When I visited London some time back, I also had the good fortune to see the Picasso (1881 – 1973) exhibition curated by Sir John Richardson “Minotaurs and Matadors” at the Gagosian Gallery. It’s woth noting that Richardson holds some knowledge on the matter of Picasso, having authored several biographic volumes on Picasso (as displayed for sale at the exhibit) and as longstanding personal friend of Picassso.
Despite having seen many of Picasso’s works exhibited before (an entirely different and much more impressive experience than seeing them in books or online) this once again allowed me a grand experience. Here I saw Picasso’s series of bull drawings, a sequence as if made specifically for use in teaching the process of reduction in art and design.
While an excellent instrument for teaching, there’s perhaps more to be understood from this series of drawings than a few concepts of design and reduction. Picasso often made it clear that he identified with the bull, making his bull drawings particularly interesting when the choices made in this reductive process is entirely Picasso’s.
To better understand Picasso, his choices and works, it helps to consider when he was born: In 1881 Brahms was still doing concerts, Edgar Degas organized and opened the Sixth Impressionists Exhibition in Paris–showing his sculpture “Little Dancer,” Billy the Kid escapes from a New Mexico jail, Sitting Bull surrenders, there was the now famous gunfight at the OK Corral, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell formed The Oriental Telephone Company (landline telephone,) Barnum & Bailey Circus debuts at Madison Square Gardens—bullfighting was alive and well, even popular and not yet considered offensive.
In Picasso’s homeland Spain, the bull was a prominent part of their culture and while difficult to imagine today, bullfighting was entertainment. Bullfighting was a part of life and if Le Petit Picador (1889,) painted by Picasso when barely eight years old, can be any indication— bullfighting already made an impression on the young Picasso.
Picasso’s fascination with bullfighting continues and becomes a factor impossible to ignore, right from the blood and gore of bulls and horses of the bullfight, to when the bull meets its end—as dealt by the matador.
Returning to Picasso, metaphorically identifying with and relating to the bull or better yet–the minotaur as half man, half bull said “If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a Minotaur.” In Picasso’s world, the bull portion of the minotaur was ultimately destined to fight for its life and die fighting–while the man portion of that same minotaur still tries to make sense of it all.
It could seem that every element of the bullfight held metaphors for Picasso, perhaps helping him to see his person in a more objective light—as the bull with all its gesturing, charging, huffing and puffing rarely wins but always fights a fight worthy of respect.
With all the cheering and commotion at a bullfight, Picasso would sit quietly through it all—as he identified with the bull, perhaps all too aware of its impending fate. For the bull it’s a fight for life and death, for the matador it’s for show and for the audience, entertainment, even with all its grotesque gore—and Picasso is the bull in his very own bullfight, to give the performance of his life and to personally pay the ultimate price. Even the horses often sacrificed in a bullfight takes on meaning, as Picasso himself sees them as a metaphor for the woman that became victims of his choices and life.
In his bull series, Picasso takes on his usual role as the artist to expertly select which elements of the bull to include or exclude, and where to draw the focus of the audience. As the number of drawings increase a progression begins to show, as detail gives way to form and design–all with the intentions of finding those essential elements of art in the subject. Picasso’s search for form and design, dissecting this subject (a bull, likened to himself) to find the art, is at this point not so different from a philosopher’s search for truth in the essence of a concept.
While the process involves an obvious reduction of elements, what’s barely noticeable at first is the price of this reduction—as the process nears the end. Intentionally or subconsciously, it becomes more apparent that art has a price.
As is frequently seen in design and icons, the bulls head is often used to symbolize unstoppable strength, mind, mentality and tenacity—clearly identifying the idea of a bull.
For Picasso, the symbolism of a bull’s mask was enough to suggest himself a bull when wearing it, as he would do but in the last image of the Bull Series, the head is as near to being completely gone as it can possibly be—hence reducing its symbolic significance.
As can be concluded when viewing the Charging Bull of Wall Street sculpture other parts of the bull also has great significance. The genitals of bulls are often used to refer to the character and traits inherent to the masculinity and strength in a bull, just like people in some parts of the world compare themselves or parts of themselves to that of a bull.
Surprisingly, in a final stage of reduction—as if to make the biggest statement yet in the last drawing, Picasso almost completely castrates the bull by now drawing the genitals so small as if no longer of any significance or use.
The drawings are indisputably Picasso’s recorded expression as he chose every step of the way, which brings me to question if this was a statement on more than elements of design and abstraction, intentionally or unintentionally? Was this a commentary on art in general, the art world, or was it personal reflection, a visual autobiography (Picasso was never a man of many words?) Did Picasso perhaps feel burdened and/or drained from his own success, as he inescapably became a greater celebrity, seeing his identity, real strength and artistic freedom reduced to the point of being almost removed?
The lithograhic print “Die Menge” by Magdalena Abakanovicz consist of large dark mass of people, passing through the middle of a drawing, of which you (the viewer) could be a part. You see only hunched backs and their bowed heads. Using perspective, this group is indicated to be walking away from the viewer. The mass of this group divides the image in two nearly identical symmetrical halves. The background consists of what appears to be a wall of people, depicted by drawing their heads only, without the use of any perspective.
