Saturday, May 26, 2012

Graduate School, Year One

Second Semester
Samson and Delilah (details) Graphite on Cotton Rag 44x30" 2012

After a somewhat rocky first semester of awkward accomplishments, I decided to focus on working more from life, addressing the color issue in my painting and working on the overall composition and environments in my drawings.

Vices Graphite on Cotton Rag 44x30" 2012

I am very drawn to the circle as a compositional element and wanted to explore it in this composition.  I have always been interested in the idea of follies and sins in my work, and returned to it in this piece.  Over the past two years, I have been trying to lose weight (70lbs so far) and have found myself struggling between my passion for sweets and fancy pastries and the fine clothes those pastries prevent me from wearing.  This piece is a portrait surrounding my vices.  This is the last purely line drawing I have made at the Academy, and in it I was trying to evoke light through the weight of the line.  It is intended to be a study for a backlit figure.

Life Drawings both Pastel on Paper 24x18" 2012

This semester I acted as a Graduate Assistant for one of my favorite critics at Pafa, Scott Noel.  Being in his class gave me the opportunity to work from life again and reacquaint myself with pastels, a medium I have not visited since high school.  Working in this class helped me to consider the figure as volume as opposed to shape or edge and I believe it benefited the following pieces tremendously.

Vices Pastel on Cotton Rag 44x30" 2012

I thought the Vices composition was very successful at the time and wanted to work on a colored composition.  I was interested in having the figure backlit and emphasizing the space in which it resided.  I found that pastel was a very useful medium for my practice.  Oil painting I have always struggled with because of the difficulty of mixing color and achieving the mark that I wanted, however the dry consistency of soft pastels allowed me to mix color easily and freshly and I was able to translate the mark that I was beginning to achieve in my graphite drawings.  This piece ended up being a pivotal drawing in my work that semester and it shifted my approach to both my graphite drawings and the painting I was working on throughout the semester.

Adam and Eve Graphite on Cotton Rag 50x36" 2012

Another benefit to this second semester was my drawing class with Renee Foulks.  During the fall my Drawing class was a pure seminar which had its benefits but I was lacking time with the model.   Renee's course was centered around extended (2-3 week) pose setups which allowed me to immerse myself in the use of the life figure.
This drawing, Adam and Eve, is a composition I was considering for a while, but it came directly out of a pose I was not interested in.  I found myself interested in the foliage around the figure as opposed to the figure itself and from it built this composition.

Ryan as Adam with the Apple Graphite on Cotton Rag 30x22" 2012

I compensated for the lack of model by enlisting my boyfriend to sit for the head of Adam, the second time he agreed to sit for me.  
All of my life, I have been enthralled with the human form and have endlessly fallen in love with the characters that I have invented for myself. For the first time, I found that it was not necessary to invent these figures, since they already existed in nature.  Like every proper artist, I have developed a passion, nearing mania, of drawing this poor boy because I cannot help finding it to be the most intimate thing I can do with a person, to collect everything they mean to me and transcribe it to a white sheet of paper.  Its like a love letter without words, since "I [can't even] say I love you with a song."

Adam and Eve (detail) Graphite on Cotton Rag 50x36" Ryan as Adam... (detail) Graphite on Cotton Rag 30x22"

I went through several sketches for Adam and Eve; I was very interested in the way the light would transform and give meaning to the characters.  The first few versions left Eve in the dark and Adam was lit with a foreign light, however, I quickly transitioned from the apple as a source of doom and Eve as the perpetrator to the apple as a gift and a source of light.
To me the apple, transformed to an orb of light, was the gift of herself or her life that she was giving to Adam and the light served to light the flesh of their bodies, almost completely obscuring Eve's face.  The content of my recent work has bordered on sensuality as I was exploring my own, but I have always wanted to give it a guise through allegory and myth.  I find myself repulsed at the idea of directly depicting the sexual act, and am more interested by the power of gestures and touch to represent passion and desire.
I also represented the rabbit and the snake in a somewhat dangerous embrace: the snake, its natural predator, also a metaphor for Adam and Eve and alternatively the sexual act, allures the rabbit who succumbs to the embrace.  Likewise a cat and mouse are depicted in the curiosity of a first meeting.
I was really happy with the progression of this drawing, I actively paid more attention to the space and allowed the figures more room to breathe, which is not generally in my nature, and I was very happy with the result.

Cupid and Psyche Pastel on Cotton Rag 29x22" 2012

Cupid and Psyche has gone through many transitions and reconfigurations of composition and structure since I began the painting at the beginning of the semester.  I have done several studies, of which I am only including the final pastel study above.  I am drawn to a very narrow color range, which is something that I will be addressing this summer, but I wanted to insure an interesting and cohesive color composition as well as a value structure, which were both lacking in my previous painting.
In this pastel study, I shifted the source of light, which was previously lighting both figures to focus heavily on the face and torso of Cupid while leaving Psyche almost completely in shadow.  I wanted to separate them and give them different spaces to reside in.  I also wanted to have two differing sources of light, making the main light a cool yellow and oppose it with a violet.

