I got my hands on a copy of "Secret Knowledge" by David Hockney from the good old county library and spent about two hours yesterday going over it. After looking at it myself, I'm a bit more sympathetic to the arguments that Hockney is making about the advent of optics leading to a revolution in representation in art. The most important thing I got out of it is that, contrary to how some reviewers have characterized it, Hockney is not saying that optics were used for every master painting after a certain point in history. He is only saying that after a certain point optics were available and known, and that they were a tool that some artists used in executing their master works. He also makes the point that once the "optical look" had come about, other artists copied the look without using the optics. Some of his examples ring true while others fall flat. Look at this painting by Hans Holbein called "The Ambassadors":
Totally Awesome! That gray splotch at the bottom is the image of a skull stretched out. Why it's there is one of the mysteries of Western Art. But how it was done is most easily explained by the use of a projected image on a canvas which has been tilted so that it's not perpendicular to the projector. There is one example of a drawing which corresponds exactly to the major lines in a painting by the same artists, except that the painting is 40% larger. This is hard to explain without optics, and looking at the picture reinforces that impression. Other arguments about the angle from which objects are seen in some paintings or about which parts are in focus don't resonate as deeply. One of Hockney's good points is that optics were mostly used only to catch the proper position of the eyes, nose, mouth, and some outlines in order to get a likeness of the sitter. Other details were drawn in from sight. This is especially true because the sitters were there and apt to move around, in contrast to the static projections which I've been using. He also suggests that the projections were used to make drawings which were then used to make the final pieces. His point about a likeness being a product of the correct relative placement of the eyes, nose, and mouth resonates with me because of the work I've been doing with projections. I'm finding that as long as these basics are in place, the likeness is there. I can distort the color as much as I want, but as long as the outlines are there you can tell who the individual is. This phenomena has been used by modern artist and graphic artists for hundreds of years. What becomes fun is that when you get closer, each subtle movement of a line around the eye or a slight highlight changes the expression on the face. Some expressions match the individual, and some ring false. Only when I get close to finishing the paintings does this come into play, and the painting will be called finished only when all of these tiny details ring true in harmony with the face as a whole. Really this is quite a task, for me as well as for any artist who used optics in the past, which underscores the point that optics is just a tool, and really only a tool for the early stages of the painting. Another point that Hockney makes is that certain examples of drawing are so sure in their lines, with no indication that the artist has "groped" around for the form. As an artist without natural draughtsmanship, I can very much relate to the groping he talks about, but it made me wonder if perhaps there are those who have the natural ability to transfer correct proportions to the page on the first try. Hockney doesn't really address this possibility. He could have gotten the best draughtsman he could find to draw the same subjects he drew with his camera lucida and then compared the results, and perhaps they would have made his argument stronger. Without these examples, there is something missing.
Look at the figure on the right of this painting by Caravaggio. Check out how large his right hand (receding) is compares to the rest of his body. This book has a bunch of these examples. They're interesting, but I'm not sure what they prove. It's a strange book, a heavy artist's book which is really an academic monograph in disguise. If someone other than Hockney had done it, it would be a small book with gray scale pictures which would have been sufficient to illustrate the thesis. After going through it I decided it's not a book I'd much want to own: it has plenty of nice color reproductions, but there's not much rhyme or reason to them, and there's lots of space given over to letters written while developing this thesis. I'd rather have a couple of smaller books on the individual artists or more of a broad art historical survey book. One thing you have to say in praise of Hockney is that this is a pretty extravagant and daring way to start a debate about the role of optics and projection in art history.
posted by Greg 3:11 PM
What do you do if you're down in Chinatown at some art openings, including one with great pictures of Tony Alva skateboarding in the 70's, and as you're driving away you see Beck waiting outside a resturant?
Have your wife scream out the window a phrase that has been coming up again and again as you look at the art: "Steaming Pantload!"
posted by Greg 3:05 PM
"This is a silly and meretricious book, a demonstration of naive obsession, of remote improbabilities presented as hard facts, of shifting ground for every argument, self-indulgently subjective, a farrago of feeble nonsense that should never have been published and, had it been sent to Thames and Hudson by Uncle Tom Cobleigh or Jack Sprat, would not have been."
I tend to agree with this reviewer. While artists of the past may have used lenses for study, I think Hockney greatly overstates how much artists relied on them. Hockney's reputation as an artist gives his arguments more weight than prehaps they deserve. I still have to read it for myself tho.
posted by Greg 1:07 PM
After coming home to find this beautiful cake, the wife and I went the Hollywood and Highland complex for the traditional dinner and a movie. I found the complex to be surprisingly convenient and easy to get to and park at, though perhaps this was because it was Wednesday night and it was not very crowded. For dinner we went to Koji's Sushi and Shabu Shabu which had a good view (of Hollywood) and was a lot of fun. Shabu Shabu is a Japanese way of dining in which they bring out the raw meat and veggies and let you cook them in your own pot of boiling water at the table. Shabu Shabu means "swish swish," which we learned refers to how you move your veggy, shrimp, noodles, or thinly sliced piece of beef around in the water with your chopsticks until it's cooked to taste. The beef is sliced so thin, this only takes about 30 seconds. Then there are a couple sauces to dip stuff in, including a rich garlic soy one. I got the sukiyaki, which consists of a bowl of sweet broth with vegetables and noodles which boils at your table as you cook the beef in it. It was all very good and a fun new dining experience. For the movie we saw The Scorpion King. It was dumb but exciting and a lot of fun, just like we thought it would be. The theater was a bit pricey but very swanky, with airline type seats and headrests. Then it was home to eat the delicious hand made and lovingly baked cake and watch a little James Bond while working on a painting titled "Continental California Sci-Fi Metropolis."
