JONATHAN ELLIS – FIGURING IT OUT
NO 3 OF 9 ALL-DAY LIFE CLASSES IN THE LONDON SKETCH CLUB IN DILKE STREET
FOR THIS EXPRESSIVE DAY, THE ARTISTS PAINTED DIRECTLY FROM THE MODEL FROM START TO FINISH, USING PICASSO’S CUBIST FIGURE PAINTINGS AS CATALYSTS
Picasso: To make a painting is to engage in a dramatic action in the course of which reality is found to be torn apart.
No 3 of 9 ALL-DAY LIFE CLASSES IN THE LONDON SKETCH CLUB IN DILKE STREET
Preliminary painting exercises, painted directly from Mariana, our model.
- white paint over newspaper – looking for line
- black paint over glued cut brown paper – decisive light added to line
- composing with lines, looking for forces (used as a basis for painting later)
After lunch, the artists mixed a simple palette, painted over Exercise 3, after considering Picasso’s most relevant idea for todays course, which was remarkably parallel to Matisse’s initial use of cut-out paper to experiment with the placement of elements in a painting: [In a painting, if you achieve] a stable kind of balance, not an unstable one, it’s too solid. I prefer a more precarious one. I want it to hold itself together – but just barely.
When you compose a painting, you build around lines of force that guide you in your construction. There’s one area where the first graphic sketch evokes the idea of a table, for example; another one, where you create the idea of the movement of space behind the table. Those lines of force set up a resonance that leads you to where you are going, because in general you don’t arbitrarily decide for yourself. But once you remove one of those elements from the composition and move it around as though it were walking at will through that two-dimensional space, you’re able to achieve a far greater effect of surprise than you could ever do by leaving it in the first position.
Then they worked from each other’s palette, looking for tonal coherence from an unfamiliar viewpoint.
Picasso: As Hegel says, [people] can know only what they already know. So how do you go about teaching them something new? By mixing what they know with what they don’t know. Then, when they see vaguely … something they recognize, they think, “Ah, I know that.” And then its just one more step to, “Ah, I know the whole thing.” And their mind thrusts forward into the unknown and they begin to recognize what they didn’t know before and they increase their powers of understanding. Its purest Hegel.
Once the painter takes it into his head to arrive at an arbitrary determination of colour, and uses one colour that is not within nature’s range but beyond it, he will then choose, for all the rest, colours and relationships which burst out of nature’s straitjacket. That’s the way he asserts his freedom from nature. And that’s what makes what he does interesting.
Bridget Riley Picasso believed that, in order to subvert, destroy and renew art, you had to use the human figure – Francis Bacon thought the same. But you can be equally radical by taking known things like squares, triangles or circles (conceptually fixed in our common minds) and putting them under pressures to subvert them, as it were. You need to start with a known, if you want to make people think in a way they’ve not thought before.