Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review: "Rembrandt: The Painter at Work"

Rembrandt: The Painter at WorkRembrandt: The Painter at Work by Ernst van de Wetering

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book uses modern research and information that has come to light to reconstruct the work life of Rembrandt and his contemporaries. Copiously ilustrated. I found this fascinating.

For people interested in the actual studio practice of Rembrandt, the art materials and methods, this has a lot to chew on, and many myths are shattered. There are plenty of beautiful reproductions, for those who wish to skip the text, diagrams and x-rays. But in getting a greater appreciation for Rembrandt, it would be a shame if you do.

The author has been accused of taking more interest in the backs than the fronts. This is because he has exhaustively analyzed the thread counts and seams of Rembrandt's canvases. This is part of the background of the story.

Everything you knew is wrong. Artists had their apprentices spending long hours, building stretcher bars, preparing panels, stretching canvas, and priming. Well it may have been long hours, but not doing that.

Not. In Amsterdam, the painters bought pre-primed stretched canvases from the guilds. And of course, just like today, there were standard sizes of canvas--because there were standard sizes of frames pre-made.

It is unlikely that most painters (or their factoti) in the cities of his era built all their own stretcher bars or stretched all their own canvases, or ground their own paints. There were regular guilds who did this; there were even standard sizes, dictated by the looms of the sailcloth industry.

Much of the pigment grinding was done by specialists as well.

Much of what has been written about Rembrandt's working methods have been terribly wrong too. He had a very systematic way of working, even though his later paintings look very improvisational.

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Happy Birthday Vincent!

Van Gogh on Facing a Blank Canvas: "Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile. You don't know how paralyzing that is, that stare of a blank canvas is, which says to the painter, ‘You can't do a thing’. The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerizes some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of `you can't' once and for all.”(Letter to Theo van Gogh, October 1884)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Painting: Landscape

I tried using acrylic transfer and acrylic to create a landscape. I used distortions and monochrome prints of site photos and assembled a semiabstract landscape from my imagination.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

Michelangelo and the Pope's CeilingMichelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty interesting book. A lot of lively detail about Michaelangelo, other artists, and that wild choleric warrior Pope, Julius, who seems even more eccentric than the artists.

The reconstruction of how Michaelangelo actually worked, seems pretty convincing. Yeah, for one thing, he had help, which should be no surprise. The idea that he laid in all the plaster himself and laid in every square inch of the background color would be pretty unbelievable. He seems to have been responsible for all of the full size mock up drawings (called cartoons in the technical term) and substantially all the significant painting.

Since he had only a rudimentary knowledge of fresco (he was a sculptor!) he had to get experts to advise him and get him started off right. (As he gained expertise and confidence he was able to use more junior assistants.) By the way, the earlier ceiling was a simple star pattern design, a fresco that was falling off. So he did not destroy anything of any great artistic value. The fact the plaster was falling off the earlier attempt was not reassuring. He wanted to use the best paint and use boun frecsco the "manly" way to do things, in which you could not afford to botch as it could only be changed while wet. He made more mistakes early on, and the work went very slowly at first. The worst preserved part seems to be in the earliest. The best parts were finished later on, and only took a fraction of the time the earlier parts had taken.

In a way this is assuring to read for the practicing artist who may fear trying something new; although Michaelangelo was a master artist, he had to work through the difficulties of working in a totally unfamiliar way.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Another new painting

Mostly a lot of layers but a little xerography acrylic transfer and newspaper acrylic transfer.