Research point – Still life genre
Still life paintings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were often created to show people’s riches. They often had decadent objects and were realistic in their colour and composition. The artists of this time worked in oils and spent a long time studying shadows and highlights. The paintings often appeared to be dark, particularly in the backgrounds which meant that the shiny objects, which were often used in the foreground, really stand out. Generally the objects were placed in traditional compositions on table tops and cloth was used to add texture and interest with the folding material.
This painting ‘Still Life’ by Willem Claesz produced in 1651 is an example of this.
The objects are placed on the table and they include fruit, meat, silver and wine which would all have been seen as a statement of wealth.
Vanitas paintings from this era are incredibly interesting. The artist would choose objects which represent them or someone else. Often in these paintings you will see skulls, alongside fruit, representing life and death. The whole idea of a Vanitas is filled with symbolism.
In the nineteenth century Cezanne produced still life paintings which, although still contained everyday objects including fruit or glass, worked in a much lighter, more relaxed way. Backgrounds became brighter and there was often less overlapping of objects with more space in between. The amount of detail began to lessen with shapes beginning to become more important than the realistic detail. Colour was blocked in more and the range of tones became less obvious. The painting below is Still Life Pitcher and Fruit, produced in 1894.
The still life of this era became less about showing off wealth and more about beginning to share new methods and ideas in painting.
Cubist painters such as Picasso and Braque took this to a new level. They began looking at the idea of multiple viewpoints of the same object and including these viewpoints in the same piece of work. As you can see in the painting below ‘Baluster and Skull’ painted by Braque in 1938, the compositions became more confused. Now it was not important to create a realistic likeness but instead to create an almost illusional, abstract piece of work which the viewer had to try to understand.
Braque used more blocked in colours, often unrealistic. The objects such as the skull became almost just an outline shape with no fine detail at all. This was incredibly experimental work and of course massively different from the still life of the sixteenth century. However similar objects were used and the paintings were still very much representational.
Contemporary artists now create still life work which is very different in style to their sixteenth century counterparts. Although every day objects are still used, the colour and composition has changed dramatically. Michael Craig Martin is one such artist who is known for creating groups of, or single objects, in this way. He creates shapes with no detail and outlines these in black line. As did the artists in the past, Martin overlaps his objects but he also plays with scale, making objects disproportionately large or small.
He used flat colour with no tone at all, as seen in the picture above painted in 1999, and chooses bright backgrounds.
Looking at the transition in still life painting through these images I think it is easy to see how the inspiration has moved forward throughout the years. Although very different in style, they are all in fact very similar in many ways. I think it is so interesting to look at this transition and to realise how inspiring it can be to take risks and to make your own artwork evolve.
Research point – Positive & negative spaces
The use of positive and negative space is very important to any composition. Sometimes it can be subtle and the viewer may not necessarily observe it straight away.
I have been researching contemporary artists who over exaggerate the negative space to create amazing work and I have found two who I absolutely love. They work very differently from one another but their work is so effective.
The first artist I had not come across before but I have to say I have absolutely fallen in love with his work. I think it is absolutely beautiful;
Henrique de Franca is a visual artist from Säo Paulo, Brazil and was born in 1982. He works only in pencil onto paper. His work is just so atmospheric and I think that this atmosphere is created just as much by what he leaves out of his drawings as what he puts in.
The first picture I’d like to talk about is from his stolen childhood drawing series. It is called ‘Pele Solta’. This translates to ‘Peeling Skin’ .
The drawing is of a young boy, possibly from days past. He stands alone in the centre of the composition and the space is broken up only by a single pencil line which runs behind the boy’s neck and crosses the whole page horizontally. There are a range of tones on the boy with the lightest on the arm of his shirt which fades into nothing, connecting the boy to the page. He holds an empty jug and looks sad. The emptiness of this jug only adds to the feeling of sadness and despair, as it almost drops from his hand. The detail on his face is quite clear as is the tone on the jug, giving it more form than perhaps the rest of the image. The artist has cleverly used shadow very gently surrounding the boy to make him stand out from the empty background. I am interested to know why the artist placed the straight line behind the neck, cutting the head from the body. I think it adds distance to the drawing which in turn adds to the feeling of loneliness. I love the way that tone has been added to the line behind the neck as it seems so spontaneous and I really like the looseness of the lines here as they contrast with the harsh, thick line above. I think it is a beautiful, thoughtful piece of work and it is amazing that this has been created with really so little content.
He has also used this scribbled line in the drawing ‘O Mesmo Santa’ (The Same Saint), next to the building.
Again, all the other lines are so controlled and delicate but then interrupted by this mound of scribbles next to the building which create a kind of confusion. The boy running away is again almost disappearing into the white space by the gentle use of fading tone.
The other artist, who I have come across before, is Cristina Troufa. She is a Portuguese artist born in 1974. Troufa describes her work as “something spiritual, a route between several lives…”. In her work she tries to portray spiritual beliefs and explores her “inner world”. This means the viewer has to imagine what her work represents. She works by leaving areas of her paintings blank, like missing puzzle pieces.
