A Return to Observation: Diebenkorn, Kline and Barnes

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The following pieces are from a body of work I began to explore and develop whilst on my most recent trip to China. The origins of the work stem from a number of lessons I taught, directed at exploring tone.

Whilst exploring tone as a vocabulary of visual language we began a series of Still Life observation drawings through Charcoal, and later Pen and Ink. Working through the theme of Chiaroscuro and the work of Caravaggio we undertook the charcoal piece through a range of positive and negative marks. Having applied a heavy layer of charcoal to the whole support, using an eraser we began by erasing through the layers of charcoal to create the lighter tones of our still life, and later working-in the darker tones directly with charcoal.

Working in such a way allowed the students to consider both different ways of responding to visual stimuli (positively and negatively), whilst considering the variations of tone and the ways in which tone creates form in visual language.

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Jeanette Barnes ‘Crossrail Canary Wharf’

Having completed these projects we then began to explore different artists responses towards tone, and the ways in which they harness and apply tone in their work. Choosing particular artists and their techniques as case studies, we began to examine and explore the applied language in context. One of the artists I chose as a case study was the contemporary landscape / city scape artist Jeanette Barnes. Having been introduced to her work as an artist student I have long admired her work and the way she reflects her subject matter through her processes and techniques.

Inspired and energised by these projects and the students’ responses to them, I began to make a series of responses myself to these concerns. By constructing a series of still life compositions I made a number of studies through pen and ink considering the work of Richard Diebenkorn and his studies of scissors and other every day objects as found in his studio. Drawn to the unusual shape and angles of the scissors, and the shadows generated by them, I began to explore these shapes and the variations of tone and light on the curvature of the accompanying bowl within the compositions.

Reflecting on these pieces I was reminded of Barnes once again, and a series of pieces she completed through ink capturing various perspectives of scaffhold and cranes on a London skyline. The attraction to these pieces was I believe the abstract nature of the marks when isolated against the overall composition, and the resemblance to an abstract style of Chinese calligraphy. Holding a deep interest in Chinese calligraphy and having explored the aesthetic within my own work, I began to make a series of responses to the observed tones and shadows of my earlier still lifes through a more abstract calligraphic aesthetic on a range of different paper supports.

I naturally began considering the work of the Abstract Expressionists and in particular Franz Kline, and his gestural abstract responses to geometric urban shapes and constructions. With this in mind I further developed these concerns through varying scale supports (primarily newspaper) with a view to combining them later in larger collaged constructions.

Allowing the pieces to dry, I began to reflect upon their success. I turned my focus to the pieces on newspaper specifically. I observed, while the pieces possessed a fluidity of mark and directness I was trying to achieve, they lacked an impact. I attributed this because of their lack of grounding within their support – I thus began to ‘frame’ these pieces with a painted black frame and immediately the pieces began to possess a whole new impact. The marks were no longer floating within their background, and were now framed within their support. Once dry I began turning a number of these pieces over and observed were the ink had bled on the reverse side and later dried, had generated a greater variation in the tone of the marks. Combined with the depth of tone offered from the support of the newspaper resulted in a greater impact and interest of the pieces.

I immediately acknowledged the similarity (albeit seemingly unconscious similarity) with Klines ‘lightbulb’ moment in the development of his signature style with his pieces on phonebook paper which he would later enlarge and project with the assistance of Willem deKooning.

Although the initial studies I produced in response to these themes were a number of tonal still lifes, the following pieces were none the less still a response to these same themes. These studies represent a developed abstraction of the primary concerns and observations of; fall-of-light, shadow, tone and shape.


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