Khadim Ali: The haunted lotus

khalim_ali_01a
Above are two artworks by Khadim Ali, on exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/khadim-ali/) earlier this year. The image above is misleading in that the works are of totally different scale. The work on the right is gouache, ink and gold leaf on wasli paper, and perhaps 34 cm high. The woven wall-hanging on the left is wool and cotton, I’d say over 120 cm high. (All this is rather inexact – the individual works are untitled and I don’t have full documentation).

Prior to this exhibition Ali was best known for his highly detailed miniatures. His work is full of demons and heros, often based on his interpretation of the Shahnameh, overlaid with his and his family’s personal experiences. Ali’s family were Hazara in Afghanistan – his ancestral home was Bamiyan, the site of the giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban – and he grew up a refugee in Pakistan, where his family home was destroyed by a bomb set off in front of a nearby mosque.

khalim_ali_04The move to include knotted rugs in his work was based on images after that bombing, when from under the rubble a red carpet was uncovered, virtually the only family treasure to survive and a link to the rug-making traditions of Afghanistan. Ali wanted to draw on that tradition, but use his own visual language. The exhibition included a series of drawings, woven works, and a digital video loop showing the dyeing of yarns and weaving.

khalim_ali_07Ali Khadim tells a story of loss – of cultural heritage, of humanist values – and of seeking to understand his identity – in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Australia, and as Hazara. He explores shifts of meaning and perspective – who are the demons? – and the perversion of words through ideology. By including carpets and hangings woven in Afghanistan, he responds to his heritage, to the dangers and losses faced by his family, to their resilience and, I think, hope.

I found the exhibition interesting, thought provoking and painful in itself. It was also very relevant to my musings on the use of weaving in art works (see for example 4-Oct-2014).

khalim_ali_02I was able to go to a floor talk by Khadim Ali and learnt more about the actual weaving process. There were challenges finding a weaving shop in Afghanistan who were comfortable with weaving Ali’s imagery and the shading and mottling of colours, for example in the skin areas, did not fit with the traditional approach. Some embroidery and what looked to me like crochet were applied after weaving. I got the impression that they really had to work hard to get through both cultural and technical difficulties.

khalim_ali_05There were areas of weft faced plain weave using different wefts right next to dense knotted areas, some of which were sculptured in clipping, other parts such as the beard left shaggy. It led to some tension issues and distortion in the fabric, but that was totally beside the point. In fact it seems that it was incredibly powerful and freeing to have one person coming in with no weaving background but a very strong idea of what he wanted to achieve, combining with weavers who having once left behind a lot of what they “knew” traditionally were able move far beyond weaverly concerns while still using their skills.

khalim_ali_06Including weaving in the works made sense, emotional, intellectual, cultural and aesthetic sense. Plus having the three types of works/experiences together (weaving, painting, video) gave a lot of depth and context well beyond what a single work could supply. All the techniques added to the work, rather than the work existing because the artist wanted to use particular techniques. Things to keep in mind.
khalim_ali_09

As a contrast in response to the artist’s cultural heritage of carpets, see Faig Ahmed – http://www.faigahmed.com/ and http://www.textileartist.org/faig-ahmed-remixing-traditions/.

Polly Apfelbaum

This post is not quite stripes, not quite weaving.

I came across Polly Apfelbaum’s work while searching on stripes. Her room of stripes can be seen at http://www.artcritical.com/2014/06/02/david-cohen-on-polly-apfelbaum/ and http://cliftonbenevento.com/files/2013/04/APF_TheArtBlog_June2014.pdf. There are striped rugs on the floor and striped wallpaper on the walls. The stripes appear quite wide, creating a different visual and physical effect to those of say Jim Lambie (see 15-Apr-2014). Noreen Kress described the experience – ” the spatial boundaries of the architecture begin to disappear, blurred by the loud stripes of color. Complementary color choices paired side-by-side create visual tension—oranges buzzing against pale blues, vibrating with cool purples. In other moments of the painting, analogous colors rest next to each other, sharing a calm and gentle harmony. I reveled in the feeling of the undulating colors beginning to absorb and transform the physical boundaries around me—a feat of installation attempted by many and fully realized by few” (Kress 2014).

Lambie’s stripes made me acutely aware of every slight variation in the boundaries of the MCA gallery floor. Apfelbaum’s appear to dissolve the boundaries of the space.

However given my recent post on the interaction of weaving structures and non-textile art (see 4-Oct-2014), Apfelbaum’s recent exhibition A Handweaver’s Pattern Book, at Clifton Benevento is fascinating – see http://cliftonbenevento.com/files/2014/05/APF_artinfo_June2014.pdf. Almost any weaver reading this will recognise the reference to Marguerite Davison’s book first printed in 1944. This classic book is devoted to four shaft weaving patterns. Although the photos are monochrome and sometimes dark or blurry, and the notation method is different to the modern forms and tricky at first, the book is an absolute treasure trove.

