Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tackling Transfers

Recently I traveled to the Boston area to visit the Museum of Fine Arts and make new paintings in Rockport, a picturesque coastal town on Cape Ann.

To travel to the museum from Rockport, I rode the T from Rockport to North Station.  At North Station, I had to exit the terminal and walk to an adjacent terminal to take an in-bound train.  There, I needed to purchase a Charlie Card, a credit card with a chip in it that can be “read” by the turnstile card reader.  A cheerful Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Transit worker showed me how to work the machine, figure out what I owed for a senior ticket, and how to use the card.  He guided me, and the other baffled tourists, where and how to hold the card so the light on the turnstile could read the chip, and he cautioned us NEVER to put the card in the slot. 

Then I had to find the Green Line train platform, not the Orange Line, and wait specifically for the E train on the Green Line. 

The transfers necessitated complicated ticket purchases and confusing passages from one system to another.  They took time, but they worked, and the trains got me where I needed to go and deposited me across the street from the Museum of Fine Arts.

In these posts, I have been showing you how to make aesthetic transfers.  Again, not easy, sometimes complicated and confusing, but the tools you learned get you where you need to go.

In the last post, I asked you to look at Table and Flowers, a 2009 painting by Edward L. Loper, Sr.  I showed you how to appreciate the art in it, and I showed you the visual ideas Loper adapted from the traditions to say what he had to say.

When we looked at this picture, we made the first transfer: from what the subject was to what the color says.  Here is the picture again.

Edward L. Loper, Sr., Table and Flowers, Oil on canvas, 2009, Private Collection

We said the subject of this picture was a dining room.  We recognized a central, oval table with objects on its left edge.  We recognized two corners of the room.  The left corner showed a picture window revealing a patio and garden, and the other corner showed a wall with pictures hanging on it. We noticed that the floor on the left tilted up, and we noticed that the tabletop did as well.

First, therefore, we recognized what we knew, the ordinary things in our world.

However, we also knew that all we really saw were colors on a flat surface.  Turning the picture upside down helped us downplay the subject’s seduction and allowed us to concentrate on the color shapes in their flat space.

Areas of color on a flat surface: nothing else is there.

We perceived the relationships that occurred within these color areas and things happened. I made a list of what I discovered, and you did too.
We recognized three dimensionality and the volume-ness of color units that are actually two dimensional.   

We transferred this knowing into the color areas.  We said: oval, tipped, striped color volume, not tabletop.  We said: geometric thrusts of glowing color units, not window, wall, or cabinet.

We first transferred from the category of everyday things (table, chair, window, wall) what all of us easily recognized.  We then ascribed qualities to the color units like structural, glowing volumes, or geometric thrusts in space.  None of these perceptions gave you much trouble, and I easily verified your responses.

Then I showed you what Ed Loper transferred from the traditions.  Again, I did this, you verified it, and we, together, could see what he gave back based on his interest.

In other words, we made transfers.

When I said, “The stripes and bands not only build the table, creating a large, elongated, oval-shaped mass that pushes across the picture like a surfboard,” I transferred my own, personal perception and connection of table to surfboard.  When I said, “The candlestick, bowl of fruit, books, etc., balanced precariously, ‘ride’ the “surfboard,” I did the same thing.

You might have provided different images to communicate what those color shapes did in the picture.  As long as we could verify each-others perceptions, we communicated.

My point: everything we see in a picture results from a transfer of information.  The transfer comes from the world we inhabit or from the traditions of art or from the plastic means an artist uses to make a picture.  We transfer in order to appreciate aesthetically.

At the end of the last post, I said I would describe, in this post, Loper’s visual inventions by focusing on his color-in-light atmosphere, his late-work adaptation of Venetian glow.

First, look at these pictures:

Titian, Concert in the Open Air, 1510-11, Louvre

Giorgione, Adoration of the Shepherds, c. 1510, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Giorgione, Three Philosophers, 1508-09, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Giorgione, Sleeping Venus, c. 1510, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
Examine both the color volumes and the spatial atmosphere in the four paintings.

Warmth, golden suffusion, and glowing, structural color volumes define them.

Dr. Barnes said the “chief characteristic of the Venetian form is the use of color, first structurally, and then in combination with light, in the form of a pervasive, circumambient atmosphere or glow.” (Art in Painting, 155).

Now look back at Loper’s Table and Flowers.

The chief characteristic of Loper’s late form, as represented by Table and Flowers, is his use of color, structurally, and in combination with light, in the form of a pervasive, circumambient fiery luminosity.

The luminosity, as we saw in the previous post, achieves a sensuous richness that holds the design together.  In addition, because of Loper’s adaptation of the broken color of the impressionists via both Cézanne and Renoir, his color strokes echo and repeat each other, creating intricate rhythms that move the eye from one color unit to another.  A continuous succession of color-chords fill the entire canvas and create, what I have called, a color-in-light suffusion.  This, in itself, is an important unifying agent.

