18, November 2013 § 1 Comment
by Jane Morris Pack
The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful. The ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics. –G.H. Hardy, A Mathematician’s Apology
Geometry, from the Greek γεωμετρία or “earth measurement,” was used by the Egyptians to reestablish the borders of farmed ground after the Nile had flooded and erased the previous year’s boundary markers. This marking of the earth developed into a complex system of mathematics which was understood and amplified by the Greeks; Pythagoras, Euclid and Archimedes are names we associate with geometry. In the Middle Ages mathematicians in medieval Islam contributed most of the further developments until once again the Europeans led the way in the 17th century.
“Squaring the circle” is an attempt to create a square with an area equal to a circle using only a straight edge and a compass. Ancient geometers worked on this problem and it was only proven impossible in 1882. Nonetheless the symbolism involved remains potent: that of combining the heavenly circle with the square of earth. Leonardo explored this image in the famous Vitruvian man drawing which we were privileged to see in Venice this last September.
Steven Kosovac and I gathered with students on a blustery afternoon to draw out our attempt at a related conundrum. With only pegs and a rope we followed the process from a book and arrived at a large and perfect example of circling the square. The circle we constructed had the same perimeter as a square.
12, November 2013 § 4 Comments
This fall, six advanced painting students are working with me to discover Rubens’ painting technique. To delve into Rubens’ style we studied the twisted forms of a knotted rope and a gnarled stick to imitate his brushstroke which often follows a spiraling line. We see it in the manes of his horses and the fabric of capes, in beards and in clouds. It was also important to learn to highlight economically with white as this is the primary way in which Rubens creates dimension. So our first study involved working on toned paper with white conte (above) and looking for expression of the twisted form. We then continued this investigation with paint (below).
Copying a master work is the best way to educate the eye and hand so our next step was to copy a passage of Rubens’ work. An enlarged section is easily obtained by perusing his work on Google Art Project. It is quite clear what the layers are and how they are preserved or covered by subsequent paint. Rubens seems to do so little but each brushstroke is amazingly rich in information. Not only is the color of the object’s surface there but also its texture, tone, temperature, direction of thrust and lighting condition. He accomplishes with one stroke what others would with many.
We are adding chalk to the paint as recent scholarship has detected the presence of it in his work. Chalk adds a textural component to the paint and helps it to dry quickly.
Meanwhile we are composing a large canvas to include five or six figures which will give each student a chance to contribute to the piece.
4, November 2013 § 2 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
Euphrosyne Doxiades is a painter and an expert on encaustic, the wax based painting method of the Ancient Greeks. She has been asked to contribute her knowledge of the technique to a conference in Athens which is examining the use of paint on marble surfaces, both architectural and sculptural. She asked my help to recreate a figure which is on a marble disk thought to be from the mid fifth century. The piece is in the museum in Paros and was found in the cemetery excavation near the sea. It was the lid of an urn which may have held the ashes of an athlete who had won a competition for discus throwing.
What remains of the paint is vermillion pigment and there were traces of gold on the head and on the discus which are now missing. We painted vermillion mixed with hot bees wax and mastic directly into the surface of the marble and added gold leaf to the hair and the circle of the discus. The paint was “burned in” using a hot tool and then scraped and polished to a soft shine. Euphrosyne had made previous tests which insured that the paint adheres to the surface even out of doors in full sun.
We had a joyful time recreating this beautiful remnant of ancient culture and perhaps it will contribute to the scholarship as well.
8, May 2013 § 3 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
Surprised by the ease of painting in the dark and upside down, I left the reader waiting for an update while our underpaintings dried.
The projection seems bursting with color and light inside of our dark room or ‘camera obscura’ as is the Italian phrase. How strange it was to apply color then and find our efforts were too garish in comparison. Our second surprise with this project– how neutral the image needed to be.
I first suggested we tint our underpainting with some generalized glazes while still outside the camera. This gave us a sense of the general warms and cools. The vase was glazed in a warm transparent brown very thinly applied and wiped back with a rag; the wall was tinted with a veil of blue. In truth this glazing just barely altered the color of the painting from its monochromatic state to something resembling an old fashioned tinted photograph.
