30, March 2009 § Leave a comment
Current photography student Sam Walker will be exhibiting a series of portraits taken of the Albanian community of Paros. The show opens April 4th at Franca Scala Antiques in Paroikia.
25, March 2009 § 5 Comments
This semester the returning painting students are meeting with Jane Pack for a weekly seminar where we are delving into the work and style of Velazquez. We are learning a tremendous amount about both the process of how he painted and his techniques. Our long-term goal for the semester is to produce a replica of his masterpiece ‘Las Meninas.’ Through learning step-by-step about his painting methods, we will each do our own portion of the painting ‘in his style.’ There is a lot of preparation to do before that point, and we have begun with learning how he went about creating a portrait. Using this method, we are painting one of his portraits ourselves. I chose to replicate St. Paul from his painting of Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Paul the Anchorite.
Velazquez worked with the strategy of starting from a ‘middle ground’ and building up from there by adding darks and lights. I began learning about this method of working last semester and I am beginning to really understand its benefits. It is a way of working that allows the artist to be economical with his use of layers, paint, and brushstroke. For me, it makes the various steps in creating a painting more manageable because as Jane says, you break down a complex subject (like a face) into various layers, and in each layer you deal with a separate issue.
Velazquez began his portraits with an underlayer of paint, or ‘imprimatura.’ I used yellow ochre mixed with a bit of black. When dry, he would make a rough sketch of his subject with dark brown paint (I used raw umber). This should be loose and to get it correctly modeled, I used a rag to constantly wipe out and mold the shapes in St. Paul’s face. I was intimidated at first but this method of blending, wiping, and re-applying over and over allowed me to get a facial form that I was happy with. In a way it took the pressure off of getting it just right the first time. And since it is the first layer, any mistakes can be fixed in succeeding layers.
In the next stage, we “heightened with white” like Velazquez. Jane taught us how he would mix chalk with his pigments to get a certain silvery-opaque quality. We are adding zinc powder to our white to help quicken the drying time, which is very slow for titanium white paint. I applied an ochre and white combination instead of straight white so that I can bring up the darker tones more gradually. I found this step of “heightening” very enjoyable. The major ‘decisions’ had already been made when I used brown to sketch out St. Paul’s face and shape his features, so in this stage I was building on top of the framework I had laid.
On top of this white, Velazquez would apply a layer of glaze to bring the tones back closer to the base color. He would repeat this process of heightening and glazing back down, using different colors of glaze within the earth palette (yellow ochre, a red pigment like burnt sienna, black, and white) to achieve a rich skin tone. I too did this, and found that my slow buildup of the canvas gave me time to contemplate and think about the process, planning out several steps in advance. Working in many layers allows me to get a feel for the subtle nuances of the forms and their shadows. In the process of heightening with white, I began noticing little details that I hadn’t seen in the initial sketch, like the indentations within cavity of the eye socket. I also added some ‘positive paint’ into the wet glaze. This gave St. Paul’s face more body and form. I found that I also had to go back in and darken select areas and add more white to brighten other places. In the final step, Velazquez would put the finishing highlights in with thicker paint. Looking at close-ups of his portraits, we can see the movement of his brush and how he used brushstroke to model his figures with incredible skill. I added some last touches also, and when I put in the highlights of the eyes, it made St. Paul come alive on the canvas.
Aside form Jane’s class, I am working on other paintings with Jun’s painting class. for the first painting, I chose to take a quirky spin on the traditional still life setup. I had the idea of poking fun at the traditional ‘fruit still life’ by mimicking a police lineup and hanging my subjects on the wall under harsh spotlight, as though they are suspects for committing a crime. Fittingly, the spotlight is an artist’s lamp. I had fun with this idea and I tried to create a dark and dramatic painting yet have it be silly at the same time. For this piece, I knew the lamp would be a challenge so I began by sketching it out, first with a loose gesture drawing, and then with a more detailed sketch in which I carefully examined the tones and reflective qualities of the different parts of the lamp. Doing this sketch helped me tremendously. I had the image of the lamp, it’s proportions, and the shapes of its reflections already worked out in my head, so I was more confident depicting these qualities in paint. Completing a detailed pencil sketch of challenging objects before tackling them in paint is something I am definitely going to more often.