Consider this detail of the background wall:

Notice how each orb of luminous color overlaps and pulses with those surrounding it to create a shimmering, floating, color volume.

Then look at this detail of the plant in the left corner:

Each orb of color here also overlaps and pulses with those surrounding it to create a shimmering, floating, color volume.  The color harmonies are different, but the effect is the same.

As you examine the picture, you will see more of these rhythms working together to the same end.

The transfers I described here summarize all the tools you now possess.  Use them and, like the Charlie Card, they will get you where you want to go, the appreciation of the art in art. 

I am not yet out of Loper calendars.  If you wish to do the exercise I outlined in the previous post, “Making Connections,” click here and go to work.   

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Making Connections

In 1943, the Bignou Gallery in New York City pioneered a prophetic exhibit titled Ancient Chinese and Modern European Paintings.  Chinese paintings of many centuries past hung side by side with paintings by Cezanne, Demuth, Dufy, Glackens, Van Gogh, Goya, Gritchenko, Matisse, Modigliani, Pascin, Picasso, Renoir, Henri Rousseau, and others. 

I say “prophetic,” because the contributors to the catalogue, Dr. Hu Shih, Pearl S. Buck, Albert C. Barnes, and Violette de Mazia, demonstrated how artists speak to each other across time and place.

This is what making connections is all about.

In the previous post, you examined a 1975 painting by Edward L. Loper, Sr., and I showed you
how to identify the visual qualities he borrowed from the traditions and how to determine what he did to and with those ideas.  

My “connections” impressed some of you.  One reader said she admired how I “unified so many artists and schools of painting.”  While not easy, I now see connections relatively quickly because I have been looking at and studying works of art for a very long time. 

You can do it, too, with practice. 

Every time you see a work of art, every time you visit a museum or gallery, you are storing visual ideas.  If you study the traditions for visual information rather than historical, biographical, or illustrative information, you will amass the relevant background that helps you make the connections.

Let’s try the “Yes, But” analysis again.

Below you will see Table and Flowers, a painting Ed Loper completed in 2009.

Edward L. Loper, Sr., Table and Flowers, Oil on canvas, 2009, Collection of Janet and Edward L. Loper, Sr.

 What visual ideas did Ed Loper use to make this painting?  What is the resulting picture idea?

First, as always, look at the painting.

If you find it helpful, turn it upside down:

List what you see.

(Please make your list before you read any further).

Now compare your list to my list:

1.     Rich, glowing, hot colors organized into stripes and bands.

2.     The central unit, the table, tilted up and pushing across the picture space, sets the spatial theme for every color unit in the picture.

3.     The stripes and bands not only build the table, creating a large, elongated, oval-shaped mass that pushes across the picture like a surfboard, they also connect with the half-oval chair cushion, the three chair back slats, and the horizontal ridges of the cabinet.

4.     The candlestick, bowl of fruit, books, etc., balanced precariously, “ride” the “surf board.” The plant behind the table attaches to the still life objects like a busty, small-headed woman, her head thrown back, with arms akimbo and swirling skirt.

5.     The table’s central oval contrasts with the rectilinear pictures on the walls and stacked in the corner.  The vertical rhythms repeat in the chair back and legs, the windowpanes, the tree trunk, the lawn chair, the fence in the garden, the drapery folds, the candles on the cabinet and the candle on the table.  

6.     The horizontal rhythm of stripes and bands repeat in the cabinet, the chair back, and the windowpanes.

7.     All of these vertical, horizontal, and diagonal units move the eye through the spaces they help define: (a) look at the space between the single candle on the table and the candelabra on the cabinet; (b) look at the space created by the diagonal edge of the picture window and the vertical edge of the tablecloth; (c) look at the space created by the tree trunk and the stretcher of the canvas against the wall; (d) add to that space the vertical corner of the wall as it is interrupted by the forward leaning picture on the wall; (e) look how the green strip above the window and the green carpet on the floor of the patio connects with the cerulean stripes on the top and the sides of the table cloth.

8.     Now look at the rhythms of color: (a) the yellows outside the window connecting with the yellows in the tablecloth; (b) the red of the lamp above the window, the back of the lawn chair, the matt on the patio, the reds of the inside floor, the table cloth, the back wall, the pictures and their frames or stretches, the highlights on the chair, the candlesticks, the flowers, all draw the eye through the space.

9.     The cerulean and green rectilinear rhythms also connect with the greens on the wall and in the foliage of the plant.

10.  Thrusts and counterthrusts dramatically continue the beat: (a) the diagonal thrust of the table set against the vertical drapery edge and the contrasting push of the lower edge of the window; (b) the horizontal thrust of the cabinet edge along with the slats of the chair back and the chair seat, and the edges of the three hanging pictures, contrast with the books on the table, all set at different angles.