I was unimpressed when I first came across the print “Die Menge” by Magdalena Abakanovicz. I at first thought the exhibition to be that of students. I had in fact walked by the piece previously and thought it to have poor composition, elementary perspective and an uninteresting use of symmetry. I did not take time to identify the black mass as people, the name of the piece or the name of the artist, and I went on to where I was headed.
I gave this piece no further thought until I again was faced with it, only this time I found a different sort of appeal in the piece. For a brief second I thought to myself “But I didn’t like it the first time. . . .” Then I saw the name Abakanowicz. I have seen several of her sculptures; they often involve barbed wire, large groups of hunched backs that seem burdened or in deep inner pain. I am not particularly fond of her work, but it has caught my interest before by its stark use of the kz — camp symbolism (Abakanovizc was born about 1930 in Poland.)
Once the imagery has been somewhat decoded, it becomes more interesting. The hunched (or burdened, possibly by pain or embarrassment) group somewhat absorbs the viewer, who then can sense the weight carried by this group. Then your attention is drawn to the outside crowd, outside because they are intentionally separated by not being depicted in perspective as is the main group. This other group is not going anywhere, they are to busy watching you with their mindless little eyes; mindless as they all do the same repetitive act. They have nothing going on in their lives other than watching you in your pain, shame or embarrassment going to a destination that you never chose, otherwise why drag your feet?
I was born fifteen years later than Abakanovicz, and not in Poland, but rather in Denmark. Yet I was feeling the consequences of war in a country that recovered much faster than Poland. I had aunts and uncles that were enemies until their death over events taking place during the war, I have family that fought in the Danish underground, was caught and lived, only their nerves and minds were no longer intact. I to this day often have the thoughts when entering Germany “this country (and many of its present day people) took up arms against my country and my family.” Poland is just now starting to recover their freedom, and the work of Abakanovicz appears to me to have some of this longing for freedom, as it might be felt by her fellow countrymen. Another possibility is the constant overhanging threat of the now defunct Russia. There is however no doubt in my mind where Abakanovicz gets her symbolism and that has my deepest respect.
My working title for this painting became “Prima Donna” as in lead ballerina, from very early on in the process. It was as if this particular pose was made just for this model, and brought out an undeniable star quality. Anothor title that played in my mind as I neared completion that I thought too long but said so much more was “Smile, Because Above Us All the Sun Still Shines.” The pose in this painting is about light and everything good that comes from it.
Drawing attention to the light would require an excessive amount of light throughout the painting, which would also bring an abundance of color. To avoid color dominating everything, and instead focus on the light to help bring out that dreamy and almost ethereal potential of what I had in mind, I had to avoid any heavy saturation of color while still paying close attention to never go entirely monochromatic. Holding on to the light was essential to what I wanted to achieve with this piece, and was constantly on my mind while working on it.
Being outside in the sun makes me a happier person, the light and warmth feels good and seems to recharge as if being the very source of life itself. Light is a positive force to most everything living and makes it all even more beautiful. Soaking in the light is a marvelous feeeling that most people can relate to, and that’s the feeling I wanted to share. The scene here was already overflowing with light but beyond adding more light, I wanted to make the whole painting more about light.
The figure itself is about light, stretching, lifted in mood as well as body–all while absorbing the deep warmth of the sun. This is a good day and the sun makes it easier to relax and enjoy. It’s is really about that feeling of being just you and the sun, no disruptions or distractions, no obstructions in enough light and warmth, that alone the thought of it brings warmth on a cold winter’s day.
While planning and thinking out this project, much of my focus was on the stretching and forming of the canvas to bring out its character—and wondering if my ideas were even physically possible.
I wanted to take the canvas past its usual flat, and mostly discrete role as a ground to hold paint but had never expected for the shapes to hold such beauty, as to tempt me to leave them entirely blank? While tempting, I went through many stages before I finally concluded that any approach to painting these structures had not only to justify the sculptural qualities but be a means to help the viewer truly see, and appreciate the aesthetics of it all, or there would be no balance.
But, after a lengthy process, I’m finally at peace with the result.
Upon completion, it became obvious that the name of this piece had to change. Though the structure remained the same, the dynamics had changed the identity—hence “Changes.”
The rectangular dimensions listed with the photo, are only for crating and shipping purposes. If “Changes” is to be displayed as in the above photo it measures a full 254 cm from top to bottom.
Getting a little closer and on a slight angle, should help improve the perception of what otherwise could be seen as an entirely two-dimensional object?
I particularly like how the sharper angle allow lights, reflections and shadows to better illustrate the shape and chroma in this photo.
The arduous process required to bring about these structures makes photographing them seem like a reward, frequently opening up an all new perspective to me. Once transferred to a two-dimensional format, the different viewing angles takes on a unique character, with an entirely new aesthetic value–conceptually connected, yet entirely separate from the original.
This series of photos was a rather difficult task, and while I didn’t really succeed in accurate depictions (as can be seen in the varying tonal qualities,) I think I managed to share how these pieces interact with space and light?
