Welcome to Compose. There's lots of stuff here, all about composing paintings.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

When NOT To Compose

Earlier this spring, I visited a sheep farm to watch the annual sheering.  I had expected to see the sheering process, but had not anticipated that everywhere I looked there would be subject matter. It was close to overwhelming.

I saw potential paintings in every direction, hundreds of them.  At first I was a bit stunned by the overload of images. 

 ...a newly sheered sheep on the way back to pasture...

...freshly sheered sheep grazing... 

...a young girl riding her bike... 
...lamas in the back pasture guarding the sheep...

 ... unsheered sheep in the holding areas...

...sheep being shifted in place for a sheering...

...and the sheering, itself.

And it all was in motion.  Positioning the camera and taking pictures as fast as I could, I was still missing stuff in between shots. There was no time to think. And certainly no time to compose.  It was simply gathering raw images while trying to stay aware of all the surrounding sensations--the smells, the sounds, the atmosphere.

This is another side of being a painter. It's a time NOT to compose, just to tune into whatever images get your adrenaline going and gather as many as you can.  It's the flip side of having your subject in the studio with plenty of time to study it or of setting up to paint on location where the light moving is the only thing that makes you hustle.

What is done with the images gathered may or may not be significant.  They could get filed into the archives of my computer or they could become the subject of a spate of work.  That doesn't matter.  What matters is that I not miss an opportunity to record something that spoke to me, even if I didn't understand at the moment what it was saying.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The 20th Century Argument

This post is more editorial than tutorial.  Important nonetheless.

In a recent issue of Southwest Art, Richard Schmid was asked, "What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in your career?"  His answer:  "I've seen a widespread turn away from what we call modern art, and a strong turn toward highly skilled and serious content in American painting."
Left:   Pablo Picasso  "Seated Woman with Wrist Watch,"  1932
Right:   Richard Schmid, "Portrait,"  1990's
Schmid's answer got my attention because, being close to his age, that probably would have been my answer as well.  Those of us who were university art students in the sixties know quite well the influence of 20th century dogma on our various directions as artists.  For decades, the mainstream required that we absorb its attitudes if we were to be successful.

What I admire about Schmid is that he was able to transition through those attitudes, taking from them teachings that could strengthen his painting while staying firm to his own identity as artist.  What does that mean?

20th century dogma considered developing drawing and painting skills archaic.  Ideas and expressiveness, uniqueness and invention and manipulating space were paramount.  Visual thinking ruled over skills.  Another way to say it is that the pendulum of visual art swung all the way to one side where either total distortion or extreme order over-rode craftsmanship.

Heroes of the day were artists like de Kooning, Rauschenburg and Mondrian.
Willem de Kooning    Robert Rauschenberg   Piet Mondrian
But pendulums often swing in the opposite direction when a thing wears itself out, when those involved began to demand something different from what they are being given, when preachings of the day become hollow and empty.  And so gradually, artists with university degrees began to enroll in workshops and apprentice themselves in order to develop the skills their colleges did not give them.

Workshops and tiny art schools mushroomed, founded by instructors who had managed to locate and study with rogue artists who had chosen to develop their skills outside of the university setting.  The universities and mainstream were the last to catch on and still today old attitudes prevail, but in spite of that, once again the painters and sculptors of our era are finding out that to be highly skilled is to enable creativity, not the other way around as preached by our 20th century heritage.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

One Idea, Many Variations

How many variations can you put on a theme?

Turkish pianist Fazil Say shows us how Mozart, being both playful and naughty, took "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and did this:

Similarly, visual artist Pat Weaver has put more than two dozen twists on a single theme, a container of flowers.  Go HERE for a moment and take a look.  (Don't forget to come back.)

Just as composers like Mozart often elaborate on a simple tune, it's not unusual for a visual artist to explore a single idea in an array of works, each complete within itself, yet having its own unique take on the chosen theme.  One way to do this is to play with the color key like Pat Weaver has done.

Look at two of Pat's still life paintings:

Still life paintings by artist Pat Weaver
You can see that one of these painting's key registers on the warm side of the Color Wheel while the other falls in on the cool side.

But look what happens in this one:

Pat has used two keys in her pot of geraniums and with a sweet twist:  most of her green notes (green being on the cool side) are predominately a warm green whereas her red (red being warm) notes are on the cooler side of red.  

If you listen to all the spins Mozart put on "Twinkle, Twinkle..." you can hear how each dances around the tune, yet retains our recognition of it.  Pat Weaver's many variations on "flowers in a container" each carries a specific use of color giving it a singular interpretation and expression.

Each of these creators took a given and found multiple ways to expand it into something new and unique.