Rembrandt. “The Late Works”, an exhibition at the National Gallery in London
2, February 2015 § 1 Comment
On visiting the exhibition with two poets and a photographer :by Jane Pack
Knowing the exhibition would be crowded we organised our tickets for the last two hours of the day. Even so the smallness of the rooms and the number of people jammed into them did not make for comfortable viewing. A similar crush occurred during the Da Vinci show. It’s time the National Gallery allocated a bigger space for its major shows.
The first room of the exhibition held four self portraits from the last ten years of Rembrandt’s life. Entering from the grey damp London weather directly into the vivid charcoal reds and resinous blacks of the paintings we experienced a quick intake of breath. The powerful self portraits each capture a memento of passing time on his face and form, his flesh more grey, his eyes growing more opaque with the years. Those who know any of the other nearly one hundred self portraits can see his loss of energy, humour and confidence. We believe the paintings to reflect the veracity of his physiognomy and yet we are not looking for attributes that would identify him. We feel he is revealing his inner depth. Knowing that he died bankrupt having turned away from the lucrative commissions which would have kept him in the public eye, suffering the death of lover and children, we feel we are witnessing his sorrowful soul.
The exhibition continues with a journey into the oeuvre of the great Rembrandt as he experimented and pushed his technical skill to express his tender view of humanity. The paint itself captured us as it pulsed and swirled, thin as silk one moment and heavy with turbid weight the next. The transparent darks pushed back into unspecified backdrops while the lead white clumped or embroidered the edge of collars or highlights on nose and eyelid. We were particularly taken by these warm and textured whites. They were a character of their own, playing a part as varied and eloquent as a Shakespearian actor. Rembrandt placed the white with palpable energy, using a stick, a brush, perhaps a rag. It hovered under glazes and emerged like waves breaking. His limited palette, with little or no blues and limited earth greens did not keep him from expressing nature while his concentration on capturing faces was best served with the “tetrachromy” of the Ancient Greeks: white, black, yellow and red.
A portrait of Lucretia whose blood leaves her white gown stained red, trembles with sadness and dishonour as she plunges the knife into her side. Perhaps it is a tribute to his mistress, Hendrickje, who was hounded by society to confess her sin of living out of wedlock with Rembrandt. The subject from Roman history expresses a woman’s deeply conflicted emotion. The emotion is the theme again with the magnificent painting of Bathsheba as she contemplates the letter from David, her King. The somewhat damaged surface of this work does not distract from the subtle current of anguish she expresses.
There are many etchings and drawings interspersed with the paintings in this exhibition. Rembrandt’s etchings are a miraculous tangle of haunting lines. With bravado and verve he depicts so much information with so little effort. These pieces greatly added to our understanding of his vision and method. The vivacious brushwork is equivalent to the handling of the etching needle, the supremacy of white is equal to the vibrant unmarked white of the paper. Light is the subject and everything else falls to its authority. We see his thought process more clearly in the etchings but the large textural paintings dominated the show.
This exhibition travels to Amsterdam in February so there will still be an opportunity to see these great and inspiring works.
Student Post: Steven Kosovac
16, October 2013 § 1 Comment
As another Italy session continues on Paros, I am still surprised to find myself a part of it. After a year away from the Aegean Center, I am back in the darkroom and digital darkroom with John Pack, putting together a final portfolio and helping out in the digital lab. A new semester means a new group of eager classmates and more time to focus on the technical aspects of fine art photography.
When the opportunity to return this semester came about during a difficult moment of transition for me, I felt my return to the Center was a necessary step before moving on with my education. It is not only the wisdom and passion of the teachers here that make this school so unique, but their desire to share it and to inspire their students in all aspects of art and life. My decision to return to Paros was not based on my love of the gentle Parian hillsides, the striking Greek light, or the Aegean Sea that shimmers and transforms itself endlessly, but instead on the Aegean Center community and the possibility of once again benefiting from the insight of the teachers and students here. Paros is an inspiring place but it is John, Jane, and the school that create a profound experience that the environment only enriches.
Aegean Center Perspective Studies
3, October 2013 § 1 Comment
Learning the secrets of perspective drawing takes on special significance when we are concurrently learning about the art of the Renaissance. Leon Battista Alberti, the great Renaissance artist, architect and scholar detailed the methodology of mathematical perspective in 1435 when he published his book, ‘De Pintura’, in Florence. The knowledge soon spread to every part of Europe as artists adopted one point perspective to project their figures into space and create a window into an imagined world. This method assumes a single view point for the observer. The reduction of scale and overlapping of forms combine to work the magical transformation of a flat plane into a representation of three dimensions.
