THRESHING: PHOTOGRAPHY IN PRAISE OF SLOW ART

11, April 2016 § 1 Comment

In the past I have written brief blog posts when Slow Art Day came around.  April  9th is here again, and by chance I have been discussing slow art in my Saturday morning classes.

Usually I illustrate my points with a famous photograph, but this time I have chosen one of my own photographs, which was on display at the Parian Farmers’ Union Visitor Center for several years.

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It is part of an extended sequence called Heroes of the Soil, in which I attempted several things. One was to record the old techniques and traditions of farming which, though not obvious to the casual glance, were still being practiced by some farmers old and young. Another was to honor them and their appreciation of their own skills and their respect for them.

In this photograph a farmer and his four mules are threshing wheat on a hilltop several kilometers from Paroikia. The farmers knew I was doing this work and approved of it, and frequently called me to alert me to be ready, as here.

In making slow art, first decide on your subject matter, then carefully observe the scene and decide what time of day the light would be most suitable to capture the essence. This picture was taken in late morning when the sun was nearly overhead. The composition I envisaged contained both very dark and very light material. So I had to decide which to emphasize. Next, if the scene contains elements in motion, carefully study them, since repetitive patterns will prove useful to you. And of course shutter speed depends on how fast or slow they move. All this requires time and patience and respect for your subjects.

Now you must decide on the correct angle of view. In this photograph, in order to emphasize the heroic quality which is basic to the whole sequence, I chose a sufficiently low angle of view so that the figures would break the horizon line.

The threshers are, I trust, honored by the finished image. When I was photographing, they were working with me, but in the darkroom, needless to say, I was alone.

By Liz Carson

How We Squared the Circle

6, April 2016 § Leave a comment

By: Jane Pack

“The geometer’s aim therefore, is to imitate the universe symbolically, depicting its central paradox by bringing together shapes of different geometric orders, uniting them as simply and accurately as possible and thus creating a cosmic image.”
-John Michell

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The Ancient Greeks have long been admired for their geometry. The tools of the trade of the Greek geometers were the compass and straightedge. Yet the simplest puzzle, drawing a square of equal area to a given circle forever eluded the greatest of Greek minds. Only in 1882 after 2,400 years of attempts the task of squaring the circle with compass and straightedge was proven impossible.

Before the Greeks, Egyptians had been building pyramids and measuring the land with pegs and knotted ropes. So, given that the word geo-metry literally means ‘earth measurement, what if we reverted to the tools of the Egyptians to draw our circles and squares upon the earth?

Sq-the-O-3In 2013 my students  and I decided to draw out this problem on the beach following a diagram illustrated in Jon Allen’s book, “Drawing Geometry”. Then this year I was contacted by a mathematician from Australia named Jonathan Crabtree who read my previous post with great interest.  Jonathan’s vision was to have his simple solution for squaring the circle drawn on Greek sand in honour of Archimedes. Legend has it that Archimedes, author of “The Sand Reckoner”, may have been drawing circles in the sand at the time of his death at the hand of a Roman soldier. Jonathan wondered, “Could Archimedes have been squaring the circle?”

By combining the tools of the Egyptians with the ideas of Archimedes, Jonathan has proven it possible to square the circle to perfection. This last Saturday we gathered in the Eco Park of Paros where we had a flat stretch of damp sand and plenty of hands to help.  My students produced a beautiful  (and accurate) drawing and we were pleased to honor Archimedes and help bring Jonathan’s vision to life.
We are star-stuff contemplating the stars.
                                         -Carl Sagan
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Participating students and friends:
Annelise Grindheim (from Norway)
Spiros Mavromatis (from Greece)
Maria Xu (from China)
Max Wolnak (from USA)
Shreya Shetty (from India)
Aleksey Uhlick-Schmidt (from Canada)
Alexia Vlahos ( from USA)
Iriglen Leka (from Albania)
John Masters (from USA)
Cari Adams, Chris Saenger and their children, Bea and Charlie( from USA)
Jun-Pierre Shiozawa (from USA)
Gail Saunders (from USA )
And instructors John and Jane Pack (from USA)

Clean Monday / Καθαρά Δευτέρα

14, March 2016 § 1 Comment

Clean Monday,  Καθαρά Δευτέρα, is celebrated today here in Greece. It is the first day of Lent when the faithful begin 40 days of fasting in preparation for Easter.