Apfelbaum has taken inspiration from those photos and notations to create something quite different. Using a found punch-card Apfelbaum has created new patterns, drawing through the punched holes using marker pens, creating structured patterns on rayon synthetic velvet panels. Apfelbaum has referred to the works as “conceptual weavings”. There was a basic approach (a Serial Attitude?), a framework and method, but variations depending on mood, age of the marker (new or running out of ink), the thoughts of the passing moment. There are grids on the panels and the panels themselves are hung to form grids. As well as the fabric panels there are hanging beads that Apfelbaum has made, like marks that have fallen off. Altogether the works create an environment. Apfelbaum describes it as the viewer “walking in a painting” (quoted in Indrisek, 2014).

As a weaver I respond to the patterning, the sense of structure I see. There is wonderful variation in colour, and given the work is still textile there is drape and an expectation of hand. The idea of beads extending the work is a lovely piece of whimsy.

Again I am thinking of my weaving, my studies, potential paths, how to challenge and push myself…

References

Indrisek, S. (2014) Polly Apfelbaum Gets Up Off the Floor [online] Available from http://cliftonbenevento.com/files/2014/05/APF_artinfo_June2014.pdf (Accessed 2-Oct-2014)

Kress, N. (2014) Seeing stripes–a celebration of Gene Davis at Temple Contemporary [online] Available from http://cliftonbenevento.com/files/2013/04/APF_TheArtBlog_June2014.pdf (Accessed 2-Oct-2014)

Exhibitions: Lines in Lane Cove

My final assignment in Understanding Art 1 – Western Art is with my tutor, so I have a small window of time to catch up on some exhibitions and events seen during the year.

Cove Lines March 2014

Cove Lines
March 2014

Cove Lines was one of a number of events in Lane Cove as part of Sydney Art Month. A community project, gallery staff conceived the display and developed a series of instructions. Students and staff at the community art centre, together with passers-by in the local plaza, followed the instructions to print banners, leading to the display in the Gallery Lane Cove forecourt shown here. According to accompanying material the curators, Felicity Martin and Laura Carey, were “inspired by the conceptual art practices of artists from the 1960’s like Sol Lewitt, who forged a new way of looking at art and the production of art”.

Upstairs in the Gallery was Grid Line Pattern: a serial approach. Also curated by Martin and Carey, this exhibition title was a reference to ‘A Serial Attitude’, a 1966 essay by Mel Bochner in which he “identified artists who were working in a serial way, ie, they were concerned with the repetition of a standard unity, where the aesthetic was the result of this process”. The artists included in the Lane Cove exhibition all worked with standard units of some kind, but continued to make aesthetic decisions throughout the making.

Wendy Kelly

Wendy Kelly
Mixed technique on canvas
http://www.wendykelly.com.au/


Wendy Kelly showed a number of large canvases. The colour is rich, varied in detail, and intense. The patterning is very subtle. I believe Kelly stitches into the stretched canvas to create linear patterning and rhythms, then layers pigments, tissue paper, glazes etc to create the final luminous surface. An essay on Kelly’s website references the traditions of weaving and to me it certainly reads as weaving patterns on a very large scale. Kelly’s PhD work led to a publication “Abstraction and its Processes: An Historical and Practical Investigation into Abstract Visual Language”, and the Amazon blurb includes “Kelly demonstrates that her own highly process based serial imagery is seated within what is termed as the fourth generation of Abstraction, and addresses the current concerns of non-representational art”. I wonder if she started in textiles, as a weaver, or if her interests in abstraction and serial process led her to weaving structures as a resource.

Left and centre - works by Wendy Kelly Right - Kate Mackay Cube Tower

Left and centre – works by Wendy Kelly
Right – Kate Mackay Cube Tower


Kate Mackay is "concerned with the exploration of pattern making and repetition. Her work has become progressively concerned with process, and random difference within uniformity." (from material provided at the exhibition). I found the installation shown above the most interesting of her work, as it led me to move around exploring and discovering new views through gaps strategically left. In a brief scan I found on her blog some references to gender considered practices and modernist painting practices, plus some work weaving paper – see http://kate-mackay.blogspot.com.au/2011/11/square-one-front-room-city-rd.html

Nadia Odlum Urban Moiré Studies

Nadia Odlum
Urban Moiré Studies


Nadia Odlum Perspex installation

Nadia Odlum
Perspex installation

Nadia Odlum was the third artist included in the exhibition. Nadia obviously works with optical manipulations and from material on her blog seeks to make the viewer “complicit in the questioning of their own mental and perceptual faculties.” (http://www.nadiaodlum.com/?page_id=31). The small studies shown above were clear plastic boxes with lines applied on the surface, and different broader striping on the back. Similar ideas on a larger scale were used in the installation also included in the exhibition. The interacting stripes and shadow shape space in a way reminiscent of traditional cross-hatching in drawing, and of course as a weaver I saw many connections to textile work as well. On her website Odlum includes some photographs of stripes added to the environment using coloured tape (see http://www.nadiaodlum.com/?page_id=647). An intensified awareness of space and location is created, the applied lines echoing lines found in the envionment.

