Art School, Week 6: Painting

Of all my classes, painting is in an odd way the most frustrating and yet the most fun.

Part of both of those feelings comes from the instructor, who is really nice, and clearly knows his stuff, and yet lets us work without a whole lot of guidance. Some — perhaps many — of us have no idea how we’re doing in the class overall, and (sadly) grades still matter.

But honestly, some of the issue is that painting is an experiential thing — much as stone carving is, and I know that intimately — and you have to get it “into your fingers.” That is, you have to do it. And do it. And do it. And do it. And do it again and again, until you start to understand it at a visceral level.

So far, I do not understand it, and I am regularly frustrated by the complete disconnect between my eyes & brain, and by another disconnect between my brain and my hand. Nothing works the way I want it to. Nothing.

I’m hesitant to even share my work here because I am so unhappy with most of it. But, in the spirit of full disclosure, here are some things that haven’t yet made it to the blog:

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This was an assignment we started in class and finished at home. The goal was to work from both images (taken from magazines) and from objects in real life. I struggled with it.

The guy in the bow tie is taken from an image. Specifically from a photo of a collage that looks a fair bit like what I painted. I’m OK with him. But there were also some real objects painted on this that really were awful, and got obliterated; one by the background and another by her. She’s not all that great either, alas. I dug up another image as source material at home but really screwed up the hair. So badly, in fact, that I think I will rework this one, perhaps this weekend. It could be so much better than it is.

Next, we did life painting 1.5 weeks ago, and I was pretty much awful. We did some quick, gestural paintings, and this is the best I got:

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That’s not horrible, but not exactly stellar either. But then we went onto a canvas, and I was really struggling. Here’s what came out, but if you laugh please keep it to yourself:

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I was experimenting with both brush technique and color mixing on the canvas. I am simply not a good enough painter to pull the mess off, but I tried. I don’t think the instructor was all that impressed either.

The latest homework was a copy project. We were given a photocopy of a painting (monochrome) and told to grid it out and enlarge it onto a canvas, section by section. There was a lack of clarity, however, and at least a couple of us interpreted that as meaning that each section could be painted in colours completely unrelated to the sections around it. I did that, and the resulting dog vomit of colours is actually kind of interesting. Here’s the photocopy I worked from:

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I think you can click on that to get a larger view. The painting is pretty complex, really, and we have no clue what the original colours are. You can see my grid marks on it as well. The reproduction I created looks like this:

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Essentially 16 mini paintings, all with totally different color schemes. It sort of works, and sort of doesn’t. Bits of what I did are really awful, and some is OK.

But what was I really copying? Well, it turns out the original is by Jules De Balincourt. Here’s a link to his website and the original work, and here’s a screen capture of it:

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Kind of an interesting project, actually. Many hours of work to create that copy, and then we learn that the instructor didn’t really mean for us to use different colour schemes on each grid section. Oh well. Mostly, though, he wanted us to learn new kinds of brushwork and worry about tone & value, not the specifics of colour. I did play with those things, actually, and the thing I produced isn’t actually terrible, though it is close.

The most recent class started with a lecture and slides about some paintings and a bit of painting history, then it devolved in to something weirder — more personal about the instructor and his own work. Then we were told to paint anything we wanted.

I don’t have photos of that yet. I went abstract, with really thick paint, and even some work with a palette knife instead of a brush. Once again I think the instructor was unimpressed.

I have this fundamental problem with painting: I have no clue how to tell what is a good painting and what isn’t. There are clearly paintings in the world — in museums and galleries — that look like they were painted by a child, and yet they are highly regarded. Some of my readers have more education in this stuff than I do, and perhaps you can email me and explain how you think paintings are (or should) be evaluated. All I know right now is that I pretty much hate what I produce, and my understanding of what is and isn’t good is threatened by the idea that paintings are judged substantially by what the art world is doing at the time they are created. How on earth does that make a painting good or not? Can there be any objective determination of whether a painting — or any other art object — is actually “good”? I am struggling with this, particularly in painting, where my own work is not up the few standards I know how to evaluate it with.

Originally published at powelltriangle.blogspot.com on November 6, 2017.

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

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