Traditional foods are served which emphasis austerity and deprivation to echo the fasting of Christ in the desert. In Paros the devout eat pickles, food without oil, and animal flesh only without blood such as kalimari and octopus. Eggs, dairy and meat are absent from the table. These rules make sense for an agricultural society which must protect the brooding chickens and the young goats and cows so as to assure the next generation. There will be kite flying and family picnics if the weather is good, being out of doors allows us to witness a burgeoning spring with the world returning to abundance and production after the winter’s hush.  Here on the island we have a winter that is most gentle and verdant, the deprivations others face with cold and snow are less known to us. We watch the re-emergence of new leaves on the deciduous trees resembling butterflies emerging from their chrysalis. We observe the prancing young goats and lambs. We contemplate the new growth which is all around making us aware of the cycles of nature, potent harbingers of life and rebirth.

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“Lagana / Λαγάνα” the special azyme bread baked only on Clean Monday.

Greeks are asked to give up luxuries during this time.  Many people no longer conform to the strict diets but I feel there is something important about denying ourselves our indulgences. We grow accustomed to having far more than is necessary for our existence. Every year I try to find something which I think I need but which is not essential to my survival and give it up for 40 days.  I have denied myself at various times chocolate, coffee, wine and sweets.  None of these posed a particular problem for me. Far more difficult was the challenge to give up complaining which I did not manage. This year I have decided to quit looking at the daily news feed in the mornings.  I find it wastes at least one to two hours of time that I would otherwise fill with more imaginative pursuits. Beginning every morning with the anxious headlines is addictive but not ultimately uplifting or productive. Perhaps I will simply sit with my coffee and dream, with luck I will begin a creative project.  And so my yearly fast begins.

The Spring Semester 2016

8, March 2016 § Leave a comment

Spring blog post 2016

The first week of the spring semester is underway and students are attending their initial  classes in order to make a decision about which areas to concentrate in. It’s exciting and everyone is hoping to do more than they can practically handle. All will settle in, as usual, by the end of next week.

We have students from China, India, Norway, Canada and the US as well as Greek students so we are truly an international community. The faculty are currently evaluating the level of each student and adapting their teaching to accommodate and facilitate the abilities of each.  With a small group this is not only easy but also vital to our philosophy of individualized instruction. The Socratic method, first used and explored by the Greek philosopher of that name, is our modus operandi.  We pose open ended questions, allow for personal interpretations and expect impassioned and imaginative answers. The digital photography class has several returning students who will bring their experience and expertise to elevate the level of the instruction.  The same holds true for painting where three of the students are second or third term students who can share opinions and aesthetic ideas.  This Friday our first hike will take place above the town of Lefkes in the valley behind the windmills.  Afterward we will all share a taverna meal at Flora’s. After all, eating well is part of a life well lived.

Catching Up: First, Italy

30, January 2016 § Leave a comment

After too long a silence we are posting some past events bringing us up to the present, 2016. Like always we will try our best to stay more current…

Last September our students had the privilege to meet with Maurizio Seracini in Firenze while we were in residence at the Villa Rospigliosi in Pistoia, Italy.  A passionate man whose interests range over physics, engineering and art history, he has been investigating the possibility that Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco of The Battle of Anghiari may still exist behind another later fresco on a wall in the Palazzo Vecchio in Firenze. We met him near the equestrian statue in the Piazza della Signoria and had the great honour of accompanying him to view the hall named the Salone dei Cinquecento and hear him talk on the subject.  His warm and personal approach brought us all closer to the mystery of the disappearance of this masterpiece which was hailed as the greatest depiction of a battle scene at the time it was created and was copied many times before its eventual disappearance behind another fresco by Vasari. Mr. Seracini has made this search his personal quest.

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Peter Paul Ruben’s copy of the lost Da Vinci masterpiece

For a more complete article on his process and work you can read this:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/science/06tier.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&no_interstitial

Maurizio Seracini is a 1973 graduate in bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego, he founded the first company in Italy for diagnostic and non-destructive analyses on art and architecture, the Diagnostic Center for Cultural Heritage in Firenze. Adapting technologies from the medical and military fields and other technical measuring instruments he has made possible diagnostics of art and search for art without destroying the artwork itself.

In 2013, Seracini established Great Masters Art Authentication in San Diego California, the first US company dedicated to true scientific authentication of Old Masters art from the 14th to 19th Century.

Solvent Free Painting

22, May 2015 § 2 Comments

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Detail of impasto impressionist painting by student Annette Kolzow.

