Year End Art Class Notes

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While some are counting the days until Christmas, some of us are are counting the remaining days left in the old year of 2022. Somehow I always get a cleaning burst of energy around the end of the year. Maybe I hear my mother’s voice urging me, “Let’s get the house straightened up, so Santa will find it neat and clean. There’s no way the jolly old man can find the tree when the house is in this much mess!”

My mother’s idea of a mess was a line not perpendicular to its base, or a fragment of paper left on the table. She mostly cleaned to the grooves while my grandmother was alive, for she slacked off after Nannie passed on. The Christmas tree was ensconced in the NONO ROOM, also known as the living room. It acquired the NONO nickname because our parents never let us into it, for we weren’t allowed to touch anything inside it. We lived in the den, like the pack of wild animals we were. We weren’t raised by wolves, but our parents were never able to wring the wolf out of their brood.

I confess I still organize my large spices by size on one shelf and the smaller ones alphabetically on another shelf. I can’t understand anyone who sets their spices on the shelf willy nilly, so they have to search for them every time. Then again, I sort my paints by color and temperature. Organization is one thing I did learn from my folks, even if I didn’t inherit an obsession for daily cleaning.

However, with less than two weeks before Santa comes to visit and Christmas Eve services will bring the birth of Christ to mind once more., my inner mother began to notice strange flecks of dust on the high cabinet doors, as well as dust bunnies rolling out from behind the sofa. Some people have visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past. My mother comes to visit me. At least I can still climb ladders.

While I’m cleaning up the house, I should catch up on some art works our Oakland UMC art class has been doing. I took off for a month to visit California, came down with a couch bug that made me so congested I couldn’t think, paint, or do doodly. For some reason, Mike moved faster than I could get my camera out, so I don’t have all his photos. Also, sometimes he was tied up in court doing good for others. I promise to do better in the New Year.

Delaunay: View of Paris, Eiffel Tower

The following three paintings began with the idea of circles and lines. As usual, I showed a few different examples from well known artists whose work hangs in museums. This quality inspiration helps students come up with better ideas.

Gail’s Circles

Gail combined her lines with her change of colors. Those boundary lines set up a line which carried through the subtle colors of the background. Limiting her color scheme helps to define these lines. She likes to plan her ideas out in her head first, imagine how they will look, and then paint.

Mike’s circles and lines in the image below reflect his more exuberant personality. Using both the compass and the ruler, he came up with a variety of circles and lines. Mike paints as the spirit moves him. Whatever feels good, that’s where he goes next. He’ll adjust as he goes.

Mike’s Circles

Either of these methods are fine. If one doesn’t get you down the road to the place you want to go, then maybe it’s time try a different route. I never force anyone down a particular fork in the road. I let them explore in one direction until they learn all they can or hit a dead end. Then they can follow the “road not taken.” Everyone gets to try both roads eventually, and learn the ancient wisdom, “All roads lead to Rome.”

This Road May Lead To Rome Eventually

In the art world, “Rome is the fullest experience of both order and emotion.” Some of us prefer one over the other, just as I prefer order in my spice rack, but I’m willing to throw the spices into the soup by sight and not by measuring spoons. We can get too organized or too exuberant, as the Greeks were fond of saying, “The middle path is safest and best.”

Klee: In the Beginning

During this time, the Russian attack on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe was ongoing. Not only was the electricity at the plant cut, an act which blacked out Ukraine and much of Eastern Europe, but it also threatened the stability of the nuclear reactors there. The Ukrainian engineers at the plant were prisoners of foreign soldiers, who knew nothing about the dangers of their stronghold. The world held its breath as fighting broke out around this sensitive target.

Cornelia’s Ukrainian Power-plant Under Attack

Thanks to satellite imagery, today we can see via the internet, what we waited to see in newsreels at the theater, the last time we fought on European soil. We had to wait until the evening news to see film from Vietnam. Now cable news breaks every half hour with the same old news and we might get an update if we’re lucky. Not all can afford to send reporters to distant lands anymore.

