My Work – Shape Motifs, Reduction, Rhythm and Spatial Considerations

Blue Cup VI - 37 x 50 in - mixed media on canvas

This composition with my blue cup is a great example of reducing composition to an arrangement of shapes.  This seemingly basic approach opens the door to wonderful spatial ad rhythmic considerations.  The most important aspect of painting is the viewer’s engagement with how things relate, and one of the best ways to accomplish this is working with shape motifs.

This painting could be described as an arrangement of rectangles supported with a sub motif of ovals and a triangle.  The challenge is orchestrating them, which usually calls for considerable reworking, until I “feel” their relationships.  I become excited when this begins to happen and will stay with it no matter how many adjustments or refinements my sense of rhythm and harmony commands. I never tire of the process.

The primary relationship in this painting is between the cup and the rectangular pan.  The distance, or space, between has an energy which is embraced by the table top and supported by the rhythmic arrangement of the small white sketches.

Now to the very important play with lines and markings on the table.  I felt the ovals and half ovals needed rhythmic support.  Can you see the curved lines and feel their influence with the ovals?

The four lines (detail) between the cup and the pan were instinctively placed to support the four sketches. The triangle below was instinctively placed for a counter movement toward the sketches. There is also a small angle (detail) at the right which guides your eye back towards the sketches. 

The balance of the painting supports the rectangle motif with the lines at the top harmonizing with the horizontals of the table, especially the front edge.

A very important connection is a small line on the wall, just above the left edge of the soaking pan.  It carries you upward towards the strong white line carved into the painting.  I spent considerable time determining the placement, weight and length to harmonize its relationship with the cup and pan.  I also used the same consideration with the right edge of the cup and the edge of the white sketch above.

Striving to ensure every mark and shape have harmonious relationships and avoiding competition is the key.

If the shapes were not simple their relationships would not be felt as strongly.

 

 

Matisse – Shape Motifs, Site Paths and Abstracting

Matisse – Bathers with a Tortoise – 1908 – 179 x 220 cm – oil on canvas

This homage to Cézanne’s magnificent Bather compositions is a beautiful move towards more abstract considerations.

Matisse immediately engages us with the figures and tortoise by simplifying (abstracting) the background.  Their oval motifs and positioning create beautifully considered oval site paths.

If we begin with the tortoise our eye carries up the arm of the crouching figure to the orange of her hair.  We then move to the black oval of the standing figure’s hair which in turn leads to the black in the hair of the seated figure.  The oval feel of the third figure guides us downward along the direction of her feet returning us to the tortoise.  If you follow this path in either direction your finger will be drawing an oval.

There are others. From the tortoise to the angle of the seated feet, connecting to the curve of her back and head taking us to the oval in the standing figure.  We then move towards the orange, bringing us back to the tortoise.  If your eye path takes you from the tortoise to the exaggerated foot of the standing figure up the contour of her back you will continue towards the orange and return to the focus of the tortoise.  They are not intended to be apparent.  You will sense rather than see them.

Reducing the background to three bands was a bold move in 1908, and by doing this Matisse holds our attention on the relationships of the figures and tortoise.  Any detail in the background would only disrupt their rhythmic integration.

He masterfully provides a shift on the bottom edge of the blue band behind the standing figure.  Can you feel the sense of depth this creates?  The edge then moves downward at the right edge of the painting, enhancing the oval motif.

The emphasis of the length of the central figure’s left foot ensures the importance of the tortoise.  The weight of the seated figures feet sensitively anchors the composition by almost touching the bottom edge of the painting.

I must point out the how Matisse supported the seated figure with a simple dark green shape.   I have come to appreciate the sophistication of the reductive process.

This is a great painting, leading the way towards the marvellous considerations in twentieth century art.

 

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.

Fernand Léger – (Cubism Evolving, Shifting Integration and Using the Picture Plane)

Fernand Léger - Still Life with a Beer Mug - 1921-22 - 91 x 60 cm - oil on canvas

Cubism has intrigued many artists and Léger is showing a refined approach to this great consideration.  In this painting he uses cubist shifting, which is showing two or more views of an object simultaneously.  We see this at the top edge of the table and at the top of the mug.  Léger broadened the shifting consideration to include integrations, most notably the integration of the vertical in the mug’s opening with the vertical black line above, providing a key connection in the composition.  He has also done this on the mug’s handle and with sensitive restraint where the white line joins the white of the bowl containing the fruit.

