(Videos can be found in the Resources section on the OCA student website)
Monoprint >< Monotype disambiguation
According to Jonathan Jarvis, technician tutor printmaking at Farnham, a Monoprint is a one-off as opposed to a monotype which is a series of prints. Permanently marking the plate does not at all come into it. According to Drawing Magazine it is the Monoprint that produces the series (see blog post Research into Monotype)
Preparing the plate:
work the ink with a pallet knife. Cold ink is stiff, working it makes it softer.
Draw the ink out with the roller – the rolling movement has a flip (ensures even spreading)
fast rolling picks up ink – slow rolling puts ink down -> control amount of ink on the plate
Amount of ink on the plate:
thick layer of ink: saturated marks but hard to control (esp. for traced monoprints)
thin layer of ink: less saturated but results in clear and controlled marks
-> use not more ink than necessary. Listen! it should sound velvety
Traced monotypes need a thin film of ink for controlled marks
Reductive monotypes need more ink
Direct printing (not put through a press) is very sensitive to the paper used. The surface of the paper remains much more visible and influences the outcome very much. There are special printing papers that are not sized and soft.
Thick, soft papers result in soft marks >< thin, hard papers allow sharp, crisp marks
Absorbent papers draw the ink in >< non-absorbent papers keep the ink on the surface (can become glossy). Jonathan Jarvis also mentions that the ink can be put behind the paper. I wonder what he means??
Wetting the paper:
Different types of paper need different wetting techniques.
Wet thin papers with a sponge on both sides
Thick papers can be soaked. Soaking time varies greatly between papers!
Let excess water run off
Sponge off excess water on both sides with a natural sponge to not harm the paper.
Roll between two sheets of blotting paper
Sync the wetting with the plate, both should be ready at the same time!
Modification of the ink:
By adding printing bases the ink can be modified. Translucent base makes the ink more translucent so it will combine with the paper or colour(s) underneath it. An opaque white will make the colour of the ink chalkier and less translucent. -> Check out what there is and what it does!
Where colours are overprinted they become darker and lose some of their hue. Can be compensated for by adding an opaque base or white
Colour A on top of colour B does give a different result than B on A
Remember: The colour that is on top on the printingplate will be at the bottom on the paper, everything is reversed!
By overprinting colours a sense of pictorial space and depth can be achieved
Lithographic Prints 2007 – 2017 and Newer Paintings. Exhibition at Edsvik Konsthall, Sollentuna, Sweden, June 2017
Karl Mårtens paints birds in watercolour and for lithographic prints, although never the same image. His prints are originals made in editions, he says. For his watercolours he uses large papers, Chinese and Japanese brushes and lots of water. This gives the work a life of its own with surprising effects and “mistakes”. He paints large and quickly, beginning with sweeping moves and concluding with the fine detail around the face of the bird. He says, the bird tells him when it’s finished.
Intuition and an “empty state of mind” are central to his working process which includes zen meditation prior to painting. Being separated from the intellect, and thus from doubt, fear or expectations, brings him in contact with intuition, he explains. There is always the element of chance and the need to incorporate mistakes, adapting the image as it was imagined to how it turns out. Life long experience from drawing and painting birds and mastery of his medium makes this possible, I imagine. A short documentary about Karl Mårtens and his way of painting can be found here.
I am impressed by the movement in his paintings and his unerring sense for balance – in the shape of the bird, the composition as a whole and in the use of colour. Placing a bird on the paper he turns its shape into a work of art. Colour, texture and empty space are working together to form a whole.
This magpie – reduced to black and white in order to make the lithographic plate – shows how much of the images expression lies in the composition:
He uses different levels of detail in his paintings. This gives them an overall looseness and freedom while still giving the impression of minute detail. It also enhances the tension and interest in the pictures.
Karl Mårtens, detail of the face of an eagle
Karl Mårtens, detail of the tail of an eagle
The birds’ faces are always very detailed while the brushstrokes in the body, wings and tails are loser. The roughness of the paper, interactions between colours and additions of salt give interesting textures and effects that cannot be wholly controlled.
In the following painting he uses a bright orange in one of the wings. The same colour occurs in the bird’s eyes and in a very faint tone also in the lower wing. This very beautifully reflects the overall composition and balance.
My favorite in the exhibition was a gull. Among all these fantastic birds this one got under my skin more than the others. It was as if I felt the wind under my wings which I don’t have, I almost felt what it means to fly. She is the queen of the storm.
I suspect it is the size of the painting, approx. A 1, and the volume in the bird’s left wing that initiated these feelings. There also is the detail of a few drops of paint behind the bird. To me they convey the speed with which the bird is sailing on the wind. A fantastic painting!
Without aspiring to paint like this there are a few things I would like to take with me into my own work:
Emptiness – I do not meditate to empty my mind but I know that when I reach a state of immersed concentration when drawing/painting the images become much better. My thinking often gets in the way, wanting to control too much, not daring to rely on my creativity, expecting too defined an outcome. Maybe I should learn to meditate.
Balance – The composition of an image plays a huge role in its expression and interest. Pay more attention to this and try out different ones before committing. Unusual angles or distributions can underline aspects of the subject.
Detail – Work out a focal point in detail but keep areas of looseness and empty space. This gives the image freedom and space to breath.
Size – Dare to paint large! I know it feels wonderful.
