Category Archives: Course Research

3.4 Contextual Focus – Erased De Kooning

In 1953, Rauschenberg decided to challenge what could be construed as Art, just as Dumas had before him. He had begun this process in 1951 by producing pure white paintings from which he had eliminated any sense of brushwork by using house paint applied with rollers (Craft, 2013). Wanting to push his White paintings into drawing, he conceived the idea of taking a drawing, a work of art, and destroying it by erasure, thereby leaving its trace but not the ‘art’ content. This would not only question or destroy ideas of what art was but also destroy a physical piece of art. He tried using his own drawings but felt that they lacked sufficient significance. He fearfully approached de Kooning, one of the foremost American artists of the time, and requested a drawing to delete, ‘I bought a bottle of Jack Daniels…..praying….that he wouldn’t be home’ (svsugvcarter, 2007). Accounts differ as to whether de Kooning was reluctant or intrigued by the proposal, possibly both.

Rauschenberg remembers de Kooning saying, ‘I want it to be something I’ll miss…..something really difficult to erase’. He selected a drawing in charcoal, oil paint, pencil and crayon, and it took Rauschenberg a month to erase it.  He comments in this interview that people thought it a gesture, a protest against abstract expressionism or vandalism but when asked what it represented for him, he said ‘its poetry’.

The Erased de Kooning as a physical artefact is not a work of art, but the memory of a work of art. The second work of art here is the idea and its execution. In this respect, Rauschenberg was a forerunner of the Conceptual Art movement which gained momentum in the early 1960s. Sol LeWitt ‘In conceptual art the idea or the concept is the most important aspect of the work…it means that all planning and decisions are made before hand and the execution is a perfunctory affair…It is the object of the artist to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator’ (Harrison, Wood, and Gaiger, 2002). Except that Rauschenberg did not want the execution to be perfunctory; he wanted it to be difficult, but, like the White paintings, not to display the hand of the artist. Had he been working 10 years later, he probably would have recorded this as a piece of performance art. He created a nearly blank piece of paper on which the spectator can project their own interpretation and speculations. It is this creation of an arena for discussion and speculation which has kept the Erased de Kooning fresh and relevant for 60 years.

Erasing a work by an important artist was a genuinely creative and original idea. In his ‘Sentence on Conceptual Art’, Sol LeWitt usefully said, of this creative process:

‘1 Conceptual Artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.

2 Rational judgements repeat rational judgements.

3 Illogical judgements lead to new experience.

4 Formal Art is essentially rational.

5 Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.’ (Harrison, Wood, and Gaiger).

Erasing a de Kooning was irrational and, once conceived, followed through with commitment, leading to a new and enduring experience.

References

Craft, C. (2013) Rauschenberg London: Phaidon Press.

Harrison, C., Wood, P. and Gaiger, J. (eds.) (2002) Art in theory 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas. 2nd edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
svsugvcarter (2007) Robert Rauschenberg – erased de Kooning. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpCWh3IFtDQ (Accessed: 18 December 2016).

Bibliography

Fox, M. (2015) What is the artistic significance of Robert Rauschenberg’s erased de Kooning? Available at: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-artistic-significance-of-Robert-Rauschenbergs-Erased-de-Kooning (Accessed: 5 December 2016).
Harrison, C., Wood, P. and Gaiger, J. (eds.) (2002) Art in theory 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas. 2nd edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
Katz, V. (2006) A genteel iconoclasm. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/genteel-iconoclasm (Accessed: 5 December 2016).
Robert Rauschenberg, erased de Kooning drawing, 1953 (2016) Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.298#ownership-artwork (Accessed: 5 December 2016).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2010) Robert Rauschenberg on ‘erased de Kooning’. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGRNQER16Do (Accessed: 18 December 2016).
svsugvcarter (2007) Robert Rauschenberg – erased de Kooning. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpCWh3IFtDQ (Accessed: 18 December 2016).