Cupid and Psyche Oil on Linen 50x36" 2012

The painting went through so many changes on the canvas, and the constant re-workings finally gave the painting a sense of unity.  I think I made a lot of progress through the making of this painting and this is the first painting that I feel I have worked until completion.

Cupid and Psyche (details) Oil on Linen 50x36" 2012

I began to consider the role my figures were playing, whether they act as ideal figures and work as allegories or if they directly represent my personal narratives and should act as portraits.  Idealism and allegory seem to be mainly the subject of comic books in contemporary work and thus I struggled with the want for idealization and beauty while wanting to retain a sense of the contemporary in my work.

Leda and the Swan Graphite on Cotton Rag 44x30" 2012

In a sassy mood and after looking at countless images on the subject, I decided to do a Leda and the Swan.  I am still marginally prudish (you wouldn't think so) about portraying sex in my work, and strangely enough in this allegorical and well known format, it felt more accessible.  It is interesting that nudity has always been acceptable in allegory, but until very recently, the naked form outside of an allegorical setting has been viewed as crass and unacceptable.  Finding myself with this historic upbringing, I sought comfort in fiction and strangely enough in the impossibility of a human-bird mating to make such an intense scene a tolerably comfortable one to create.

Leda and the Swan (details) Graphite on Cotton Rag 44x30" 2012

I found a new type of paper, that accepted my pencil readily and gave a very soft, voluminous texture to my shading.  I have focused on dark candlelit scenes in the bulk of my previous large scale drawings so I was excited to have a light-infused outdoor scene as the subject of my composition.  I worked mainly through erasure, by creating a large triangular field of darkness for the figures to exist in and carving away to build the characters.  This gave the composition a sense of unity and flow and an interesting diamond shaped  composition.  I was really proud of the movement of light in this composition and am excited to turn it into a painting during the summer.

Samson and Delilah Graphite on Cotton Rag 44x30" 2012

For my final composition of the semester, I began considering a large scale work I want to complete in the following months.  I wanted to use Ryan as a model again while I have him in person.  I wanted to give naturalism a try since I have been so focused on idealization.  I want to see if directly using our figures would benefit the compositions and make them feel more authentic and contemporary.
I am a very trusting person, frequently to my own downfall, and have been interested in the idea of trust and how much you are willing to give up for the attainment of pleasure.  I have been drawn to the story of Samson and Delilah for this reason.  Samson was an unbeatable warrior.  His enemies bribed the beautiful Delilah to seduce him to find the secret of his power.  Samson, drunken and vulnerable in his want for Delilah's company came to her bed and finally revealed his secret: he cannot be defeated as long as he does not cut his hair.  Delilah cut his hair and left him to be slaughtered.  A gruesome scene, and many have depicted it as such, but I was interested in the moment that Samson succumbs to Delilah thinking himself satiated and in love; in entrusting his secret to Delilah he makes himself vulnerable, trusting that he is loved in return.  He takes an incredible risk, and is not rewarded: I chose to depict the moment of Delilah's indecision of whether to accept the scissors to allow Samson a chance to survive.

In my final critiques this semester there were no formal issues addressed for which I was very thankful, but the idea of what my work represents became the main topic of conversation.  I have been pulling very strongly from antiquity in my work and have not found a novel way to make my work contemporary.  I have heard many suggestions about adding directly contemporary objects to my work.  Could Psyche be holding a flashlight? Could you put an outlet in the wall?  I have considered these options and find them to be a cheap trick to my work.  My main struggle with the majority of post-modern and contemporary work is the duplicity and pastiche in it.  My work is not ironic and I have no wish to make it so, but I have been genuinely struggling with finding another way to make myself relevant in an ironic world.
I think my next step will be to experiment with a wider range of colors and "more contemporary colors."  The focus of my summer will be finding a way to reach out to a wider audience and making my message more audible and novel.

Study for the Full Composition of Samson and Delilah

This is the full composition for the Samson and Delilah painting, working on this will be one of my large projects for the summer.  I am hoping figuring out the space will be a useful tool to renew my work.  I will do a better job of updating with images as I go from now on, Promise!


Graduate School, Year One

Fall Semester

Ryan and Self Portrait (both details) Graphite on cotton rag, 30x22ea 2011

Last July, I moved to Philadelphia and embarked on the greatest journey of my life thus far. After two years working on my own, I decided to begin my Graduate degree.  I applied to one school and found it to be what I was looking for; this past fall I began my first semester at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

My first year studio and inspiration wall, including an original drawing from Nancy Grimes

I spent all summer looking forward to once again having a studio, and having an opportunity to work around my contemporaries and amidst a staff of critics and professors whose work I respected. The first semester brought many challenges and a lot of rebuilding; the content of my work shifted somewhat and the compositions and images were in a huge transition period.  In fact, the fall semester work is hard to talk about without justifying it with the work of the following months, but I wanted to share the progression of my imagery.