11.  Ovals echo other ovals: look at the candlestick holder on the table, the blue-green bowls on the cabinet, the flowerpot, the flowers in the flowerpot, the fluted fruit bowl on the table revealing rounded, glowing, ovals of solid, saturated color that echo the bulging rounded color volumes of the plant.

12.  All this (and I suspect you found other details I missed) conspire to produce not just a picture of a dining room, but a series of luminous, sparkling, fiery, geometric, solid, color units that push and pull through relatively deep, color-in-light space.

That color-in-light spatial atmosphere sets the color key.  Compare the fiery atmosphere in the Loper painting with the cool, powdery atmosphere is Seurat’s The Models:

Seurat, The Models, 1886-88, Barnes

In Loper’s painting, the atmosphere smolders like a summer mid-day in the tropics.  In Seurat’s painting, the atmosphere looks cool and moonlit. 

This “heat” derives from Renoir via Bonnard.  Compare the following two pictures:

Renoir, Bather, c. 1917-18, PMA

Bonnard,Garden, c. 1937, Musée du Petit Palais
You can see the “rose” suffusion in the Renoir along with rippling, soft, flowing and glowing color chords orchestrated into light, structural volumes.  Bonnard converts the “warmth” into decorative strips of flattened areas of uniform hot color contrasted with cooler blues to create an ensemble with a surface sparkle rather than a glow from within.

However, if you now compare this Bonnard to the Loper, you will see a closer relationship:

Bonnard, Bowl and Basket of Fruits, 1944, Private Collection
In this picture, Bonnard uses ovals of saturated reds, oranges, and yellows set in shallow space to produce an ensemble of globular, structurally solid volumes moving across a flat spatial plane.

Now study these two pictures:

Renoir, Terrace at Cagnes, c. 1905-06, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo


Bonnard, Peaches and Grapes on a Red Tablecloth, 1943, Private Collection

Notice again how Bonnard achieves color drama by reducing, not increasing, color chording.  He achieves luminosity via contrasts rather than via small dabs of juxtaposed colors.

Loper’s luminosity results from dabs of intense, juxtaposed color along with layering of color on color in order to build structurally solid color volumes that lure, beguile, and captivate the eye. 

Lynn Luft, a reader of this blog, says it this way: “Mr. Loper paints in a very complex style, using more than one type of stroke, but the effect for me is like a symphony from the Romantic period or even a later Russian composition.  The different methods flow together with a definite reason that he has incorporated after years of study and painting.  There is an immediate continuing sense of underlying forceful rhythm in his lines and spaces, but he has purposefully inserted melodic interludes of colors everywhere and accentuated the junctures very carefully to send our eyes to other areas of the painting, which will often repeat his theme with variations, some cool or quiet and others warm and intense.  When the whole work is absorbed from a distance, it becomes the fourth movement of later Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, almost thundering its message.” 

Lynn eloquently summarizes what I just said.

I’d like you to try to use the “Yes, But” tool.

I know it is late August, and you are relaxing and not wanting to think too hard, but please do the following exercise. 

Send me your response, and I will reward you with a 2002 calendar of Ed Loper’s paintings.  I know you can’t use an old calendar, but I also know you will find the 12 reproductions of Loper paintings worth framing or studying and enjoying. This edition also includes Ed Loper quotes describing his philosophy, teaching, and appreciation of art.

Loper, Houses and Hotel, 2000, Private Collection


Cezanne, Chateau Noir, 1904-06, MoMA
Compare and contrast these two pictures.  What visual ideas does Loper borrow from Cézanne?  What new visual ideas does Loper invent to pay back his loan with his interest? 

Click here to submit your response. 

In the next post, I will continue to explore Ed Loper’s visual inventions by focusing on his color-in-light atmosphere--his remarkable late work adaptation of Venetian glow via Renoir.                

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How Creation Happens, Cont'd

In the last post, I asked you to examine the following painting, My Father, the Bishop, by Edward L. Loper, Sr. Your responses indicated you did not find this a difficult process.

Edward L. Loper, Sr., My Father, the Bishop, 1975,

Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches, University of Delaware Collection
All of you described the subject facts as a black minister preaching in a pulpit surrounded by organ pipes, a stained glass window, and a floral piece.  The figure, set in relatively shallow space, has one arm leaning on a pulpit, the hand clutching the pages of a book, presumably the Bible.

The other arm points toward the upper left of the canvas. 
These two details reveal glowing colors organized into loosely applied, geometric shapes fractured into facets that express power, drama, and dynamic movement.

The total composition orchestrates two triangular units and three horizontal bands (see below):

The central, pyramidal unit provides stability for the slanted, leaning figure, while the upraised arm establishes an opposing cross and unsettles this balance.  The three parallel bands further stabilize this seeming unbalance.

