7. MY UNIVERSITY ART EXPERIENCE (PART 2) ('building' a painting)

BILL PTAZYNSKI, 'CEZANNE'S COMPOSITION,' AND PICTURE BUILDING

BILL PTAZYNSKI
Besides Bill Rohrbach and Howard Warshaw, there were a few others in the art department who really opened doors of perception and expression for me.


One was William Ptazynski.  Ptazynski, along with Warshaw, had worked under Rico Lebrun at the Jepson Art Institute in Los Angeles.  Lebrun was a master draftsman in the tradition of the European masters as well as of the 20th-century Cubists, particularly Picasso.   All three were interested in the idea of building---constructing---a painting, as opposed to merely copying or rendering the visual world around us...that is, of simply creating a mindless realism.


Bill Ptazynski introduced me to two books that were to become my bibles in painting: Cezanne's Composition by Erle Loran and Expressionism in Art by Sheldon Cheney.

After fifty years, I still have my original...worn...copies.


The title can be misleading because, although Loran writes specifically about Cezanne, the more important point is that it opens up the world of painting in general...no matter who the painter, or what point in the history of painting.

Essentially the book emphasizes 'picture-building': the manipulation of space, shapes, form, line, values, and color to create expressive and engaging images.  These principles are relevant and true to all paintings.

Some of the topics Loran explores:
  • Theorist and artist
  • Materials and method
  • Problems of perspective
  • Problem of scale and the control of volume and space
  • Distortion through the shifting of eye levels
  • The problem of distortion through tipping axes
  • Distortion in drawing
  • Aerial perspective
  • Realism and abstraction
Cezanne's Composition was particularly useful to me because its presentation is clear, concise, and graphic.  Loran's points are illustrated through diagrammatic drawings which graphically show what Cezanne is actually doing...space-wise...as he creates a painting.  Loran first presents the motif---that is, a photograph of the view Cezanne would have seen.  Then he shows, through diagrams, how Cezanne departs from the way a camera might record it.  

In the example below, Loran shows how Cezanne lifted up the hill horizon and tilted up the road, compressing the space and flattening the perspective...how the painter veered away from traditional one-point perspective.  And Loran uses the same detailed approach with every perceptual and compositional topic he covers...  


LORAN'S 'CEZANNE'S COMPOSITION' (MOTIF, CEZANNE PAINTING, DIAGRAMS OF EACH BELOW)


This presentation was fascinating to me.   And I am not the only painter that Loran and his book have inspired.  Richard Diebenkorn was a student of Loran at U.C. Berkeley and applied these principles to his own work.  And Diebenkorn's approach in turn inspired Wayne Thiebaud.  All three painters compressed space and flattened perspective in their paintings...which made the images graphically very powerful...


'FLATTENED PERSPECTIVE' OF CEZANNE, DIEBENKORN, AND THIEBAUD

In addition to the compression of space, Loran also points out how the viewer's eye is led through the composition by a variety of factors including tipping the axes of various planes, using 'warm' and 'cool' colors to manipulate the space, and thrusting the eye through the composition as if it were a ball in a pinball machine---bouncing off various planes and yet all the while keeping within the composition...  


HOW THE VIEWER'S EYE IS MANIPULATED THROUGH THE SPACE OF THE PAINTING

Below are paintings that I have done over a period of about forty years that have used the principles covered in this important book.  I continue to incorporate the same flattened, compressed space and tight composition that I learned from studying 'Cezanne's Composition'...

PAINTINGS OF MINE (1977-2019) THAT HAVE INCORPORATED THESE COMPOSITIONAL PRINCIPLES

Sheldon Cheney's Expressionism in Art was another eye- and mind-opener.

Cheney's book was particularly helpful in understanding the theoretical and historical underpinnings of 'modern' art.  Now, much of what Cheney was calling radical has become mainstream, even prosaic, for those with any knowledge of 20th-century art movements.

What Cheney stressed was the revolution in the arts immediately following the Impressionism and Victorian narrative realism that had begun with the art of the Renaissance.  He emphasized the break away from 'the obvious, superficially real, and demonstrable, toward values not observable, imitable or reasonable.'  That statement characterizes the whole 20th-century modernist movement.

A PICTURE VS. A PAINTING

I came to describe what Cheney calls 'imitative, narrative realism' as a 'picture' of something whereas what he calls 'expressionism' I would call a painting.


Some areas 'Expressionism in Art' covers:
  • Evolution, tradition and progress
  • Art just before expressionism
  • The main path of modernism: theory
  • Picture-building:
    • The frame, the field, and the movement-path
    • How movement is created
    • Volume, space and tension
    • Color and texture
    • Decoration 'flat'
  • Abstraction and mysticism
  • Feeling and meaning
I found other books on composition-building and painting expression that inspired me ...like Heinrich Wolfflin's 'Principles of Art History,' Wassily Kandinsky's 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and Hans Hofmann's 'Search for the Real.' 


OTHER ART THEORY BOOKS THAT HAVE INSPIRED ME

All of these books point out how radically an expressive painting differs from a photo-like realistic 'picture'...and why this is important.  They illuminate the spiritual aspect of painting as well.

Every idea I use in creating a painting has its roots in one of these books.  I came to see clearly that a painting is, and must be, more than a 'picture' of something.  Painting is a language.  That language must be learned.  Painting is, as Klee points out, a creative process parallel to nature...not a copying of nature.  The painter is, in the highest sense, a visual philosopher. 

And all of these discoveries began with Bill Ptazynski's introducing me to 'Cezanne's Composition.'


Copyright (c) Donald 
Archer 2020  All rights reserved.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

24. DRAFTED (what next?)

3. MOSTLY MUSIC (high school)

1. IN THE BEGINNING... (early childhood)