Mårtens, Karl: Letting Intuition Rule – Lithographic Prints 2007-2017, Edition Vulfovitch, Stockholms Lito Grafiska AB, Stockholm 2017
For monotype printing the design is made with ink on the printing plate leaving the printing plate unmarked. This can be achieved by inking a plate and making marks by removing paint to achieve lights (unless when printing with a light colour on dark paper of course). Depending on tool and pressure variations the marks become more or less light and more or less sharp (subtractive or “dark field” process). The opposite of this is the “light field” process where ink is added to a clean plate with a brush, cloth etc. Other techniques involve drawing on the back of a paper (verso) lying on an inked plate, where the pressure produces marks on the front (recto) side of the paper as the print (traced monotype), or by blocking out parts of the inked plate with objects or stencils. These techniques can of course be combined with each other or with other drawing techniques, either prior to or after printing. Common to all is the fact that there are no permanent marks on the plate and each print therefore is unique. Ghosts can be drawn – second or even third prints from the same plate – but they tend to have a very different character compared to the first draw. Hence the mono in the name.
This kind of print making can seem like an unnecessary detour. Why not make a drawing if there only will be one print anyway? Sherry Camhy from Drawing puts it like this:
Because prints have an aesthetic quality all their own and because there is something quite special that results from the process of printmaking itself. There is a balance between control and accident that inspires new techniques, new visual ideas and the courage to pursue them. Printmaking is freeing. (Camhy, S. 2017)
Monoprint, sometimes used for monotype, refers to a print making technique where parts of the design are permanent marks in the printing plate. The design is then varied by also marking the ink on the plate. This results in a series of related but distinct works. Rembrandt (1606-1669) for instance has used this to add areas of tone to his etchings.
I suspect monotyping to be deceptively simple, one of those techniques that only become more and more intricate the closer one studies them. Image googling produced a wide range of printing styles from coarse, expressive pictures with a sombre quality to finely detailed, drawing like prints with playing light, some monochrome, some multicoloured.
Giovanni Benedetto Castilglione (1609-1664) was the first to use monotype. He invented the dark field process where he inked a copper plate in a dark tone and then removed paint to achieve lights.
Compared to his etchings, the monoprints have a softer quality, they seem like paintings. David with the Head of Goliath (ca. 1655, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC) is very detailed with a wide range of tones. The darkest darks in Goliath’s head seem to be painted with a brush. I wonder if he did this onto the printing plate or afterwards onto the the print.
Noah’s animals has a more expressive quality with only a few tones that make the lights more marked. The hard contrast between the sharp lights and the soft shadows very much stresses the thunderstorm in this scene. I like this very much! Castiglione has captured the animals with only a few lines. I especially like the horse shaking his head in the rain.
Paul Gaugin (1848-1903) made traced monotypes which he referred to as “printed drawings”, producing a drawing on the verso and a print on the recto side of the paper. The lines of the print seem to be quite uniform showing only little variation in thickness and tone. On the other hand the paper touching the printing plate picks up pigment in unexpected places, more where the drawing hand has touched the paper, less where only the weight of the paper transferred the ink. This gives these prints an accidental quality the drawing is lacking.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was introduced to monotype in the 1870ies and was captivated by its possibilities. It was a new medium/technique very well suited to expressing a new time. Degas could develop a much more gestural and experimental style to render movement (landscapes seen from a train, faces passing in the street) and new phenomenons like factory smoke or electrical light. He worked in dark field, light field and a combination of the two, often drawing ghosts and enhancing them with pastel. In his later prints he used oil paint rather than printing ink which allowed for colour. These works, especially the landscapes are very experimental, abstract and radical for his time. The freedom of monotyping had a strong influence on his other works, especially concerning the mark making.
For a selection of contemporary artists I used the not very scientific method of image googling and picking works that struck a chord. So this selection is neither representative nor exhaustive. Rather it tries to narrow down an open field of possibilities to what I like and to give an idea about where I would like to go with my own work.
Janet Mary Robinson is a British artist and natural history illustrator. Although I am especially taken by her mixed media pieces and watercolour landscapes I also like this carp.
It is a simple monotype but shows a range of different marks, crisp ones and soft ones, that give volume and interest to the fish. Also it shows clearly that this technique is sensitive to precedence of line. I think the artist used this to great effect. I also like the velvety quality of the background.
Kathrine Hagstrum is an American artist specialising in monotype. She makes coloured prints in atmospheric tones by using inks of different viscosity. Runnier ones will stick to dryer ones, she says. I would like to learn more about this technique. Does it involve several printings on top of each other or are the pictures achieved by one pull, like from a “Gelli-Plate”?
David Maddrell, a British artist, makes fantastic prints of forests and water with intricate detail in black and white. Although many of his prints contain a lot of black, it is the bright light that catches my eye. They make me think of cool shadow on a hot summer’s day rather than sombre darkness like in many of the other prints I saw on google. In some of the prints he made splashes of some sort. It looks as if he splashed on something that repels the ink on the plate. I would like to know how this is done!
In P.C. Lawson‘s prints I like the way she uses colour in the background, both the colour as such and as an abstract contrast to the more realistic depiction of the animals. It mimics the colour of the surroundings, but is in itself not representative. I can also relate to what she says about monotyping – it sounds exciting!
