Understanding and Explaining your World

Understanding and Explaining your World

Have a look at Poplars on the Epte 1890 by Monet:

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Here the artist is concerned with capturing the moment - this time, using colour and paint. Monet was one of the leading impressionists; they were not concerned with detail, but rather with fresh ways of expressing what they saw. Working outside on site ensured, their work was lively and the palette of colours fresh and not overworked. Shadows were portrayed in rich dark colours of purples, blues and greens. Which took the place of the browns and blacks used by many artists since the time of the Renaissance.

In Poplar on the Epte, the brush strokes are crude but they have captured the essence of that scene. I can almost feel the day - sunny with a little breeze in the early summer, when the colours are still fresh.

How does Monet achieve this?

Some of the ways he manages to capture that sense of movement and freedom are quite simple.

Firstly, he does not outline his shapes. In places, the trees merge with the background and sky. This gives the impression that the trees are not static- they sway and the leaves flutter. His quick dabs of colour ensure that we get that feeling of the fleeting moment.

Although the trees are vertical, the colour has been applied with angled brush strokes, as though the breeze has blown or fused the colours together.

Deep blues, greens and purples give depth to his composition and have replaced browns and blacks.

We know the massive scale of his trees, they tower above us and their length is accentuated by the reflections in the water.

The whole composition is a mass of darting movement merging colours and shapes.

Monet understands that light changes from minute to minute and to repaint the scene an hour later, would probably give a very different composition. In fact, Monet's series paintings illustrate this point very well. If you wish to investigate this further, you should look at his Haystack series.

I am fortunate to live in an area with long views and it is not unusual to look across and see the hills a deep purple against a navy sky. I know that the hills are really green, but the effects of the atmosphere and light lets me see such dramatic colours. However, some people would still colour the hills green even though they can see them as blue. They are painting what they think they know not what they are seeing - like the Egyptians!

Once you have observed and understood your subject, you will be expected to explore and develop your investigations.

The following examples will take us into a more complex area, where imagination plays a greater part in the creative process of looking and seeing.

Let us look firstly at Trees 1906 by Andre Derain.

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At the time, this composition was a real break from tradition. Derain was a founder member of the Fauvist Movement - (literally meaning 'wild beasts'). It was an abusive term to describe the wild colours used by the artist in this movement.

We recognise that here we have trees set in a landscape, and whilst there is a sense of depth, the composition could almost be viewed as five separate colourful sections. The linear trunks serve to separate blocks of back ground colour.

Derain is not concerned with detail; leaves are blobs of paint applied in a child like way. There has been no attempt to blend colour or create tone. In fact, one tree trunk has four bands of separate colour ranging from green to orange.

He has given us a lemon sky and areas of blank canvas left undisturbed! Rather than meticulously copying his trees in a landscape, Derain has used his under standing of that scene together with his imagination to capture the vibrancy of that day. He has used colour creatively.

There is no tranquillity in this landscape. Derain has deliberately used the complementary colours of yellow and purple, green and red, and blue and orange close to each other, so that positive and negative spaces seem to be competing for the viewer's attention.

However, the composition does conform in parts, because colours do fade a little in the distance - trees in the background get smaller, the background rolls horizontally across the canvas, and trees rise vertically across it. Colour alone can bring about unexpected results and exciting ways of presenting the usual.

To some extent, but in a less dramatic way, Paul Nash does it with his painting November moon:

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In the following examples, the environment in which the trees are set, areas important as the trees. The illusion of capturing space in a composition is something all artists have to grapple with. Once you have explored ways of playing with three-dimensional effects, then you can experiment with different ways of presenting positive and negative areas to create fantasy from fact.

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In the Blank signature 1965, the artist Rene Magritte has cleverly mixed up positive and negative spaces creating confusion in the viewer's mind. Part of the confusion occurs because Magritte has presented his composition with such realism. He shows us that the shape and texture of trees, the scale and proportion of his subject matter, linear and atmospheric perspectives, form, and colour are all very credible. Yet at the same time as looking at realistic objects, we are confronted with an unreal or surreal scene.

Sometimes, the background becomes the foreground - distant trees magically come forward and it looks as though the horse is passing behind them. The image of the horse disappearing when it should be visible enables him to mix in our brains how we see this composition.

Rene Magritte was an important member of the Surrealist Movement.

The forest scenes by a fellow member of the Surrealist Movement, Max Ernst, also leave the viewer with a sense of foreboding, but in a very different way. Ernst used the techniques of frottage to create his fantastic imagery look in La Foresta Inbalsamata, 1933. The tall ominous trees overwhelming the delicate image of loplop - ghost like against the trunks.

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The stimulation for these ideas will have come from both the artistic world and the inner world of thoughts and feelings.

Many artists have within them the need to express serious issues and messages. This driven energy has led them to experiment and explore with great determination - bringing about great change.

An example of this is the work of Piet Mondrian. Throughout his life, he was in search of a new way of understanding and explaining his world. As a consequence, his work became more and more simplified, until his compositions became a series of rectangles separated by black lines. The rectangles were filled with flat primary colours. Throughout his early career, he painted a whole series of tree studies, which chart his journey through the process of simplification, until he achieves his flat geometric canvases.

An example of this is with Tree painted in 1913 still has some resemblances of a tree structure, a trunk that splays out at the top, giving it a top-heavy feel, but you can begin to see how the tree is beginning to be broken up into more regular shapes. He has almost stripped away all of the detail in his background, just giving us a sense of distance with fading lines.

At one point, he was strongly influenced by cubism, which you can see in Flowering Apple Tree 1912. This helped him in the shattering of forms. Composition in red, blue and yellow shows you how he obtained his 'order', which he believed would ultimately lead him to great happiness. It also shows a breaking down of reality into abstraction.

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My last example in this section is a modern sculpture presently standing in Trafalgar Square by the sculptor, Bill Woodrow. It is called Regardless of History. In this piece, Woodrow wishes to represent an account of how things are today and many of his thoughts and ideas are represented in this piece.

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The sculpture has an immense head lying at its side, weighed down by heavily bound books. Both man and book are imprisoned by the tree, which has taken root on top of them and stretches its bare branches high into the sky. The roots twist and turn downwards, holding the head, book and granite support on which it stands in an uncomfortably tight embrace.

Woodrow suggests that the idea of the fallen head comes from the time when the USSR broke up and statues toppled and dictatorships fell. The book represents the accumulated knowledge of the world. Books are very important to him, but this book lying over the man's ears and the roots dangling over his eyes implies perhaps mankind has not learnt much from history.

In this sculpture, we get a gigantic vision of a tree, and at the same time, Woodward is passing onto us his thoughts and feelings if we are able to see it.

I talked earlier in the text about the added dimension to looking and seeing. I hope that these examples take you logically from the simple starting point of looking/observing through to the more complex ways of presenting - 'ourseen world'.

I am re-emphasising the importance of your own note taking in the form of sketches and studies, because they underpin the successful progress of your assignments. The foundation to all the examples given begin at this source,and are implicit in every artist's vision.