There was a crazy split in art history between the modernist perspective of being true to the surface of the canvas vs. the classical window looking at out the world. Paradoxically, both are true but they missed what connects them: light and color vibrations dance on our cornea’s surface.
The recent color charts below are a range of colors of different tones and hues. The project was to bring each color up to the surface, they feel about 1/8″ above the surface as if they are painted ceramic chips. I successfully tweaked them until the paint raised the vibration of the color. Then I began editing small 9×12″ paintings from a trip on Route 66. In each I brought the color vibrations up to the surface yet maintained the “window on to the world”. Notice the rocking horse’s cast green-yellow shadow, and how it rises to the surface yet still resonates as a shadow.
Armed with this new insight I have been applying it to my current life size humanist work, a nude at home in my studio sanctuary. Integrating this new process will be my evolutionary project for the coming years.
An important part of being a true artist is exploring visual knowledge. In this series of small 10×8″ paintings I tested my hypothesis that the hue (color) of shadows would have similar hues in spatial depth. The idea was gleaned from two things: looking at landscapes when the distant mountains are blue and there is blue in the shadows of everything including in the foreground. And from my study of the colors of the light and shadows of Rembrandt and Monet, what was different yet similar between them.
At first glance of my paintings above look fairly natural and you will notice the simple objects gently lit. Which is a good thing. This implies that the hypothesis is working. They each have a different color base: red, black, burnt umber, manganese blue, ultra marine blue, gray, and sienna. This means when a lit white stripe in the foreground enters into a shadow it will merge with that shadow’s color base, for instance if the base is manganese blue the white stripe now turns turquoise. The real complexity begins when the further you go back in space the colors of things take on more manganese blue hues.
This fits with a classical view of warmer colors come forward and cooler colors go back but what happens when we reverse this and give the shadows the hot red or sienna and use those hues to blend with the background colors? Yay, it still works in the sense of creating depth and light. As soon as the first artists started painting real things like horses on two-dimensional cave walls there was a paradox that it was a lie and a truth. The advantage of being able to work with radically different color schemes gives the artist more emotional range and visual options. And it gives the viewer more to look for in the world around them.
Paul Rego is an artist that has a great reputation in the western art world, with shows at such esteemed places as Marlborough Fine Art, the Tate, and at the eponymous museum Casa das Histórias Paula Rego in Cascais, Portugal. She was made a Dame of the British Empire, and she has several honorary degrees, including one from Oxford. Her works, many of them large, are creepy, figurative narratives with distorted proportions, often dead colors, and intellectual rather than a sensory experience of light. Her works remind us of Lucian Freud’s ugly rendering of people and of Paul McCarthy’s myriad celebration of disgust, such as his turning Disney and other cartoon characters into self-mutilating, loathsome, and sinister monsters.
The day before yesterday we were scheduled for an electricity outage 9am-4pm. I got up early to cut out a wood palette fit to measure my French easel, grabbed Frida, and went for a drive on the justly named Palms to Pines Hwy. The cows reminded me of how rural the area is. About 30 minutes later I was in the 100 degree desert, making a loop I found a spot between Salton Sea and Borrego Springs to paint. High noon and not a shadow to be had. My students will tell you I veto painting things with no shadows, broke my rules, and decided to paint with the focus on the soft dusty arid colors. I painted for about 40 minutes, really it was too hot, Frida couldn’t wait to get back in the car. The rest of the drive ascending from valley to valley was gorgeous and I was grateful to arrive home to the mile high coolness of Idyllwild.
Decades ago, Melissa Hefferlin told me that growing up, whenever she did something wrong, her scientist dad would sit her down with paper and pen to make columns of pros, cons, and alternatives to her bad behavior. She dreaded these episodes (apparently they took place fairly often). But they served her artistic mind very well, especially in composition.