Ruth Feeney XXXXX

Ruth Feeney
XXXXX

Also part of Art Month in Lane Cove was a work by Ruth Feeney – “inspired by domestic textile crafts like knitting and quilting, XXXX explores methods of pattern making through the repetition of a singular unit” (from the exhibition blurb). I would of course add weaving (in particular block weaves) as textile work repeating units.

All of the exhibition had me thinking of my weaving, my studies, and all the potential paths ahead. Thinking of Bocher’s Serial Attitude – how important to me is the process, the repetition of weaving? Can I use some of his ideas as a starting point for some kind of weaving exploration? Kelly’s work had me thinking about scale. A weaver spends so much time designing structure that is often invisible to the casual observer. Can I scale up weaving to bring those structural considerations to the fore? All the artworks seen above have clear links to textile work – but none are textile work. How committed am I to textiles versus textile processes?

Understanding Western Art course reflection

It’s a strange moment, looking back at the work I’ve done in the past nineteen months. I feel enormously proud of what I’ve learnt and achieved, but what is most important to me is not in the assessment criteria although it is in other courses – my personal voice. The course gives a lot of scope in exercise requirements, and I’ve found it a wonderful challenge to make choices relevant to a modern Australian textile-loving woman.

March 2013 I wrote my reasons for doing this course:

  • Increase pleasure, knowledge and understanding when going to galleries: A resounding “Yes!” to that, although I’m not necessarily a great companion on a gallery visit – I tend to spend longer with a work than others are comfortable with.
  • Improve my own design skills: To be seen – I haven’t done much creating for a while, given time constraints. However I feel sharper, more observant generally, more responsive and more critical (in an informed way, not a negative way). I’m keen to push myself, to take some risks.
  • Improved understanding of contemporary art, art vs craft, and what I want do do. A start has been made and I’m confident purposeful movement will continue (hopefully indefinitely). Trying to define “art” (especially versus “craft”) now seems like the wrong question. I’m keen to work on the next OCA textile module and to “own” it in the same way I have this one.
  • Getting time for weaving. Sadly that didn’t happen.
  • Time-management has been difficult. There is no natural ending point – there will always be more to learn, a point to research further, another comparison that would add to an analysis. Some exercises were better done than others. I tried at one point to put the main focus on the specific items that had to be sent to my tutor, but found that unsatisfying. I may have been a bit self-indulgent in the extent to which I interpreted requirements and put more emphasis on areas that particularly interested me.

    In his feedback to Assignment 2 my tutor suggested I spend time thinking about what comparisons I might draw between the works studied. I’ve tried to follow that approach and feel that it has added a real richness to my study. I now have the beginnings of a framework of understanding, not just a lot of disparate bits and pieces. Seeing analogies and themes across works of different periods is fascinating.

    The course worked well to introduce and build techniques in annotations and analysis. I believe I can now ask better questions, and I have built some skills and resources to allow me to start answering them. I hope I can apply this to my own work.

    The OCA textiles course only allows for one optional module and I am so very glad I chose this one.

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise: Analyse an Impressionist landscape

    This exercise calls for an annotation of either one of Whistler’s Nocturne series of paintings or an Impressionist landscape painting, together with the instruction “try and work from an original if at all possible”.

    I have chosen to analyse Antoine Vollon’s Dieppe (1873). The original is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), so available for me to see. The extent to which the work meets the main criteria will be discussed as part of the analysis.

    Antoine Vollon Dieppe 1873   oil on canvas   32.8 x 40.3 cm

    Antoine Vollon
    Dieppe
    1873 oil on canvas 32.8 x 40.3 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/7640/

    vollon_02This quite small work shows a view across a harbour to the town beyond. Strong horizontal lines are formed by the receding lines of silhouetted buildings and the brushstrokes of calm water. A dark area of docks is dimly indicated to the left. A few small but firm verticals are created by architecture and dimly seen masts. Other masts suggest diagonals and create movement. Virtually half the canvas is sky.