Léger’s traditional modelling of thecurtain and the items on the table is perfectly restrained and beautifully balanced with the flattening of the background and floor.  I like how we feel the roundness of the mug even though the shapes on the front are flat.  How he combined cubism with it’s sense of space with the raising of the background and mug to the picture plane is wonderful.  Can you feel the yellow and red shapes trying to come forward to the level of the mug and table top?

I’ll finish with a wonderful example of integration.  Run your eye up the table leg below the fruit bowl.  Do you feel the sense of the leg on the table top?  That is why he painted the two shadowy shapes.

Léger enhanced and refined two great movements in twentieth century painting.

 

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. 

 

 

Morandi – (Sophistication Through Reduction)

Georgio Morandi – Still Life – 25 x 30 cm – oil on canvas

Morandi’s contemplative paintings speak to me and I quite often find myself visiting them for the appreciation of his mastery of the reductive process.

In this Still Life he arranged three items directly in front of each other creating a beautiful arrangement of shapes and lines.  How he integrated the three with the table and background is absolutely gorgeous.

 I love the elegant structure of the shapes, especially the relationship of the top of the spout with the rhythmic movement of the three marks at the right. The horizontal dark line holds them beautifully. (see detail image)   I hope you can feel the relationships.

Two of the marks (above the dark line) and the top of the goblet seem to float, connecting our gaze to that sensitive horizontal shadow in the goblet’s top, and leading us to the oval top of the spout.  We are then gently brought down to the wonderful dark structure.  I mustn’t neglect another sensitive movement, leading our eye down the spout to the bottom edge of the ochre shape on the goblet.  This in turn takes us to that magnificent small curved mark engaging us with the movements above.

The top of the goblet seems to be floating, energizing the painting brilliantly. Reducing the subject matter to an arrangement of shapes supports this consideration masterfully.  The blending or integration of the objects with the background and table is visual poetry at it’s best.

Note how we seem to be both level with the goblet and slightly above it at the same time.  I’m sure this is an homage to Cézanne.

The painting is an exquisite arrangement of shapes and lines revealing a level of sophistication and visual poetry I admire greatly.

 

 

 

 

Ben Nicholson – (Influences)

Ben Nicholson - Still Life (Violin) - 1932 - 30 x 24 in - oil and gesso on board

 This painting is an excellent example on how artists allow recent influences to show in their development.  Nicholson engaged with Cubism as a means to refine and personalize his awareness of this major development in contemporary painting, and used it to provide a solid foundation for his journey towards abstraction.  Here, like Picasso and Braque, he uses the picture plane while simultaneously shifting our view to provide the sense of space.

The lines of the grid are both in front and behind the violin, conveying the feeling of space.   I love the repeating rhythm of a series of vertical rectangles and how their dance gently contains my perusal.  Can you feel how the white one is nearer and the others recede? You are meant to sense this dance rather than see the harmony they provide in the composition.  The two verticals patterned with dots is open to interpretation ( I think of the act of playing the instrument and the rhythmic lines at the upper left is the sound of the music.)

The wonderful “shifting of space” in the body of the violin, the positioning of the F-holes and showing us the side view of the neck and scroll not only shows Nicholson’s understanding of cubism, it also shows us his restraint and refinement of this great consideration in twentieth century painting.

My Work – Repeating Shapes for Rhythm and Balance

Rough Wall - 2013 - 9¾ x 13 in - mixed water soluble media

This recent still life is an excellent example of using shapes for continuity or rhythm in a composition.  Repeating shape motifs organize my considerations, permitting me to search for an interesting arrangement within the context of my chosen shapes -(rectangles, half ovals and triangles).  I begin with the basic rectangle of the table.  The rest of the composition is not predetermined, but rather develops through playfully scratching in the paint, then removing and rearranging the shapes until I respond to their relationships.

Next I playfully marked in two parallels which define the edges of the tablecloth.  Can you feel how your eye moves up and to the right along the angle determined by the edges?  I also played with the half oval shapes of the chair and the place mat, adjusting their relative positions and sizes until I found myself marking three rhythmic half ovals on the wall above.  I then refined the shapes which were formed by the tablecloth painting them blue to represent the table.  There is a very important triangle at the bottom (on the tablecloth) which leads you  towards the boxes and a playful small one just below the boxes.  I also indicated a partial triangle above on the wall.  I am now responding to the painting and continued to orchestrate with various markings to enhance the viewer’s participation

I love spatial planes which also can be read as shapes.  There are two in the painting, which I marked in just after the half ovals.  One is the sense of a rectangle protruding above the top edge of the table and the other on the wall, which appears the come forth.  I like the sense of depth they provide and their relationship with the shapes of the boxes and the blue cup.

 

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?