessible, approachable.  Percy combines real world people into unique characters and transplants real world events to a place he is more familiar with.  Both create realities, Percy with his fiction and Marshall with his adaption of known styles, through usage of the world around them.

Continue reading


A Nose by Any Other Name

Staring at my own nose for extended periods of time only makes me notice the imperfections (freckles, crooked septum, scar just to the right) that make it my nose.  When Nell asked us to look at a few of our fellow classmate’s images (thus far) and look for the pros and cons within theirs and our own.  I jumped at the chance to look more closely at my table mates’ pictures.

 

 

Erin E. was able to capture the likeness of her nose and upper lip very realistically.  In particularly I like the brightness of the nose ring against the dark recess of the nostril.  It has an old photograph-like quality to it that just draws me in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natasha has a range of value in her picture, with a brilliant white at the tip of her nose and smooth gradient outwards.  The image is perfectly evocative of a nose but the only problem that seems to be arising is the angularity of the nostril.  They seem a bit manufactured and need a bit of softness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, my own picture thus far.  It has progressed rather slowly over the last few days, ending only one complete nostril.  I’ll try to work a bit faster and not allow my frustrations to give me pause along the way.


Punctum

Our class discussion really got me thinking about the purpose artists initially give their work.

I came across punctum multiple times will wandering the An Education in Process exhibition in Dalton Gallery and found myself at a lose of how to define it. It’s an odd word, punctum.

A punctum is a small, clear and concise point.  It’s narrow and holds enough meaning to be noticed but not overwhelmed.  It’s easy to give your art a clearly defined point before beginning, but was it fluid?  If it shifted with the outer world, with a single experience?

I thought of Professor Beidler’s wood cuts that she began in 2001, how it was going to be a study of Persephone’s descent into Hades but gained a different tone when 9/11 passed.  This truly got me thinking on the fluidity of punctum and how it shifts with the viewer. Because that’s what it ultimately boils down to, what the viewer thinks it’s about.  The artist can have ideas of what their art is about, but it all depends on the viewer.  Do they understand the point the artist is trying to make?

Art is one of the most subjective things.  Do you see this or that?  Feel sad or happy?  Empowered or oppressed?  Does what the artist initial intend matter in the end?

A work of art can have an initial punctum the artist imbues it with, but it shifts with experiences (those of the artist and the audience).

This is how I feel about our last assignment, my little Spined Tuft.  I began with the punctum of imbuing it with certain qualities, qualities I may have found to be rather obvious.  In the end, it was in my classmates hands to observe my work and tell me if I had succeeded.  The punctum of my work was different for each of my classmates (perhaps with a bit of overlap), but that didn’t discredit my own.  Their answers were as valid as mine, whether or not we saw eye-to-eye.