    The colours are subdued, almost monochromatic – white, blue-greys in a wide range of values – enlivened and enriched by some sparks of yellow mainly towards the left. In my photograph above and the one on the AGNSW website there appears to be a distinct violet in a band across the centre of the picture. This is not visible in person, where these sections generally appear a soft white blended over layers of paint.

    vollon_03Paint has been applied in a varied, and I suggest inventive, way using brush and palette knife. Broad horizontal strokes have been used to form docks, the rows of buildings and water. Detail has been scratched into the paint using the handle of the brush. My camera had trouble catching it, but the effect in the water is very energetic, evocative without being highly detailed.

    vollon_04This central detail of the work shows some of the variety of technique in use. The pinnacles of the church are lightly and precisely brushed in, while the shape of the dome is indicated by rough scraping through the paint layers. More broad brushwork indicates the mass of the architecture, while the dock area is a smear of smooth darkness. The sky is an almost undifferentiated luminous glow of chalky white and desaturated blue. Reflected off the water the light becomes a harder glare. A steam boat puffs clouds of white smoke into the air, while the lower town is obscured behind a soft haze of smoke.

    Seeing this work in the gallery it seemed to me appropriate for this exercise. It is the right period and the right location for an Impressionist work. It has a sense of immediacy, sketchy, vigorous. There isn’t the spectacular optical colour experimentation of impressionist works, but there appears to be a correspondence with some of the almost monochromatic works among Whistler’s Nocturne series, especially given those lifts of almost complementary yellow.

    Honour and Fleming (2009) include some characteristics of Impressionist paintings:

    • “Rough handling and broken colour patches … as if … casual sketches” (p. 702). The AGNSW picture includes rough handling, not the polished finish of an Academy painting. Colour, or tones, are in blocks or patches rather than detailed blending.
    • “Strictly objective, dispassionate spirit of on-the-spot observation” and “contemporaneity of subject and optical truth” (p. 702). Vollon’s work appears to present a particular moment – perhaps late afternoon with light cloud cover. A bustling port with sail and steam boats is contemporary. There is a sense of a momentary glimpse, the truth of what would be seen at a glance rather than a careful inventory of items. However Carol Forman Tabler, a leading authority on Vollon, has suggested “site-specific objectivity has been made obsolescent by the dynamic, painterly means of expression” (1995, p. 58).
    • “Capture their immediate, momentary impressions with the greatest possible fidelity” (p. 703). There seems to be an additional level of accustomed knowledge in Vollon’s work. Those incised curls of water at the bow of the boat are more a symbol than an observation of the waves. On the other hand Tabler writes “Vollon perhaps most closely approximates Impressionism in the way he captures … the fleeting optical sensation as opposed to the permanent absolute reality” (Tabler, 1995, p. 86).
    • “Positivist, scientific attitude” (p. 703). I can’t detect these qualities in the subject work.
    • High toned palette, clear bright colours, varied, broken brushstrokes (all p. 703). The palette is quite different – as mentioned above more aligned to the Nocturnes. Paint has been applied in a range of techniques, but while the experimentation is pushing beyond Realism it is not following the Impressionist focus on optical effects.
    • “Eliminate the foreground”, “nothing is clear and solid”, “light and atmosphere the subject”, no sense of deep space (p. 704). Vollon’s work does not have a foreground, but there is a sense of space even if it ends in the middle distance. Although not modeled to create volume and no clear outlines, objects have been drawn – albeit with a scratching handle.
    • Whistler’s work is described as having an empty expanse of water, high skyline, undefined space, a translation of Japanese art (p. 713). None of these are reflected in Vollon’s work.

    Honour and Fleming describe Impressionism as “the final stage of Realism” (2009, p. 703), and I suggest that Vollon’s work also builds from and beyond Realism – but by a different path.

    Vollon was an established painter of realist still-life when a more adventurous landscape was among the works rejected by the Salon jurors in 1863. His work was shown in the Salon des Refusés, but he did not turn his back on academic painting. Vollon continued to be successful with his Realist still-lifes, and in 1870 he took a seat on the Jury. He also continued his explorations with landscapes – but did not exhibit them. In fact Tabler has suggested “the privacy with which he safeguarded his landscapes can also be viewed as a conscious aesthetic determination on his part in order to protect his freedom to experiment” (Tabler, 1995, p. 4).

    vollon_05Vollon had multiple links to the Impressionists. The subject work was dedicated to his friend Antoine Guillemet, who was himself closely associated with members of the Impressionist circle (he is included in Manet’s The Balcony). Inscribing the picture in this way suggests that Vollon both regarded it as a finished work, and knew the audience who would appreciate it. Vollon’s seat on the jury came about partly due to the resignation of Daubigny, protesting Monet’s rejection. Daubigny acted as a mentor to both Monet and Vollon.

    Tabler argues “the case of Vollon … unsettles the mythology of an ‘old’ art history, which pits the heroic avant-garde against an intransigent old guard” (Tabler, 1995, p. 82). Part of this current exercise was to consider the criteria that can be used in evaluating a less representational landscape. Through my research on Vollon’s painting I have considered those criteria – and although in the event the work is not Impressionist, I have found the process very instructive. It’s also a good reminder that any neat sense of progress and inevitability in art history is illusory, and many of the labels we use are approximations and hindsight.