I love painting vegetables and I found it enjoyable to build up in layers much like the Velazquez portrait I am working on. I used many layers of glazing with burnt sienna, black, blue, and green to get a sense of depth in the shadows. Last semester I learned a tremendous amount when I replicated Vermeer’s Woman with a Balance and I applied those lessons to this painting. I wanted a similar sense of atmosphere and space so I used a light scumble over a dark ground and applied subsequent layers of glaze on top of that.
Coming up in Jun’s class we will be looking into reflections, literally. I am going to study the complex reflections on glass objects which will be a great challenge and I am looking forward to it. Stay tuned…
23, March 2009 § Leave a comment
I believe I speak for all of the new students when I say that the Aegean Center and the island of Paros have been quick to feel like home. Built of matching white houses and stone streets fit for foot traffic, Parikia is as safe as it is endlessly explorable. If we walk to the bakery for a delicious filo-filled breakfast before class we’re bombarded with “Kali mera”s from countless new neighbors who already treat us like old friends, and when we return to our apartments in the Aegean village we’re greeted at the gateway by the cats who have claimed us as their own. After only two weeks, we already seem to fit here.
The sense of comfort expands by kilometers each week as John takes us on his picturesque Friday hikes, allowing us to get to know other areas of Paros. We’re always given a nice mid-hike break to take advantage of frolic-worthy clover fields, climable olive trees, scalable rocks and sketchable views of the Mediterranean sea and the surrounding Cycladic islands, past the hills dotted with sheep. On the hikes our understanding of the island grows not only geographically but botanically, as John excitedly points out instances of local flora: fresh oregano and sage which will inevitably be picked and eaten later at the students’ weekly potluck.
This life outside of school grounds only enhances our willingness to learn at the Aegean Center. Rather than serving as a distraction, all of the comfort and excitement of (mostly) clear-skied Paros stimulates the creativity, enthusiasm and mental clarity necessary for learning both in the classroom and the studio. But if a week of hard work builds up any stress or tension, we’re provided a nice venue for shaking it all out: Saturday Greek dance class, where we learn culturally meaningful new ways of getting our groove on (this new student has already gotten years of bottled-up dance out of her system).
I’m excited for this week’s surprises, but also can’t wait for more of the same.
Thanks to Alice for the photos.
16, March 2009 § 3 Comments
I attended The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts last Fall 2008 and wrote a blog post at the end of the semester expressing my strong desire to return to the following session to complete a full year of study. Fortunately, after a short winter break of working, I was able to fulfill that vision and was delighted to arrive back in Paros two weeks ago. I have since resumed classes in painting, drawing, art history and Greek literature.
While I was home in CT between semesters, I traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I was amazed at how objects and paintings that I would have at one point rushed past now emerged from their displays with a historical context and meaning. I was able to adequately identify the importance of most of the artifacts and pieces of art, displayed not only in the Ancient Greek and Roman collection, but also in the Renaissance Art collection– what a great way to gauge how much I’d learned. My only regret was that Jeffrey, our art history teacher, didn’t materialize from behind one of the ancient marble statues to guide me through the rest of the museum as he’d done so many times before in Italy.
In between the Greek and Roman art and the Renaissance collection, I took a quick trip to the Egyptian collection and passed a room with earthy colored portraits painted on wood panels. Although some dated back to 2000 years ago, the color palette, emotion and mastery with which the portraits were painted reminded me almost of the Renaissance styles we had seen in Italy. I’d remembered seeing these paintings in the book The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, Faces from Ancient Egypt at the Aegean Center last semester and made a note to myself to take a closer look at it when I returned. Fortuitously, last weekend, the author of the book, Euphrosyne Doxiadis, visited the Aegean Center to give a guest lecture. Upon hearing about her presentation, I was reminded again of how important it is to see art in a comprehensive context and to understand the connection between the ancient world and the Renaissance. When approached in this holistic way, it is easy to view art’s continuity and progression over multiple centuries and the Fayum Portraits are an integral part of understanding the beginning of ‘western art’.
