Sunday, November 6, 2011

The practice of seeing (Part 2)

Last week, I wrote about an interview conducted by Alessia Masi in ARTnews, November 2011. She interviewed Wayne Thiebaud in an article titled “Object Lessons: Wayne Thiebaud on Morandi, light, color, shadows and more.” After Thiebaud discusses Morandi so expressively, Ms. Masi inquires about his own art practice, how he works in general, from reference, memory or imagination.

Thiebaud notes that he cannot work from photography, that he has a “kind of quarrel with them.” He notes that he does a lot of drawing, a lot of painting. He also talks about looking at other artists for his reference. He says that with a lot of practice, you can see a dime size piece of a painting and know whether or not it is a Vermeer, a Degas, a Seurat. He says you have to look a lot, see a lot, spend more time and look more carefully to learn.

One story that he related I found fascinating. He says that the painter Jean Ingres challenged his students to create a 100 step achromatic value study. The students rebelled saying it was impossible. Then Ingres brought out his own student work featuring a 1000 step value study!


Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique - Half-figure of a Bather - Neoclassicism - Oil on canvas - Nude - Musée Bonnat - Bayonne, France

Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique (1780-1867)

Half-figure of a Bather

1807; oil on canvas

Can you imagine a 1000 step value study? Amazing. Thiebaud says that by looking at the back of one of Ingres’ Turkish Bathers, you can see those beautiful subtle values.

In terms of practicing drawing, Thiebaud notes that Mondrian made thousands of little thumbnails. These drawings would be studies for placement and intersection of his lines and to determine “how much space in one area as opposed to another”. (pg 80)  Thiebaud notes that one has to test out different set ups, re-draw, adjust, move things slightly and pay attention to composition if you are serious about your work. He acknowledges that it can be neurotic but, how much you learn! Don’t, as Thiebaud notes, cast too early in concrete. Practice seeing, drawing, painting.

I’ve read many books about practice but I always get more inspired when I read interviews or articles or books that give you specifics. I feel like the artist is in the room with me, sitting next to me, encouraging me by example.

In the upcoming weeks, I will be visiting the Dallas Museum of Art to see the work of Mark Bradford and going to the Modern Art Museum of Ft Worth to see the Richard Diebenkorn exhibit. I’ve read a book on Diebenkorn, and have seen the ART21 video on Bradford. I look forward to checking out other books on both and reporting on my visits.