My Work – Responding to Composition

Weights-and-Sketches-9½-x-12¾-in-mixed-on-paper

Weights-and-Sketches-9½-x-12¾-in-mixed-on-paper

I began this still life by building up layers of mixed media to establish a textured surface which invites marking and scoring.  I then marked in the table top quickly and gouged the heavy line spanning the wall and turning upwards at the right.

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detail one

I next determined the shape of the table cloth to provide an entry from the bottom edge of the painting.  Then, once on the table, changing it’s direction to harmonize with both ends of the table top.  I decided to have this direction emphasized with a series of parallel edges and lines, and these in turn determined the placement of the sketches and soaking pan.  The rhythm continues with a spatial plane (see detail one) to the right of the table finishing with the edge of the wall.

I used the same considerations horizontally as well, but with some “shifting” to convey the feeling of occupying space, especially along the top edge of the table.  I’m very pleased with the downward shift of the stripes adjacent to the soaking pan and the angle just above (see detail two).  I feel a sense of energy there.

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detail two

 The wall above invited the two rectangles and the circle.  I played with their placements until I was satisfied with how they supported the items on the table.  I especially like how the delicate circle offers a gentle place to pause away from the focus of the weights and soaking pan.

The top of the painting felt a little vacant, and this prompted the arrow, which introduced the finishing touch for the rhythmic parallels below.

The black edge of the soaking pan then needed rhythmic support, resulting in the appearance of the black weights.  I readjusted their placements until they felt right.  The triangular feel of the lower weight in the pan was determined to relate to the shape in the sketch at the left providing the finishing touch for the composition.

I’m always open to where the composition will guide my considerations.

Mark Rothko – Integration with Parallels and Shapes

Mark Rothko – Untitled – 1938 – 50 x 37 in – oil on canvas

 

The best way to appreciate an artist’s mature work is to be as familiar as possible with their earlier work.   In this painting from 1938 we see not only how varied the journey can be, but also how accomplished Rothko’s command of composition is.

We feel the couple’s relationship very strongly through his marvellous use of distortion. His integration of the couple with shapes and parallels is wonderful.

I’ll begin with how the rectangles of the structure behind are repeated in the woman’s hat and the collar of her dress.  The integration ensures she is well connected with the structure, conveying a feeling of strength and stability.

Next, the couple are beautifully integrated with each other with a series of parallels.  Let’s begin with the angle of the man’s left arm at the shoulder.   If you follow the angle downward, your eye will connect with the angle of the black shadow on the woman.  The under side of his arm also reinforces this angle.  Other parallels appear in his vest and the collar of his jacket.  The parallel positioning of their forward-stepping feet and their shadows bolster the rhythmic connection.

Value is most important for ensuring the importance of the movement.  If you blur your eyes, the strength becomes more apparent.  I should note the small parallels in the structure behind as well.  Rothko was very thorough and these considerations are meant to be more felt than seen.

There is another series of short parallels, leading us in another direction, which provides more subtle integrations of the figures.  They occur from their right feet up to the man’s right shoulder to the angle of the woman’s hat.

I haven’t forgotten the horizontal and vertical integrations and will let you discover how Rothko used them to integrate the couple with the background.

His thoroughness is wonderful.

To finish may I divert your attention to the fabulous spatial plane in the lower portion of the woman’s dress.  Can you feel how the vertical rectangular shape just above her forward step comes forth?   I love it.

Matisse – Shapes and Eye Movement

Henri Matisse - Reader on a Black Background - 1939 - 92 x 74 cm

 

I love the way Matisse invites us to joyfully participate with his paintings.  My long standing admiration only increases with time.

In this posting I would like to focus on his beautifully choreographed shapes and eye movement.

By reducing the shapes to simple rectangles and ovals, he is able to focus on the relationships of these shapes, and guide us lyrically throughout the painting.  We move through the shapes because of his sensitivity to the spacing and integration.  Modelling or superfluous detail would only disrupt the harmony.

My own initial eye movement begins with the white rectangle.  Then, sensing the vertical integration upwards from its left edge, my eye moves to the light shape above the figure’s reflection.  The curved edge (partial oval) then carries me towards the rectangle with the figure drawing.  I then find my eye moving through the small white vertical rectangles to the blue shapes, which in turn guide me to the vertical green shape.  This leads my eye to the beautiful arrangement of ovals.