By the grace of God, that power plant still stands. However, Europe and Ukraine will have a cold and costly winter. We should not complain if our prices rise, for it’s a small price to pay for democracy and freedom. There are still nations who would oppress smaller countries, just as the Roman Empire did back in the time of Christ’s birth. As we remember in Matthew’s story of The Visit of the Wise Men (2:1-2):

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

This information led Herod to kill all the innocents, the children under two years old in and around the town of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18). Brutality and mass executions aren’t a recent invention of despots desperate to retain power at any cost. The ethical term is utilitarianism, where one uses others as means to gain their own ends. The test question for this type of ethics is “Does the end justify the means?” At what point can you excuse bad or corrupt behavior to get good results?” A moral person answers, “I prefer good means for good ends and will use those unless I’m in a life or death situation.”

I returned, no worse for wear, from my vacation and texted the group to bring a vacation landscape photo to work from. Of course, Gail brought her latest vacation dream destination and Mike brought several island maps to combine into one image. It was the same island where he and his wife had vacationed, but one had tourist attractions, another was history, and the other natural beauty. He has a flair for combining things. Unfortunately, his busy life gets in the way of keeping all his art supplies in one place, so between his work chaos and organizing chaos, plus my slow phone draw, I failed to get his interesting map. It was a good idea.

Gail’s Mars Elevation

The new Mars rover has been sending back some awesome images. The folks at NASA must be over the moon, without a rocket. Gail worked on this elevation image for two weeks, with colors representing different heights in the landscape. It’s a good copy of the image. In the new year we need to go back to three dimensional work again, but we have had fun with color mixing and texture.

Cornelia’s Western Landscape

While out west, I visited as many national parks as I could manage. I did see many volcanoes and convened in a cave, plus I visited Roswell, NM, but wasn’t abducted by aliens. I was impressed with Arches National Park, and hiked about it most of a day. It’s a stark place, with strong rock formations jutting into a brilliant blue sky. The bright sunshine makes strong patterns of light and dark across the landscape. Most of what grows out in the desert is short grasses or a scrub brush, but on occasion, I would find a gnarled tree in dark shade.

Gail’s Christmas Tree

At Mike’s request, we made Christmas cards, but he had to work that day. Probably helping someone with legal matters, because that’s his calling. Gail and I had fun working on the cut paper cards. I was thankful she brought me a coffee. Whatever bug I had took a while to clear my system. Caffeine helped. She rearranged these triangles several different ways on a horizontal plane and never felt satisfied with the way they looked. Because she was wise enough not to glue them down first, she could see her ideas weren’t hitting her happy place.

Then she turned everything straight up, and organized the design on a perpendicular. Now her tree has its happy red birds, a sequin star, and little trees in the background.

Cornelia’s Card

I brought one of my many boxes of colored paper from my scrapbook stash. I know the Christmas colors are red and green, but I made an Advent Tree. This is why it’s violet and pink and blue. Anyway, we don’t have to follow the rules for Christmas trees. If we want a pale purple tree, we can have one. It’s our tree. Santa will still put a present under it, and the color of our tree doesn’t impair our salvation. A nativity set looks just fine under any color tree.

I know we have at least one more class in December on the 16th. Depending on if my plumber is coming over on the 23rd, we might not meet that day. He said he’s behind, so I don’t know. I’ll be on vacation on the 30th, so we’ll see each other in the New Year of 2023!

I always say, “if I ever get totally organized, the world is coming to an end.” Maybe it’s the providence of God that I always bite off more than I can chew, because I’m never totally organized! But I am going on to organization.

Joy, peace, and a better filing system,

Cornelia

Color Theory Paintings

adult learning, Altars, art, color Wheel, Creativity, Faith, Hilma af Klint, Imagination, inspiration, Ministry, mystery, Painting, shadows, Spirituality

Cezanne: Four Apples, 1880-1881, oil on canvas

Cezanne once said, “We live in a rainbow of chaos.” Perhaps he meant we’re surrounded by colors, in various and sundry shades, and through art, we try to find some order to this chaos, even if our resulting work seems outwardly disorderly. In his own lifetime, Cezanne was accused of being a madman, “afflicted while painting with delirium tremens.” His response was to shrug off the guardians of the Academy: “With an apple I want to astonish Paris.” He worked in isolation for a very long time, only gaining financial success in the last ten years of his life.

