21, February 2013 § 2 Comments
When I first came to the Aegean Center in the fall of 2007 to work as John’s assistant, I had always been under the impression that artists were born with talent, with a special way of seeing the world and the rare ability to easily render it on paper. Drawing had never been easy for me. My love for art would often inspire me to try my own hand at it, but the results were always discouraging. I thus resigned myself to being an admirer of art, to visiting museums and taking art history at university (where studio art was closed to non-majors, giving the artist this special status and reinforcing the idea that art cannot be taught to the uninitiated).
This was something that on one level upset me, as I had always had the urge to draw and to express myself visually but never the ability. On the other hand however the forces at work had conspired to convince me that this would always be out of my reach, and so I, with not a small degree of regret, accepted my place in the world, or my place outside of art.
Then I came to the Aegean Center and for semester after semester I watched students with no prior training– armed only with that creative urge– enroll in one or both of the drawing classes and emerge three months later able to draw, to do competently all those wonderful things that artists had always impressed me with — lively gesture drawings, still lives with dramatic tonalities. The students were happy and their work seemed painless.
So in the spring of 2010, at Jun’s urging, I finally took the dive and enrolled in Basic Drawing. This class met once a week every Thursday morning from 9 to 11. That particular semester we had a handful of returning students from the Italian session and I remember that first day in class feeling particularly uneasy being with others who already seemed to know what they were doing, for whom drawing, to some degree at least, came relatively easy (for a classic overachiever like myself this was a very intimidating position to be in).
The first thing Jun had us do that morning was to draw a series of lines and circles, in an effort to loosen up our arms. We then explored the range of our pencils, making marks with varying degrees of pressure. It wasn’t until the end of class that Jun placed various still life objects on the tables in front of us giving us five minutes to draw them. This was mine, my very first drawing. As you can see I couldn’t even fit it on the page:
We were then instructed to draw the same object but instead of focusing on its outline, we were told to draw its mass, with the pencil beginning at the center of the form and pushing out towards its boundaries. Already there is a marked improvement; the vase is more upright, more symmetrical and better conveys a sense of volume. Nevertheless, I remember leaving that class a thousand times humbled, but I was determined to learn, and I trusted Jun one hundred percent.
I was not disappointed. In the following two weeks alone, with very basic instruction on perspective, I was already able to competently render the illusion of three dimensions on paper. What was particularly amazing was that I was already in possession of the skills I needed to do this– 1) I could tell time and 2) I could draw an ellipse.
For the remainder of the course we built on the techniques that add movement and emotion to a work, completing various exercises on line quality and tonality. We also received further instruction on how to see the way an artist sees (yes, it can be taught!), appreciating negative space and identifying composite shapes. This new way of seeing immediately changed the way I saw the world both in and out of class. It added something to my routine walks around town and helped me to better analyse why I found something beautiful, what it was about a certain tree or building that appealed to me. Otherwise boring minutes in a waiting room or in line at the bank became instructive, as I would catch myself thinking, “Now how would I draw that?” all while isolating shapes and imagining line quality.
I quickly discovered the value of being in a class with more experienced draughtsmen than myself, for I learned as much from them as I did from Jun, who took great care to foster an encouraging, constructive and non-competitive environment. Whenever we looked at each others work it was never with the intention of a critique but always with the intention of learning how to achieve certain effects, what improvements can be made and how — always how. To see how my classmates rendered the same objects in a still life, to gain insights into their decision making and problem solving, was an invaluable experience. (I should add that my insecurities about my own progress vanished once I realized a mixed level classroom is beneficial to everyone; you can learn just as much from a poorly conceived drawing as you can from a good one).