The Fayum portraits are a collection of paintings discovered in the Fayum, a valley near Cairo, dating to the Roman period, from the early 1st century AD and onwards (possibly to the 3rd century AD). Painted on wood panels or directly onto the linen cloth of burial wrappings, these portraits are an unbelievable discovery because they show us some of the only existing examples we have of paintings from the ancient world. While much pottery and sculptures have survived, paintings on wood and linen often don’t last long (let alone 2000 years) and we are fortunate that the low rainfall in the Fayum valley allowed for them to endure.
As Euphrosyne explained, in ancient Roman Egypt at the time of Christ, it was a Greek profession to paint the portraits of people living in Egypt and then have the paintings buried with them for passage into the afterlife. This Egyptian tradition speaks to the cultural emphasis that was put on death and life after it. As a result, the portraits are meant to portray the true essence of their subjects; that is, to capture them as individuals in life and not death. They are the means through which someone’s essence becomes eternal. To emphasize the sense of life that is infused in each of these portraits, Euphrosyne had us view them while she carried around a bundle of lavender stems and played an Egyptian dessert song.
Almost as if these portraits served their indelible purpose, thousands of years later, it is impossible to view them without feeling connected to the subjects portrayed. Each face is slightly different in form and color, but is consistent in its ability to engage the viewer completely. As John Pack commented, it is almost comforting to view the collection of faces again because they have become like old friends. There is a timeless and accessible quality to these paintings making them both current and unforgettable. As Euphrosyne explained, the Fauym paintings are “monuments of mourning” that venerate the people just as they are. She shared the poem, Tomb of Lanis, by the modern Greek poet, Constantine P. Cavafy, to better illustrate this.
Tomb of Lanis
The Lanis you loved, Markos, isn’t here
in this tomb you come to weep by, lingering hours on end.
The Lanis you loved you’ve still got close to you
in your room at home when you look at his portrait-
the portrait that still keeps something of what was valuable in him,
something of what you used to love.
Remember, Markos, that time you brought in
the famous Kyrenian painter from the Proconsul’s palace?
What artistic subtlety he used trying to persuade you both,
the minute he saw your friend,
that he absolutely must do him as Hyacinth-
in that way his portrait would come to be better known.
But your Lanis didn’t hire out his beauty like that;
reacting strongly, he told him to paint
neither Hyacinth nor anyone else,
but Lanis, son of Rametichos, an Alexandrian.
-Constantine P. Cavafy
In addition to its broader relevance to our study of art right now, I also found this lecture particularly interesting for technical reasons given that we are learning about the earth palette and portraits in painting class right now. As if to even further infuse their portraits with life, the artists of the Fayum paintings would use only organic colors from the earth (black, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and white) to depict the skin color of their subjects. Any other colors were used on inorganic parts of the paintings, like clothing or jewelry. Given the fact that we are learning how to paint with the earth palette and I am in the process of painting flesh colors on two of my paintings, I felt that this lecture was both informative and inspirational. We are also learning more about portraits and how to effectively convey a subject’s essence based on their gesture, tilt of their head and expression on their faces. The Fayum portraits are an unbelievable discovery not only for their historical significance, but also for their contemporary contribution to artists and painting students. We were fortunate to have Euphrosyne Doxiadis join us last weekend and share her knowledge and passion on this topic.
11, March 2009 § Leave a comment
6 March 2009, in the mountains of Lefkes
The first hike of the season took place under a dusty sirocco sky. John led the way through overgrown donkey paths, stony river beds, and fields bespeckled with spring’s first wildflowers. A traditional meal at Flora’s Taverna in the nearby village of Lefkes sated our whetted appetites before our quiet and contemplative return to the Aegean Center, to our studios, and to the work already begun this first full week on Paros.
Thanks to Jun and Alice for the photos.