3.2 Research – Gesture

The artist considers the gesture of her or his subject. In life classes, we often start with very quick drawings, designed to warm up our eyes and arms, and to capture just the very basic form of the pose, the thrust of a hip or twist on the spine, an essence. Below is a very quick drawing, 3 minutes, where I have not worried about the quality of my line, or even looked at it, but looked at the model and tried to capture the position of the arms over a pole and how that has pushed the head forward. In doing so, the marks themselves become gestural, capturing the gesture of my hand as I made the mark.

trees-and-bods-25-of-26

A1, 3 mins, pencil and charcoal

The artist’s bold gesture expressed by the mark can become of interest in itself, taking on a life beyond the expression of the subject. It allows us to picture the artist working and envisage the physicality of the process. In Action Painting, the expressionists (Pollock, Kline et al.) took this to its logical conclusion of eliminating a subject and making the process of creation of a work itself the subject. Painting became a performance, often with an invited audience, and the painting almost a secondary record of the event.

Gesture is recorded through the direct application of material. The vigor and energy of the artist’s action is captured. The physical application is overtly displayed in contrast to classical painting where the act of applying paint is hidden in the attempt to create an illusion of reality. “Under the cloak of an intellectual aim, the materials have been completely murdered and can no longer speak to us”, Jiro Yoshihara asserted in his Gutai manifesto of 1956 (Harrison and Wood, 2002).

The Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Concrete Art Group) took the gesture to another level with what latter were termed Happenings, Installations and Performance Art. The gesture of the artist became the artwork with artists writhing in mud, jumping through sheets of paper or throwing an ink soaked ball at paper. The materials were unassuming and clearly displayed such as in Shimamoto’s ‘Holes’. Pollock had allowed the genii out of of the bottle and there was no going back. In 1996, Yoshihara credited Pollock, “Pollock’s splendour will never be extingushed” (Harrison and Wood, 2002).

References

Harrison, C. and Wood, P.J. (eds.) (2002) Art in theory, 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas. 2nd edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

 

3.2 Research Point – Pollock

Pollock said, “When I am in my painting, I am not aware of what I am doing”. He tried to achieve a creative state in which his marks were a response to his internal promptings rather than an external search for an aesthetic, particularly a commercial aesthetic. He walked around the support on the floor, dripping, splashing, and pouring his paint. Later, he would ask his wife, the artist Lee Krastner, “Does it work?” (Acton, 2004). This is not to say that his drips and splashes of paint were not considered; clearly, watching this video, they were carefully considered but not in the sense that he was thinking, “Does this make a pleasing image?”. He was searching for some sort of internal balance, rhythm and cohesion.

Pollock was trying to connect to his subconscious through this gestural process, “The source of the painting is the unconscious” (Harrison and Wood, 2002) but he also wanted it to be a spiritual experience for viewer. Size mattered. The canvas (or other support) should be so big that the viewer becomes lost in it and its edges disappear. It was not practical to work at an easel, both because of the size and because of the technique. Did the size elicit the technique or did the technique dictate the size? “On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting…literally be in the painting.” (Harrison and Wood, 2002).

Greenberg, who championed Pollock, said that Pollock’s gestural approach created work “full of energy and content” (Harrison and Wood, 2002). The energy and physicality of the artist’s process is preserved; the painting becomes performance recorded in paint. In his essay ‘Anti-Form’, Morris says of Pollock and Morris Louis, who was heavily influenced by him, that this art takes process and “holds on to it as part of the end form of the work.” (Archer, 2015). It is this sense of recorded, captured energy which made Pollock’s work so radical at the time and influential since.

“I approach painting in the same sense as one approaches drawing, that is it’s direct….the more immediate, the more direct – the greater the possibilities of making …. a statement” Jackson Pollock, (Harrison and Wood, 2002).

References

Acton, M. (2004) Learning to look at modern art. New York: Routledge.
Archer, M. (2015) Art since 1960. United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson.
Harrison, C. and Wood, P.J. (eds.) (2002) Art in theory, 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas. 2nd edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

3.1 Drawing Blind Research

Drawing blindfolded is an exercise often presented to drawing students but it is difficult to find artists who have integrated this into their creative practice.

Claude Heath has produced series of drawings in this way, in particular Drawing 188, 1996, which are presented as examples in Maslen and Southern’s Drawing Projects. Heath wanted to draw “without being compromised by anything…already known” (Maslen and Southern, 2011). It is all to easy to draw what you think you see rather than what you see, so Heath took the seeing out of the equation completely. Staff, in his essay on Heath’s work, likens this to the automatic drawing practised by the Surrealists (Guerin, 2015). However, they were attempting to tap into their subconscious and to avoid the conventions of representational art. Heath was seeking a truer representation by eschewing preconceptions which might lead to a poorer interpretation. He developed this approach into drawing whilst looking at the object but not the drawing, and finally by using his eyes to explore the object whilst drawing unsighted, simultaneously with both hands. A blob of bluetack is used as a tactile reference point within the drawing. This has produced drawings densely populated with lines with a small blank ‘navel’ where the bluetack was and from which the lines radiate.