After studying Vermeer I saw that many of his tones are neutral, darks are mostly without color, half tones are very grey, and only lights have true color. This matches what we perceive of the projection. Highlights are obviously colored yellow or blue, gradations are very soft, contrasts are muted. Selecting a very limited palette of raw sienna and cobalt blue, with just a touch of cobalt violet (plus black and white), I matched the underpainting’s tones and scumbled on color very lightly. My application of the colors, once viewed in daylight, was too colorful. I went back in a second time and added greys, warm and cool, softened transitions and added transparent color glazes into the darks. The feeling of cool light this gave was more northern in feel, the greyed out colors were more photographically ‘real’. The process is somewhat demanding, light off and on, white card up, down, staring at the image, mixing color, all in the half dark. But it goes fairly quickly nonetheless.
The students were anxious to try a portrait but we quickly discovered that a human model needs to be very still or the results are skewed. Given fifteen minutes one can attain a likeness; more time generally results in a slumping model and a frustrated painter.
This project has taught us much about the use of color, its potency if restrained in use, the use of selective focus, the beauty of grey. I don’t think we are any closer to answering the final question of whether Vermeer painted inside of a darkened room but we have certainly understood that it would be possible to do so.
30, April 2013 § 3 Comments
During the middle of each semester the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts takes a week long pause from classes. The mid semester break provides an opportunity for students and faculty alike to travel to parts near and far from Paros. This post is a collection of notes on my travels to Delphi in Central Greece during mid-April.
-Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, instructor of painting
Legendary, mythical Delphi, where the two eagles of Zeus rejoined after circling the world. Where the Sybil sat atop her stone and the oracle foresaw Alexander’s conquests. It is the seat of Apollo, slayer of the monstrous Python at the Kastalian Spring below Mount Parnassus. Where Dionysios arrives to winter when Apollo departs every year to the land of the Hyperboreans. Delphi is a place of Gods, the Omphalus, the navel of the earth.
At the Archaelogical Museum of Delphi, a figure stands erect and alone. He is a young man. His skin, hair and robe are bronze and his lips and long eyelashes are copper. He holds reins in his right hand, writhing in static motion though disconnected from horses that escaped their charioteer long ago. There is another figure all but gone, save for his bronze left arm. It is delicate and thin, held forever upwards in a gesture resembling adoration or prayer. The charioteer looks outward and inward, a victorious champion, proud and reserved.
Today, surrounding the charioteer is a sea of faces, rapt, reaching up in the same gesture as the attending slave, arms above their heads, phones and cameras in hand.
The homogenization of site-seeing
At the archaeological site, large tour groups assemble, noisy and sprawling. Languages from around the world call out as visitors organize themselves. At this entry point the ancient, mysterious site of Delphi feels oddly familiar. This can happen when visiting any other stop on the tour of famous sites around the world, from Times Square to the Taj Mahal. With the ticket stands, gift shops, cafes and crowds, the packaging is all the same from one place to the next.
In harmonious accord among the cypress trees and the ridges of Mount Parnassus lie the ruins of Delphi. It is not a very big site. As it ascends one climbs from temple to temple. Large marble blocks sprout from the earth like wild flowers. The ancient stones nestle into the mountain. They do not feel alien to this landscape, instead they remind one of how a bird’s nest integrates with a tree. It looks perfect in precisely the spot where it sits.
Sound and silence
Midway up between the temple of Apollo and the ancient theater the voices that echo over the valley of Phocis take on a new shape. One still hears the din of foreign tongues, but the color of the sound transforms in every way, in volume, frequency and expressive quality. The noise of the chatter at the entry gate is pulled, thinned, mellowed and spread over the landscape like honey. Past the Temple of Apollo, the cacophony finds a metronome and harmony of low voices, hushed tones and pauses: the sound of people in awe. It plays in concert with the steady hum of the place. High above the site at the theater the music is ever present, a chorus of humans, birds, bumblebees and winds.
When looking down past all of the ruins and over the great valley one feels they are receiving a gift, sacred and timeless. A gift that is too immense to be contained and must be shared. The sharing of this gift takes the form of silent appreciation from one stranger to the next–raising of the eyebrows, shaking of the head, deep inhalation and release of breath, a smile. The silence communicates in a way in which words never can: that we are only human and we are here but for a moment.
Questions and Answers
Humbled, visitors walk down and out of the ancient sanctuary of Delphi. Passengers pack in to buses and we continue on our individual journeys through the world, lives busy and full.
