Posts Tagged ‘Alfred North Whitehead’

“Thinking Out my Pictures” during the Hiatus

January 17, 2013
22 x 28" Charcoal Still Life from 10th Grade

22 x 28″ Charcoal Still Life from 10th Grade

“What are you doing, Mr. Hopper?”

“I’m thinking out my next picture.”

(Fellow artist asking Edward Hopper what he was doing, as he was spotted wandering aimlessly around Washington Square in Greenwich Village)

I didn’t paint or post to the blog yesterday.  A late-afternoon conversation at my school gave me much to think over, and I had a heavy academic load of classes to prepare for today, so all I managed yesterday were thoughts and musings about what I am trying to accomplish now with my art.  Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth (two heroes of mine) spent hours and days “composting” between paintings, and always believed that what they pondered would seep into their compositions in some fashion.

“Look until you become fascinated; trust that you will see something. If you learn to wait, the objects will slowly sink into your consciousness and they will acquire a significance that can be measured in color and feeling…”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It was said that Edward Hopper carried this quote scribbled on a piece of paper in his pocket as he walked about.

I have posted above a charcoal still life that I set up in my bedroom while in high school.  The Art I and Art II classes featured still life drawing on a large scale, and I always wanted to work on one at my own leisure, even if it was set up on my desk at home for weeks or even months.  The art teachers let me take these objects out of their massive storage collection and bring them to the house for this project.  I would work on this composition in the afternoons and evenings after school, with my bedroom door closed, and Crosby, Stills, Nash spinning on the turntable (I still love “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”!).

My bedroom I shared with my younger brother, and so at night, I would lie on the top bunk bed and look down on my desk, half-lit by the hallway light streaming through our half-closed bedroom door.  The play of light and shadows fascinated me, but more than that, the dynamic of what was happening between the highlights and deep shadows–how would an artist render those zones lying in the half-light?

Leonardo da Vinci recorded the following from his ever-fertile imagination:

Remember: betwixt light and murk there is something intermediate, dual, belonging equally to the one and the other, a light shade, as it were, or a dark light.  Seek it, O artist: in it lies the secret of captivating beauty. . . . Beware of the coarse and the abrupt.  Let your shading melt away, like smoke, like the sounds of distant music!

I titled this post “Thinking Out my Pictures” because I have been preoccupied with two matters in the past twenty-four hours, while not painting.  One is this notion of half-light, a transitional gloom hovering between highlights and deep shadows.  I was taught that Michelangelo Caravaggio made use of tenebrism, a dramatic shift from extreme dark to light in order to capture attention from the viewer across the room. Leonardo, on the other hand, worked subtly between the lights and the darks, in a soft-focus effect.

In my recent observations of Andrew Wyeth watercolors, I have been intrigued by his dim interiors, where the overall composition is dark and low-contrast, allowing only a few accentuated objects to capture the light.  This is what I have wanted to accomplish, but so far, it isn’t happening.  I’m still trying to find a way there.

The second observation that has been holding my attention recently is this notion of focusing on one feature in a still life, and letting the peripheral objects melt away, either out-of-focus, or partially painted, or merely sketched in, or something–I want to find a way to focus on one particular object, and let the others support the composition, rather than fight for attention with all their details and contrasting colors.  Always in paintings, I have gotten lost in a myriad of details, wanting to capture all of them.  All the objects vie for my attention, and the viewers as well, so it seems.  This second observation got my attention because I’ve been reading from The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell, and I was fascinated with his citation of Alfred North Whitehead and Henri Matisse on this subject.  From Whitehead, he quotes:

Abstraction is a  form of emphasis, expressing what one wants to without being involved in everything else.

Then from Matisse:

Superfluous details would, in the mind of the beholder, encroach upon the essential elements.

Henry Adams echoed my sentiments when he wrote the following about Andrew Wyeth and his drybrush compositions:

While in my mind I know that [Wyeth’s] reputation rests primarily on his remarkable tempera paintings, I have always personally responded less powerfully to them than to his drawings and studies—particularly to the studies that don’t attempt to cover the whole surface of the paper as in a conventional watercolor, but instead focus on a few elements, so that the image seems to emerge magically from the empty white paper, rather like a photograph that we observe in the process of development.

So, tonight in the Man Cave, I continue to pick away at the 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch I started night-before-last.  I’m not sure that I’m giving this composition my undivided attention–the details of today’s classes are still flooding my memory with good things worth saving.   I also have the TV/VCR playing old Woody Allen films (“Interiors” is now playing), and I’m mulling over in my mind these ideas about the half-light and the need to focus on just one object in a composition.  Meanwhile my eye keeps moving over these objects before me, and my hand keeps reaching for brushes, pencils, sandpaper, salt, spritz bottle, towel, etc.  I’m having a good time out here tonight.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll close with a few pictures of what’s happening in the Man Cave:

Pepsi carrier close up

Pepsi Carrier Thursday night

Man cave Pepsi carrier from above