In 2010, Heath was invited  to explore through drawing, a range of archaeological finds in Magura, Romania. He drew unsighted and by touch because, “when drawing unsighted these surfaces seem to be inscribed with tantalising but inconclusive clues as to the meaning of these things” (Interventions chapter 09 tactile drawings, 2011). Rather than draw blindfold, he set up an arrangement where the object (of which he had no prior knowledge or sight) and the drawing support where behind a curtain through which he could use his hands. He decided to drawn each object using the object itself via abrasion, cutting or indenting the support. The resulting images are rather like ghosts of the object.

Another artist who explored unsighted drawing extensively was the American Jules Olitski. Now remembered as a colour field artist, he produced ethereal works using a spray gun. As an art student, he described himself as a very competent drawer but he asked himself “I know how to draw what I see, but do I know how to look within?” (Distler, no date). Working blind liberated him from received art conventions and he talked eloquently of the value of the process.

“In 1949… I painted blindfolded for I don’t know how many months – in any case until I felt strong enough in myself that I could allow the work to take its course; to develop in time, I hoped, into good works of art. Through an odd, unanticipated route I had found my way into flat, bright, colored abstract painting. At a stroke, the devises and techniques I had learned in the art schools were gone, as if I’d never gone to school.

… Though the “blindfold” paintings were not truly realized works of art, they were, I believe, my first true works. They had come out of play, and to me, at least, they looked alive. The kind of play I mean is serious play, inspired play, where imagination, intelligence, intuition and experience all come together and at once reconstruct a reality into a vision… of order and harmony.” (Olitski in the 21st century, 1985)

I find his definition of ‘play’ within art practice particularly insightful.

Jon Tsoi, a Chinese-American artist, uses blind painting as an expression of “universal life energy” (Jon Tsoi artist, no date) and describes it as a form of Chinese medicine (though it is not clear who the patient is). This video shows his process which involves an initial group meditation followed by cutting canvases and treading them with rope after which the audience ritualistically pours paint over the stacked canvases. This seems altogether less convincing and more gimmicky performance art than the thoughtful approach of Olitski. The garb of combat gear and helmet undermines any serious, religious or medicinal intent and the art produced offers little insight.

References

Distler, A. (no date) Arlene Distler: A life in art: Jules Olitski at 81. Available at: http://arlenedistler.com/index.php?cf=1&ci=10 (Accessed: 15 October 2016).
Guerin, F. (ed.) (2015) On not looking: The paradox of contemporary visual culture. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.
Interventions chapter 09 tactile drawings (2011) Available at: http://www.magurapastpresent.eu/files/resources/Interventions_Chapter_09_Tactile_drawings.pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2016).
Jon Tsoi artist (no date) Available at: http://www.jontsoi.com/ (Accessed: 15 October 2016).
Maslen, M. and Southern, J. (2011) The drawing projects: An exploration of the language of drawing. London: Black Dog Publishing London UK.
Olitski in the 21st century (1985) Available at:
http://adelsongalleriesboston.com/exhibitions/exhibitions-list/2013/olitskiinthe21stcentury/ecatalog/introduction/ (Accessed: 9 October 2016).

2.1 – Research and Material Experiments

This project starts by considering how the illusion of a 3D space floating within a 2D surface can be achieved by carving form into a laid down surface of charcoal and then developing further tone and form.

The use of charcoal dust and a rubber gives  a dreamy, soft focus effect which reminds me strongly of the drawings of Seurat. He worked the other way about, gradually adding conte crayon to his support, but eschewing the use of any line. Both techniques lend themselves to the representation of chiaroscuro, high contract modelling of form using oblique light against a dark background. Suerat made great use of rich velvety black background and shadows with subtle highlights to describe form. There are no identifiable individual marks and edges are soft, implying surfaces gently curving away from the observer into the space beyond the picture plane.