I use this printmaking technique because everything about it is dynamic and breathes life into an image. The painting tools are unlimited: rollers, fingers, rags, brushes, Q-tips etc., each with a unique gestural quality. They can add paint, or lift it, create subtle light or brilliant whites. The process is fluid, moving back and forth between application and removal of color, adding to the liveliness of the image. (P.C Lawson)
(where not linked to in the text)
Camhy, S. (2017, Winter) Painterly Prints: Monotype and Monoprint. Drawing 14(52), 20-25
Thoughts on Forest, Field and Sky, a BBC art documentary
This documentary touches on the very essence of what art is to me. The artists presented all work directly with nature. Some use only materials they find on the spot, creating an artwork by rearranging what there is.
To me this feels like something deeply human. It is about making a mark, about creating something that would otherwise not exist, and something that does not serve any practical purpose. It is about seeing what there is and what could be. It is intuitive and immediate.
I am especially taken by the works of Andy Goldsworthy. I like the fact that they are ephemeral and very beautiful. And it seems he makes them just somewhere in the country, where he happens to be. No gallery, no money, no advertising involved. Although it is a bit of a shame that as a viewer I cannot visit his works, this is part of what makes them attractive to me. They are there for their own sake, for the sake of creating and for the sake of beauty.
Some of the works, like Julie Brook’s firestacks (cairns built at low tide with a fire on top which would eventually be quenched by the tide) or Andy Goldsworthy’s dry stone wall art, involve hard labour and dedication. They tell about the struggle against the forces of nature, and still they have something playful about them. I like that.
I think for me the point here lies not with the fact that these works are made from what nature offers. More importantly, they are made from materials that are already there and they are made for a specific spot and, sometimes, born from the moment. It is this that is important to me. The idea connects to working with used materials or found objects. Rearranging, changing an object’s purpose, putting things where they don’t “belong” naturally and so change the way we see our surroundings.
The documentary inspired me to try some of my own. It was the day after Walpurgis Night. I had planned to get some pieces of coal and burned twigs from a fire site and make something from them. It turned out the remains of the fire had already been thoroughly removed. I had to abandon the idea of a black piece.
I had come here with a very vague idea of what I wanted to do and that did not even work. But it was fascinating to experience how it developed by what I found, the few black sticks, the hole in the tree, the sticks of different colours. I rearranged them several times following ideas, first with what I had collected before I knew what I wanted to do, then with specific colours I went looking for. It was absorbing work even though it is so simple. Very rewarding to see it develop. I also enjoyed the freedom, no demands at all, only my ideas. It doesn’t even have to last very long, it is for here and for now. But I like the idea of people coming by, saying: Oh, look! Maybe wondering who made it and why. And maybe they then notice the colours in the winter-brown landscape.
Fox, James: Forest, Field and Sky – Art out of Nature. BBC Documentary 2016
Morandi’s sketches and paintings seen at an exhibition struck a chord with me and I tried to do something with the idea of aligning objects in a still life. It turned out this is much harder than I had expected if I wanted to avoid boring pictures.
I chose simple objects: 2 white vases with square base, a tin cup and a blue glass vase. When sketching I noticed that I did not really have any horizon line and I also wanted to see the objects straight on, not from above. So I moved them up onto a box.
I do not really see any merit in these. The glass bottle broke the light in interesting ways which I found much more interesting than what I had set out to do. What had caught my interest in Morandi’s sketches – the sharing of lines and play with positive and negative spaces – I had not produced.
So I moved my objects onto the window sill and arranged them in a way so that lines from the window would continue as the vases’ edges. It did not get any more interesting.
Maybe if the vases were round? Or if I added the blue bottle? Although it is the blue glass that fascinates me in that, which is not the point here, I made an attempt in ink.
This, too, turned out boring and timid. Maybe it could be turned into something, but I feel I am moving backwards from what I have achieved in unit 3 and also from the exercise with the candles. I think, at this point, working with rigid rules and concentrating on reduction and simplicity in order to achieve graphic impact is not good for me. So I decided to leave this.
I also feel that I want still lifes to have other qualities than graphic ones. I want to have an emotional connection to them maybe, at least feel fascinated by what the light does or something like that. I want them to have a twist.
an exhibition on the theme of still life, pottery and the investigation of boundaries at the art museum Artipelag, Stockholm
Private study visit with a fellow OCA student. Find Gwenyth’s account of the exhibition here.
The venue – inside and outside
Artipelag is a museum for contemporary art built 2009 – 2012 in the archipelago east of Stockholm. From the beginning in the planning office the surroundings in which it is built have been an integrated part of it. (Source: Artipelag Hompepage) Large windows open the spaces inside onto the pines, rocks and water outside. In the café-area and the video room the rounded bedrock beneath comes through the floor. The boundaries between outside and inside, between art and nature, between planned and accidental are opened up.
The exhibition – painting and sculpture
Edmund de Waal’s installations occupy the main exhibition room. Here only one small painting by Giorgio Morandi hangs on the wall. The room feels large with a lot of space between the showcases. In the middle black yoga mats lie on the floor inviting the viewers to lie down and look at the showcases suspended above. The idea here is partly to offer an unusual viewpoint, but also to slow down, to allow for contemplation and stillness.