In the painting ‘Passion is a destiny” we can see a woman kneeling at the top left of the page. The centre of the painting is blank and at the bottom there is a pile of used matches. One of these, however appears untouched. The woman’s skin is painted in an abstract way using blocks of harmonious colour. Her hair and clothes however have been left blank and are represented by a bold outline, leaving the viewers eye and imagination to fill in the gaps. I think it is a clever composition because the woman’s arms create leading lines downwards towards the matches. I wonder if perhaps the unlit one represents one last chance? I think there is a feeling of desperation portraid in this work and a certain amount of despair. The cold purple tones in the skin add to this feeling. Again it is so clever because so much of the page is empty, yet what is there represents so much.
Project 1 – Detailed observation of natural objects
Exercise 1 – Detail & Tone
Project 2 – Still life
Exercise 1 – Still life using line
Exercise 2 – Still life in tone using colour
For this piece of work I chose to use the three primary colours. This meant that I could work with warm and cool tones in the picture so that the muted yellows picked out the highlighted areas. Layering red and blue also created violet tones which added further depth to the picture. The soft pastels blended really subtly together giving soft lines. However I did still want a clear definition of separate colours so I did not blend as thoroughly as I could have. It was quite difficult to stick to three colours and it meant that I really had to consider the placement of these and to keep looking really closely at the arrangement of objects in front of me. The objects could not be separated by their actual colour so I had to be careful to make sure they had their own individual shape and form clearly shown. It was also challenging to make them stand out against the cloth as this was also drawn using the same colours. If the tones are not carefully examined, it is easy for the objects, cloth and background to merge into one. This exercise has definitely made me study light and shade more closely. I am glad I used strong, individual colours for this as it forced me to be more confident with my piece and to lay the colours down quite quickly.
For the still life using line I ended up creating a triptic of work. This was a very experimental piece of work for me and I was intending to create one piece. However I found it quite difficult to work with line only as I am used to creating finished pieces. It was also my intention to work using unusual viewpoints as my tutor suggested that it is something I should do more. I was unsure initially about the success of these angles, particularly the foreshortening piece and so I created two more drawings including one at a normal front-on viewpoint. On completion of the three the foreshortening piece has actually become my favourite because it creates an unusual composition and makes the viewer look at the objects differently. I used ink and stick for these line drawings which meant that they were very loose and could not be completely accurate. I really love the mark making that this looseness creates. The backgrounds work well with the black ink drawing because they are not stark white and create a subtlety. I used coffee stain to do this and dropped granules onto the wet stain to add extra detail and mark making. I think I have achieved a sense of depth, particularly on the foreshortening picture. I think that this composition leads the eye in to the page. I also added small areas of ink wash shadow behind the objects to add depth.
Exercise 3 – Experiment with mixed media
For the mixed media piece I decided that I wanted to use a textured background. I began by layering coloured tissue paper on areas of the paper. This meant that the creases in the tissue became marks adding interest to the piece. I then thought I would bring together mediums which I had used in the previous exercises and I chose charcoal and coloured pencil. Because of the texture of the background I felt that the depth of colour which I created with the pencils was not strong enough. I decided to add oil pastels on top which worked really well and gave much bolder colours. I wanted this piece to be about mark making and texture and to be really lively. I used charcoal and green toned oil pastels on the leaves to show the individual marks of the layered colours. As I progressed I decided that I would keep some areas untouched, so this was a conscious decision as I thought the piece looked more alive when the eye is moved around the page looking for more marks and colours. I hope this negative space makes the viewer focus more on the textured areas. The paper lanterns in the foreground are also filled with suggestive lines and are incomplete. Again I think this suits the piece best. There is very fine detail made with coloured fine liner pens, which I did not plan to use, but on studying the completed piece of work I thought these marks would help to focus on smaller areas of the picture. I also love the mixture of very thick, bold charcoal lines next to these delicate, controlled pen lines. I really enjoyed making this piece of work. I was able to work freely and to develop my use of materials as I progressed. I would say it is quite a fearless piece and I just went with how I felt as I progressed through the different layers. I loved seeing how the very different textures and materials worked together. I had to work around some of my choices, for example where I had used glue to cover the tissue paper, other materials would not layer on top of this because of its resistance. I had to choose another media. In that respect it was a learning curve and made me work in a more experimental way.
Exercise 4 – Monochrome
Project 3 – At home
Exercise 1 – Quick sketches around the house
Making these sketches had made me realise the importance of viewpoints and composition. Looking at areas of the room straight on, although technically easier, does not create a very inspiring piece of work. Perhaps this is because we view our rooms in this way on a daily basis? I think the sketches work well when being drawn from a low level looking up and also by standing on a chair and looking down on the view. Obviously perspective is challenging, especially with windows, door frames and cupboards and I think these lines alone are boring. What brings the sketches alive is the detail of the objects we keep in our homes, the things that make it personal to us and tell a story. I think my sketches worked best when I didn’t think about the accuracy of perspective, but just drew freely.