posted by Greg 9:42 AM
Wednesday, May 15, 2002
Three years ago today I got married to the sweetest, smartest, funnest, strongest, and most beautiful woman I've ever met. It was a magic day, celebrated with loved ones and fine music, and it started something that gets better and better as time goes by. When I think about it, it makes me feel like this:
Great Art Alert: Jed Dougherty has put up a gallery of his paintings here. It's worth taking a minute to look at all of them, because they're really great. Jed was a student with me at the College of Creative Studies at UCSB way back when. There were many great artists at CCS, but he was always my favorite. I am the proud owner of one of his paintings called "The Discovery of Coffee," which you may have seen displayed in every kitchen I've had since college. He was interested in ample women back then, and that's where his interests still lie. Go Jed!!
Metal Moment: As I pulled up to a stoplight on my way into work this morning, I heard a most appealing sound coming from the car idling next to me. A slow heavy gallop of bass and drums, which sounded familiar, was pierced by the unmistakable voice of Ronnie James Dio as he sang: Sing me a song, you're a singer Do me a wrong, you're a bringer of evil The Devil is never a maker The less that you give, you're a taker So it's on and on and on, it's Heaven and Hell, oh well Smoke poured out of the open passenger side window as I watched the frizzy haired woman's lips mouthing these immortal lines, her head bobbing to the hypnotic stomp. All hail Sabbath! I recognized this as the title cut from Black Sabbath's first post-Ozzy album, 1980's "Heaven and Hell." Featuring the awesome vocal talents and mystical lyrics of Dio, late of Elf and Rainbow, it's an oft-overlooked metal masterpiece with the classic smoking angels cover. Alas, the light changed and I drove on, knowing I'd have that riff reverberating in my head all day, and thankful for it.
posted by Greg 9:53 AM
Monday, May 13, 2002
Bon Voyage to Love!
I mean the band.
We spent a nice afternoon yesterday saying goodbye to the boys from Baby Lemonade, who leave tomorrow for Europe as the new incarnation of 60's psychedelic pioneers Love. Rock legend and Love founder Arthur Lee brought ribs, but I was too full from singer/guitarist Rusty Squeezebox's famous BBQ chicken and drummer Daddy O's spicy black eyed peas to try any. Nice guy life of the party shredding guitarist Mike Randall was there with son Julian, both dressed for the occassion in plaid shorts and white t-shirts. We heard some great rock anecdotes all around and received many special parenting tips from The Trinkets. Special thanks to our wonderful bubbly co-hostess Traci too! The boys are all very excited for the opportunity to play with Arthur again, and I wish them the best of luck!
posted by Greg 2:59 PM
Don't miss this story about an artist who added a very helpful addition to a freeway sign in downtown LA, which I got from my favorite blog, the BABALOG. The artist added a "5", a "North", and a lane arrow to the above sign, telling people on the 110 North that the exit to the 5 north was coming up on the left side of the road. Previously, drivers saw a sign for the 5 South, but no mention of the 5 North exit which is a couple miles down the road. Everything about this "guerilla public service" art is good.
posted by Greg 2:18 PM
Progress on the paintings is slow going but steady. There's a ton of work to be done and no matter how much I'd like to it can't be rushed. I'm averaging about 3-4 hours a day give or take (long hours on the weekends help my average.) Here's a little example of how the paintings develop. I tried to show this with Jeff's portrait but I didn't explain and later found out that people didn't realize it was the same painting in different stages. So here I present my Jimmie Rodgers in Space, stage 1:
This is after 1 or 2 times working on it. As you can see, much of the figure is still just pencil drawing. I've darkened the sky and the lunar lander, made the guitar orange, started some shadows on the flesh, and added a little bit of blue and red to the flag. Here is the same painting after a couple more sessions:
You can see I've now covered the whole painting with at least one layer. His suit is pthalo blue and his skin is based on burnt sienna. I've added a few more details to the astronaut which are hard to see. The "Jimmie Rodgers" inlay on the guitar neck is going to be tricky, but should be cool when it's done.
posted by Greg 11:57 AM
"I remember Francis Bacon would say that he felt he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked. With me, it's what Yeats called the fascination with what's difficult. I'm only trying to do what I can't do." - Lucian Freud
After some technical difficulties, the BABALOG blog is back up and running with odes to Dodger Dogs, nausea, John Carpenter, the LA River, and more! Also don't miss Tony's take on the Dodger Game. (it looks like he's missing a link there which I'm sure he'll fix but using my advanced mind reading skillz I figured out that here's where you need to go.)
posted by Greg 9:25 AM
Wednesday, May 01, 2002
"What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough." - Eugène Delacroix
posted by Greg 3:13 PM