Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ellsworth Kelly's "Plant Drawings" exhibition

This past summer, while in New York, I saw two amazing and very diverse drawing exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The shows were “Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings, 1948-2010” and  “Durer and Beyond, Central European Drawings, 1400-1700”.  Both exhibitions highlighted an abundance of drawings created using line.

                                                Sunflower, 1957 watercolor

Ellsworth Kelly is an American artist born in 1923 and best known for his minimalist works.  Kelly embraced the Color Field School in the 1960s and became known for his vibrant, clean minimalist paintings and sculptures. Regarding his interest in simple, minimal shapes and contours Kelly stated " I'm not interested in the texture of a rock, but it's shadow."

                                                       Hyacinth, 1949, ink

The exhibition at the Met focused on Kelly’s plant drawings, created over a sixty year period. These simple elegant drawings, made with graphite or ink on paper or with watercolor, are stunning for their simple use of line and shape.  Kelly is a master of composition, integrating negative and positive shape and keen observation skills.  Indeed, his drawings read as portraits of an individual plant.

                                        Study for "Plant I", 1949, ink and pencil

While most of the pieces are 18 x 20 inches, there are some monumental drawings that utilize a strong vertical composition.  The overlapping of shapes and form create a sense of motion.

                                           Four Sunflowers, 1957, pencil

I highly recommend the exhibition catalog  “Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings” by Michael Semff and Marla Prather.  It is a beautiful publication and includes a comprehensive interview with Kelly conducted by Marla Prather in 2011.

I will be posting about the “Durer and Beyond” exhibition in the near future.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Andreas Vesalius, Father of Modern Anatomy

I plan on doing a few postings about anatomical visionary Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) who is considered to be the father of modern anatomy.  Vesalius hailed from Flanders, and was born in Brussels, to a learned family of physicians.  He studied medicine at the University of Louvain and the University of Paris before getting his doctorate at the University of Padua.

                     Wood engraving portrait of Andreas Vesalius from Da Fabrica (1543)

Vesalius transformed the way anatomy was taught in the 16ht century through his teaching style and his masterpiece De humani corporis fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body) published in 1543. Da Fabrica was the first anatomical treatise to be based on human dissection, and include accurate anatomical drawings.  After its publication the study of anatomy would be transformed!

                          Anatomical drawing from Da Fabrica (1543) by Jan van Calcar

While a medical student Vesalius noticed discrepancies between what he was seeing in human dissections and what the professor was describing.  At this time the study of anatomy was based on the writings of Galen. Galen, an ancient Greek physician and anatomist, believed the anatomy of humans and animals was interchangeable, hence the discrepancies Vesalius encountered.  Anatomy professors at this time were removed from the act of dissection and often sat on a throne, beautifully dressed, reading from the writings of Galen.

       Venetian wood cut from 15th century showing anatomy teaching and dissection.

When Vesalius started teaching anatomy at the University of Padua he decided to do the dissections himself and set the anatomical record straight.  He found that doing large schematic drawings aided his students in understanding what they were seeing.  This was the inspiration for Da Fabrica.

Da Fabrica frontispiece showing Vesalius dissecting and teaching.

My next posting will describe the process of creating the magnum opus Da Fabrica. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Vibrant Drawings Using Colored Pencils & Mineral Spirits

Artists use colored pencils in a variety of ways.  Many use them in mixed media with watercolor or ink, others layer them to create dense color saturated images.  I like to use colored pencils with odorlessmineral spirits (OMS), applied with a cotton swab, to create vibrantly colored, painterly drawings. 

The materials needed are colored pencils, OMS, cotton swabs and Bristol paper.  The Bristol paper is a good choice as it is smooth without any texture. 

I start out by doing a sketch of my subject matter using colored pencils to lightly block in my composition.  As I build up the color I lightly rub the surface with mineral spirits on a cotton swab.  The mineral spirits act to break down the waxy binder in the colored pencil and create a vibrant and painterly image. I keeping layering the colored pencil and ODM until the drawing is complete.  Here are a few recent examples of my work using this interesting technique.