Exercise 2 – Composition – an interior
Research point – unusual or multiple viewpoints
After researching contemporary artists who create domestic interiors with unusual or multiple viewpoints, I have chosen to talk about three which I like the most.
The first is Paul Critchley and his work from the early 2000’s. Born in 1960 in England, many of his paintings are of interiors and open windows and doors. They have an air of mystery about them because the inside and outside are combined.
His paintings have a surrealness about them and have echos of Cubism with their many viewpoints. The paintings appear chaotic and fragmented which could be a representation of modern life. Perhaps he is referring to changes in life, or the business of the modern world. His subject use could be bringing to light the instability of modern living, maybe having no permenant home because no one can afford to buy houses and instead having to rent. His use of every day objects may also have been inspired by Pop Art. Critchley was a child in the 60s and 70s so this would have been an art movement that he encountered at a young age. In the top painting I think the style is similar to that of the surrealist painter Magritte, with the inside and outside combined in an almost dreamlike way. There is an air of fantasy and of the concealed, like Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden. There are opulent colours which draw you into the work and the windows and doors leave you wanting to explore the paintings more. In a way I think they are interactive pieces because the viewer is left feeling as if they have a choice of which way to turn first through these hidden passages and windows. There could also be links to psychology and mental health. Perhaps the confusion of the paintings is a reference to state of mind?
The next artist Ivon Hitchens was born in 1893 but worked up until his death in 1979. I love his work, particularly the painting below ‘Winter Stage’ created in 1936.
He used a highly distinctive style and abstraction. He had a highly developed visual sensitivity which led him to see multiple viewpoints. His solution was to combine several together. This was painted in the golden age, pre war, when there were few worries and life was good. It looks as though it has been influenced by abstract expressionism because nothing is quite as it should be. It is breaking away from the traditional confides of the time. The inside and outside seem to have been brought together. I think this particular work has a slightly foreboding look about it, almost a prediction of days to come, perhaps the war? The colours are earthy and dark and remind me of the colour of the trenches and there is a sadness about the painting. The composition has a diagonal sweep which draws the eye from the left hand corner, upwards, across the painting. It is hard to tell if the frame in the centre is that of a mirror or a window but either way I think it has reflections from both inside and out. This frame is very large and solid and adds to the foreboding feeling of the work. There are lots of bulky, clumsy angles and none of the lines are straight. Like Cezanne and Braque, he did not use linear perspective and straight lines, to him, did appear to be subtly curved. This adds a dreamlike quality. I think it is a very emotional, disturbing piece but also incredibly beautiful.
The final artist works in a very different way. I chose him because his work shows an unusual way to look at the viewpoints of interiors. Fritz Panzer is an Austrian artist born in 1945. His early drawing work showed a resemblance to pop art by his use or linear shapes but I want to talk about his later work made with wire.
These sculptures were made for his 2002 ‘Doubles’ exhibition where he looked at everyday urban life. He used wire to emphasise the outer frame of everyday things and interiors. Panzer wanted the objects and interiors to be “unemotional and stripped of functions’. His hope was that the viewer would fill in the spaces between the wire with the mind. I think the sculptures are such a brilliant idea and allow the viewer to look at them from many different angles and viewpoints, even stepping inside and viewing from the inside out. I love that they are so large and yet have such delicate lines creating them.
I particularly like the fine shadows that are created by the light shining on the sculptures. The artist has also left loose ends of wire so that there are no perfect edges and this adds a kind of ghostly effect, as if they are suspended in some way. The black lines of the wire stand out brilliantly against the stark white background and this is so effective. I think this is something i would like to experiment with in my work because I love the simplicity of line and the fact that it has so many viewpoints.
Exercise 3 – Material Differences
For my assignment piece I have chosen to pull together interior and still life and to use mixed media. I have decided to zoom in on my viewpoint and chosen an unusual angle. I felt that the hangers on the rail would challenge me and would be something quite different. I knew I wanted the piece to remain fairly sketchy as I liked the way the hangers looked in my loose sketches. I felt that mixed media would be a great choice for this because the texture of the tissue and different materials used would be good to represent the variety of fabrics. I have used oil pastel to add mark making, showing stitching and pattern and also fine liner pen to pick out smaller areas of detail in places. There are strong lines used, particularly to show the curves of the hangers and these contrast with the tiny detailed lines. I thought about my use of colour and whether I should show the variety of shades on the rail but I decided that limiting my colour palette would work best. I chose contrasting shades of blue and yellow to make the colours stand out and added small touches of these throughout the composition to bring the piece together successfully. I wasn’t sure when I started if I’d fill the whole page with colour but, as I did in my earlier mixed media piece, I decided that leaving gaps would make a more exciting piece. I felt that too much colour may detract from the lines of the hangers and rail. I looked carefully at shadows and think that the shadow from the rail onto the wall brings depth to the picture. I feel I have experimented and pushed myself with this piece of work. I have been less worried about taking risks and have gone with what I love. I think I have learnt to look more carefully at shadow and tone and have also been inspired by the artists I have researched.