At the end of the semester Jun assigned a final drawing entirely of our own choosing. As I am particularly attracted to the melancholy in art, I wanted to try constructing a vanitas scene, a la 17th century Dutch still lives. I imagined something dark and moody, a bittersweet reflection on the ephermeral nature of existence. I imagined my viewer and the quiet terror that would seize him as he contemplated his own mortality! With these thoughts I deviously went about collecting all the necessary items — the drapery, the skulls, the roses that would inevitably wilt! I set up my still life late at night within the darkened walls of my living room and was certain (oh so certain!) that my intention would be fulfilled because I had willed it and because I had the skull, a real skull (no questions, please)– but no! Hours later, looking down at my paper, was the chair, covered by my bed sheet, and there the skull, looking ever so goofy and benign. The roses too refused to look menacing. And only then did I realize where the real difficulty lies in making art: to perfectly illustrate your intention, to convey mood and alter the emotional state of the viewer, to conjure feelings and stimulate his senses. This takes more than three months– it can take an entire lifetime– but I emerged from Basic Drawing confident that I had a better idea of what I had to do to get there, and this involves working towards a masterful command of perspective, line, composition and tone.
While I feel that I did not capture the mood I intended, or achieve much by way of composition, I am always so impressed whenever I compare my first drawing of the vase to my final drawing. At the same time, however, I am saddened. My original ideas about art and art making were wrong. But why? How did I come to believe them in the first place? That art making was reserved for a talented elite? I cannot pretend to understand just how these ideas came to permeate society, but they are dangerous, to say the least, and have far reaching consequences. Looking back I realize that had art been taught differently in school when I was a kid, with equal focus on crafts and traditional drawing techniques, my life could have been vastly different. I believe that children can afford to make one less snowman out of cotton balls if it means acquiring more sophisticated means of exploring the world and expressing themselves. Children are curious and capable and a crafts based curriculum seriously underestimates them.
It is these thoughts that lend my final drawing its elusive somber mood. But the good news remains, that art can be taught, and I delight in this as I draw and examine this beautiful, mysterious world of which I never, ever tire.
15, July 2010 § 4 Comments
I attended the The Craft of Fine Digital Photography, a two week seminar in June led by John Pack, the digital photography professor and director of the Aegean Center. As I have only studied darkroom photography in the past (under Elizabeth Carson, the Aegean Center darkroom photography professor) I was very excited and curious to learn about the methodology and approach to making a digital print. John stated that his course was a poetry class — we were to discover how to become eloquent in the language of digital photography. Personally, I was just hopeful to string together a coherent sentence.
The workshop encompassed all attributes of the digital photo workflow. With the creation of an image every various aspect of its development was considered. From taking a photograph and setting up the proper work conditions in the digital lab, to working on the image in Camera RAW and Photoshop in order to make adjustments to the image. Then there are the test strips, followed by the test prints of the image. Finally, after much contemplation and consultation with John and the fellow workshop members, we get a result: the final print. The students were left with an understanding of how to deal with taking an image from the camera, to the computer screen and to the final print while maintaining the most control over the different conditions. Every day we worked in the digital lab, and in the evenings we took photographs and visited areas around the Paros.
When you’re working hard, enjoying what you’re doing in the company of good people in a beautiful place like Paros, time flies by at warp speed. Yet though it felt so quick, the amount of information, experience and growth which occurred in those two weeks was worthy of months of learning, perhaps more. We had plenty to show from the space of time: great memories, new friendships, fresh ideas and most importantly, finished works. Our prints showed that in two weeks time we were able to be articulate and express ourselves in the new and vibrant language of fine digital photography.
9, August 2009 § Leave a comment
From July 24 to August 10 I have had opportunity to exhibit my latest series of paintings, The Twelve Labors of Heracles and Other Myths at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts. These paintings were inspired in large part from a trip to Italy in the fall of 2008 with the Aegean Center. While visiting many cathedrals throughout Italy, I saw a number of narrative paintings based on the biblical tales. I was fascinated with the idea that each image told a piece of a story, and in some cases described the entire narrative in various parts. The images illustrated the stories to the people who attended Mass with drama, emotion, action and a sense of mystery. In effect, the paintings had to tell a compelling story.
Last winter, I began work on paintings based on stories with its fantastic, dynamic characters and adventures, much like ones found in the Old and New Testament. Naturally, I turned to the stories of Greek Mythology, abundant in its imagery. The number and variety of myths allowed me to approach each respective piece differently. This was a project that enabled me to interpret the richness of the Greek myths in my own hand.
I want to thank the individuals that helped me put The Twelve Labors of Heracles and Other Myths together: Konstantina Andreakou, Jeffrey and Elisabeth Carson, Daria Koskorou, Emily Oglesby and especially John and Jane Pack. Also, to the students, friends and family who encouraged and supported me through out this project, a huge thank you.
