The Rubens Project Recap
9, December 2013 § Leave a comment
by Jane Morris Pack
The aim of the advanced painting class is to deepen understanding of paint handling, to gain insight into one of the great painters of history and to push the students to expand beyond their own normal approach to constructing a painting. More can be learned from imitating the masters than most other pedagogical approaches. This style of learning happens without words, without theory. It is quickly understood that the eye and hand can absorb and convey information, bypassing the verbal centers of the brain. This information is rich and nuanced and reaches into our emotional core; we feel rather than explain the process.
The advanced painters each brought their own experience to this project and they will take away from it varied responses. The student learns what the mind is ready to accept; were it otherwise we could all be masters within a short space of time. My hope is that they will all find at least one aspect of Rubens to incorporate into their future work. I know that my own appreciation for this painter grew as we worked and I have already put his teachings to use in my own paintings.
The Rubens Project, Part 2
2, December 2013 § 1 Comment
by Jane Morris Pack
Rubens frequently composed along the curves of an oval which rose diagonally from the lower left to the upper right of the canvas. This diagonal movement gives tension and drama to his work. We have chosen a group of stock characters from his mythological subjects, centaurs and satyrs etc, and arranged them with this device in mind, placing them in overlapping positions and in reducing scale to push the space backward into the depths. We created a dark tree as a foil against the highly lit figures on one corner and opened up another to deep atmospheric perspective.
The drawings, once accomplished on paper were transferred to the canvas with the perforated holes and pouncing method used by the Renaissance artists. The underpainting was then set in with raw umber loosely and not too dark to keep the shadows transparent and luminous. Much of the streaky gray imprimatura was allowed to show through. Highlighting with white came next which involved oil paint mixed with chalk to give the paint textural force and an active surface. This was placed to bring the eye to areas of interest and emphasize our oval composition. More modeling was accomplished with a toned down white and then the canvas was allowed to dry.
This procedure, which took several hours of group effort, brought the image to a more finished form and we began to visualize it as a whole for the first time. Rubens often used his studio assistants to bring a painting to this level and then he added his final touches in the glazing and overpainting that follows.
The Rubens Project
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.
Euphrosyne Doxiadis at the Center
16, April 2012 § 1 Comment
Euphrosyne Doxiadis, working her persuasive powers and demonstrating her intense passion, gave the students two wonderful lectures this last month. Her first, The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, opened their eyes to the high level of artistic wizardry which created the portraits of people living in Hellenistic Egypt in the first century after Christ. These portraits look wonderfully fresh and alive after being pulled from the sand of the desert where they had been affixed to mummies. We wonder at their clarity, color and modern feel. The painting students who are currently learning the four color palette, the same ancient system as was used by the Greek masters, saw the depth and variety this limited palette allows. Euphrosyne went into some detail as to the technical procedure so that the students could realize they are participants in a long line of painting tradition spanning the ages.
The second lecture was equally fascinating. Euphrosyne believes, and has convinced us all, that the Rubens painting in the National Gallery in London, the Samson and Delilah, is a forgery. With precision and evident distaste she pointed out the particular flaws which demonstrate that this could not be an original: the lack of convincing brushwork, the flattened spacial elements, the poor understanding of form, the inky black background that comes against but not behind the figures. All of these things and many more are tell-tale signs that Rubens had no hand in the piece. Her website http://www.afterrubens.org tells the whole story. No one left the lecture with any doubts.
– Jane Pack