I wanted to show the nature of the canvas, taking it to the extremes as in life’s highs and the lows. Colors, some more pleasant and harmonious and others not so much—almost in random chaos, like those events around us that color our days, with sometimes bright cheer and other times rather undefinable hues—yet still following those forever unavoidable, highs and lows. I added a band of a yellow hue that all depending on the viewer, can hold a multiple of meanings—right from a returning peace, cohesion or at worst a barrier. But, no heart or set of eyes are the same, as are no two lives—our difficulties vary as does our hopes and needs.
Using close-up details of “Rainy Day Monday,” I wanted to share the experience and dynamics of this piece, changing my angle of approach as much as possible from photo to photo. For the sake of authenticity and honest depiction, I used daylight lamps (5500/5600 Kelvin) and allowed the light from my garden window to blend with the light of the lamps, still the colors varied from photo to photo? It may seem unlikely but I’ve used no altering filters, to fully allow viewing to be as natural as a camera possibly can.
The colors of detail # 4 and 5 are the closest to how I see them myself in the painting, I hope that helps?
When I first photographed this piece in the garden for my Instagram account, it quickly became a matter of timing, wiping off drops of rain and rushing to take more pictures before the next drops began to fall. I finally thought we had succeeded and posted the pictures, only to find that the painting still had traces of drops, some partly wiped off and others not so much. After all the work preceding my rainy day photo session, a few drops of rain ended up giving name to the piece.
Before I had to fight the weather to photograph this piece, it had to be formed, first in my mind and then in the studio. I wanted to free myself from the conventions while still using conventional tools to do so, and what could be more conventional than paint and canvas in art–so that’s where I began.
The canvas, often referred to as ground, typically given a barely mentioned passive role and stretcher bars, discrete supports for the ground, could instead be called on as media, all working together, not to just carry a medium but all be equally significant media.
Much thought and experimentation came before the actual conceptualization of my idea but I wanted paint, canvas and stretcher bars to be media–all merged into one expression. For canvas and stretcher bars to be considered of value, their characteristics had to be considered and properly displayed to qualify as media.
But, with multiple media there must be a balance and when both stretcher bars and canvas explode into view, demanding attention, the painting must be equally explosive.
Photographed under different circumstances, away from the rain and using in-house lighting, here is my first realization of what began as merely an idea, challenging myself, wondering if in bringing out the characteristics of canvas, if I could really stretch it as much as I wanted–and still not get wobbles (the wobbles are for another painting, another day.)
105 x 65 cm, acrylic paint on canvas.
By seeking a more universal representation of the figure and excluding all but the actual torso, I hoped to give credit to the sculptural qualities of the female form and not let the aesthetics be an obstacle to the feelings of the piece.
The emotive qualities were however my top priority. Although perhaps entirely too ambitious, I was looking to depict the inner solace found at the core of total acceptance–not just by others but also oneself.
The cooler tones dominating the piece while the composition eliminates all but a faceless torso, is to make viewing it a less personal and more universal experience, creating a comfortable distance for the viewer to enter the space, and relate.
The thought behind this piece is one of great importance to me, acceptance. When accepted and respected, we seem to become better versions of ourselves. This is my visual representation of that acceptance.
I couldn’t help including this old favorite of mine, although it’s a long time since I painted it but it triggers a lot of memories for me.
I was on the ferry to visit a dear friend in the Gulf Islands, who has long since passed away. While out on deck to enjoy the scenery, I noticed how the sun empowered those potently red interiors of the lifeboats, all in perfect contrast to an otherwise subdued and clouded Pacific West Coast sky. In my eyes, it just had to be painted and although it came with some difficulties–I quite like the result.
While this wouldn’t sell for much in a western european market, it went very quickly in North America and sold appropriately to a hotel in Victoria, British Columbia–where many of their customers likely would have traveled through those same Gulf Islands and would easily recognize those same Vancouver-Gulf Islands-Victoria ferries.
Again, one of my first acrylics and one of my first figure paintings. With this, I aimed to create a reflective scene, sharing that deep inner feeling of peace, calm and contemplation.
When working with people and perhaps especially with the nude figure, it’s not enough to know about media and process.
I knew very little of working with models, especially posing them. Perhaps I had imagined that poses just sort of happened but surprisingly (at least to me at the time,) a whole lot of preparation and directing is involved.
By necessity, I soon learned that the art of figure painting begins long before even stapling canvas to its stretcher bars but I’ve been fortunate, beyond what I could ever have hoped for–the models I’ve worked with have all been very patient and understanding people.
In a vague hope of sharing the three-dimensional qualities of Dry Spell’s shaped canvas and keeping in mind the limitations of two-dimensional media, I had to change my approach. Instead of attempting to include everything, I moved in close–showing just portions of Dry Spell. Using close-ups allowed me drastically different viewing angles–and although segmented, a more complete experience for the viewer.￼
The aesthetic qualities of what was initially only meant as details surprised me. The close-ups now seemed to take on a life of their own as little independent expressions, perhaps worthy of being shared and displayed as prints?