Further back one enters a flight of three smaller rooms. The first is arranged as a library with books and pads of paper. Again an invitation to slow down and contemplate. Sketches, etchings and watercolours by Morandi hang on the walls. In the next room one finds earlier oil paintings (mainly still lives with a few landscapes) by Morandi and in the last room, which again opens to the archipelago, there are later works by Morandi and two sculptures by de Waal. All four spaces are connected by one long line of small handwriting on the wall on about eye-level. It is a text by de Waal about Morandi, still lifes and his own works for this exhibition.
Edmund de Waal (*1964) – visual art and music
de Waal has built this exhibition with great care to its surroundings. The woods outside and the light falling in through the windows are part of his installations. He says that they change character with the changing light of day. (Source: Audioguide)
At first glance the installations seem very simple: groups of white porcelain vessels and alabaster squares on shelves or in showcases, some behind clear glass, some behind milky glass. And similar ones in black. On closer inspection, however, they become very complex and fascinating to explore. Especially in the white ones a lot is happening: There is a tension between the slender, round, opaque pottery and the heavy but translucent square blocks of alabaster. Light and shadow are playing. Some groups stand on reflecting glass, some on glass that makes them look as if they float. Behind some of the white objects de Waal has placed small gilt plates. It is quite difficult to see them, but they change the cast shadow of the objects into a warm glow. Some of the groups seem like symphonies on white, where white becomes very relative.
The black ones were more difficult to take in, I found. It seemed to me at first there is much less going on. They seemed like simpler more distilled versions of the white ones, emphasising certain of the aspects present in the white ones. But then I saw that they showed a stronger and stranger interaction with the wood outside the window. It was reflected more clearly but in strange colours. There was purple and sea green we were unsure where it came from.
I also found in one of the black sculptures standing on a black plinth that when I moved the vessels and the frames of the showcases engaged in a dance.
Some of the groups were placed behind milky glass with different levels of opacity. I found these annoying as they would not let me see clearly. However, seen against the window the shapes became much clearer and I saw a direct connection to the tree trunks outside (observe the one empty and open rectangle in the third column from the left).
Other objects behind milky glass became sharper as one looked from a distance – which feels counter-intuitive. We usually go closer to see something better.
In an interview (Source: Video) de Waal says that music plays an important role in his work. He says that when he works he has “serious music going on” as a kind of landscape to be in. He also says that he hears sounds in shapes, so by grouping the vessels and blocks he builds melodies and rhythms. I cannot hear that, but I can see rhythm in the grouping of objects and the grouping of groups and I can feel the quality of a base in the heavy squares and the quality of a melody in the slender vessels.
Literature and especially poetry are themes that go in a similar direction I feel, rhythm, groups and spaces play an important role there as in these works.
Another recurring theme in de Waal’s work is memory and time. How they change. The installations behind milky glass maybe express the feeling of almost grasping a memory, but loosing its sharpness when trying to look at it closely. In the black sculptures I see how the light of the now changes the “memory”. The boxes of shards are like memories, too, pieces of what was, moments of gold, de Waal says, briefly shining and then lost. (Source: Audioguide)
Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) – object and background
Giorgio Morandi was a painter of still lifes and landscapes and a professor for etching at the Academia degli Belli Arti in Bologna. He lived a quiet life and kept to his routines as far as possible. He won several prizes for his still lifes, and his work inspired artists and was shown in many exhibitions during his lifetime and afterwards. (Exhibition leaflet)
I found Morandi’s paintings less easily accessible than de Waals installations. They are kept in rather drab colours and seem quite uneventful at first glance. I first reacted to the unorthodox positioning of the objects. I have learned that in still lifes I should avoid lines, such as the horizon and the tops of objects, meeting in the same spot or coinciding with each other. In these still lifes, however, it seems Morandi went out of his way to make them meet and coincide.
In the library room we found sketches which offered me a possible insight in what it was Morandi was investigating: shapes, lines and where they belong, boundaries between objects and background:
Here he has added or omitted lines, I cannot say which. The bottomline between bottle and boxes (?) suggests another box, as does the invisible horizon line just above and the shadow on the bottle. However, there is no top edge to this object. Is it object or is it background?
In this sketch I feel the dark object in the middle flickers back and forth between being object and negative space.
With this in mind I can see why he wanted to align his objects as he did. The aim does not seem to have been a realistic depiction but rather studies of lines and shapes and boundaries.
The small painting in the main hall had me confused and I did not understand the colours or the brush strokes. Why does he choose the same colour for bottle and background. Why does he change the direction of the brush strokes in the background to follow the curve of the bottle?
After having seen and discussed the sketches above and looking at the painting from a distance I noticed that the bottle disolves into the background. It is only the little shadow in the (to me irritating) brush stroke near the horizon and to the left of the bottle that suggests that side of the bottle. That shadow, however, on closer inspection, belongs not to the bottle but to the background. The top line of the white box meets the horizon line to the right and another line suggesting a lable or some such meets the horizon line to the left. Both these lines I feel give volume to the bottle – also the one that belongs to the white box.
In this painting it is the pitcher’s handle that plays with our perception. When does it stop to be the handle and becomes the shadow between the first two beakers?
So I think these still lifes are not about objects. They are abstractions that play with lines and shapes and colour.
I was surprised by the luminosity of these pictures, despite the cautious colouring. They have a special glow to them as if the light comes from them, not into them. The photos do not really reflect this. In the following painting it is really remarkable:
I am glad I visited this exhibition in connection with unit 4 of my course. I had been studying pale upright shapes and their shadows and thus my senses were hightened to that sort of interplay. I saw negative shapes changing as I moved past, I saw the shapes of shadows and how they move. Morandi’s sketches also struck a chord. Not so much at the exhibition, but afterwards. I want to try and set up a still life playing with the lines and flat quality of the drawing. It seems like a natural thing to do after unit 4 and this exhibition.