Loper’s figure, while appearing massive, derives this massiveness from the Titian-like smallness of the head in contrast to the body.
Titian, Pietro Aretino, Oil on canvas, c. 1545, Galleria Palatina
But the power in the Loper does not derive, as it does in the Titian, from the figure’s bigness, solidity, structural color, and spatial depth, but rather from the dramatic sweep of contrasting intersecting angles and the animation of the geometric color units.

More like a karate performance than a ballet, Loper’s color units push and pull through the central volumes.  The triangular points of the organ pipes, massed like an army of pencils, lead to the figure.  A series of triangular bends lead to the elongated, pointed finger that, in effect, becomes another triangular unit, or an inverted organ pipe.  Each in and out movement down that arm and sleeve becomes a series of varied angular shapes, accelerating the beat of color units through the body to the pulpit and book. 

Within this secondary triangular unit, the clawed hand and bulging sleeve resemble a mound of poured cement, thick, weighty, and projecting forward, balancing the slanted figure with its small but densely solid head. 

That clawed and gnarled hand, derived from Goya’s dark period, grips the scrolled pages of the book like a vise. 

Francisco de Goya, Two Old Men Eating, 1819-1823, Prado
Because Loper maintains the known identity and the relative solidity of the subject facts, the cubistic underpinnings do not dislocate or reassemble the illustrative information.  Organ pipes are obviously organ pipes, but they are sliced and tilted to echo and balance the other units in the picture and to create another surface activity.  Unlike Picasso’s cubism, Loper establishes patterns to support and express the picture’s idea, not simply for their own decorative sake, and without flattening his color volumes.
Picasso, Woman in an Armchair, 1918, Barnes
The window and vase of flowers (left of the figure) unifies with light areas on the shawl, robe, and pulpit cloth.  They are angular and sharply contrasted with the larger, dark areas.  Impossible in nature, Loper manipulates light to reproduce on a smaller scale the active, geometric motif.

Loper's linear quality owes much to stained glass via Rouault. 

Rouault, The Old King, 1937, Carnegie Institute Museum
However, Loper’s dark lines do not just set off compartmentalized color units as they do in stained glass but, with the aid of the angular patterning, set up the rhythmic interplay of those units. The thick, dark outline contours the figure without entering into the substance of the color volume, reducing its solidity and three-dimensionality. Moreover, the line punches out the color area. These lines, along with the lines created by the meeting of two color areas and the color lines that emerge from under color units, establish a network of directional thrusts that radiate in a spokes of a wheel formation. This dynamic movement is in the orchestration of the color, not in the subject. It forces the eye to move from one faceted shape to another.

The livid, bluish-purple, somber, color has a polished, glossy quality in some places, like the sheen of a mosaic, particularly in the blacks.  In other places, it is crusty, and semi-opaque.  On the front of the robe, shawl, and the pulpit cloth, underneath colors show through, creating a sedimentary kind of layering.  These contrast with both the polished shiny color pieces and the gently chorded units of organ pipes and stained glass windows, creating an animated, kaleidoscopic color scheme.

Light also creates flickering effects as it hits, hugs contours, and wisps.  Derived from El Greco, but without El Greco’s sinewy twisted and elongated volumes, Loper’s light produces color harmonies like those found in ebony, sapphire, and amethyst jewels.  They unify with the fractured color patterns and the faceted geometric shapes and achieve an animated variegated ensemble.
El Greco, The Adoration of the Shepherds, Oil on canvas, c. 1612-14, Prado
Miss de Mazia described what I just said as the “Yes, But Analysis.”

Yes, Ed Loper uses ideas from other artists.  But, in each case, he modifies his borrowings by adapting them to his own needs.  He borrows Rouault’s heavy black outline, but Loper’s outline does not make a rigid, flattened, and set volume.  Instead, Loper creates animated, dynamic movement much as Daumier does in The Rebalds. 

Daumier, The Ribalds, Oil on canvas, 1848-49, Barnes
While Daumier expresses a forward, then backward motion, Loper expresses a flickering of smaller movements in and out, back and forth, or, as I called it, an animated kaleidoscopic movement.  While Daumier’s outline compartmentalizes each color unit for the purpose of his color theme, a dramatic penetration of dark into light, Loper’s outline enhances the power and drama of the total ensemble.

While El Greco expresses elongated, light, and twisted ribbons of dramatic color volumes creating an eerie glow and other worldly quality, Loper expresses solid, animated angular and powerful rhythms of rich, glowing, faceted, color volumes with a here and now immediacy. 

In the previous post, I said we measure creativeness by how much an artist gives back in interest to that which he borrows from other artists.  In the next post, I will examine a more recent painting by Edward Loper so you can see how his work changed as he felt the need to adapt other visual ideas.