Students at the Aegean Center learn to use one and two point perspective using simple exercises and then apply this knowledge to direct observation. Once this is understood and absorbed then the drawing of rooms, buildings and furniture is a simple matter and more complex forms of designing space can be utilised.
The Aegean Center on Tour
5, September 2013 § 3 Comments
When one first sees the piazza of the Duomo of Florence it is too immense and textured to take in. Many tourists experience the city just this way, as a blur of color and moving masses of people. With our knowledgeable guide and teacher, Jeffrey Carson, we strive to go beyond the superficial and delve into the individual elements that make up this wondrous architectural monument. Students are invited to compare the three doors of the Baptistery, understand the Byzantine mosaic interior, feel the historical significance of the dome and understand the origin of the patterning on the exterior surfaces. Lunch at one of the many cafes gives us energy to continue and then sculpture and architecture are once again our concerns.
Fall 2013 at the Aegean Center
2, September 2013 § 3 Comments
The Aegean Center Fall 2013 Italy Session is just beginning as the summer winds down and the school children ready themselves for another year of study. Twenty four students will arrive in the next few days to join the five faculty in a three week stay in the Villa Rospigliosi in Pistoia, Italy. We are excited to view our favourite art works, to taste the creamy gelato and to wander the medieval streets of places like Siena and Pisa. Of course the food at the villa never fails to please us and the garden is enchanted once again as John connects the pump and the stone fountain flows musically into the pond. We have a special treat coming up as the Accademia in Venice is hosting an exhibition of Leonardo drawings. It has been thirty years since some of these drawings have been shown to the public. We look forward to welcoming the new group and having them share the experience.
Covering a lot of ground, and a lot of paper
24, July 2013 § Leave a comment
Today is the final day of the two week Figure Drawing Intensive at the Aegean Center. We are tired but exhilarated and all the participants have seen great improvement in their abilities to draw the figure. I see startling jumps in the comprehension of form and anatomy, exactness of position and character of the pose. In the last few days the ability to concentrate and focus has increased and a one hour drawing flies by without awareness of the time passing. We have worked in ink, finger paint, conte, charcoal and pencil. Yesterday we drew portraits. Now time is needed to allow the information to sink in and enter the subconscious.
It was a joyful experience to teach this group. Each student brought their unique skills and perspective and we all helped each other to achieve our best. Thank you to Eleni, Elena, Ellie, Maia, Cassie, Penny, Isabel, Anglelika, and Avril for your contributions.
Figure Drawing Intensive at the Aegean Center
19, July 2013 § 3 Comments
Nine students are attending the Figure Drawing Intensive now underway at the Aegean Center. Each morning we draw from the live model for two hours and every afternoon the class reconvenes to study some particular aspect of the figure, whether it be the form of the skull or the concept of negative space. We have worked in clay and cut figures from paper, learned names and parts of the skeleton, drawn cylinders and spheres. The ability to draw a geometrical form in any direction, from any angle, is a critical but often overlooked aspect to beginning figure drawing.
Our group is varied in age from 17 to 60 and although we are all women we represent five different countries. As a teacher my hope is that at the end of two weeks the students will be able to draw the human form from memory in varied stances. Drawing from the model then, with the level and degree of accuracy we hope to achieve, will enable the student to proceed on their own and improve with practice.
31, May 2013 § 1 Comment
There has been a flurry of paper flying in the digital lab as students mat their prints and make decisions on what will go into the flip files at the exhibition opening on Saturday. Painters are applying final touches and evaluating their best efforts. As the students clear out the studios there is sadness mingled with nostalgia as they will all go their separate ways in less than a week. Many will stay in touch over the next years as they have formed important bonds but the group energy disapates as they all begin to anticipate the next step. Some will return for the fall semester and play the role of the experienced returnees advising the newcomers. The rest go on to jobs and universities carrying a part of the Aegean Center with them. We wish them καλό ταξίδι. Good journeys!
Painting with Encaustic at the Aegean Center
15, May 2013 § Leave a comment
Euphrosyne Doxiades revealed secrets about the encaustic method of painting in a recent workshop at the Aegean Center. Encaustic is an ancient technique in which pigments and wax are blended together and applied hot to a surface. An electric hot plate kept the wax at the perfect temperature to dip into and spread with a brush. Small alcohol burners were also used to heat metal spatulas which spread the wax. Working on a dark imprimatura the wax strokes leave a highly textured surface which can be further manipulated with heat. Electric tools can be used as well. The four color palette was employed; white and black, yellow and red. Euprhosyne’s book, The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, shows how this ancient technique was used for mummy portraits in first century Egypt. Her book is published by Thames and Hudson.
The Vermeer Project: Part Two
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.