    References

    Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

    Tabler, C. (1995) The landscape paintings of Antoine Vollon (1833-1900) [manuscript] : a catalogue and an analysis

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise: Analyse an Impressionist landscape
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 5: Inside, outside
    Project two: Landscape
    Exercise: Analyse an Impressionist landscape

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise – Visit a landscape

    “Visit a landscape” is the instruction from the OCA notes, and I have very recently visited an amazing landscape, travelling from Broome to Perth in Western Australia (see 26-Aug-2014). Rather a large landscape, so my first thought was to limit myself to one section – say just the Pilbara. 01_DetailMapIn total the Pilbara is 507,896 square kilometres, which is still on the large side (the entire UK is around 243,610 square kilometres). We basically travelled down the west coast, so visited only part. The orange box on the map shows the part of the Pilbara included in the journey.

    Apart from the size / scope issue, I’ve struggled to see how landscapes in the canon of Western Art make sense for landscapes of Western Australia. I’m not writing about the art of the indigenous people – that’s another story entirely and I don’t know enough there to even start. It’s that for someone from the western tradition the light is wrong – it’s brighter, whiter, harsher. The atmosphere is wrong – it’s so much drier, not a trace of soft haziness, only occasionally an isolated cloud. The vegetation, what there is of it, is wrong, and the colours are wrong, and the space is very, very wrong.

    Of course they aren’t wrong. They’re different – wonderful and different. Beautiful and different. Mysterious and different. The relationship of the land to man, western man, is different. Claude Lorrain (see 14-Sept-2014) would be wrong here. Turner (see 4-May-2013) would be wrong here – even his understanding of the vast sublime.

    I spent a little time searching books and the internet for American or Canadian works that might make an interesting comparison, but realised I was comparing everything to what was in my head about Australia – so of course nothing looked quite right. So below I’ve stayed within Australia, although a little loose on area. Basically I’ve been looking at ways to approach a landscape when it isn’t like the landscapes in the course.

    I’ll start with some photos I took while in the Pilbara. This is to give a general sense of the land for those who haven’t been there. Many of the photos themselves are pretty poor, especially those taken through the window of a moving coach.

    Next, some paintings of the area. Most of these I’ve found on the internet and not seen in person, so my comments are provisional.

    Sidney Nolan Storm over Pilbara V (1982) spray enamel and mixed media on canvas. I really like the sense of depth in the landscape. There’s little specific detail, but the swirl at the front gives movement and interest. The line of the hills resonates – it feels right. I like the way the storm clouds seem almost like another mountain range behind.

    Fred Williams – works in his Pilbara series. Mount Nameless (morning) (1981) oil on canvas. The folding in the hills (this is a geologically very old and complex area) and the sparse vegetation create a wonderful pattern. The colours don’t seem literal, although I see on the National Gallery of Victoria site that he has painted the same view at other times of day. I was very mindful of the changes in the landscape at different times of day – not just colours, but with the gullies and outcrops of rocks the shadows could entirely change the apparent shape of the slopes.

    John Olsen Burning Trees, Pilbara, (1983) oil on canvas. This work uses an aerial view of the country, based on journeys in a helicopter. It’s a great way to show the vastness of the land, setting up rhythms of curves and the energetic sort of calligraphy that I associate with Olsen’s work. It also solves the problem of sparse vegetation that appears continuous in the distance. While sketching I struggled with clumps of spinifex which merged into something like fields of corn after just a few metres.

    I can’t quite tell from the photograph of Olsen’s work, but I think there are signs of man to be seen amongst the nature, unlike the works linked above. This is one area where Pilbara landscapes must be different from many European views – either the hand of (western) man is absent, or it is very heavy on the land. There are no rustic villages or reaching church spires here.

    Mark Schaller’s work such as Open Cut Mine Pilbara I (2011 acrylic on canvas) presents views of mining in decorative patterning, using energetic and simplified shapes, lines and colours which still clearly reflect the physical landscape.


    Above are some images of a charming painting by Doug Gordon, then aged 12, in 1932. It shows Millstream homestead and environs, where Doug lived with his family at the time. The homestead is now a visitor centre in the Millstream-Chichester National Park. Doug’s painting hangs in the homestead and has been the inspiration for a Trail which presents station life in the 1930s from the perspective of a twelve year old boy.

    Finally a work by Peter McQueeney. To be honest, I don’t know where this work depicts – probably not the Pilbara, but somewhere in that general part of the world. This is one of a number of works by McQueeney that hang in various meeting rooms at my workplace, and I enjoy viewing them in the few spare moments before we get into discussions on software functional specifications.

    The final requirement for this exercise is to sketch or paint the landscape. After the journal making class with Adele Outteridge (25-July-2014) I made a journal especially for the trip, and also took along a range of graphite pencils, plus some watercolours and brushes.

