I decided to reward myself attending a demonstration by artist Quang Ho. I really didn't know much about him but I had a bit of a desire to get inspired. So I browsed some of his paintings online. Definitely a Richard Schmid pupil, I thought. Why not.
I've never been disappointed attending a demo no matter what actually happens in one. And this one was special in a different way as well. Quang Ho demonstrated his painting at the very end for about 45 minutes. But the first two hours were devoted to a very inspired philosophical lecture on art. Now, normally, had I been warned, I would have run away but seeing how I didn't know what was coming I was sitting in my chair at the Romanesque Room in Castle Green (Pasadena) when me and about a hundred other lucky people got to listen to one of the best and most profound speeches on art making I've ever heard.
Since I want to keep a record of it for myself and also share a bit of it, i am going to try and synthesize my hasty notes in here. Keep in mind, it's my version of what I heard.
Quang Ho was born in Vietnam, his father was taken from the family at an early age and he, eight siblings and his mother emigrated to the US, Denver area, sponsored by a church. His mother was a single mom. His mom died. His father turned out to be alive decades later. Quang Ho recently visited him in Vietnam and did a series of beautiful paintings in that country. No portraits of the father. His superstitious wife says that if he paints him, he'll die soon.
In his lecture, Quang Ho started by displaying some slides of galaxies and microscopic pictures of sand. He wanted to point out that in nature, there is no repetition and yet, everything forms part of a whole. He thinks art is similar in the sense that it must be a whole and yet non repetitive. He calls this characteristic of nature "the divine specific". I love that. In nature, everything is a part of something else but is in itself complete. Later on the lecture, he would display a lot of cropped details of his paintings to demonstrate how any segment could have worked as an individual abstract piece regardless of the position of the segment on the painting.
|At Quang Ho's demo|
Then he told us about his definition of art: "The byproduct of our search for what is true". Wow. Hold your horses. But if you think about it, it is pretty dead on. Then he added he also loved Joseph Campbell's definition: "A real artist is the one who has learned to recognize and to render... the 'radiance' of all things as an epiphany or showing forth of the truth."
In other words, art is the ability to perform (technique) combined with inspiration(intention).
So the "rendering" and "performing" mean you need to know your brushes, you need to know how to draw and draw a lot, you need technical ability. The "inspiration" and "recognition" come from the intention of the artist, the exploring of the visual truth in its shapes.
OK, so far, pretty heady stuff. But he soon got to specifics. You've heard it before, it's line, color, value, edges ,textures.... Not so fast. Those are the ingredients and they need to be combined so as to enhance each other, yes. But the combination of those elements need the artist's decision making process, the intention, so as to achieve a maximum randomness, an avoidance of repetition. All the edges can't be just sharp or soft, degrees abound, "If you pick the painting from one corner, you shouldn't be able to just lift a piece, everything must come up with it, everything will be connected".
Rules conflict with our search for the truth. Rules are helpful if they help us think but then you still need to squint and seek the visuall truth. What kills a painting is a lack of decision. Have you ever noticed that the more you look at an area of color, the more this area becomes larger and larger and with more color and more nuance that you can possibly paint? Why do we struggle trying to capture all the tones and gradations on the sky? All we need is a "gentle awareness", not being bogged down by rules like "The back will always be cooler" or ""warm colors come to the front" .... PICK a color already . The color you see. Stick with it or change it but do not fumble. If nothing else, this piece of advice should be engraved on my easel.
What we are talking about here is learning how to see an apple as if we had never seen an apple before. I think abandoning preconceived notions is partially what this search for the truth implies. No labels or concepts. Just a "gentle awareness" of what's in light, what's in shadow, what is the source of a reflected light or a cast shadow, where are the gradations of tone...What other purpose does squinting have but to remove the noise of "things" just so that we can see the whole. A painter makes decisions.
There is the "light and shadow" approach. Things as revealed and affected by oblique light and shadow.
There is the local tone approach. These are paintings that actually play with a few notes of local color, no light and shadow or very little. Like during an overcast day. (Fechin, Van Gogh, Degas, Diebenkorn). When we talk about "high key", "low key" paintings, they usually fall in this category. Van Gogh was a mediocre "light and shadow" painter till he discovered his local color approach.
Also, the silhouette approach. Backlit scenes. Dan McCaw comes to mind.
|Yellow Dancer 20x20|
And the form or frontal light approach. Think Georgia O'Keeffe. Little modeling. Shape predominance.
Four other visual approaches are as follows:
Lines. Lines have a tremendous expressive potential. Think Toulouse Lautrec. Some people refuse to believe in lines as an expressive medium (David Leffel, for example). To each it's own.
Pattern. Specially a dark/light pattern. This is at the heart of many paintings as what we would call a grayscale approach. A painting that is just done in black and white r brown and white or any other two tone combination.
Color. Some paintings are driven by an exploration of a pleasing color combination or harmony. The dahlias below are just a study in white and green plus an oblique light. The lady in red is clearly a masterpiece driven by the seduction of the red fabric.
One final approach Quang Ho has explored a lot is the "equalization" in which the whole painting seems to achieve a maximum randomness pattern , almost an abstraction, a total interconnectedness of the pieces. Even inside the painting SHAPES are the gel that combines this controlled randomness into a coherent total.
Painting is about paint. It is the paint itself that creates it's own ecosystem. Nothing else. There are atmospheric painters like Quang Ho and more graphic painters like , say, Maynard Dixon. An atmospheric painter seeks to provide motion, interlacing of all the notes at his disposition, gradations of color and values, texture and flow.
In my next installment of Quang Ho's demo, I'll get more into his actual painting technique.