Odilon Redon (1840 – 1916)

Free from http://www.odilon-redon.org

Odilon Redon was a French symbolist painter and printmaker.

He took up sculpture, etching and lithography. In the 1890s, he began to use pastel and oils, which dominated his works for the rest of his life.

In 1903 he was awarded the Legion of Honor. In 2005 the Museum of Modern Art launched an exhibition entitled “Beyond The Visible”, a comprehensive overview of Redon’s work showcasing more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints and books.

Redons work has been described as the terrors of fever-ridden dreams.” These drawings defied classification; unheeding, for the most part, of the limitations of painting, they ushered in a very special type of the fantastic, one born of sickness and delirium.”

 Redon himself also describes his work as ambiguous and undefinable:”My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.”

Redon’s work represent an exploration of his internal feelings and psyche. He himself wanted to “place the visible at the service of the invisible”; thus, although his work seems filled with strange beings and grotesque dichotomies, his aim was to represent pictorially the ghosts of his own mind.


I must confess that I had never seen Odilon works before discovering them here, but I am really delighted to see them now online. After reading his biography I was ready to get very chocked , but a lot of the paintings are of colorful beautiful flowers or mythical figures and calmly dreamy, not as feverish as I had expected.

But then the drawings with eyes- I really relate to this. In my own doodling sketchbook , eyes appear everywhere. I am often chocked myself of the crazy stuff that I draw and was hesitating if I should not delete some of the Sketchbookpages from the log before sending in the Assignment. I am not comparing my poor line sketches to his art work, but seeing it gives me the confidence to draw strange 🙂

 

There is a lot of feeling and dreams in his paintings too, and nightmares maybe in the drawings. He always covers the whole page, no floating objects on a white page here- something I really need to look at. The whole drawing or painting is a play of different tones conveying a dreamy feeling.

 

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

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A biography written while watching the Documentary “Leonardo da Vinci” by Producer/ Director Robert Gardner for History Channel

Leonardo da Vinci grew up in the countryside by Florence at the time of a new age in the city states of Italy- the Renaissance, a time of discovery.

He was the bastard child of a notary and a poor peasant, and as such had no prospect of an education or inheritance. He could only count on his own talent .

In 1468, at the age of 16 he gets accepted as an apprentice in Andre de Verocchios studio in Florence. Verocchio was a highly regarded artist and his workshop was active in all fields: painting, sculpture in marble and casting in bronze. Here Leonardo also learns the connection between power and art.

He joins the workshop when Verocchio is tackling a technical challenge: the design and completion of a huge copper globe to be placed on top of the Duomo. Through this Leonardo also receives mechanical and engineering training which greatly influences his later inventions.

Leonardo is Verocchios best student. In 1492 at 20 years of age, he has completed his apprenticeship and joins the guild, but chooses to stay in Verocchios workshop.

His reputaion grows and the ruling Medicis take an interest in him.

 

Leonardo is constantly experimenting, investigating nature, the fall of light, engineering, the human body.

It is a very violent time in Florence with power struggles between the Medicis and the Pazzis. Human bodies and death is all around, war is a constant fact of life. Leonardo starts designing war machines in huge scale and is fascinated by engineering. He only paints rarely.

In 1482 , at the age of 30, he travels to Milan and presents himself to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan as a war engineer. But the Duke commissions a portrait of his wife, “Lady with an Ermine,”

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and commissions a statue of his father on a horse in a scale that has never ever been done before, using 60 tonnes of bronze. Leonardo devotes 12 years to this project, studying the proportions and movements of horses.

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For all his projects Leonardo writes extensive notebooks with thousands of sketches, often writing from right to left and mirrored.He is avidly studying everything and is especially trying to solve the mystery of flying. He is studying anatomy, performing dissections and his drawings has influenced how anatomy is represented to this day.

 

War is approaching Milan , and all the bronze set aside for the casting of the Sforza horse statue is melted into cannonballs. Instead Leonardo is given a new commission- a mural of the Last Supper of Christ for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. In this painting Leonardo shows his mastery of anatomy, geometry and perspective. He spends three years painting the mural, but pushes the experimentation with paints too far and the painting disintegrates.

France invades Milan, and Leonardo looses the protection of his patron. The French destroy the huge clay model of his Sforza horse. Now starts a time of wandering for the ageing Leonardo da Vinci. He approaches the Duke of Venice with his wardesigns that are centuries ahead of his time, but is met with only suspicion.

Finally he returns to Florence where Michelangelo, only 26 years old has conquered the court with his astonishing talent. A simmering hostility ensues between Michelangelo and Leonardo.

One by one the City states fall to the army of Pope Alexander and his bastard son Cesario Borgia that employ Leonardo as Chief war engineer. He serves them well with various war machines and birds eye maps, but eventually the savagery and cruelty of Cesario Borgia goes too far. Leonardo returns to Florence and to painting.