    I did a few sketches in a different book before leaving home, just to get used to my toolkit and to start thinking about how a landscape could work.


    One of the above is based on a work in Fred Williams Pilbara series, I’ve (temporarily?) misplaced my notes on others. I wasn’t particularly fussy about where the landscape was – some attempts I haven’t shown here were based on European works – I just wanted to get my hand moving.

    One immediate lesson was that I would have to be very careful of the amount of detail that could be included on my small pages.

    sketch_10The next lesson was in sketching on a moving tour coach. I have a couple of those brushes with water reservoir and synthetic bristles. I found it actually is possible to mix water colours from half pans in those little plastic cases with integrated palette, and manage the paints, brush and sketchbook on your lap in a moving vehicle – to an extent. Extremely ordinary first results, but given the long driving days I persevered.

    sketch_11The next attempt was on one of the wider, fold-out pages. The concept was to attempt decorative patterning based on the landscape in an invented colour combination that pleased me. I was also struggling with “spinifex difficulties”. If I paint what I see, the middle ground would look like a smooth field. I know it isn’t and I really wanted to keep the feeling of sparse vegetation even if that wasn’t a literal view of the scene.

    sketch_12Next was pencils – graphite and a white pastel – with the brown paper providing a mid-tone. This looks pretty traditional – tree front left, non-connected planes of fore-, middle- and back-ground. I was happier with the flecks of white to indicate the spinifex without forming an apparently dense ground cover.

    sketch_14I tried to go a bit further with focusing on tones and using the white for highlights. This doesn’t work as a composition, but I feel my technique is slowly improving. Of course an extra challenge was the coach moving along at 90 – 100 km per hour. It was generally a very smooth ride and not many corners, but I ended up mish-mashing scenery when the initial inspiration was somewhere far behind.

    sketch_15With the general views I continued to have trouble finding a way to get from foreground to background when the land between was largely without features. This drawing was focusing in – and for once, I was stationary. This was sitting on a rock by one of the gorges in Karijini national park. The rock has weathered in amazing geometric forms.

    sketch_16Back in the coach! This “solved” the middle ground problem by having an extreme foreground, a clear break, and straight to background.

    sketch_19This one looks a bit odd with that row of sunken treetops, but that’s actually what is there. Sparse, low vegetation over most of the ground, then in the distance there would be a dry creek bed with trees and only the tops visible. When not sketching I would amuse myself by sitting with camera poised, watching for the line of tree tops to veer towards the road, hoping to get a good shot of the creek bed if the road passed over. I have lots of blurry shots!

    sketch_20Back to searching for ways to deal with huge, sparse spaces. This is based on a map view of the landscape as we drove west from Karijini alongside a private railway used by the mining companies. I suppose it’s a poor man’s version of the helicopter view. I like the patterning achieved.

    sketch_21There was a theory here – it wasn’t a fauvist attempt. I felt a bit stuck in my sketching, being a bit too literal. Here I tried to use complements of colours. The really vibrant colours just emphasize the bland, static forms. Actually some of my fellow travelers seemed quite positive about this one (they were all very pleasant, polite, supportive people!).

    sketch_25We’d moved past the Pilbara by this point, but I wanted to show a couple more attempts at finding a way to present this land. So often the broad view was a series of horizontal bands leading up to the sky. This time I tried to mix colours I was seeing and paint in bands. I would like to weave this. Actually I think it would be interesting to weave the colours of a landscape, then stitch over with some shapes based on the view – not too literal, but introducing some energy and movement.

    sketch_26Most of the time I was trying to deal with all that space by reducing detail. This time I reduced the space, or at least focus on a narrower view. The wildflower season was beginning as we got further south – not enough to be the real “carpet” that would be there a few weeks later, but enough to fill most of this view with colour. I think this is my most successful attempt at moving from foreground to background.

    sketch_24This is Turquoise Bay near Exmouth, and the “beach” is actual sand from the beach where I was sitting (I had a glue stick). I like the movement I got in the water, although the headland is a bit wrong.

    I did quite a few more sketches while away, but none that add to this exercise. I haven’t figured out how to paint a satisfying Australian desert landscape, but I had a lot of fun trying. It was really good having this course requirement as a focus. I had the sketchbook out every day, often multiple times. I got over any nervousness about sketching in public – if people want to look over my shoulder that’s their choice, I’m not making any claims of it being worth their while. Even when not sketching I was looking around me, trying to think of ways to approach drawing or painting what I was seeing. I feel my observations skills took a huge leap forward. All in all, very satisfying.