Another integrating eye path which I found exciting begins with the small black angle on the figure’s blouse, at the right arm.  Following its upward direction leads me to another line just above her head.  I hope you then can see the connection with a subtle series of parallels guiding our perusal through the red ovals and greenery to the hand of the figure drawing above.

I must point out an alternate path from the line just above her head.  It also connects to the reflection of her hair returning us to her face, providing wonderfully subtle containment.

I would like to finish with the orange oval feel of the figure’s legs.  If Matisse stayed within the lines, the lyrical harmony with her face would have been weakened.

There is so much more such as colour and pattern within shapes. I may do another post.

 

Klee – Reduction and Integration

Paul Klee - Forest Bird - 1920 - 14 x 22 cm - watercolour on chalk undercoat over gauze on paper

 

Klee is one of the great masters of colour and composition, as this gorgeous painting conveys.  I marvel at his sophistication and will do my best to convey his colour temperature ratio and rhythmic integrations.

Colour temperature ratio is the relationship of warm and cool.  We can see it in the influence of the cool blues on the warm orange and red shapes.  The blues poetically energize the warms without competing, creating lyrical variations that are music for the eye.

The black shapes are beautifully balanced and supported by the dark grayish shapes as well as three smaller brown shapes.  Can you feel the relationship of the bird’s gaze with the brown shape at the right edge of the painting and how the other two brown shapes return you to the bird? It’s wonderful.

The sensitive parallels provide a structural rhythm that is more felt than seen. One great example is the relationship of the bird’s front leg, the black line in its eye, the brown line under the orange circle and the black line leading to that magnificent green circle.  The other leg has parallel support as well.

The background shapes run into each other in a number of places, integrating the painting beautifully.   The bottom of the foreground shape of the bird’s neck connects to the edge of the blue shape beautifully.  Klee masterfully provides exceptions to the integrations such as the closed shapes of the circles and where the orange touches the blue just above the bird’s beak.  We sense the variation.

Klee used the consideration of pattern within shapes on the bird.  To hold the viewer just perfectly.

I think how Klee sensitively provides the feeling of the forest is magnificent and I absolutely love that green circle which is beyond explaining.

Giacometti – Shape Motifs, Spatial Planes and Integration

Alberto Giacometti - The Artist's Mother - 1937 - 24 x 20 in - oil on canvas

Giacometti was a master of composition.  In this painting he demonstrates this with how he merged his mother with her surroundings.  I will do my best to explain some of his superb considerations.

One of the best ways to convey a sense of space is to frame the subject, which Giacometti does beautifully.  We are looking through a large rectangle which seems to be suspended in front of the figure.  Can you feel the space?  We then engage with the arrangement of rectangles which make up the structural elements of the wall behind.

A good entry point to how Giacometti uses these supporting rectangles is with the horizontal black line running across her chest forming the tops of a series of vertical rectangles.  These rectangles relate to another series of verticals on the wall behind.  If you look closely you will also see how they connect or integrate with the figure, especially with the vertical rectangle integrating with the light ones on her shoulder and below.  If you blur your eyes the integration is very strong.

Note how the lines of the wall support the figure, especially at the shoulders and that wonderful angle at the top of her head.  The lines extending from her shoulders, stabilizing her, is magnificent integration.

There are some wonderfully subtle rectangles which are actually spatial planes.  We have the feel of one in front her upper left arm with its top being the line extending from her shoulder (see detail)  It is not initially apparent, but becomes strong when you become aware of it.  There is another just below.  I should also point out the dark vertical rectangle just above and how it provides a very sensitive support for the figure.  Remember the intention is they are meant to be felt more than seen.

                  Her face is very complex with some wonderful cubist planes. (see detail)   The most noticeable are the white shapes in her hair above her forehead with the sensitive lines connecting and extending the planes onto her forehead.  I love the vertical one in front of her neck and mouth leading up to her nostrils, connecting to a thin line leading to the left forming the top of another plane.  The vertical also continues upward connecting to the vertical above, solidifying the figure with the background.  At the risk of over explaining this wonderful integration, reverse the direction from the top.  Your eye will connect to the light vertical leading down to her hands.