There he paints the “Mona Lisa”. The painting is made of layers upon layers of transparent paint, the corners of the mouth and eyes are shaded, shrouding the face in mystery. It also remains a mystery who Mona Lisa was.

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Finally the King of France invites Leonardo to Cloux, where he dies in 1519.

 


I enjoyed watching this documentary about Leonardo da Vinci and see some of his works in a new light. It focused a lot on the historical background with wars and political treason and so also on Leonardo’s capacity and interest in war engineering. I remember having seen some of the war machine sketches before, but as they never caught my interest as much as the other inventions related to flying, or the anatomy studies, I was not aware of how much of a focus this was for the artist.

What I admire is the incessant searching and experimenting documented in the thousands of pages of notebooks, I would like to be an avid student of life like Leonardo. But it feels like a pity that so much of his incredible talent was spent on war machines. Also I have always admired his genius as a painter, and was somewhat disappointed to learn through this movie that painting was something he would do rather reluctantly and rarely.

I have seen the Mona Lisa original in the Paris Louvre and of course numerous reproductions all my life. I remember being disturbed by the original being so much smaller than I had imagined, and also so crowded that it was practically impossible to take a close look at. It was interesting to hear about the many layers of paint creating the “smoky” mysterious effect. I look forward to experimenting with paints for the next course module.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenny Saville (1970)

Gagosian.com:

“Jenny Saville was born in Cambridge, England in 1970.

In 1990, midway through her BA course at the Glasgow School of Art, Jenny Saville exhibited in Contemporary ’90 at the Royal College of Art. In 1992 she completed her degree as well as showing in Edinburgh and in Critics Choice at the Cooling Gallery, London. Following the success of her show at the Saatchi Gallery in 1994, which generated a great deal of publicity for her work (the images were ubiquitous that year), Saville went on to take part in the exhibition American Passion, which toured from the McLellan Gallery, Glasgow, to the Royal College of Art and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.

By 1994 many people were familiar with Saville’s massive paintings, such as Plan, in which a naked woman is seen from below, her body filling the canvas through a combination of physical bulk and extreme foreshortening. Contour lines, as would demarcate the changes in altitude of land masses on a map, are drawn across the surface of the woman’s skin.”

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Although the subject of portrait and nude is very classical, Jenny has found a very personal and different approach. The bodies are crowding the canvases, full of movement, expression, it is almost explosive. She often paints obese bodies in extreme angles, with extreme foreshortening.

“I want to be a painter of modern life, and modern bodies,”

Saatchigallery.com

“Jenny Saville: With the transvestite I was searching for a body that was between genders. I had explored that idea a little in Matrix. The idea of floating gender that is not fixed. The transvestite I worked with has a natural penis and false silicone breasts. Thirty or forty years ago this body couldn’t have existed and I was looking for a kind of contemporary architecture of the body. I wanted to paint a visual passage through gender – a sort of gender landscape. To scale from the penis, across a stomach to the breasts, and finally the head. I tried to make the lips and eyes be very seductive and use directional mark-making to move your eye around the flesh.”

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Interview w Jenny Saville by Marc Hudson in the Telegraph 24 th of June 2014

“I paint flesh because I’m human,” says Saville, as though surprised anyone would consider painting anything else. “If you work in oil, as I do, it comes naturally. Flesh is just the most beautiful thing to paint.”

Yet the bodies she paints are rarely conventionally beautiful.

“I like the down and dirty side of things,” she says. “I don’t like things

to be too polished. We’ve got fashion magazines for that.”

“It’s become really difficult to do figurative painting that isn’t naff or cheesy and which feels relevant,” says Saville. “I’ve found a way of doing it by looking at abstract painters like Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly. I like looking at very old figurative painting, at the old masters. But when it comes to the art of our time, I prefer to look at abstract painting. It’s taught me a lot about the physical act of painting, about pace and tempo, using drips and marks in ways that aren’t just decorative.”

Looking at a head on which work appears to have stopped mid-brush stroke, I wonder if she wasn’t tempted to finish it off. “I like it like that. It’s much easier to finish something than to leave it incomplete. Knowing where to stop is the most difficult thing.”

 

In a conversation with Nicholas Cullinan, Modern At Oxford, Jenny Saville talks about her work ‘the Mirror”. It is a history of the reclining nude. “Nudes reflect the culture of the time. Instead of making a new nude, I just brought them all in, working with Picasso, Manet.. Since I became a mother , I have the confidence to do whatever I want.Art history was always there , but I never though I would DIRECTLY reconcile it. I don’t work in a conceptual way, more like a scavenger, just like snippets of memory. That’s why I called it Mirror- you slip from one reality to another .Lots and lots of artists have done this in the past.