Degas used chiaroscuro widely in his drawings at the theatre, with dancers against the stage lights and in his low lit interior scenes. However, in his large scale paintings and drawings, he often combined this with a defining line. His monoprints are a direct expression of light modelling form and were produced subtractively by rolling a plate with ink which he then wiped and drew into in direct response to the play of light. Later, in the mid 1990s, he was to pursue the same oblique lighting in dark interiors in his photography. He commented to a friend about the technical difficulties of achieving his objectives; “Daylight gives me no problem” he said. “What I want is difficult – the atmosphere of lamps or moonlight” (Daniel, 1998). His monoprints do, indeed, have great atmosphere and intimacy, and the loss of detail inherent in this process only adds to dream-like quality. In working with inked plates and photographic plates, there is much greater jeopardy than than charcoal, since there is no opportunity for revision.

degas-monoprint001

Degas (1987) ‘Woman at her Toilette c 1885’. [Monotype, 42 x54 cm] from Degas by himself. Drawings, prints, paintings,writings. London: MacDonald Orbis, p190

Chiaroscuro also adds drama to even simple compositions. Rembrandt’s early self portrait has great force, often delivered by the treatment of the eyes, but in this case by the fact that he has lit his head at such an angle that the eyes are in shadow.

To explore the use of working onto a white support using a soft medium and no line, I used graphite powder and a brush to pay homage to Rembrandt’s self portrait in my A3 sketchbook. The graphite has a very soft, subtle effect and make very soft marks. The brush moves it around an can dust it off, but you can’t really build it up for dark tones.

rembrandt (1 of 4)

rembrandt (2 of 4)

rembrandt (3 of 4)

rembrandt (4 of 4)

I haven’t managed to recreate the likeness, with his snub nose and bravado. I think the tiny details that capture a face are very difficult to bring out with such a soft and imprecise medium. However, it does create is own atmosphere. Working in this medium made me think more of volume and mass, rather than edge shapes.

The graphite is very difficult to fix into the surface. I pressed loose powder down with a palette knife, yielding an interesting variation of mark and tone. I have fixed this drawing with hair spray and will be interested to see if it survives.

rembrandt detail (1 of 1)

Thinking further about portraits in soft volume rather than edges, lead me to Anita Taylor, and her immense self portraits in soft charcoal. She doesn’t cover the whole support in dark tone but draws the volume of the figure and then carves out the features and planes of the face. These are often on a very large scale, allowing great sweeps of charcoal and eraser. She implies the volume of the figure using the directional marks of the charcoal; we know that there is part of the figure beyond the picture plane because the vector of the mark tells us that it is going somewhere that is present but which we cant see.

Line to describe form was also used by Henry Moore. In his drawing ‘Pink and Green Sleepers (1941)’, looking at the pink arm on the right, we can see how he has combined line and tone to create the powerful illusion of 3D form. The strong lines tapper off and disappear in to the dark shadows. The impression of 3D space within  the 2D support is strengthened by the layering of marks. Moore and Taylor both use the history of marks, drawn, obliterated and redrawn and layered to create depth.

It is useful to also consider how a sense of depth can be created in other media. The photographer Sally Mann uses tonal contrast combined with soft transitions to create an illusion of space. This is most evident in her landscape photographs, which have very high contrast between the depth of shadow and streaming light. She uses vignetting both at the edge of the image but also at the edge of objects within the image giving the light added strength and direction in contrast to the massed shadows.

One aspect that all these examples have in common is that they are largely monochromatic. Colour, if used, is muted and very limited in palette, allowing the use of absolute black and white. An interesting use of colour to create the illusion of 3 dimensions are the woodcuts of Chuck Close. Whilst creating this illusion, he also clearly demonstrated to us what an illusion is but making the toned ’tiles’ of his image clearly identifiable as individual pieces.

A sense of  intrigue and  depth is created in Michael Borremans’ drawings by juxtaposing two planes, often on surreal  different scales, apparently at right angles using perspective to create the illusion of a space beyond the picture plane. This is heightened by his use of figures, looking in or out of the space, creating a powerful but imaginary  space.

I have experimented in my sketchbook with different ways in which I might produce this effect of volume and depth via technique and material.

contour stones

wax crayon, charcoal, ink, 10 x 13 cm

bottles

pen, 8 x 10 cm

bubble

indian ink, acrylic ink, 8 x 10 cm

bubble2

indian ink, acrylic ink over black pastel, 7 x 7 cm

stone

gesso, blue graphite, charcoal, white pastel, 8 x 10 cm

paper

charcoal, white pastel 14 x 10 cm

 These small studies informed my decisions when tackling a final piece for this project. In my work, I wanted to use extremes of tone, work in monochrome, think about the treatment of edges, especially receding edges, think about detail, or lack of detail and try and build a complex surface through a history of marks.