I marvel at the quality of the horizontal forming the bottom of her hair behind, then, at the right connecting to vertical shapes which create the feel of planes in front.

I mustn’t neglect how he relieved the strong vertical and horizontal structure with a very sensitive oblique rhythm of parallels.  Let’s return to the white plane in her hair pointing up towards the right. Just below to the right is another small plane paralleling the direction.  When you go to the left of her head you will find other markings echoing the movement.  And a most important light one below her collar.  We may not notice the oblique movement but we will certainly feel it.

Once you train your eye to notice the complexity you come to appreciate the sophistication of his considerations.

My Work – Movement – (The Reductive Process)

Direction VI - 2008 - 49 x 97 in (124 x 246 cm) - mixed media on canvas

This painting has a special place for me as it represents how wonderful it can be when a composition succeeds through the reductive process.

The seed of the painting is to convey movement as purely as possible without any superfluous markings or information.  This can be very challenging, for it is not simplification just through omission and reduction.  It is striving to have the viewer connect and participate at the primal level.  Arranging and rearranging the markings until I respond is genuinely exhilarating. and It always seems to be a circuitous route..

Those small dancing angles are an invitation to engage and they may represent anything the viewer wishes.  The colours and textures are open as well, and it is my hope the painting invites a different response with every visit.

I should mention a very important structural consideration.  Note how the bottom edge of the light area curves upward at the right.  To support this movement I provided a parallel line just above.  This is very important for the composition and is meant to be felt more than seen.

I would like to share another detail which I feel is the finishing touch to the painting.  When my eye comes to where the blue intrudes slightly into the light texture, gently holding me briefly, I smile. (see detail)   The best notes appear when we are responding to the painting.

We artists put ourselves through a great deal to arrive where we initially intended, and to be truthful that place can be elusive. 

 

 

Balthus – A Master of Composition

Balthus - Portrait of Baroness Alain de Rothschild - 1958 - 190 x 152 cm - oil on canvas

When I begin to feel comfortable with my compositions, whether I’m working figuratively or non figuratively, I tend to think of Balthus, as a reminder of how sophisticated composition should be.

From this rich and thoughtful painting I would like to focus on just a few of his elegant considerations.

We will begin with his masterful integration of the figure with the furnishings and structure of the room.  Let’s start at the left with the line in the tablecloth which is angled at the top pointing to the side of the chair.  Our eye then follows along the top of the chair towards the figure.  Now do you see the integration with her necklace and the curve of her house-coat?   I hope you can feel the sense of embracing.  Very sophisticated.

She is further embraced with the curve of the chair arm connecting to a couple of lines in her house-coat, both leading us towards her foot which then connects with the table at the right.  Also, there is a wonderful line connecting her house-coat with the bottom of her slipper or the bottom of her night gown, leading your eye to the verticals of the table up to the bust on the mantel above.  Note how the rhythmic lines in the bust bring us back to her gaze.  I also enjoyed discovering the wonderful parallels of the candles, the Cupid’s leg, the tablecloth, her left arm and in her house-coat.  I mustn’t neglect the stability the precise placement of the oval between the candles provides for the composition.  It has a beautiful relationship with the shape of her head and completes the connection of the bust with the table. Without it the bust would compete with the figure.

Now to one of the most brilliant considerations I have ever had the pleasure of discovering! It is how Balthus blended the Baronesses’ neck with the background.  I hope you appreciate how this exquisite consideration brings our focus to the warmth of her face, and how the coolness of her left arm emphasizes her warmth.

I would be amiss not to point out how the verticals of the fireplace embrace and support her left arm and how the dark vertical anchors the composition beautifully.

There is more for you to discover. I hope you will enjoy engaging with the thoroughness of this masterpiece.

My Work – Working with Shapes and Spatial Planes

Blue Table - 2012 - 10 x 12½ in (24.7 x 32 cm) - mixed water soluble media

I find it interesting how restriction can lead to new considerations, such as becoming involved with spatial planes as we see in my painting  “Blue Table”.  Presenting a harmony with planes and shapes can be quite elusive and I love the challenge. They always seem fresh to me because they are not predetermined, except for the primary shapes, which intentionally read as a still life.  I then play with the shapes and planes until I begin to respond to their relationships and I must say they are not meant to be apparent.  I wish the viewer to “feel” rather than see them.