I very much enjoyed interacting with de Waal’s installations, to go and look for the hidden gold, to lie down and let Atmosphere affect me. I feel that the exhibition has a very playful side to it. It is about looking, finding out and finding. de Waal has one installation at the back of the big hall that is a bit hidden and not lighted as the others. He says this is a piece for the visitor to discover by his/her own, not at all in line with the convention to label everything in an exhibition. (Source: Audioguide) In the boxes he has hidden gilded plates – more to discover.
Having seen the exhibition it feels quite natural to combine works by Morandi and de Waal. But I found it hard to put the feeling into words that there is another common denominator that goes deeper than the obvious pottery and still life connection. But I think the play with boundaries that I find in both their works and in the venue itself is important. It is something I would like to take with me into my own work. I have tried to do still lifes with Morandi in mind here, and made a version of my drawing for Exercise 4.1 where I blurred boundaries between objects and background.
I have very much enjoyed visiting and discussing the exhibition with a fellow student. For me, looking and discussing is so much more rewarding than just looking and thinking by myself. The other person’s thoughts trigger new ones of my own so that together we can go deeper. It has been a lovely day out and a wonderful experience! Thank you!
Exhibition Leaflet (2017): ArtipelagMorandi/Edmund de Waal. Göteborgstryckeriet
In her introduction to Vitamin D Emma Dexter mentions a tendency within contemporary art towards a new form of Romanticism I find very intriguing. It is something I had felt myself when looking at certain paintings but had never come across in texts about contemporary art. Now I have.
Romanticism, late 18th / early 19th century
Like Neoclassicism Romanticism has its roots in an interest in the past, i.e. ancient Greece and, for Romanticism especially, Rome. The two movements have gone side by side, each focusing on different aspects of the past, taking up different aspects of their Roman examples. Where for Neoclassicism it was the rules, the rational and universal that was important, for Romanticism it was the individual, the subjective and imaginative, the fantastic, poetic and melancholy. This found its expression in an interest in the past closely linked to the specific country and culture of the artist, including its legends, myths and folklore as well as literature. In Europe this meant among other things the chivalric romances of the middle ages from where the era got its name. Nature, too, played a very important role. Edmund Burke, a philosopher of the time, minted the concept of the “sublime”. He said that when we feel fascination mixed with fear, when we stand in front of something that is larger than ourselves, we are filled with awe and terror, although not in any real danger. It is thrilling and exciting. That is what he called the sublime. (Stockstad 2008). Nature could instill this feeling – vast landscapes, forests, awe-inspiring mountains, forces of nature such as gales, fires, storms. Turner was one who expressed this “sublime” in powerful landscape paintings. An other was the German painter Caspar David Friedrich who sought the divine through a deep personal connection with nature.
But Romanticism was not only idealizing the past, nature and the individual, it had a darker side to it where the fantastic and imaginary became haunted and nightmarish.
In the 1920s as well as in the 1930/40s there has been a revival of Romanticism with rich, poetic and often sombre figurative paintings. Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland are representatives.
Romantic tendencies in contemporary art
According to Dexter quite a few of the Romantic ideals can be found in contemporary art. She mentions a return to subjectivity and emotion, experience and feeling, to nationality and myth, legend, folklore and kitsch, also the sublime. There is a renewed interest in narrative and associations with literature, a leaning towards the popular, vernacular. She says that aspects of culture such as these have long been repressed under post-structuralist skepticism.
I find it very interesting that Romantic ideals should be revived now, at and after the end of the 20th century when art, as it was known, had been dismantled, everything been called into question and, as it sometimes seems to me, the human component erased. Not to have any rules at all can be a strong rule in itself. And in that one could see a parallel to Romanticism in the late 18th and the 19th century. Then it was a reaction to the strictness of classicism, now to that of post-modernism.
This development can be observed not only in art such as painting, drawing and sculpture, but also in music. The Ouverture to Kjartan Sveinsson’s opera “Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen” lends, in my oppinion, a very fitting stage for looking at the following artists’ work.
I aim to communicate what is inherently and universally human, transcending cultural codes and trends. It’s not my goal to criticize or change society; instead my work addresses itself primarily to the inner world of the individual.
In his paintings he makes references to mythical creatures like satyrs or Greek gods and weaves them into settings that appear to belong in both the 19th century and modern times. I can also see references to Swedish folklore and traditions, e.g. in allusions to Midsummer celebrations. Although these themes are historic, both in themselves (antiquity) and in their use in paintings (Romanticism) Alm’s pictures are unmistakably contemporary.
Anders Moseholm paints landscapes, cityscapes and interiors. I find his paintings highly suggestive, as it were not the actual landscape or interior the picture is about, but a subjective, very personal interpretation of it. In his pictures it is less the historic or mythical aspect that makes me think of Romanticism but the feeling that permeates them. One could maybe call it the sublime?
Sam Wolfe Conelly‘s work has a very strong narrative, often of a darker kind, reminiscent of the Gothic and dark Romanticism
Stephen Mackey‘s pictures are dreamlike, fantastical and filled with a symbolism with strong ties to myths and folkloric stories. His paintings are set in some kind of undefined historical time. At a first glance they seem lighter than Conelly’s work, but on closer examination I find some of them equally unsettling.