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise – Visit a landscape
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 5: Inside, outside
    Project two: Landscape
    Exercise – Visit a landscape

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise – The classical landscape

    I have reached Landscape, the final project of this course. We start with Classical Landscape, a genre virtually invented, or at least perfected, by Claude Lorrain. The landscape was painted not as a setting for a mythological scene or a distant view through a window in the background of a work, but as an idyllic pastoral scene. This was a tamed countryside, inhabited by small figures who help the viewer enter the scene. There may be a classical temple or a rustic village, but the eye is gently drawn to distant mountains and the luminous sky.

    The OCA course notes quote Kenneth Clark in his book Landscape into Art (1949). Below are two works by Lorrain, both currently on view at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, combined with shaded diagrams to illustrate Clark’s description of Claude’s customary compositional scheme.

    Claude Lorrain Pastoral Landscape 1636 - 1637 oil on copper 27.9 x 34.7 cm

    Claude Lorrain Pastoral Landscape 1636 – 1637 oil on copper 27.9 x 34.7 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/208.1992/


    Claude Lorrain The goatherd 1636     print - etching      12.8 x 19.9 cm

    Claude Lorrain
    The goatherd
    1636 print – etching 12.8 x 19.9 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/346.1997/


    From Clark: [The scheme] “… involved a dark coulisse on one side (hardly ever on two), the shadow of which extended across the first plane of the foreground, a middle plane with a large central feature, usually a group of trees, and finally two planes, one behind the other, the second being that luminous distance for which he has always been famous…”.

    On the right in The goatherd above we see a tree like flat scenery at the side of a stage (a coulisse), casting its shadow (marked “1”). The first plane is colourful and in light rather than shadowed in Pastoral Landscape. In both works a herdsman can be seen sitting on a tree root and playing music.

    A middle plane (“2″), including trees as a central large feature, is used in both works.

    There are buildings and water reflecting light in the third plane of each work. In The goatherd what may be a classical temple can be glimpsed on the left. In Pastoral Landscape there is a mill including a water wheel on the right, and a village can be seen on the horizon.

    The final plane of luminous distance, a glowing sky, is present in both painting and etching.

    This feels quite disrespectful, distilling an artists work into a dry formula – but that takes the description out of context. I have skimmed through Clark’s book (I will be glad to complete this course, when I might finally have more time for reading!), and he presents Claude as “the true heir to the poetry of Giorgione” (Clark, p. 62). Clark notes Claude’s rich observation, subtle tonality, delicacy, visual responsiveness, sense of light. Claude sketched from nature – observations of details, and ideas for compositions – did studies for pictures, then painted the works themselves. For Clark the paintings are “exquisite poetry”, with “never a false note”. Critically, “Claude could subordinate all his powers of perception and knowledge of natural appearances to the poetic feeling of the whole” and “in spite of his extreme formality, nothing in Claude is a formula”. (Clark, p. 64).

    The works I have shown above are from Claude’s earlier work. Clark refers to works painted by Claude later in life as his “greatest poems”, including the series The Times of the Day now in The Hermitage. I can’t show them here, but go to http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/index.html, do a quick search on “Claude Lorrain”, then look at Landscape with Jacob, Rachel and Leah at the Well (1666), Landscape with the rest on the Flight into Egypt (1661), Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (1663), and Landscape with Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1672). These show scenes at morning, noon, evening and night respectively. All generally follow the compositional formula, but none completely. They are much larger than the works I have seen in Sydney, and the photos on the internet just leave me hungry to see the works in person. I think you could find yourself standing within that beautiful, serene, golden world.

    The OCA Exercise calls for a full annotation of at least one image. I have chosen Pastoral Landscape as it is the one painting I have seen in person.

    Claude Lorrain Pastoral Landscape 1636 – 1637 oil on copper 27.9 x 34.7 cm

    Claude Lorrain
    Pastoral Landscape
    1636 – 1637 oil on copper 27.9 x 34.7 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/208.1992/


    The painting shows a goatherder at rest by a river or lake, playing his pipes as his charges (including a stray cow) graze and butt heads. A mill with waterwheel can be seen, and in the distance a hilltop town. The scene is serene, bathed in crepuscular light – although whether dawn or dusk I can’t tell (I’ve seen both suggested in the literature).

    The work is an unusual octagonal shape, and for that reason has been known as the “Diamond Claude”. It is painted on copper, which although not common is not unique in Claude’s earlier work. A particular benefit seems to be that the work is very well preserved.

    lorrain_04A general discussion of Claude’s use of receding planes in his images is included above. In addition to this it is interesting to consider Claude’s use of lines. The overall impression given by the image is that the horizontal dominates. The image is peaceful and calm. On closer examination, the proportions of the work accentuate the horizontal, but there are no actual horizontal lines. There are a few verticals, indicated in purple, but otherwise we see a jumble of angles. A staff at the front, indicated in light blue, leads our eyes into the scene. The trees of the second plane go in a variety of directions. One result is to frame the waterwheel and associated buildings on the right. Another result is an overall balance, trees leaning to both left and right, providing interest and a dynamic quality yet combining to a sense of stillness. A series of “peaks”, shown in green, have a similar effect. They appear across the image, in stones, mountains, figure etc, creating an overall harmony or uniformity to the scene without being dull or drab.