19, February 2009 § 2 Comments
This blog post was originally published in junpierre.net/words.
I am currently working on a series of paintings based on Greek myths that have been a lot of fun to work on. The myths are exciting and dramatic and they lend well to personal interpretation. It’s no surprise that artists through out the ages have been inspired to recreate the myths in their own eyes — Titian, Velazquez, Caravaggio, and Botticelli just to name a few.
Among the paintings I am working on are the twelve labors of Herakles. The twelve labors interest me because of the wonderful array of challenges that Herakles faces. Each adversary is so colorful, often times more interesting than Herakles himself. It also fascinates me how Herakles, the greatest of heroes in Greek mythology, takes on so many different roles throughout the twelve labors. Whether he is a hulking brute, a cunning strategician, a sly charmer, an overwhelmed underdog, or a menacing predator Herakles always comes out in the end as the heroic champion.
Herakles first labor is to hunt and kill the Nemean Lion. Of course, Herakles is successful in his mission, and from then on wears the lion’s own impenetrable pelt (which he skinned by using the lion’s own claws) for his subsequent adventures.
For this painting I had the idea of the two figures of Herakles and the lion interlocked in some type of circular formation that would somehow fit nicely in the rectangular compostion of the frame. I first started off with a few thumbnail sketches:
For the lion, I wanted to show that it was a powerful, formidable foe with clearly defined musculature. I looked online for some images of feline anatomy and did some sketches. The best reference I could use however was from the book ANIMALS: 1419 Copyright-Free Illustrations of Mammals, Birds, Fish Insects, etc. A Pictorial Archive from Nineteenth-Century Sources by Jim Harter.
Jane Pack, my fellow painting and drawing teacher at the Aegean Center (as well as former professor here and current studio mate) lent me the book. It is full of wonderful etchings and drawings depicting all kinds of animals. It’s been a wealth of reference material for my myth paintings (as there are so many animals through out the myth stories).Here are some sketches I did from the book:
With this in mind I went to YouTube.com and spent some time looking at some short videos of judo wrestlers. In judo there are so many amazing throws and takedowns that I thought they would lend well to a wrestling match between a man and a lion. While watching the videos I would pause on a particularly interesting frame and do a quick sketch. Here are a few:
I continued this and tried to substitute one of the figures with a lion to see how that would look.
I liked the very first judo sketch so I tried to place it in a composition with some aspects of a surrounding environment around the two figures:
For the surrounding environment I had the beautiful scenery of Kolimbrithes in Paros, Greece in mind:
Clearly I had moved away from the circular idea for the composition, but the figures were still considerably intertwined. Also there was a lot more movement and energy which I liked. After this last sketch, I was ready to start the painting.I didn’t take any pictures as I was actually making the painting, mostly because I worked too fast. Since I was painting pretty loose with a lot of paint thinner, I had to work fast because although it was an oil painting it actually was drying quickly. I ended up doing the painting in one shot over the course of a day. My objective was to move and push the paint around in a way where it didn’t seem too controlled and it retained the energy of a sketch, while having the resolution and impact of a finished painting.
Here is the end result (or at least the end result until I feel like I may need to tweak it, which I might do at any time):
8, July 2008 § Leave a comment
Indiana University’s Herron School of Art and Design recently completed their three-week long summer course at the Aegean Center. Headed by photography instructor Linda Adele Goodine, and with painting instruction from our own Jun-Pierre Shiozawa (’01), the course culminated in a student exhibition held at our main building. On display was work created in response to their travels in Paros, and included photography, painting, prints, installations, video and mixed media.
Pictured above are Herron students Justin Trap and Aaron Coleman, collaborating on a seven-piece project combining photography and printmaking.
For the fifth consecutive year, the Aegean Center concurrently hosted Indiana University’s anthropology field course “Encountering Modern Greece: Service Learning and Anthropology on the Island of Paros.” Headed by Susan Sutton, Chancellor’s Professor of Anthropology and Associate Dean of IU’s International Programs, the course examines the complexity of modern Greek life through various field activities and service learning projects. For more information on Indiana’s anthropology programs, click here.