Johan Egerkrans, a Swedish illustrator and concept artist moves in an area that some would call fantasy art. But fantasy as such and especially his work “Nordic creatures” (illustrations and descriptions of figures from traditional Swedish folklore) stand with at least one foot firmly in Romanticism, I think.
Dexter, E. (2005) Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing. London: Phaidon Press
Stockstad, M. Cothren M.W.: Art History. Pearson Education Inc, USA 2008 (5th Edition)
Reflections on the definition of drawing based on the Introduction to “Vitamin D”¹
“To draw is to be human.”
With this statement Emma Dexter begins the text leading the reader’s thoughts to cave paintings (notice the term “paintings” here) as the earliest form of human image making and expression. Humans draw and have always drawn, be it historically or in the life of an individual. Children have a natural interest for it and in them we might glimpse something of the early humans’ relationship to drawing. It has, no doubt, something magical about it. And looking at those images in the caves gives us a strong feeling of connection with the people who made them and saw them. Dexter cites Picasso describing art as a “form of magic, designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us, a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors as well as our desires…”(Dexter (2005) p.6) . Rowan Williams, in A History of the World in a 100 Objects, also speaks about art as having deeper meaning to the early humans, deeper than, as he puts it, “managing animals or granting success in hunting”. He says art for these early humans is about “entering fully into the flow of life”, about “being at home in the world at a deeper level” and about “how to be here and now”(McGregor (2010). 9:36-10:33). I like these views very much and think that on some level they are still true today. Art can have an immediacy of expression that connects us – artists or viewers – to our surrounding world and to each other. There is a very nice scene in the animated film How to Train your Dragon, where the boy Hiccup and the dragon Toothless make their first connection over a drawing. The dragon reveals himself not as a mindless monster but as a sentient being.
So yes, art is part of our very being as humans. But I would say “art”, not “drawing”.
How drawing is not like painting
The introduction then takes up different aspects of drawing trying to carve out what drawing is and how it is separated from other art forms. Dexter starts with the “primal, elemental character” of drawing, the “simplicity and purity of the blank sheet of paper”and the “honesty and transparency” of the act of drawing. She puts these in contrast to (oil?)painting, where, as a rule, the ground is covered completely and the process of building up the painting is obscured – where as a drawing uses the relationship of line and supporting background and “wears its mistakes and errors on its sleeve”. Drawing, as the quickest medium, can protect the intensity of the thought, Dexter cites art critic Jean Fisher. In this view drawing is seen as having an immediacy, informality and an intimacy that painting is lacking. Following on from there the implications become quite philosophical when she cites Michael Newman: “each stroke is a sign of withdrawal”, “drawing (…) re-enacts desire and loss”, or when she states that drawing is characterised by an “eternal incompletion”.
Although I can see that drawing can be immediate, informal and intimate I cannot help feeling that this is not all there is to it. And I don’t see why painting as such (and indeed any other art form) should not be immediate, informal or intimate. The further this line of thought is driven the less I understand it and the more I think it confines drawing and robs it of its freedom. Painting, too.
This is strange because whilst drawing is presented as an immediate and direct, quick form of art – which I find limiting – the term is also stretched to encompass almost any medium, from sculpture to landscape art, video, photography… If I understand correctly the connecting element is the line (although I am not sure if the line is a defining element of drawing, there are other ways of mark making in drawing). Where the element of mark making can be seen as a line – be it trodden grass on a meadow (like in Richard Long’s Line Made by Walking), or Monika Grzymala’s spacial drawings made with duct tape or branches in a room the art work could be called a drawing. This, too, is not a new thought considering ancient landscape art such as the White Horse at Uffington. But I feel I have misgivings to stretch the term drawing to photography and video. I wonder what the point is. Why is it important to define drawing to the point of limiting it, or to stretch it and call something a drawing just because it has certain properties normally associated with drawing? I see that by doing this and asking the question What is drawing?, or more to the point What can drawing be?, an artist can open up to new ways of expression and is invited to think outside the box. However, I do not think that we win very much by actually drawing a demarcation line between drawing and say painting . Quite the contrary. It will always imply generalisations that either make the term too wide so it won’t mean anything very much, or too tight excluding too much. I prefer a zone where different art forms meet each other, converge and overlap freely, where elements of art making can be used without having to comply to any predetermined set that can be combined into a “drawing” as opposed to a “painting”. As I believe it is actually done by artists. But in literature it seems art is separated into boxes.
My own understanding of what drawing is is very fuzzy. It has to do with dry materials, such as charcoal or graphite; with line; with immediacy, yes, and spontaneity like in sketching; also, strangely, with lack of colour; with representation. But as soon as I think one of the above I invariably find examples that contradict it. Obviously drawing can be done with wet materials and paint; the line is only one of many ways of making marks; drawings can be very thought-through and built up in layers as much as any painting; there is nothing strange with colour drawings or with abstract drawings. As soon as I try to pin it down, it slips through my fingers.
Dexter says drawings are “eternally incomplete”, she speaks of paintings having, as opposed to drawings, a filled in background and covering up their “coming into being”. But in the book, there are drawings by e.g. Graham Little in coloured pencil with nothing incomplete about them, nothing immediate and sketchy. There are very few lines, too. Following Dexter’s indicators they should be paintings, if it were not for the medium which makes them drawings, intuitively, as indeed Dexter says they are.