Jackson Pollock: Number 32, 1949, auctioned in 2018 at Sotheby’s

Another artist who broke ground is Jackson Pollock. When we view a Pollock action painting, we realize there’s actually an order to this chaos. The drips and pours are more like calligraphy and live in tension with one another. They vary in color, size, and energy, not unlike a song. The action paintings are not just “drip paintings,” but energies expressing emotions by means of fluid dynamics. This is why we don’t say, “My grandkid could do this.” People try to forge Pollocks and fail. Even Pollock had difficulty creating these unique works, the best of which belong primarily to a two year period when he refrained from his alcohol habit, which affected his depressive disorder.

As compositions, each of Pollock’s drip pictures simultaneously dissolves into a chaotic jumble of individual lines, while also coming together as a structurally uniform, whole field. We’re mostly used to works best viewed from a single fixed point, such as a High Renaissance painting. Instead, to view a Pollock, we must move across the whole surface, and look deep into the layers. His works draw their audience in to inspect the details closely, passage by passage, and at the same time overwhelm the viewer with their monumental size. Their coloristic and textural richness emphasizes the expansive surface, yet the elaborate and totally visible overlay of multiple layers of paint (and sand, cigarette butts, glass, and other materials) create a very real depth and space. It’s definitely not your grandchild’s artwork.

HANS HOFMANN: Elysium, 1960, oil on canvas, BLANTON MUSEUM OF ART

Hans Hofmann, a 20th C American abstract expressionist, once said, “Colors must fit together as pieces in a puzzle or cogs in a wheel.” Often we use the colors straight out of the tube, or we flail around trying to figure out which yellow and which blue will give us the shade of green we want to use. Experience is the best teacher, for learning how to see the colors of life is like solving a puzzle that doesn’t have a photo for a guide. Once we begin to recognize their composite colors, we begin to see the order in the midst of chaos. Then we have the cogs to the wheel and it will turn the next wheel in good order. Experience becomes our Rosetta Stone for decoding the other mysterious languages of color we hear around us every day.

Color Wheel with Neutral Grey at Center

One of the cues we’ve come to recognize in our painting class is the color of our brush wash water. If it’s a lovely neutral gray, like the center circle in the wheel above, we’ve balanced the warm and cool colors on our canvas. Most of our group in attendance chose colors from this wheel.

Paul Klee: Watercolor Word Study

We saw a number of color theory examples from history, including Paul Klee’s geometric watercolors, which vary from color blocks, landscapes, and written images.

Hilma af Klint: Primordial Chaos, Number 7

A little known colorist is the Swedish artist, Hilma af Klint, who was one of the earliest abstract painters. She developed a language, or visual imagery, to share the spiritual experiences she received during her participation in automatic drawing. As with many others of her era at the turn of the 20th century, she and her friends, in the group called The Five, mixed elements of traditional Christianity with seances and beliefs in a mystical guiding higher spirit. If she lived today, we’d likely call her beliefs “new age.” She also incorporated new advances in science for her time in her explorations.

Hilma af Klint: Altar Piece, Number 1

Her work for The Temple was heroic in size, with each of the 193 paintings measuring about 7 x 9 feet.These were completed between 1906 and 1915. The whole sequence can perhaps be understood as af Klint’s pursuit of an original “oneness,”or the basic unity which she believed existed at the world’s creation. She believed this integrity had since been lost, giving way instead to a world of polarities: good and evil, woman and man, matter and spirit. In her work after 1912, af Klint seemed to move stylistically away from techniques related to spirit channeling, such as the fluid lines of The Five’s automatic drawings. Her use of Christian iconography and geometric forms increased. By 1917, af Klint stopped producing art through a spirit altogether. Her 2,000 plus works are owned and administered by The Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden.