Home of the Delphic Oracle, travelers have long come to Delphi seeking answers to their questions. Yet what we find in Delphi it is not a place to answer all the questions, but a place to reflect on them.
10, March 2013 § Leave a comment
Painter and printmaker Mayme Donsker recently came to the Aegean Center to give a presentation of her work and process. Mayme’s art bridges drawing, printmaking and photography to express a deeply personal unified vision. Born in Minnesota, Mayme’s presentation began with a description of how her father’s creative approach as a photographer influenced her art over the years. As an oil painting student in Rome, Mayme came to embrace her love of draughtsmanship setting a new direction in her pieces. Many of the drawings displayed during the talk were from her series “Love songs,” poetic, semi-biographical images with references to her Minnesota past, life experiences, inspirations, and “dream studios.” We sense that the “Love songs” say something specific for Mayme but we are free to draw from their meaning what we will, allowing the pieces to speak for themselves.
Mayme then described how collaging images together from old photographs became a new guide and inspiration to find the feeling and ideas she was searching for. Her collages are simple and seamless–it is striking how one image can convey a coherent sensibility assembled from many different sources. In Mayme’s work lies the notion of timelessness as opposed to nostalgia. In “Avalanche”, a clipping of an old photograph from a Beatles concert translates into something else, a statement of wild passion and ecstasy.
Looking at Mayme’s drawings as projected on the wall left one desiring to see the originals, pieces which are built up in such a way where the collage and drawing are intertwined and layered with various shades of matte gray and sparkling black. Mayme described how the collages informed her drawings and through searching for the essence of an image, she aims to find the ‘composition within the composition.’ Magically, when cropped and isolated, a photo clipping can be more open and universal in its meaning. The image “Elbow to Elbow” is not about a specific love story, but about love in general open to each and every interpretation.
The strength of Mayme’s work resides in how genuinely her art reflects her sensibility as a human being. When listening to Mayme one gets the sense of an artist sensitively tuned to her own distinct vision of humanity. Her artworks are windows into that vision regardless of the medium or subject. In describing her pieces, Mayme said, “We may want our children to grow up and become doctors or artists, but ultimately they become whoever they are meant to be and you love them all the same.” An unconditional love for her work shines through in Mayme’s art. It moves and inspires art students and artists alike to aspire to love what they create and in so doing to be true to themselves.
30, January 2013 § 3 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
If we are suffering illness, poverty, or misfortune, we think we shall be satisfied on the day it ceases. But there too, we know it is false; so soon as one has got used to not suffering one wants something else.
– Simone Weil
Illness is a clumsy attempt to arrive at health: we must come to nature’s aid with intellect.
Lying in bed with the winter flu gives one too much time to think. Browsing all the news articles on the brutality of our species adds to the depression. For a brighter view I glance at the happenings in the tech world and also feel overwhelmed. My mind struggles to find a place to be at rest. I ache to be back in the studio and yet I am ambivalent as well. If I’m honest I never really settled this battle, this score with the creative process . Every winter I once again pick up my brushes to try to find a new artistic expression that I so long for when I am away from it, and then I struggle with the “why”. Why am I doing this? Why do I occupy so much of my time and effort in something which after all changes the world so little? I am often asked this question by students. Is the struggle and sacrifice worth it? I don’t claim to have authority but at least the question makes me pause and consider this question for myself.
All artists want recognition and a few even claim to desire fame. But fame brings stiff competition and even more pressures. Having met a few celebrities recently I can only imagine that their stresses are way beyond mine. I would like to say that being an artist is all joy. But perhaps it is only the privileged status we award ourselves that makes this struggle seem worthwhile. The self-doubts and the push to find the material and means to express what you feel about the world, about art, can trip you up. Too much hesitation and the joy can evaporate. I think about my audience, then just as swiftly try to deny their presence. It is fatal to work for another. This constant push toward self renewal is taxing. It is so much easier to find a niche and stay there, or a distinctive method and just push it rearranging the elements. But I think the explorer in me rebels against sameness. Although my work may look similar to others and identifiable as mine, I always feel that I am breaching new walls and confronting new ideas.
