Art School, Semester 2, Week 2

Week two is done. In all honesty, though, school this week was uneventful compared to the train wreck that is the current US presidential administration. I’ve been pretty good about keeping politics out of my posts, but I have to admit I’ve spent a lot of time here in Canada apologizing for the US. None of my fellow students has asked about Trump’s recent antics yet, but someone will. If not a student, then perhaps an instructor. It’s ugly down there, quite frankly, and the US is looking worse and worse from the eyes of every other country on the planet as this administration goes on.

Of course every nation has it’s share of whack job citizens, people that say and believe all kinds of awful things. Sadly, however, the US has become a place where there people feel safe and empowered to express that crap. They’re proud of it, and of the awful person they elected president.

That should not be the case. The awful, racist rhetoric coming from the US is wrong. And the president should be held accountable for the environment he is enabling. Sadly, however, that probably won’t happen. Recovery from this episode of American history— if it happens at all — will take many decades.

Update: I’m halfway through writing this post and I’ve now seen a false incoming ballistic missile report for Hawaii and Eliza Dushku’s post about being molested as a child. What sort of world are we living in? Despair seems the only reasonable position these days.

I could go on, but instead I will turn to happier topics. Those you come to this blog for.

Art History

This class has met only once so far — because the semester started on a Tuesday — and it was as I expected. I am sitting with the same two students I sat with last term, and we’re going to be just fine. The first writing assignment has been sent out already, I think, but I have yet to download it. I need to do that today, in fact, and figure out if I should head to the Vancouver Art Gallery to do it tomorrow or if I can (or should) wait a while longer.

All in all I expect this class to be good. Perhaps even fun.

Printmaking

As mentioned last week, our first project is a linocut. Lots of people I’ve talked with have mentioned they did this when they were kids, but I don’t recall ever doing it before.

In the first class we got the overview and then started sketching a still life for our plates. In the intervening week we finished the sketches and reversed them — on a light table or with a scanner and a computer software — if desired. The class on Tuesday saw us tracing the design onto the plate and starting to cut it. I finished the first pass at my plate last night. Here it is:

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Linocut Plate

It’s 7" by 7". (Yes, I know… Canada is ostensibly on the metric system, but in practice it’s very mixed up here. The country is coupled to the US very tightly for a lot of stuff, and there is a horrible tangle of measurement units as a result. Such is life.)

The plan is to do initial printing this coming Tuesday, and then revise the plate as needed. Final prints are due a week or two after that, I think.

There are bits about that plate that might need revision, and I used a very fine tool to cut much of it. So fine, in fact, that the instructor doesn’t like it. Still, I like it, and we did ink a bit of a test plate that I had been using the same tool on. I think it will be OK based on that test. At least until I’ve run it through the press a bunch of times and it gets mashed down and all the details get lost. Time will tell.

Sculpture

No pictures here yet, but for a reason.

The first assignment, as discussed before, is a metal sculpture with a bunch of very specific rules & limitations. I built a maquette that I liked and that the instructor agreed was good, but I had one concern about it. There was a single piece of metal in that design that had a piece of metal containing three folds coming together at a single point. It turns out the shop lacks the equipment to let me accurately and neatly bend metal in that way. I tried several things to get around the box bender’s limitations, but none of them worked. So I am in the re-design stage. The maquette is torn apart and one of today’s projects is to figure out a fix for that. I need to get the maquette done this weekend so I can get going in the shop next week. I’ll get pictures of the revised model ASAP and include them in the next post.

Drawing

Our first drawing assignment was a still life of rounded forms, shaded to show light on them and their cast shadows. I did the required quick studies in my sketchbook, picked one, and drew it up larger as required:

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Three rounded forms in a still life — a medicine cabinet raid

Sadly, the instructor didn’t like it as much as I do. She really prefers images that have things going off the edges of the paper, and I deliberately chose not to do that in this case. I wanted the shadows to show in full, and I didn’t like how it would look with any of the objects cut off. I suppose I might have cropped the paper more closely to the images I drew — leaving less margin — but I like the way these things all appear to sit on an infinite plane. She didn’t, so only 18/20 for a mark on this. Oh well.

Next week we’re researching an artist of our own choice and creating a still life that is some sort of homage to that individual. The drawing will be on white paper and done with either charcoal and white pastel or charcoal only and then erasing areas to create lighter tones.

I have already done some research and surprised myself with my choice. Here’s the picture that will inspire my still life:

Bottles and Knife, Juan Gris, 1912

Why does that choice surprise me? Interesting question.

To start with, I did a google image search for [modern still life paintings] and started scrolling, looking for inspiration. Yes, I know, “modern” is a loaded term in that search. But it worked out in the end. (And I just tried [recent still life paintings] to see what that gave me, and it’s pages of boring pictures of fruit on tables. Not what I wanted. But I digress… a specialty of mine, it seems.

In any case, that painting grabbed my attention. I like it, but — and here’s the surprise — it’s cubist. Cubism often doesn’t work for me. It gets so far from representational that I have no clue what is going on. And even when you can still make out the subject I often find that there is so little relationship between the painting and what I might see looking at the actual things (or people) pictured that it’s just emotionally dead. They’ve painted something, but fallen into that weird zone where the representation fails to work, at least for me. I move on quickly in those cases.