Duplicity Graphite on Cotton Rag 50x36in 2011

I began  the semester in the same vein as I have been working previously with vast multi-figural compositions: I completed several studies and the beginning of a painting, which I left out of this catalog since they seem completely irrelevant.  After my first few critic meetings, I decided that in order to improve my compositions, I needed to pair down and work on more intimate groupings of figures for the time being.  To compensate for the smaller groupings, I increased the size of my drawings and worked on them as finished pieces as opposed to studies for paintings. 
The transition in my imagery was coupled with a transition in my personal life, and I found it useful to deal with the concerns and novelties of a new relationship through the exploration of my imagery.  Duplicity is the first attempt at in that vein, and I found it to be a very crude one, but the size and shape of the composition gave me many challenges to address throughout the rest of the semester,

Indecision Oil on Linen 2011

Taking the advice of one of my critics, I decided to approach this painting in a new way, which, from my inexperience was a bit of a catastrophe.  Working directly on the canvas without preparatory studies or a pre-planned composition, this painting turned into a semester long struggle without much of a resolution. In an effort to deal with the large scale and the immediacy of composing directly on the canvas, I ran into issues of a cramped and unrealized composition and lack of color and value complexity.  All in all, a big, three month failure, a failure that taught me a lot and influenced the remainder of my work for the semester.

Cupid and Psyche Graphite on Cotton Rag 50x36" 2011

I have always been very interested in narrative and found difficulty in creating narrative and allegory in this new body of work.  I was exploring novelty and trust in relationships, but could not figure out how to depict those things visually in a way that would translate to a larger audience.  Looking through the artists where I draw my inspiration, I found that historic narratives may benefit me in my own work.  Using the symbols and narratives of mythological and historic characters, I began to explore the connection between the stories of these characters and the allegories I wanted to create. 
The first story I was drawn to is that of Cupid and Psyche; this image became a representation of trust and knowledge, of desire and loss.  It is in our nature to desire what we do not have.  The moment we gain a prize, we look for the next step, we eat a slice and look for the rest of the pie. We question what we have instead of appreciating it, not seeing that the realization of our desires may cause us to lose the base of the tower we have been so feverishly climbing.
The myth of Cupid and Psyche states that the young Psyche, offending Venus with her beauty, startles Cupid, who is sent to make her fall in love with the most hideous man on earth.  Cupid scratches himself with his arrow, and inadvertently falls in love with Psyche.  Cupid comes to Psyche every night under the cover of darkness, forbidding her to light a lamp and see him. Psyche, urged on by her jealous sisters and the desire to know her husband's identity, lights an oil lamp and finds Cupid in her bed. A drop of oil falls and awakens Cupid, who flies off outraged at her lack of faith. Psyche is left to mourn her loss.
In the beginning of my new relationship, this story became a metaphor for communication.  I have always been awkward with talking and asking for things, which seemed almost intensified with intimacy.  I found myself weighing the need to know where we stood with the possibility of hearing something I was not expecting.  
Psyche could have been content with an anonymous happiness, but her desire for knowledge led to her loss of everything she had and did not appreciate.  It was a story of trust.

From the struggles in the making of Indecision, I found that my work was lacking from the absence of life study.  The bulk of my images were created from my imagination or reference from books, and lack of reference was a weak point in my compositions; too many factors were relying on my imagination so creating a cohesive space or color structure seemed impossible.
To remedy this, halfway through the semester, I began sitting in on Scott Noel's painting classes and doing some work from the model.
Life Study Oil on Paper 2011
Self Portrait Graphite on Cotton Rag 30x22" 2011

Addressing many issues towards the end of the semester, I decided to do some portraits form life.  I found that in the large drawings, my line was too uniform since I invent figures out of oblong shapes that I draw towards the outline, by proxy, over-defining the silhouette.  I wanted to explore if having an image in front of me would remedy the problem.

Ryan Graphite on Cotton Rag 30x22" 2011

I wanted these portraits to act as a double portrait of sorts, I treated it initially as almost a decorative project, but I have come to appreciate the portraits as part of my body of work even if they do not act narratively as the previous pieces.

Self Portrait Oil on Linen 34x22" 2011

In a response to the rather disastrous first painting attempt, I worked on this portrait from life to see if the color cohesiveness would improve.  This is where I left off at my final semester critique and spent the winter break working and reworking Indecision and preparing studies and a canvas for Cupid and Psyche.
My apologies to anyone who is still reading for neglecting to post for almost an entire year, but I hope to make up for it in the following weeks.  Please check back in the next couple of days for my work from the Spring semester.