We all have limitations. Our place in the world is unfortunately stratified and tiered. I don’t prescribe to the idea that anyone can become anything, although that is an American dream which receives much lip service. But within the limitations that we prescribe for ourselves could we not be more? Could we not do more? How many of us waste the better part of ourselves wondering rather than doing. While lying here on the couch waiting for my health to return I ebb and flow with restlessness and inertia. Maybe age pushes me more strongly than youth. But time ticks away for all of us and what we do not tap will drain away. All humans surely struggle with the balance of work and play, creativity and duty. Perhaps labeling myself as an artist gives me some sense of urgency, or at least inevitability to continue. Could I do more? That answer is an easy yes, a resounding yes.
4, December 2012 § Leave a comment
29, November 2012 § 3 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly and treat life as if it goes on forever. – Philip Adams
The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become. – W. E. B. Du Bois
Stephen Nachmanovitch relates in his book, “Free Play”, that the Buddhists list five great fears. They are the fear of loss of life, the fear of loss of livelihood, the fear of loss of reputation, the fear of unusual states of mind, and the fear of public speaking. It is the last which seems significant to the arts. If making art were a completely private endeavor we could all be as reckless as we pleased, try out wild ideas and fumble and fail if necessary as we learned. But the presence of the invisible critic leaning over our shoulder is a specter who haunts our work, the intimidating public eye. It sometimes prevents us from taking risks which might benefit our work.
I recently read in a New York Review of Books that Faulkner once criticized Hemingway for lacking courage as a writer. Quoting the article, Faulkner said that Hemingway “…had always been too careful, never taking risks beyond what he knew he could do.” Hemingway was an outdoors man, a hunter, a deep sea fisherman, a war correspondent. Faulkner on the other hand was a school dropout, a postmaster, a clerk. The article, penned by E.L. Doctorow, concludes with these remarks, “that Hemingway was technically undaring… in thrall to the romance of the self, he never tapped the human psyche to the depth of raw existence, or written of characters not defined by the familiar constructs of social reality.” Hemingway was seemingly willing to risk life and limb but Faulkner dared to confront human passions at “eye level” as Doctorow puts it. It is obvious who Doctorow admires most.
Art taps into a sense of risk and bravado without necessarily reflecting outwardly into our daily actions and habits. I see this contradiction in some students occasionally, those with quiet exteriors that hide surprising strength and daring. Public failure steers many others away from taking risks, the probability of catastrophe looming too large and near. What do we have to fear? Perhaps the other four possibilities on Nachmanovitch’s list… loss of life, livelihood, reputation, and finding ourselves in unusual states of mind. But perhaps mostly we fear that we were fooling ourselves all along into believing that we had some special gift for artistic expression. We fear exposure.
Peter Abbs wrote that art allows one to “ratchet up one’s life to the level of high adventure”. So how do we dare? By not settling for the familiar. By not repeating our successes endlessly. By trying out a new material, a new medium. By not believing too religiously either our critics or our admirers. Perhaps by avoiding a new difficult 21st century problem…instant gratification and shallow success. Taking a few risks is gratifying whether we win or lose.
The refusal to rest content—the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions—is what distinguishes artists from entertainers and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all. – John Updike
It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who—at the best—knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who—at the worst—at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt
23, April 2012 § Leave a comment
Michael Butler, curator of the Sidney Cooper Gallery at Canterbury Christ Church College in Canterbury, England recently visited Greece and dropped by the Aegean Center. Traveling with his wife, Claire, they felt the need for some sunshine and came to renew their acquaintance with the landscape which Michael had backpacked through many years ago. Michael was introduced to John Pack when the exhibit, The Greater Journey, with John’s photographs and poetry by Peter Abbs, was hosted by the Sidney Cooper Gallery in 2008.
We urged Michael to give us a short talk on whatever topic he wished. We were treated to an abbreviated summary of his career choices (as a youth he sang with Benjamin Britten), an inventory of suggestions for artists when approaching a gallery, and a lovely song which he adapted from Purcell’s Fairest Isle and to which he wrote new words reflecting his Paros stay. He sang this a cappella in a lovely high baritone. We include his lyrics here:
All dreams excelling
Source of beauties
And of love.
The Gods’ own blessings
Fell upon it
Crowned with glories
Wreathed in light.
Artemis and Apollo’s
With statues bold.
Speak of times where
Chimed in union
With this world.
His best advice: your CV is not a list of what you have done but an invitation to live fully and fill in the blank spaces as you go.
Thank you, Mike.
– Jane Pack