    lorrain_05These elements and others also work together to guide our gaze around the image, moving from plane to plane. In the example shown we enter the work at the staff lying on the ground in the centre. It directs us up to the goatherder. His pipes move our eyes higher, to the waterwheel. Following a line parallel to the tree above, we arrive at the peak of a distant mountain, almost hidden but just visible through a “convenient” space in the trees. We follow the slope of the mountain down to the village silhouetted on the hills, then drift down across the mellow waters to the interest of the goats at play.

    lorrain_06Although there is the overall golden glow for which Claude is well known, there are also some strong, clear colours. The goatherder’s cap is bright red. His trousers include a clear blue. To me these seemed dischordant, unsettling and distracting. One effect was that it had me hunting for other colours, questioning whether my first impression was accurate. There are some lovely deep greens in the waters behind the herder, and sparkles of white in the water falling from the wheel. The sky glows golden, but also lifts up to gentle blues.

    I’ve noted a similar burst of colour in figures seen in some of the Hermitage works mentioned above. Is it a simple reflection of “reality” (if there is such a thing in this arcadian dream), or indicating that the figures remain distinct, not quite merged and at home in the country, or perhaps just a means of bringing the eye to these significant objects?

    As well as giving us a way to imagine ourselves into the landscape, the figures provide an entry to a narrative – not the whole story, but hints. Perhaps there is not too much more in the goatherder than a pastoral idyll, but the small figures in the Hermitage works reference dramatic moments in biblical history, man pitted against other men, against god, or against himself. Neil MacGregor wrote that the figures and other hints “stimulate us to become part of a narrative that deals with the great passions of life, moral and emotional dilemmas, the death and birth of empires” (MacGregor, 1994, p. 9).

    Beyond the narrative, the figures and the signs of man in buildings indicate that this classical landscape is not wild. “It is man-centered in the sense that it reflects a view of nature adjusted to human intelligence and human needs” wrote Kitson (1969, p. 7). One could claim that it is so well-adjusted that it is a form of escapism – no such landscape ever existed. Honour and Fleming point out that “Claude’s landscapes were bought by kings, notably Philip IV of Spain, and the aristocracy of Europe – patrons of a different type and class from the intellectuals, lawyers and officials who admired Poussin’s more intellectually demanding work” (Honour and Fleming, 2009. p.587). In a period where established authority – monarchy and aristocracy as well as the church – continued to be challenged by intellectuals and the rising middle class, it would not be surprising if those who felt threatened should seek escape in a calm, idealized, pastoral world.

    Tones vary smoothly through the picture. In the foreground, which almost looks like a stage, there is contrast between light and shadow, providing interest and attracting the eye. However it is soon led gently to the series of hills, the open space, and the light of the sky reflected in the waters. The distance is less detailed, less clear, the farthest hill is slightly blue to indicate the depth of the view. This use of aerial perspective is understated but very effective. Distance is also suggested by the reducing size and detail of elements. The placement of the buildings on the right suggest they are retreating into the background, but this seems more a result of the curve of the river bank rather than a use of linear perspective.

    Miller (2007) explained “While painters traditionally squared their finished model drawings for transfer to a full-sized support, Claude used lines radiating from a point at the center of the sheet… His landscape were made up of successive planes of receding ground, and sometimes there are multiple vanishing points, particularly if the composition includes different levels. In this case a squared grid could have proven counter-productive, making it more difficult to avoid the sort of rigid linear design of the inferior practitioners. This looseness of perspective and design lays behind much of the unique quality of Claude’s landscapes.”

    The picture is suffused with light. Kitson wrote of Claude’s works “the play upon surfaces of an infinitely gradated light make objects seem convincing and alive … Some forms appear against the light, others with the light partly shining through them, others again with the light reflected from them as highlights. But the boundaries between these categories are always fluid” (Kitson, 1969, p.8). It is the light which draws in the viewer and captures us.

    References

    Clark, K. (1949) Landscape into art London: John Murray

    Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

    Kitson, M. (1969) Introduction in Arts Council (1969) The Art of Claude Lorrain London: Arts Council of Great Britain

    MacGregor, N. (1994) Forward in Wine, H. (1994) Claude: The poetic landscape London: National Gallery Publications

    Miller, M. (2007) Claude Lorrain Landscape Drawings from the British Museum at the Clark [online] Available from http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/02-16-2007_claude-lorrain-landscape-drawings-from-the-british-museum-at-the-clark.htm (Accessed 14-Sept-2014)

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise – The classical landscape
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 5: Inside, outside
    Project two: Landscape
    Exercise – The classical landscape


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