Challenge to Picasso and Vermeer
Art is very complex with many elements such as color, light, form, emotion, imagination, subject, etc. But composition is the granddaddy of fine art. Composition in painting and drawing is the arrangement of contours on a flat surface. Two important parts of it are groupings and the balance of the entire work. To try to create something new in composition is a daunting task and throws down a challenge to Vermeer and Picasso. It seems that Melissa is unfazed by the project.
In full disclosure, I mentored Melissa in the early 1990s, but I can’t claim any credit for her brilliance since then.
In Higher Hare, my photoshop markups below reveal the play of a triangular pattern in the cloth, table, and part of the wall. When an artist is composing they have some flexibility to accent patterns they see or sense, Melissa takes full advantage of utilizing these angles. Another artist might not see them and paint only what he/she literally sees, but that doesn’t create these almost music-like beats.
The following is a version of my part of a joint presentation with Stephen Hicks given at the first ever Malibu Summit student retreat hosted by The Atlas Society on June 29, 2019 at Scorpiesse in Malibu, California.
June 29th, 2019 at Scorpiesse – Stephen Hicks talks with Atlas Advocates at The Malibu Summit.
An Impasse Between Creating and Destroying
The contrast between postmodernism and what I call “evolutionary art” is both epistemological, in the sense of how the art is made and the knowledge behind it, and metaphysical, what kind of subjects are important. Postmodern art is about seeking new means and content to challenge the very concept of art. Evolutionary art builds on the contributions of great artists and great art movements with new insights into human psychology and aesthetic means. Philosopher and The Atlas Society Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D, summarizes the difference this way: it is the difference between a master making a stained glass window and the moron that throws a rock and smashes it!
Louise Bourgeois vs. Martine Vaugel
Louise Bourgeois at MOMA. “Untitled” (1998), fabric and stainless steel at center
The postmodern works I am including are considered important by important art institutions. A defining moment and lifelong obsession of French-American postmodern artist Louise Bourgeois was the trauma of discovering her father’s affair with her governess. Bourgeois was a member of the American Abstract Artists Group and had her own salon called Bloody Sunday. She referred to her early to later work as “fear of falling…art of falling…and the art of hanging in there.” Not an abstract artist, not a competent drawer or sculptor, with no discernible standards of any kind, she didn’t use art as a means of personal evolution, to grow both technically and soulfully. Instead her works convey that she remained stuck in a regressive emotional intelligence state, which conveyed the only kinds of emotions available to a hopelessly incompetent artist – pain, anxiety, and confusion.
A great example of her arrested development is this untitled head shown at her retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Clumps of wool clobbered together to form a cylinder base and a cotton ball-like head, which is then crudely sowed over with pink-flesh colored compression wrap bandages, wrapping the nose, stitched over mouth, and stuffed into the empty eyeball sockets. A cauliflower ear is formed grotesquely out of the same stuff. One has to call into question, not how pathetic her work is, but what is her motive for exhibiting it, and what are the motives of the critics, curators, and directors who give her a reputation that only the awesome prestigious power of New York’s great art institutions can give. Empathy for humanity may be in the press release, but there is a deeper motive that they may not want to examine.
Martine Vaugel, is a contemporary French-American sculptor whose bronze figure and portrait sculptures are, in her words, the “expression of my love affair with the human spirit.” She is the founder of the Vaugel Sculpture Method, a method of clay modeling based on her knowledge of human anatomy and mastery of structure.
Lovely new painting from one of my ex star students
Today Chan sent me her newest work finished today. I wrote back to her, “It is has mystery, and it seems the petals form from chaos, beautiful use of the white and darks, and very elegant composition, a masterwork.”
Chan Luu is a fashion designer icon, yet 10 years ago she came to mentor with me and to learn everything she could about painting, drawing, and pastels. About a year ago she stopped studying with me but continued painting on her own, I am so proud of her ability to make such powerful and delicate works. I am always excited when students gain the knowledge to create whatever they want and have acquired the skill set that gives them that freedom. Yay to Chan and all my ex-students who have matured so beautifully as artists.