But then again: what about the soft pastel portraits by Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757)? Does the medium make these drawings? In this case, I would say not, they feel more like paintings, although the way she handles the background has characteristics of a drawing. She made these portraits of visitors to Venice who had not the time to wait for an oil painting (Stockstad 2008). So one could argue that to all intents and purposes, they were paintings.
On the other hand, there is Joan Miró who’s oil paintings have quite a few of the characteristics usually attributed to drawings.
So where does that leave me with the definition of drawing? As mentioned above, I would like to refrain from a clear definition and instead try and find characteristics a drawing can have. This leaves more room for drawing to be given complete expression. I am thinking of Wittgenstein’s concept of Family Resemblance. He states that some words get their meaning from a set of common features that are present in various meanings of the word, and not in others, “but the general overlapping mesh of these features is where the word gets its meaning” (Philosophy-index). He takes “game” as an example: some games have rules, some don’t, some are played in teams, some not, some need, say, a ball, some don’t. No single thing is common to all uses of the word, and yet, the word “game” has a meaning. I think, “drawing” or “painting” are words like this and do therefore not need to be confined by a rigid definition.
Dexter, E. (2005) Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing. London: Phaidon Press
McGregor, Neil (2010) A History of the World in a 100 Objects. Episode 4: Swimming Reindeer. BBC Radio 4.
How to Train your Dragon, DreamWorks, 2010
Stockstad, M. Cothren M.W.: Art History. Pearson Education Inc, USA 2008 (5th Edition)
Since 1921 Liljevalchs Art Museum in Stockholm hosts a spring salon where works of contemporary artists are shown and sold. Applicants submit their work anonymously and a jury chooses a selection of works to display. Application is open to everybody above the age of 18 and for works in any technique. Admitted works should be no more than three years old and preferably not been exhibited before. The jury will choose works that combine well to a “generous and exciting” exhibition. Thus, although they look for quality, the works chosen are not necessarily the “best” ones.
This year the exhibition shows 295 works from 127 artists. Of these 112 are paintings and 37 are drawings. There are a couple of sculptures, photographs and some textile works as well.
Liljevalchs’ director says this year’s works feel like a counteraction against the uneasiness in the world. Many are about interiors and houses. He would have expected some kind of punch in the gut, but there is none. Art is not taking a stand – rather it seems it looks for alternatives (Dagens Nyheter, 10th Jan. 2017)
I don’t know how representative this selection of artworks is for what goes on in contemporary art in Sweden. And yes, there was no punch. But I felt that a lot of works held a more or less subtle social critique that in some instances stood in stark contrast to the beautiful way the picture was painted. Here are some of the pictures that struck a chord with me:
Henry Svahn had four fantastic watercolours showing a barn in lush green vegetation, romantically dilapidated. He named them “Non-place”. He says that “a place” is somewhere with meaning, intention, made for people to be and often pimped up. A “non-place” would then be the opposite, which he finds more interesting. He says he sees these barns in the north of Sweden as non-places. For me, they bring to mind the state of abandonment of many houses in rural communities and all that that implies.
Henry Svahn Icke-plats Västerbotten
Tobias Adamsson, Villa Aspelund
There was an other artist with, for me, a similar kind of message. Tobias Adamsson draws plans of old houses in a state of disrepair and adorns them with stories about the people who might have lived in them. The twist of these lies in the fact that the plan drawings show the broken beams and fallen walls rather than the house as it would have been drawn before building. He says he wants to raise awareness for the cultural heritage we lose for ever when we let houses like these – and the craftsmanship that built them – disappear. It is a critique of the replace-if-worn society we live in.
Other works were of a more fantastical nature, playful and light:
Lars Palm, Badplats (bathing place)
Lars Palm, Rubicon
Ida Rödén, Nordlig Småvessla (Northerns small weasel)
Lars Palm uses copperplate print for its visual qualities, but also, he says, in controversy to our fast lifestyles. Copperplate printing is a slow process. I like the strange reality in his pictures and the almost childlike style – a bit quirky but very sure. The fantastical animals Ida Rödén presents in the fashion of early scientific studies are based on descriptions by a Swedish early scientist – who may or may not have lived. She plays around the themes of reality and sanity, she says. I like the playfulness and I find the combination of picture and text appealing.
An other playful one is this:
I like the way the artist treats perspective and fits together views, exteriors and interiors into a surprising and interesting whole. I find it playful. Whether that is the artist’s intention I cannot say.
This one by Sten-Yngve Johansson is technically very convincing and I love the light in it:
I think he has first made an underpainting in warm rusty colours that shine through in the final painting. In the water the reflections are red, like the underpainting, rather than the white of the ship. I like the effect of that. I also like the gestural brushmarks.
The exhibition contains many very different works and if one has to set a common denominator then maybe it has to be a lack of overtly political statements. I liked that as it allows the viewer to make his/her own connection
How important is technical skill in a work of art? To me it is very important, however, I know there are many who would disagree. I have to think about this more.
Although there were a number of abstract non-representative pictures the bulk of the works of art on display was representative. Quite a number of them very realistic, moving away from the flat picture plane and gestural marks to a carefully built up three-dimensionality. This is a development I have come across in other maybe more representative contexts.