Looking at Jenny Savilles paintings I feel a mixture of awe and being overwhelmed, there is so much expression, flesh, humanity. The canvases are absoutely crowded with these faces or bodies overflowing the frames.  The fleshy threedimensional physical quality of the paintings  is about as far away as you can come from my very flat and empty linear drawings. What I definitely can learn immediately is to dare experiment with more extreme angles and compositions, letting even a simple stillife overflow the borders of the paper. Also working more on textures would be a next step, daring bold expression and leaving parts unpolished.

 

Cy Twombly (1928-2011)

 

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Cy Twombly is regarded as one of the most important artists of our time, painter and sculptor. His works are present in many permanent collections of major museums around the world, and he was commissioned to paint one of the ceilings in the Louvre of Paris.

 

He was born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia and studied art in New York in the 50’s. Later he travelled around the Mediterranean and settled in Rome for most of his life. He had an Italian wife and a son, Allessandro Twombly who is a recognized artist as well. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 83.

Cy Twombly knew de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. His art has been characterized as being between abstract expressionism and pop, street art and graffiti, and at the same time minimalist.

In any case his art is an attempt to give form to the inner world, like the Renaissance artists he admired gave form to the outer world.

He said his paintings are simultaneously about nothing and everything.

They are portraits of our inner life, showing without representing.

He is scribbling titles and dates and bits of poetry (of Rilke for example) on the canvases, scribbles, then covers up, layering and giving the paintings depth also where the canvas is apparently blank. Sometimes it looks like automatic writing, , crossed out, covered up. His technique was extremely simple , with a childish character, combining innocence and wisdom.

He was extremely productive and worked fast. For example in 1959 he created the 24 drawings for Poems to the Sea in one day.

Looking at Cy Twomblys paintings now online, it is true that many of them evoke deep feelings that are hard to define. I would love to see some of his large scale art in reality as I can imagine how much deeper the effect then.

I have just been spending two days trying to learn how to draw a bottle and a can, and feel more cramped up and stiff than ever while drawing, and looking at Cy Twomblys work today was loosening up some of that stiffness, inviting more playfulness. There is such a precision in evoking a certain feeling, but the form can be so loose and light- a good lesson today!

 

 

 

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)

I wrote a post on Käthe Kollwitz for the foundations drawing course as well, while I was drawing the self- portrait. But this time rather than reading too much about her biography, I am watching her art work online and a documentary by Herbert Apelt, letting the drawings sink in .

The drawings are so strong and beautiful, crying with raw feelings. I am having a lump in my chest seeing Käthe Kollwitz artwork, so beautifully expressing sadness, fear, love, despair.

Berlin at the turn of the century was prosperous and jolly, but there was also another side- large grey blocks with people living in severe poverty and misery. Dr. Karl Kollwitz, Käthe’s husband was a medical doctor with a big heart , seeing and treating the poor. Often their staircase was flooded with people in need of his assistance. Käthe could not turn away from this suffering, but wanted to draw it all. She worked mostly with charcoal, dark simplicity, expressing the essence, rarely using color.

Käthe said ” It is life itself and all it contains that I want to show”.  Mother and child is a theme she draws over and over again. The feelings she conveys in these drawings are so strong .

She saw the first performance of the play “Die Weber” by Gerhard Hauptmann and the impression was enormous. The series of drawings she created based on this play established her as an artist and also as a fighter for social revolutionism, although she never belonged to a party.

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Käthe: “I have to give expression to the suffering of man. I agree that my art has a purpose”. Her art was found shocking by the middle classes of her time.

1914 the first world war started- everything in Käthe revolted against it. She drew mothers having to send their children to war, mothers who waited, mothers who saw their children starve, mothers who got news about their husbands deaths.

“I could do hundreds of such drawings, but now I feel that I can do it no more, I am too worn away with grief and tears.

Kaethe s own son was dead and she spent 17 years , interrupted by depression, working on a sculpture for the cemetery where he was buried. In 1932 the two figures were standing, one woman, one man, it is all finished.

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In 1933, when the National Socialism came to power, Käthe Kollwitz work was banned from exhibition and she was forced to retire from the Academy. She wrote in her diary about a sense of isolation, “I have really come to the end of my work”. “These are melancholic times, but even now I am flooded by gratitude.”

From this time there is a series of self- portraits, showing this woman who could not turn away from expressing the suffering of her fellow human beings.

 

I am so touched by the strength of feelings these drawings express, the love and understanding for the people suffering that shines through. I love the simplicity of the charcoal, the play of light and shadow as the main element. I admire how parts are left unfinished and expressive,( like the scribbled arm in the drawing above) and others worked to detail. I admire how she masters the human face and figure and how the body position, and every mark is supporting the expression of the feelings.