I would like to thank my friend Josh Yavelberg for introducing me to this way of working!

                                  All drawings by Marie Dauenheimer.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Monet and the Rouen Cathedral Series

In April while in Rouen, Normandy, I was enthusiastic to see the Rouen Cathedral, which inspired Claude Monet (1840-1926) to create his greatest series of paintings.  Between 1892 and 1894 Monet painted over 30 canvasses depicting the cathedral’s façade at various times of day, including various lighting conditions and times of year. 

During the two years Monet worked on this series he rented three apartments across the street from the cathedral on the second floor above some shops.  Working on many canvasses each day Monet moved from easel to easel as the light and time of day changed. All the paintings in the series were created in Rouen, but many were finished in Monet’s studio in Giverny.

The compositions are tight and allow the façade to dominate the picture plane.  Monet varies his palette to reflect the changing light, ranging from monochromatic to analogous to complimentary color harmonies that vibrate and shimmer. Monet’s application of the paint is thick and sculptural adding to the weight of the canvasses.

Critics and artists praised the series when 20 of the canvasses were exhibited in Paris in1895.  The success was not without struggle as Monet stated, “Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment”.  Indeed, Monet experienced nightmares during the process.

Today art collectors and museums covet these 30 canvasses.  They are spread around the globe with most of them in the United States and France.  Sadly, only one of the paintings remains in Rouen at the Musee des BeauxArts.

Many artists have been influenced by Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, including pop artist Roy Lichtenstein who created a series of five paintings featuring the famous façade.

I have included a few of  Monet's Rouen Cathedral series here  for your viewing pleasure.  To see all the paintings please visit the ArtWolf’s website. 

  Rouen Cathedral, Gray Weather, 1894 by Claude Monet, Musee des Beaux Arts, Rouen

           Rouen Cathedral, Sunset, 1894 by Claude Monet, Musee Marmottan, Paris 

    Rouen Cathedral, Grey and Rose, 1982, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, UK

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Homage to Gericault, A Trip to Rouen, France

In April I made a pilgrimage to Rouen, to honor my favorite artist Theordore Gericault, the 19th century French romanticist. I was joined by my twelve year old daughter, who thanks to French Immersion, is fluent in French.She was a great translator and travel companion!
                           View of the Rouen Cathedral. Photo by Marie Dauenheimer

Gericault was born in Rouen, in upper Normandy, in 1791. By 1812, after studying with Carle Vernet, Gericault found success in the Paris Salon. Many of his early works depict cavalrymen and horses. Indeed, Gericault was fascinated with the horse throughout his career and spent time at the stables of Versailles studying and drawing. The anatomical study, depiction and fascination with the horse would last his entire career.

    Three Trumpeters of the Polish Lancers, 1814, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Gericault is best know for his epic masterpiece The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819). One of the most important works of the 19th century, this monumental painting depicts the wreck of the ship Medusa. The dynamic composition of figures forming a pyramid, the dark and somber palette and pathos of the idealized figures creates a dramatic depiction of a 19th tragedy.

                            Raft of the Medusa,1818-1819, Musee du Louve, Paris

The trip to Rouen was part of my on going life long homage to Gericault. The Musee des Beaux Arts in Rouen is a gem of a museum and of course has a wonderful collection of Gericault's work. The collection includes a painting called "Anatomical Pieces" which depicts a still life of human limbs.  This was one of many studies Gericault did in preparation for his masterpiece "Raft of the Medusa".

                         Anatomical Pieces, 1818, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen

Although Gericault is buried in Paris, there is a replica of his beautiful tomb in the cafe of the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Rouen.  It features a bas relief sculpture of the Medusa and a sculpture of Gericault reclining, with brush and palette, atop the tomb. 

                  Sculpture of Gericault on his tomb, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen.

Rouen is a beautiful medieval city and only about 90 minutes from Paris by train.  In addition to the Musee des Beaux-Arts other sites of interest include the Rouen Cathedral, painted numerous times by Monet.  There is also a field of flowers in the middle of the city, to honor where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1413. I highly recommend an excursion to Rouen!

                                       Cafe, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen