Tuesday, November 20, 2018

What you should know about Prehistoric Art

Prehistory is divided up into several different periods and geographic locations.  This is kind of a problem when you're studying it another classes and art historians have different time periods.  Although these are before the common era.  Let's define the names. 

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Pa•leo•lith•ic \"pā-lē-ə-'li-thik, esp Brit "pa-\ adj [ISV] (1865) : of or relating to the earliest period of the Stone Age characterized by rough or chipped stone implements

The word, “prehistoric” just means before the historic era (before we started recording history).  The term paleolithic means paleo (paleo is Latin for old) and lithos or lithic means stone in Latin. Therefore the combination of the two words, Paleolithic translates as old Stone Age. The Old Stone Age dates vary widely. The range of dates for the Old Stone are sometimes 600,000 to 10,000 or 35,000 to 7000 depending on who you're studying with and what geographic region you're looking at. 

Me•so•lith•ic \"me-zə-'li-thik\ adj [ISV] (1866) : of, relating to, or being a transitional period of the Stone Age between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic

They range of dates from 600,000 to 7000 BCE of the Mesolithic era is different depending on where you study it and what region of the globe. In the Near East (Iran and Mesopotamia) the  is from 7000-6000 and the in Europe it goes from 7000-4000.

neo•lith•ic \"nē-ə-'li-thik\ adj (1865)
1 cap: of or relating to the latest period of the Stone Age characterized by polished stone implements
2 : belonging to an earlier age and now outmoded

The word, Neo is like the character’s name from the movie the Matrix, “neo” means “new” and that's the name of the New Stone Age in Europe. goes from about 4000 BCE to about 1500 BCE and the Neolithic era in the Near East (Modern day Turkey, Iraq and Iran) starts a little bit earlier at 6000 BCE.  Neolithic means that they have Stone Age technology they don’t use metal tools they use stone and wood.  Textiles and clothing are made from wool, grass, hemp and straw.  Just keep that in mind when you're studying that this doesn't mean that they were stupid.  It doesn't mean that they were unintelligent.  It doesn't mean that they wouldn't have been able to use the tools that we have or were the stereotypical caveman we see in Geico commercials. 

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Vocabulary You Will Need 

The word “form” is synonymous for this class the word “physical.” Literally it’s a physical description of the object and this can include, size, what it’s made of, color, how it’s put together, lines used in it, weight. When you describe the work of art in terms of its physical form it’s almost like you’re giving the police a physical description of someone who might have mugged you. You don’t know who that person is and you don’t know their name but you sure know what they look like.  A formal description would include how something looks like and would not include anything about the interpretation or meaning of that object or work of art.

For example, we’ll do formal analysis of what is depicted in the photograph above.

This is a painting of several horse heads on a stone wall and painted approximately 5 ½ feet from the floor of the cave. There are other animals also painted and all the animals overlap each other. The horse heads on top are about 12 inches tall and 12 inches across. The rhino located in the left-hand side of the picture is about 15 inches long and about 12 inches high. The animals are painted with outlines and what looks like a little bit of shading or color to describe the hair and light. It’s not clear if the color is used to describe light or just hair.

Another element of formal analysis is to describe what to make it. In this wall painting on stone you would describe what the painting was painted on as the “support” which is actually the surface on which it’s painted. Another example of this is paper is the support that is used for drawing. So stone is the surface or support on which this is painted. Another word for paint is pigment. The paint or pigment used to paint the surface of the rock is also referred to as the medium. A “medium” is actually a mixture of the pigment and binder or glue combined with the support. Sometimes it’s a very familiar phrase to us, for example, most painters paint oil on canvas. Oil paint is made from linseed oil and ground-up minerals.  The minerals colorants are glued to the surface of the canvas with the oil that eventually evaporates and hardens holding the pigment particles in place.

In this case, the paint used by the artist to create these images is probably animal fat or possibly water mixed with some natural earth colors, in this case he would be some sort of charcoal or ocher which is brown, and then apply to the wall with some sort of brush. So the medium here is naturally found pigments applied to the wall with animal fat or water.

Another part of a formal or physical analysis is a description of how the forms or things in the painting are rendered. In these wall paintings all of the animals are rendered in a profile form. This makes it easier to draw as well as recognize the animal. Profiles are an easy diagrammatic way of depicting something in a recognizable way. These animals are rendered or drawn in a fairly realistic or naturalistic way. The artist does have a style and the style to outline forms and then fill in the center with different colors. The lines, something you need to describe in a formal analysis, are often long and flowing and go from thin to thick and often incorporate realistic curves that define the anatomy of the animals. The anatomy of the animals seems proportional and accurate and this is part of formal analysis. They actually look like real animals from profile view.
In the next section were going to be talking about what is represented in the paintings and what they mean. One of the ways in which we give meaning to something is that we have to look at where they were found. Sometimes the location of something, where it was found and where it was made, can add some valuable clues as to the meaning of the paintings. This of course would be combined with the analysis we did above.

An analysis of the history, location, and environment of a work of art is referred to as a “contextual analysis.”  We’re going to look at the context in which these cave paintings were made.

Contextual Analysis

The cave, called Chauvet Cave, is located in southern France in a mountain range and has been preserved for more than 30,000 years. The cave dates from around 30,000 BCE but every 10,000 even 100,000 years later it was visited by subsequent people. It appears that the cave was in use probably up until about 20,000 years ago when a series of geographic events covered the opening of the cave. Archaeologists are fairly certain about the dates because they used radiocarbon dating and they also use modern forensic methods to date as well as figure out the order of creation of the paintings and other decorations inside the cave. There were also bones of various animals such as cave bears and Ibex and to wolves. There are also footprints found as well as handprints in the cave. There were also scratches made by cave bears and the walls that were painted over and handprints found on the walls.  Other animals have been depicted throughout the cave.

Today the cave is sealed and protected and a series of walkways have been installed for scholars to walk through without touching the walls and other artifacts but still have a chance to study. The cave is well documented in a film called “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.” You could probably rent this on Netflix or Amazon.

Another major point of evidence or fact is that many caves have been found throughout the world with almost the same exact type or kind of illustrations in them. Some caves are in France and some in Spain these caves all have depictions of horses and bison as well as many of the other things found at Chauvet.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Why are you so gay?

1993 San Francisco, Comedy Club in the Castro

We got to the club little bit late and there were only seats at the front table right before the stage. My older brother Mark ordered the drinks, while his partner Kirk pulled the chair out from my wife. We sat down and the set began.  He immediately launched into a tirade about how straight people were driving up the rents in the Castro and that they should “Go back to where you came from.”

The comic looked down and rested his eyes on me and my wife.  “Are you a fag hag or just slumming it?”  She shook her head and held up her ring finger.  He looked at me and at my left hand.  “With him?”  He tilted his head towards me.

My brother and his husband scooted their chairs away from me and Anca. Mark raised his eyebrow and chuckled at me. 

I shrugged, “We’re just visiting.  Some of my best friends. . . ”

“ARE GAY.” The comic and audience shouted out, completing my sentence.

I guess that’s the story of my life. I went to high school in New York in the late 70s at the time when it was fashionable to be bisexual. (I went to the High School Art and Design) and it was just before the AIDS epidemic. My brother, was also my hero, and when he would come to visit from college he even partied with some of my friends. I had experimented because I looked up to most of the older gay men around me and my friend Johnny and I love to go down to the village and cruise men on Friday and Saturday nights. It was the most I ever got looked at. I was a skinny geeky Jewish looking little guy and I really love the attention. I wasn’t straight or gay I guess you could say I was always a bit of a “stray.” 

2004 Fremont California, Ohlone College, Art History Class

“Prof. Mencher why don’t you paint women more?”  

“I guess it’s because I think it’s a little misogynistic. In graduate school my teachers drilled into me the idea of the ‘male gaze’ and how it’s degrading to women. Besides that, even when I painted women and thought I was making a feminist statement, the gallery director at Hang Gallery, dropped me for what she said, and I quote, ‘you are making the female gallerist your uncomfortable with your work. I think that there to wry and perverted.’  So, after that I had another show up in Sacramento and they censored me for the same thing.”

I went on, “the controversy was really good for me. I got several shows out of it and a couple of newspaper articles, but I do feel uncomfortable painting women because it ties in with a history of misogyny even if I think I’m making a feminist statement.   The work can be reappropriated or co-opted by a straight male audience and looked at him and anti feminist way. I’m trying to paint images that actually means something to me, are beautiful, and also responsible.”

I had always had galleries working with me but it was always a bad experience, even when it was a good one I felt that the prices were too expensive and they refused to show any of my male figurative work which I had always loved to do.  

In 2007 I started selling the work that the galleries wouldn’t show on Etsy.com, and on-line marketplace for handmade stuff.  I kept the prices really low (most of the smaller stuff less than $200) and I was able to sell off a lot of the older large paintings, my “white elephants” to people for much more reasonable prices.  

2008 Redwood City, California, 

“I can’t believe how many hits I’m getting on that painting ‘Shared Space,’ on tumbler and other blogs. It’s been shared so many times I can’t even count.  In this one guy’s feed, ‘Chubby Jay’ and all these guys are commenting about how hot it is.”

David laughed, “You should go with that.”

I flicked the lighter and sucked in some ash and too much smoke and had a coughing fit. 

“The reason why you cough so much is because you suck on that thing like it’s a dick.  You have to sip the smoke.”  David admonished me.  Gilbert, David’s partner, poured another glass of white. Valerie, my wife, nodded her head in agreement.  Yeah some of my best friends are still. . .

David said, “You paint men so much better than you paint women.”  Then he asked me if I would paint him a couple of male nudes.

So, I did.

I presented David with a small oil on panel painting a couple of weeks later. He called me up to tell me that one of his friends and tried to swipe the painting out of his curio cabinet and he thought I should make more.

So, I did.

Now, I almost exclusively paint men who are either bears or other types of homoerotic wildlife. I have quite a following and I quit my job last May to paint full-time. Mostly I like to paint idealized versions of 50-year-old man who look a little like me, but without the bags under the eyes and of course they have bigger shoulders. I feel like what I’m doing fills a need and is actually sort of a political statement.

I’ve been amazed at how the community has embraced my work. I stay in touch with a ton of collectors, I have regular phone conversations and email exchanges with a whole new group of friends that I wouldn’t have been able to have had I remained a “straight artist.”

David’s been trying to get me to raise my prices but I don’t really think I want to. I’ve made so many friends and I making so much more money selling the work at about 10% of the cost that I used to sell work in galleries, that I feel really fulfilled.

The other thing is that I really am better painting than women. I guess because part of it is that I do feel uncomfortable painting women because it makes me feel like I’m degrading them. However, throughout my entire life when I’ve been out with my friends cruising and getting cruised, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. David and Gilbert don’t care if one of them looks at another guy and comments about how cute they are. I know that some people say that their wives cruise other women with them, but I suspect women just do that to be titillating. It’s not sincere.

Painting beautiful middle aged men has also given me more confidence.  Now I get why I might be considered attractive.  Something I’ve always had trouble with.

The gay community is going through another Renaissance, despite the aggression of the trumpet administration and the backlash by the right wing against basic human rights. There are a lot of men who are in their 40s and 50s who have had long-term relationships and are older, harrier, and quite a bit chunkier than they were when they were tweaks in their 20s. These men are now embracing their beauty. I still paint twinks, young muscle, and even women, because I know that this fills a need too.  But not too many women.  I always think I make them look like caricatures.  
Issues of Form

One of the wonderful things about painting something that I’m good painting is that practice makes perfect. Since I’ve been painting almost exclusively male anatomy my drawing skills have improved and I’ve also been studying anatomy for the last six or seven years. It’s a good excuse to look at porn, oh yeah, and I’ve learned a lot about the skeletal structure and the muscle structure underneath the skin.

The other thing that I’m working on is trying to get as much paint onto the canvas as possible. I’m trying to build up the thick and thin of the painting as much as I can. I want the flesh to be solid and built up off the surface of the canvas as if it was real flesh. To do this, I also had to learn a little bit more about certain kinds of oil paint. For example, I’ve had to buy more expensive paint from a company called C. A. S. Who makes a kind of paint that’s called alkyd paint. This type of paint has more brilliant color but also has the added benefit of drawing much more quickly and more solidly. What this means is I don’t have to panic is much about shipping paintings to Europe or other places where they might stay in a box for a long time.

I’m also becoming quite an expert on color and pattern. Most of the paintings that I make I try to work with what’s called a warm and cool color scheme. Meaning that the flesh tones of the figure are usually warm, oranges and yellows, but I try to make the background a little cooled off, for example using a lot of blues and purples and grays.

I became interested in patterns, and realized that I could hand paint them, and the pattern in the background would help to set up the figure that interrupts it. Since then, I’m kind of addicted to it and I include patterns that I’ve made up in the backgrounds of quite a few of my paintings, such as this one, “Brace Yourself.”

Thursday, November 15, 2018

How to draw a sphere or ball with light and shadow

This is a tutorial that I used for my drawing and painting students at Ohlone College.  (But feel free to use it if you like.)

The sphere is the basis for a lot of shapes that you will have to draw and paint.  Here's an airbrush diagram of the sphere that you should use to talk about the individual shapes.  I have a PDF that you can download of the basic shapes to print out and draw here.

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I start by using a charcoal pencil and I'm holding the pencil the way Humphrey Bogart in those old movies holds his cigarette.
 I draw with really light lines, but still notice how lame my sphere is when I sketch it freehand.  (I'm not Giotto!)
 The horizontal line off the bottom is designed to give me a line to draw the elliptical shaped shadow.
 I put brackets on each end of the horizontal line so that the edges of the ellipse will look better.
 Then I connect the arches.
 Finish the shape.
 A better way!  Using a compass to draw the circle!
 This is called and ellipse guide.  You line it up with the horizontal line that I used as the shadow guide.
 See how much nicer drawing guides can make it?  I'm still gonna use my freehand drawing though.  Just keeping myself honest!
 Drawing the back of the table in.
 This is a compressed charcoal stick.  This is a quick way to fill in the values so that it will make the drawing happen faster.  My teacher Irwin Greenberg use to say that "Big painters use a big brush."  I think that the same applies to drawing materials.

It's really important to work background to foreground.
 Shading in the background in big swoops.

 Next I move on the the cast shadow.
 Using a stump to even the tones out.  You don't have to but it sure does help!

 A kneaded eraser that you can use to clean up edges.  You can even use it to smudge and graduate the transitional tones and shading.  I call the "much kneaded eraser."

 Adding the middle tones of the sphere.
 Now I'm stumped. Time to even some tones out.  I also use it on the cast shadow.
 Going back to the large piece of compressed charcoal to rework the whole drawing.  It's a good idea to think of the drawing as a complete entity and work the whole drawing as much as possible.  Think about how one value or shade relates to the others.

 Developing the drawing in a bit more depth.
 Now I use a smaller charcoal pencil to redefine edges and fix the drawing.  I need to make the shape more accurate.

 The reflected or ambient light on the sphere is too bright so I'm going to have to dirty it up and reduce its value by stumping and smearing in that area.
 Next I go back in with the pencil and do a sort of glazing and medium tones by cross hatching light scribbled or hatched lines across the forms.  It's a way of developing value structure and making a series of marks that make the drawing a little richer and more interesting.

 Next darkening the background to develop more of an edge for the sphere.
 More tone on the table top.

 Working out more tones and using the kneaded eraser to smooth transitions and smudge.

 The finished version.

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