Perspective is a way of representing objects in 3D space – i.e. reality as we perceive it – on a 2D surface as we draw or paint. It gives the viewer an illusion of depth and space. For us today this kind of realistic representation seems natural and obvious. However it was a sensation when it was invented – not discovered: seeing in perspective is an acquired ability (Missfeldt). I think this is a noteworthy thought: not only drawing in perspective must be learned, but also seeing (a picture) in perspective is learned. Today we are surrounded by realistic pictures, not least photographs, and learn to read them at an early age. According to scientific research visual processing in our eyes and brain build on textures, invariance and movement – perspective does not come into it (Missfeldt). Perspective becomes only relevant in the translation of space onto a surface.
Perspective in this sense – one-point perspective with one vanishing point – was first used in the early 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi (1410) and described in detail not much later by Leon Batista Alberti in De Pittura (On painting) (1436) and others. During the Renaissance and later it was further developed and refined and soon became the major way of representation in western art. It superseded other ways of representation in the west until they were rediscovered during the development of modernism.
The word “perspective” derives from latin “seeing/looking through”. The thought behind this is that the picture frame becomes like a window through which the viewer looks into a three-dimensional space. The objects in this space are constructed with reference to a horizon and a vanishing point on that horizon. Lines perpendicular to the horizon and parallel to the ground merge in the vanishing point. Lines parallel with the horizon remain so. For objects seen edge-on two secondary vanishing points to the left and right are needed. The position of the horizon changes the impression from where we see the scene. A horizon on eye-level seems natural, a horizon high up in the picture gives the impression that we are looking from a vantage point high up (bird-perspective) and one near the bottom that we are looking from a very low view point (frog-perspective). Objects’ shadows can be constructed in similar ways by defining a light source either in front of, to the side or behind the viewer/painter that acts as a vanishing point for the shadow lines. Viewing angles above 60 degrees lead to distortions.
This kind of construction can be expanded to include up to five vanishing points: the central one, two to either side on the horizon, one above and one below the horizon on a vertical axis. The latter two being vanishing points for the vertical lines. For a short description of these check out this website.
Perspective is a way of deceiving the brain into seeing things that are not really there. Patrick Hughes’ reversed perspective pictures show this marvelously. The three-dimensional parts stick out towards the viewer while their painted sides suggest that the image recedes. It is fascinating how the illusion is stronger than the real thing! At least on video, I wonder how it feels to see these IRL.
There are other ways of suggesting space:
Overlapping: The simplest one is probably occlusion, where objects in front of others partly cover objects behind them. This can be found in many cultures such as ancient Aegyptian, classical European, Chinese, Japanese or Medieval art:
The trees are behind the people and the people partly obscure each other. However, there is no actual space in which this scene takes place.
Observe the legs of the three people. They are before the bench. But the way the two men’s legs cross looks strange in our eyes.
In the cave paintings I looked at I could not find this very simple way of describing space. Even if there are many pictures where animals are drawn on top of each other I do not get the impression that this is a representation of space. I get a feeling that it is about something all together different. A synchronicity rather, or its opposite, or an overlaying of different aspects of the same thing. In pictures with many animals and hunters where I do see a group of animals and hunters they do not overlap.
Oblique Projection: Combination of front view (elevation) with side (section) or top view (plan) at an angle. They show one side in plan, section or elevation which would make the others invisible and thus are not realistic depictions. They are early representations of space resembling perspective. They can be found in pictures from classical Greece and Rome, the Near East, India or China as well as the European Middle Ages.
Atmospheric or aerial perspective makes use of the fact that particles in the air filter the light and make objects a long distance away appear bluer and less saturated than ones in the foreground. This technique is widely used in Chinese and Japanese landscape painting. Our brain reads the lighter tone as distance even if the picture does not give many other clues to space.
Relative size: Objects further away seem smaller in relation to ones in the foreground. Widely used in landscape paintings such as this very famous one by Katsushika Hokusai
Focal perspective: Objects in the distance or very close seem less defined and slightly blurred compared to objects in focus.
These last three techniques are combined with perspective to make for realistic pictures.
In modern times stereograms have been developed that let you see three-dimensional pictures by unfocusing the eyes and kind of looking through the picture. Done right the brain interprets the visual information as a three-dimensional picture of seemingly magical depth. The fascinating thing is that once the brain has switched it is possible to move the eyes and take a look around in the “room” that suddenly opened.
Early modernist painters like Cézanne and cubist painters began to move away from realistic perspective representation and instead experimented with a flat picture plane. This process has gone on since then and it seems to me – after having studied for this essay – opened up for new ways of painting/drawing figuratively. Realistic depiction is one way of showing the world in a painting. There are other ways expressing very different things. Earlier European and non European cultures were not interested in showing the world as it presented itself to them visually – that was already there. But maybe how it feels, or how things are connected, or what their place is in the world as humans, or what there is behind the things we see or what it is all about. It is a very interesting thought and one that allows for a new angle on non-realistic pictures. Such as this one that tells a story beyond what we see with our eyes.
Stockstad, M., Cothren M.W.: Art History. Pearson Education Inc., USA 2008 (5th edition 2014)
McNaughton, Phoebe: Perspective and other Optical Illusions. Wooden Books Ltd, Glastonbury 2009
Wehrli, Max (Ed.): Deutsche Lyrik des Mittelalters; Manesse Verlag, Zürich 1955