This week I invite you to learn from the masters
We are going to begin online, with a brilliant lecture about Vincent Van Gogh by Katie Hanson. And we are going to use the screen as creative tool, we will be life drawing Katie Hanson as she delivers her lecture.
Then we will take a leaf from Van Gogh’s book and look at another master work and copy it, not in a slavish way but “like a musician playing a composition written by someone else”
Katie Hanson, assistant curator, Paintings, Art of Europe
Oct 6 2015, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
You will need drawing materials -
For my quick sketches, I used a sketchbook and pencils, sharpener, rubber. Use what you have to hand!
The Art Historian by Julie Forrester
Watch Katie Hanson
You are invited to watch this brilliant lecture by Katie Hanson delivered as part of a series of lectures on Vincent Van Gogh at The Boston Museum of Fine Arts
The lecture is great because Hanson is so passionate about her subject. She is beautifully lit from an intriguing angle and there are plenty of pauses as the camera moves from close-ups on her face to wider views which include the works she is speaking about. As I watched I became fascinated by the forms in Katie Hanson’s face, and I began sketching her as I listened, trying to familiarise myself with her particular features and characteristics and absorbing what she was saying about Van Gogh at the same time. I listened all the way through and then replayed the video stopping to make longer studies. One of the bonuses of using video is the option to stop and catch up or rewind and pause, to go away and come back throughout the lecture all the while bearing in mind the insights the lecturer delivers into Van Gogh’s process.
You are invited to listen to this fascinating lecture and draw Katie Hanson as she speaks. Treat it as life drawing session - you are doing quick sketches to familiarise yourself with the forms in Hanson’s face.
Try to go with the flow, for your first drawings you will be listening to the lecture and looking at Van Gogh’s works and taking in details about his life and ideas as much as looking at Katie Hanson, so your sketches will be quick and fluid. Make a series of quick gestural drawings without pressing pause.
Later you can go back later and make longer sketches, pausing the video to capture particular angles and expressions, looking at the play of light and dark across her face. You can use pencil or charcoal for this building layers and carving into the marks you make with your eraser to seek out the play of light across her features. Take as long as you want for this, make your own flow
Consider Vincent Van Gogh’s self training methods “like a musician playing a composition written by someone else”
In the lecture Hanson talks about Van Gogh’s efforts while teaching himself to draw, how much he learnt from looking at the masters, firstly from prints, and then from paintings, looking at mark-making, gesture, composition and colour play.
KH talks about Van Gogh’s photographic visual memory, how particular gestures and motifs in other paintings were burnt into his imagination and how he used them again and again in his own works, like The Sower by Millet (see link below). We can see how Van Gogh also read extensively on contemporary colour theory and we learn how exacting and thorough and inventive he was in his quest to master these skills for himself. (links below)
Van Gogh wasn’t interested in slavishly reproducing what was in front of him - he describes his approach as being “like a musician playing a composition written by someone else” - he thinks in terms of music, as well as in terms of colour and composition - I imagine him claiming the masterwork before him like a musical score, embodying the work in a dramatic act of interpretation, perhaps in the way that Sinead O’Connor, interprets Prince’s song “Nothing Compares to You” and owns it! Musicians attempt to claim the songs the sing with the expressive qualities of their own voice, and visual artists do the same.
See the works that Katie Hanson talks about here:
Colour Wheel Charles Blanc 1867
showing the theory of complimentary colours (opposing each other on the wheel) as applied by Vincent Van Gogh
In the lecture Hanson talks about Van Gogh’s desire to create portraits as archetypes …”the poet”, “the peasant in the landscape” , “the postman” “the mother at the cradle” etc. She also talks about how he began to play with colour especially the play between complimentary colours - blue and orange - deep yellow and lavender - greens and reds.
Take a look at this portrait of Deirdre from the Crawford Gallery collection
Deirdre c 1964 bronze with stone base by Jacob Epstein (1880-1975)
Collection of the Crawford Art Gallery
Who is Deirdre? Imagine her as an archetype. All we know about her is she was “Housekeeper” or “Cook” or “Artist’s Model” in Epstein’s household and then she married and went to Australia and most likely inhabited other archetypal personas.…
Using media of your choice crayon, paint, collage etc. I invite you to copy this work, Deirdre like a musician in front of a score. Follow the rhythms and asymmetry of her face, the gesture of her pose, you can go further and invent a background that speaks about this archetypal personage, think about colour and rhythm in your work, make your own reference points, let Deirdre and Jacob Epstein speak to you, and enter the dialogue from your own perspective!
Here is one of my versions following the score set out by Epstein (and Deirdre)
Deirdre after Epstein
You can see more of my responses on Instagram at #thurs_day_club
While I call my version Young Woman, my daughter has called her Mermaid - what do you think? Why not upload your own, it would be fun to see a gallery of Deirdres as different archetypes.
Julie Forrester 2020
Young Woman (Mermaid) after Deirdre by Jacob Epstein
You can make comments, suggestions or observations directly to the Crawford education here:
Emmet Place, Cork, Ireland
Tel: 021 480 5042
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