 

by Jane Morris Pack

We admire masterworks in museums for, among other things, their brilliant colouring, their longevity due to the painter’s technical expertise and for the evidence of the artist’s hand in the brushwork. Many paint effects from the past seem nearly unattainable with modern materials and this has lead artists to try to rediscover secret formulas or find additives that emulate historical processes. Resins, wax, and complex chemical mixtures have all been tried. Research done by the National Gallery in London however has revealed that linseed oil, coloured pigment and additions of calcium carbonate are the sole ingredients in many master works before the 20th century.

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Detail of Rembrandt painting by student Annelise Grindheim.

Though we are seduced by the ubiquitous presence of modern materials, traditional methods are intriguing and wonderful to investigate.  Egg tempera and encaustic have both had a renaissance in the last twenty years. The fundamental substance of oil painting however, which is the oil itself, has been accepted as standard by most artists.  Modern linseed oil is alkali cleaned and heated, it is no longer manually pressed and sun thickened as it was. Some artists with curious minds have now reexamined the refining of the flax oil.  Louis Velasquez and Tad Spurgeon both have websites dedicated to methods of hand refining oil to produce a non yellowing, flexible, fast drying oil which completely transforms the painting process. What they have uncovered in their investigations is a remarkable way to access an old and very successful formula.

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Student Makenzie Sullivan’s study of Velazquez.

My involvement in this exciting investigation began when I assigned Velazquez, the 17th century painter, as the topic of my advanced painters seminar.  We looked into the addition of marble dust, a form of calcium carbonate, to his paint.  I stumbled on the information about hand refining oils then but felt it was too intensive to delve into at the time.  It took me several more years and further seminars on Rubens and Vermeer before I took the plunge and followed procedures I had read about online. The results are quite amazing to me, and the difference from the handling of modern tube oils is significant.  The hand refined oil makes many things possible which I had read about and seen but had not been able to obtain.  I always felt tube oils were too slippery, too thin, too flat once dry. I also found the suede effect annoying and could not build up impasto areas without needing many days of drying time. The hand refined oil has none of these defects.

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Impasto brushwork by Seamus Heffernan.

This semester I introduced the new oil to students and we worked together to understand its potential.  It is more flexible, shinier and forms a tougher film than the tube oils. The viscosity of the paint allows one to paint wet into wet without loosing brushstroke integrity and colour purity.  It is far more transparent, the glazes are deep and clean, and it dries evenly and quickly without darkening as much.  Impasto areas can dry overnight, depending on the weather, and keep their sharp edges and texture.
The best part of all of this is that solvent has been banished from the studio.  We clean our brushes in vegetable oil and never thin paint with solvent.  The smell of the new oil is something like fresh grass or fields of flowers.  Because we mix it 1:3 with chalk and then use that 2:1 with tube paint our paint supply goes much further. It is hard on brushes though, as they wear down quickly. One wonderful advantage is the ability to wipe off the paint completely from a dry underlayer making changes in plan easy to execute.

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The hand-refined painting oil and vegetable oil with which we clean our brushes.

 

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Mixture of chalk and oil showing its viscous consistency.

There has been a complete change in my approach to paint and the student work is richer and more colourful. We are able to work into surfaces more quickly which speeds our process. The studios are no longer redolent with turpentine and the improved environment is beneficial for all who share our space.

A Response to Edward Weston’s Photography for Slow Art Day

13, April 2015 § Leave a comment

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by Liz Carson

In both painting and photography the direction of the light that an artist chooses sets the intention of expression. Directional light with a raking effect from the side gives a graphic quality, flattening the form. It lends a graphic two dimensional quality to the work.  On the other hand ambient light, which is generally overhead light, reduces contrasts and gives a sensuous rounding to form. It increases the three dimensional qualities and gives a sense of real space. This lighting direction brings the form more directly into the space you occupy and thereby brings a stronger personal reaction to the depiction, a sense of shared existence.

Edward Weston uses ambient light to bring a palpable sense of touch to the twists and turns of a pepper or a nude. His lighting brings out the soft edges of forms as they turn away from the light source. This light fills the voids and avoids black shadows.  It can also bring out surface imperfections and textural areas. In contrast, a photographer like Ray Meztker often flattens the space into graphic sharp edges, reducing detail and pitting strong whites against strong darks.

A painter such as Degas has a comparable sensuous lighting technique which emphasizes rounded form, such as we see in his bathers series. Velasquez was also known as a “painter of the air” as he surrounded the figures he painted in an atmosphere of light.

A photographer chooses the subject carefully and then brings full attention to how the light direction depicts its qualities.  The emphasis on edge, whether soft or hard, says as much about the artist’s idea as about the object.

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