It turns out there’s a technical term for that issue when animating people or other living things. It’s called “the uncanny valley.” Animation that looks totally unreal is just fine with viewers. And really good, very lifelike animation can work as well. But there is a spot in the middle where it just doesn’t work. People have a strongly negative reaction to it, and movie makers strive to avoid it. Sadly, Rogue One had that problem twice: Grand Moff Tarkin (played by Peter Cushing) and young Princess Leah (Carrie Fisher). Both characters were animated in Rogue One and looked just awful. To the point that I find them hard to look at and physically cringe when they come on screen. For me, they are clearly in the uncanny valley.

Cubism can have a similar affect for me when it is over done, though usually not all the way to the “cringe” stage. It’s just not interesting because it’s kind of off-putting. So it was a surprise when I liked (and picked) a still life — by Juan Gris — which is definitely cubist. He was born in 1887 and died early, at age 40. His later cubist works definitely leave me cold, but his earlier works are better, at least as I evaluate such things. There isn’t a lot of information readily available about Juan Gris — see his website or Wikipedia for some — but it seems that before 1913 he painted in something called the “analytic style of Cubism”, but then converted to “synthetic Cubism.” (Both quotes from the biography page on the artist’s site, linked above.)

To be honest, I haven’t yet studied up on analytic vs synthetic Cubism. I have a lot to learn. But, in the immortal words of John Cleese playing the pope: “I may not know art but I know what I like.” And I like Bottles and Knife, so I plan to attempt an homage to that. Whether I can pull it off remains to be seen. Pictures here next time, unless it’s a train wreck.

Media

The “Apple and Adobe continue to hang onto the art and design world” class is getting rolling. Last week we researched artists we’d been assigned and picked a work by them to use (in some way, possibly as just inspiration) in a collage we will be creating in Photoshop.

I was assigned Marcel Duchamp — as I think I mentioned in the last post — and I have done some reading about him. He’s something of a challenge.

First of all his primary motivation seems to have been to stick his finger in the collective eye of the art world. He was never a joiner, and suffered rejection in various ways early on in his career. Had Nude Descending a Staircase been accepted at the first Cubist show he submitted it to, perhaps he’d have gone on to become just a painter, and readymades might never have become a thing. But then again maybe not.

Eventually he decided he was sick of painting, or so it appears. His last painting on canvas — there is one more, much later, but hang on about that — is titled Tu m’ and it’s the one I’ve picked to work with.

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Tu m’ — Marchel Duchamp

It’s a commission, painted for a very specific location. Thus the odd aspect ratio. It’s almost a retrospective of his work up to that point. There’s the stack of paintings, and the shadows of some readymades. In the lower left is a reference to 3 Standard Stoppages. To the right of centre the canvas is ripped or cut, and held closed with safety pins. A bolt sticks through in the centre of the yellow painting, and a bottle brush juts out from the canvas as well.

Tu m’ appears to be a shortening of the French for “you bore me” or “you annoy me,” which seems to be how Duchamp felt about painting at this time in his life. And it was his last painting for some time. At least until after he apparently gave up art completely for 25 years in favour of chess. Then, after he dies it turns out he’s got one final painting — Étant donnés — hidden away, that he’s been working on for 20 years. And that’s another weird one.

Anyway, there are several of us working with Duchamp as our artist, and we talked on Friday about him and the works we’ve selected. One person picked the bottle rack readymade. Another picked the Mona Lisa he penned a moustache and goatee on, calling it L.H.O.O.Q. We clearly all have different takes on Duchamp and his background, but I think we’re all pretty frustrated trying to figure out what motivated him and why. Alas the assignment doesn’t give me time to dig out any of the authoritative biographies and read them in depth to see if there are answers out there at all, or if no one really knows.

So we’re all going to create something, based on some work by Duchamp, but exactly what isn’t yet known, at least not in my case. A first cut at my collage needs to be done in a week, so that’s on the to-do list at this point. I’ll be making something up, that much I know.

And There You Have It

That brings us to the end of this week in art school. Below are the additional sections I usually include.

Assuming we’re all still here next week, and the world hasn’t ended in a (deliberate or accidental) nuclear holocaust, I’ll put up another post.

In the meantime, please email me with corrections to this one. Typos are evil, and after composing these things I can’t see them for love nor money. But you will, so help stamp them out by emailing me with news of their existence so I can stab them in the heart. Thank you!

Links

  • I read this one on the train and, well… grrr. Just read it.
  • This is Eliza Dushku’s Facebook post about the sexual assault she suffered when she was 12. Hard reading. https://www.facebook.com/OfficialElizaDushku/posts/1769957739689557
  • Art School Post Index. This week I am adding a new standard link to an ordered index of all my posts here on Medium. Those coming into the art school series in the middle might find this helpful, assuming you want to catch up.

Dog Pictures

Not a lot of excitement on the dog picture front this week, but here’s another one of Cruzer, sleeping directly behind me as I type this. Note the chair leg. He’s at risk of being run over, but he wants to know exactly where I am. I am not leaving without his knowing. He’s very loyal. Dumb as a stump, but loyal.

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Cruzer in his regular sleeping location, directly behind my chair

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Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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