Let me begin with the shapes which provide the lyrical unity of the composition.  To ensure this, I used an arrangement of rectangles and triangles, conveying harmonious relationships.   I actually adjusted their sizes, colours, values and locations several times until my sense of harmony was satisfied.  I enjoy this immensely, and working  and reworking water soluble media permits endless play.

Now to the planes which providing the sense of space.  They are both shapes and edges of shapes which connect or integrate elements in the painting.  For instance. the left side of the table integrating with the edge of a plane above, which then takes your perusal to the cool rectangle above the orange stripe.  You then take in the yellow triangle.  Can you feel the yellow triangle sitting on a vertical plane which seems to come forth?  The feeling of space is also felt where the top edge of the table shifts, merging the table and the wall as well as providing the sense of movement.  The small box is also sitting on a plane, and I love that small angle below the rhythm of black dots and how it comes forth.

I mustn’t finish without pointing out how the blue triangles provide a base for the composition and I’m very pleased with the triangles at the top corners as well.  I then provided a curve within the soaking pan which leads you towards the box through the four dots, which were rearranged a number of times.  There is another relationship providing an important rhythmic support for the prominent black sides of the soaking pan.  It’s the long parallel rectangle adjacent to the blue triangle to the right.  This came forth during the process.  I am grateful for having the patience to allow a composition to evolve, no matter how many revisions are required.

I hope you enjoy finding other subtle notes, such as the little black line at the top of the blue triangle at the left .  Can you feel it’s impact?

Giacometti – Composition (Integration)

Giacometti – Self Portrait – 1921 – 32 x 28 in – oil on canvas

Giacometti’s command of composition is absolutely marvellous in this superb painting.
I will focus on his wonderful integration of the figure with the other elements in the composition.  Let’s begin with how your eye is taken across the painting from the seat of the chair, along the bottom of his jacket, to the bottom of his right leg, then you are guided up to the verticals behind.  Another beautiful integration is how the curve at the bottom of his pant leg rhythmically connects to the curved element to the left, which in turn, guides you up to his hand. I love it!  Also take note how the bottom of his trousers connects to the lower edge of his other leg and how the bottom of his pant leg then integrates with the chair leg.  I was and still am taken with how he integrated the other chair leg (between his legs) with his pant leg.  Can you feel how the angle in the chair runs into his pants creating a small blue triangle?  (see detail)

detail

This very impressive small dark blue triangle provides a sense of overlapping. The top edge of this gorgeous little triangle also parallels a dark line above which in turn integrates with the edge of his palette.  Can you feel the movement and shapes?  There is also another sense of an angle at the bottom of the dark line (creating another plane) which parallels the angle in the chair leg.  There is more.  That dark line also connects to a subtle purple line which carries downward into his leg, creating another wonderfully subtle triangle.

Note the line just to the left of his pocket and how this guides you up to the front of his neck and how his chin and his collar connect to the horizontals behind.  Just one more, it’s how he leads you upwards through his arm from the opening in his jacket.

There is more for you to engage with, and I hope you enjoy this wonderful early composition by this twentieth century master.  I am impressed with how Giacometti permitted to show Cézanne’s influence.

 

Influences – (Cezanne on Mondrian)

Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Jinger Jar I - 1912 - 65 x 75 cm - oil on canvas

This painting by Mondrian is an excellent example of master painters permitting influences to show in their work.  Mondrian is acknowledging the importance of the great considerations of Cezanne, and his refinements are wonderful.

In this painting he provides a balance between traditional representation and the new approach to creating the sense of space.  We see this at the bottom right where he provided a couple of angles and a horizontal line.  These create planes in space which are meant to be felt more than seen.  Can you feel the space in front of the table?

When we focus on the drapery we sense volume and space through the feeling of overlapping triangles which also are raised towards the picture plane.  What impresses me is that diagonal which seems to come forth and how it also parallels beautifully with a second angle, the one connecting to the top of the blue ginger jar.  Again try to feel the space between the parallels.

When these spatial considerations were coming to the forefront in painting something interesting also took hold. It was the idea of suggesting rather than explaining, and Mondrian displays this idea in how he treats the subject matter in the upper right of the picture.This is just one of the seeds that will eventually lead Mondrian towards abstraction.