References
Daniel, Malcolm R ; Edgar Degas: Photographer; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y. 1998

Prunella Clough – Out of Far Left

My researches into Clough have very luckily coincided with the current exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings. This exhibition is a survey of her work throughout her life and, always so interesting, includes many sketchbooks. Many of the works are on loan from Annely Juda Fine Art, who represented her, and many of the included works can be seen on their website.

Her early works from 1950s are industrial scenes, and she had a fascination with workmen, lorries and ladders. She flattened out forms and piled them up, condensing them in the landscape. She said, ‘I was trying to update the classical Western concern with the figure without benefit of religious or mythological context’ (Jerwood exhibition commentary). This earlier work had cubist influences and she was compared to Braque by the French critic Pierre Rouve in 1953 (Jerwood exhibition commentary).

The sketches of workmen and fishing huts, drawn in Southwold, echoed the foreshore in front on the Jerwood. Of course, it was no coincidence that the sketchbook was opened at that page.

IMG_0048

In the late 1950s, American art began to be seen in London and in 1959 the Tate exhibited ‘The New American Painting’. featuring abstract expressionist works and Clough said, ‘everything changed’ (Spalding, 2012).  She moved into what is often described as a more abstract style, certainly more pared down, but she said said,’ I never painted an abstract painting in my life’, (Spalding, 2012). This transition may not be as surprising at it seems at first, ‘The landscape which preoccupies me happens to be in its nature fairly geometric, like…..the crossed bars of a gate or the circular shape of an oil drum seen head on’ (Jolivette, 2014). She did, in fact, later paint a series ‘Gate‘ paintings.

Her paintings are of the details of everyday life; a fence,  a patch of pealing paint, a jumble of wire. She draws our attention to an object that our eye would have skidded over. She often took and worked from reference photographs (Gooding, Art, and Clough, 2009).

In one of the works in the Annely Juda collection, she has taken a found Parazone bottle (she was great beachcomber) which she has mounted on a textured board of the same colour. This seems to me a quintessential Clough. She is showing us how beautiful the shape and colour of this ordinary, unregarded object is.  ‘Her paintings are machines for seeing with’ said her friend, Partrick Heron (Jerwood exhibition commentary).

In the 1970s, she was influenced by Donald Judd’s repeated shapes and crisp formality (Spalding, 2012) and her work became increasingly minimal and often much larger, with spare restrained marks and muted colours. An example is ‘Side Elevation, 1972‘. She experimented with ways of developing the texture in her backgrounds using an increasing range of materials and methods such as printing. In this Woodcut from 1981, she explores the textural possibilities of a simple print in white ink on black paper. Her approach was always experimental and her work never stood still. She used collage, applied materials (tissue paper, metal, sand, thread), stencils, stamps and scouring pads.

In the 1980s, she had an operation to correct cataracts. ‘I can see blue again’, she said and her paintings become colourful, in sharp contrast to the muted earth colours of her earlier works. One wonders how much the cataracts affected her work in the preceding years. My mother in law has just had the same operation and comments on how ‘everything now looks so much cleaner as well as less fuzzy’. She seemed to find a new joy in colour, as demonstrated in this painting of 1989, ‘Chinese Chequers’.

She continued to experiment and develop all her life and her later works were as vibrant and unusual as ever. In 1999, the year of her death, she won the prestigious Jerwood painting prize. a belated acknowledgement of the respect which she commanded in the art world. She remaining a modest artist with a disregard for the commercial world of art (once, famously, having a clear out of her painting via a garage sale with posters around the local streets). She was, above all, independent and original, always different, always unexpected, out of far left.

This final quote from the exhibition is telling; ‘Art makes art – it doesn’t just come from what you see, you know. You just have to keep on doing it’.

References

Gooding, M., Art, A.J.F. and Clough, P. (2009) Prunella Clough: 50 years of making art: 28 January-21 march 2009. United Kingdom: Annely Juda Fine Art

Jolivette, C. (ed.) (2014) British art in the nuclear age. United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing.
Spalding, F. (2012) Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped. United Kingdom: Lund Humphries Publishers.