Dusty: Circle in Space

Dusty used a plastic plate to draw his circle. This plate served a secondary purpose as well: it was also his palette to mix his colors. “Art imitates life, even in abstraction.” He used the ruler to measure out equal pie shaped segments, and divided the background planes. I almost stopped him in the midst of his planning, but I wasn’t about to stop that train of thought. I could only admire it for its balance and symmetry. He mixed the shades of the colors, and filled in the spaces. Then he added a few “motion” marks to indicate the movement of the disc in the atmosphere.

Gail: Sun and Waves

Gail pulled a plastic French curve drawing shape out of her toolbox to make the unique shapes in her painting. The blue and green curves are the waves of the sea and the central oranges of the resulting negative shape is the sun above the water. I always appreciate her paintings, which connect to her love of nature and have a sense of order to them.

Lauralei: Geometric Shapes

I think I have this painting right side up. I followed the path of the brush strokes. Lauralei wins the prize for most different number of colors mixed on the palette. So often we get accustomed to using the same familiar colors over and over. Everyone had a café au lait colored interior two decades ago, then we all went white, and gray predominated for a while. Maybe soon we’ll paint our homes actual colors instead of following the crowd.

Mike: Rainbow Cross

Mike had this idea percolating in his mind before he came to class, but didn’t have time to work on it at home. As soon as he saw our inspiration works, he decided to follow his inner guide, which had opened this image to him. He took the ruler to mark off some guide lines, then focused on bringing this idea to life. The radiating energy bolts of dynamic rainbow colors coming from the cross remind us of God’s love in Jesus Christ for all things and all people. We’re also one in Christ and belong to the one family of God, no matter how we worship, or what our understanding of God is.

Cornelia’s First Stage: Light and Dark

I began my little painting as a homage to Klee, but I didn’t get far in the 90 minutes we have for painting. I attempted to leave the negative space for the letters, but my brush was either too large or my painting surface was too small for the text I chose. I brought it home and worked another six or seven hours on it in the following week.

Cornelia’s Final Stage: Light and Dark

In the quiet of my studio, I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the emotions of the words, but only to the technical aspects of mixing the colors. I reread again my text from Luke 1:78-79:

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

At this time, I saw the upper half needed to be light, while the lower part of the painting needed to be in darkness, since the two verses broke in this direction. This also gave my painting a landscape feel, as if the dark earth hadn’t yet seen the dawn of God’s light. As I painted, I began to lose the sense of the letters and the words, and the patches of color became more important than trying to keep the sentence legible.

I’m very impressed with this group, who’ve taken to heart my teaching mantra: Everyone will find their own voice if they engage in creative thinking and do the work. In the spiritual life, we’re saved by faith, but in art, we do find “works righteousness.” Amazingly, we get better the more we practice, especially if we have positive critiques and goal oriented lessons designed to help us grow. This provides fertile ground to awaken the spirit living within each of us, so that we can become co-creators in God’s renewal of the world. Maybe Hilma af Klimt was on to something special after all.

Our next class will be The City. We can either treat this as a lesson in perspective, poster design, abstraction, or a close up view of a building. Vacation photos are a good resource to bring, if you have a special place you want to remember. Antique photos are good too. Till next time, keep your hearts full of

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

The Fascinating Physics of Jackson Pollock’s “Drip” Paintings
http://hyperallergic.com/526383/the-fascinating-physics-of-jackson-pollocks-drip-paintings/

Jackson Pollock’s Paintings: Characteristics of Drip Painting Technique
http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/jackson-pollock-paintings.htm

Paintings for the Temple | The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation
https://www.guggenheim.org/teaching-materials/hilma-af-klint-paintings-for-the-future/paintings-for-the-temple

Hilma af Klint The Paintings for the Temple 1906–1915 ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 2021 Catalog Bokförlaget Stolpe 9789189069114
https://www.artbook.com/9789189069114.html