Monday, March 19, 2012

Finishing Vision 4

Vision 4 probably finished!

Today I added a few more finishing touches to Vision 4. Perhaps I will go back and add a daub or two of color here and there, but I am moving on to new projects.

I stopped by the local hardware store / lumber yard and purchased birch veneered plywood for another two projects. I now have another set of panels on birch plywood the same dimensions as Vision 4. I will continue the snow and ice reference in mostly black and white on these boards. I plan to carve them and use oil paints to get a feel for the differences between acrylics and oils.

Another birch board will become an oval similar to Vision 5. Three pieces of left-over plywood in oak, birch and Douglas fir will become three small ovals in another project.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Learning from a Master

       Ellsworth Kelly has mastered many disciplines during his long career as an artist in the realm of abstraction, particularly drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture. He typically begins with a form reduced to its essence and then creates a series of explorations and treatments of the idea. A drawing may become  several paintings, which lead to two or three sculptures. His work has a vivacious elegance, which is difficult to imitate. Subtlety in color relationships is also a characteristic quality in Kelly's abstractions. In addition to his large works of pure color, Kelly's series of wood sculpture captivates me.
     Kelly’s body of work is an energizing reference for my exploration of forms simplified from nature, the use of relief panels to create an image and the refinement of color relationships. I am using the trapezoid format to suggest dynamism and movement. Another project utilizes the wood grain on oak and fir boards in stained patterns under semi-transparent images. I plan to investigate other surfaces for their textural potential and to experiment with oil paints towards developing chromatic richness in my work. Simplicity in shape and hue will be one of my goals in the next few projects following Vision 5's completion.
     Perhaps it is the calm, yet vivid simplicity in Kelly’s work that I find so appealing. Robert Storr, dean of the Yale School of Art has said of Ellsworth Kelly, “He’s the last artist to repeat himself. . . But he always comes back to his basic vocabulary: surface, scale, color, image. And he always gets it as simple as he can.” (Vogel, Carol. "True to His Abstraction". New York Times: Art and Design. January 20,
2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.)

Painting Projects this Week

Latest beginning: thin oil paint on oval panels.
These two will be installed together.

Vision 4 with acrylic paint applied.
Vision 3 seems to be finished.

This past week I made more adjustments to Vision 2 and 3 as well as working on Visions 4 and 5.

Vision 3 needed more irregular grass shapes in the middle ground as a pathway forming a horizontal line seemed to cut the composition in half. I added acrylic glazes on Vision 2 with several poured shapes where I brushed whisps of white into the liquid medium.

Vision 4 advanced fairly quickly. I used the Dremmel tool and my wood chisels to create surface textures and then followed up with acrylic paint. I am considering using the Dremmel tool to gouge out more defining lines on the upper panel and to round out some of the more angular shapes on the lower panel. After repainting the exposed wood in acrylic and letting it dry, I plan to use oil paint to finish the piece. Hopefully I can create some transparent glazing effects. The acrylic paint is quick to dry, but on this piece it lacks subtlety. The surface texture is very dry and pasty, probably because I used modelling paste to seal the wood. Another time I will use something else as a sealant. Unfortunately, acrylic gesso gives me a bad headache!

Vision 5 will be an interesting change. The concept was developed using several photographs transformed with Photoshop. For the first time, I was able to try different effects without becoming too frustrated with the computer to continue. Although Photoshop offers some interesting possibilities, I think I need to use drawing as well to prepare for larger projects.

With Vision 5, I am using some of the wood grain in the images in an oval format, which is new for me. I stained the wood with a watercolor wash before using acrylic varnish to seal it. On this project I am using oil paints thinned with walnut oil and alkyd medium. We'll see how long it takes to dry before I can put on another layer of paint. This time I applied the paint with small pieces of rag instead of brushes. It works well for blending, but you have to remove pills of lint from the painting if you aren't careful!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Carving and Modelling Vision 4

Carving with chisels and the Dremmel tool.

Modeling paste seals the wood.
The next step will be to lightly sand the surface of each panel.
Yesterday I carved the two panels for Vision 4 using two wood chisels and the Dremmel tool. The chiseled carving follows the horizontal grain of the wood, while the Dremmel tool created vertical strokes. From distance, the vertical texture suggests reflections in still water, which adds a new dimension to the piece without focussing on small details.

The panels remind me of a cloisonné-style collage painting I completed last spring of several apple tree branches. Each shape was outlined in deep indigo blue. On these two panels, I gouged the outlines with the Dremmel tool. After I begin applying paint, I will decide whether or not to color the carved outlines in contrast to their enclosed shapes.

The effect of the gouged outlines reminds me of some Chinese traditional paintings and embroidered robes, although my work uses larger, rougher forms. When I was living in Toronto, Ontario, I volunteered at the Royal Ontario Museum, where I often visited the Asian galleries. Then in 2007, I had the good fortune to visit Beijing, where I was able to see the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, as well as traditional calligraphy and brush painting. As a matter of fact, today I received a new copy of The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, which I know will be a great resource.

Apple Blossom Collage.
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 20" x 16". 2011.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Beginning Vision 4

Vision 4 Underpainting before carving and texturing on two plywood panels.
 14"> 8" and 10"<16" by 39.5"

Two photos cropped and filtered with Photoshop.

This project came about after I observed ice and snow flowing upstream in the Petitcodiac River. I decided to try two trapezoidal panels again to create one image and to suggest the movement of the floating snow. One panel focuses on textural details in the foreground, while the other panel simplifies shapes in a view from a greater distance. I like the reflections which  create new forms in the upper panel. I plan to use different carving approaches on each board. 

Because of the complexity of the images, I have painted a preliminary underpainting on each panel. When the paint is completely dry, I will begin carving with chisels and the Dremmel tool. Once I am satisfied with what I have removed, I will cover each panel with a thin layer of modelling paste to seal the wood. I like the way the paste fills in corners and cracks, as well as the way it builds up textural effects. I will probably model the larger forms, suggesting clumps of snow. I would like to simplify the shapes further as I work on them.

Working solely form my memory seemed to result in a schematic, flat image in Vision 3. While I am satisfied with some aspects of the project, I feel that I need to go back to more concrete visual references as starting points. My mentor suggested that I use Photoshop to help develop ideas and to try different ways to resolve problems with a piece as I run into difficulties. I am beginning to discover how to use the program, even though I've had it on my laptop for over two years. Yesterday, for example, I found a whole menu of options that I didn't realize were there.  

Two panels together seem to be a theme at the moment. After Vision 4,  I will be working on two ovals cut out of plywood, one over the other.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ellsworth Kelly's Works at the MFA Boston

Ellsworth Kelly, Curve XXI (1978-80) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The New York Times. November 27, 2011

Ellsworth Kelly’s wood sculptures, recently on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts[1], seem exceptional in their elegance and simplicity. The subtle curves, the patterns in natural wood grains and the transparency of cast shadows evoke calm contemplation in the viewer. It seems as if one is being drawn towards an ideal monolith or relief, where the interplay of shadow and shape creates a refined and aesthetic ambiguity. Visiting this extraordinary exhibition of nineteen of Kelly’s thirty wood sculptures is like finding « . . .some profound silence amid the hubbub of daily urban life. . .”[2]

Although the wood sculptures have impressed me as the highlight of Ellsworth Kelly’s artistic range, he is known primarily for his other works. Sebastian Smee comments,” Most people associate his mature work with flat, carefully shaped planes of rich, unmodulated color, each plane placed subtly in relation to another. His “Blue Green Orange Yellow Red” was recently acquired by the MFA and now graces a handsome gallery in the Linde Family Wing.”[3] 

What interests me about this painting is Kelly’s use of panels and his skillful handling of pure color. From my own experience as an artist, I know how challenging it can be to work with vivid hues placed side by side, where they can vie for the viewer’s attention in an unpleasant visual cacophony of intensity. Kelly’s huge piece is refreshing to look at, showing us the joyful expanse of a simplified spectrum.

Ellsworth Kelly, Blue Green Yellow Orange Red, 1968.
Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Personal Photo.

After contemplating Kelly's works, I feel the need to simplify and streamline the shapes I am working with. The last few panels I have been working on have become very busy, with layers of dripping paint and curling lines, almost 'baroque' as my mentor has commented.

[1]      Ellsworth Kelly: Wood Sculpture. Foster Gallery 158. Boston Museum of Fine
           Arts, September 18, 2011- March 4, 2012
[2]      Plagens, Peter. “Beautiful, Quiet and Spare.” The Wall Street Journal: Arts and
           Entertainment. October 6, 2011. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.
[3]      Smee, Sebastian. “Ellsworth Kelly on Boston.” Culture Desk. Boston Globe.
          September 23, 2010. Web. 1 March 2012. <>
          Five Panels: Blue Green Yellow Orange Red, gift from the Bank of America,
          September, 2010.