Blackpaint 40

Michelangelo and Leonardo shadings

In Blackpaint 16, I was writing about the way that various artists used shading in their drawings.  I made a couple of generalisations about the above pair, based on a few drawings I had studied.  I said, I think, that Leonardo tended to shade in lines diagonally downward from  left to right and Michelangelo the opposite.  In both cases, the angle could be vary from very shallow to very steep.

What I didn’t take into account was the crushingly obvious; Leonardo was left handed, so it would have been difficult to draw repeated diagonal lines right to left (you could, of course, turn the paper round).  Michelangelo, I discover, was ambidextrous; I assume in the drawings I looked at, he used his right hand to shade.  

Anyway, since Bl.16, I’ve looked at many more sketches and drawings by both men.  I think that the generalisation holds for the more rudimentary work, but they both use a wide variety of lines and hatching to shade.  Leonardo, in the anatomical drawings, tends to use lines that follow the contour of the muscle, or encircle the bone that he is describing. 

I have to say I’m rather disappointed by this; I was hoping to find some invariable method used by the “greats” that I could copy- now I find that the only rule is to be a genius at drawing and use the best possible method to achieve the effect you want, i.e. to have good taste.

Franz Kline and Hans Hartung

When I look at the work of both these artists, I have the overwhelming impression that they were created spontaneously, perhaps in a single burst of sustained, intense creativity, conjured out of nothing more than the artist’s vision and interaction with the paint and canvas – with maybe, probably, chance thrown in.

Well, yes and no.  It turns out that Kline did preparatory sketches  for his huge black and white paintings – that one in the Tate that looks like an enormous bridgehead with Japanese – style reed bed below in the misty water, for instance – and Hartung copied his paintings carefully, from sketches he produced involuntarily by a process of autonomism.

I can’t help feeling that this is a sort of cheating.  I suppose it’s the idea of carefully making a brushstroke look as if it’s been done spontaneously, with a bit of dry dragging at the end of the slash and maybe some spatter.  Especially Hartung; why couldn’t he do the big ones “automatically”?  Copying the little sketches seems pointless to me.

On the other hand, all painting is about cheating really; if it works, it’s justified.  I would have burnt the sketches though.

Christian Boltanski

I was reading Adrian Searles’ review of Boltanski’s new installation at the Grand Palais in Paris (It’s a jungle out there, G2, 14.01.10), and I noted the sentence “It is hard not to think of deportations and genocides, a recurrent theme in Boltanski’s art.”  I thought great, I can refer to my stuff about Balka and other Polish artists in Blackpaint 20-21.  Then I read on and was deflated to find that he was born – or at least, conceived – in Paris.  More proof that all generalisations are wrong, or at least, very shaky; I have decided not to generalise any more at all.

Some other stuff in this fascinating review that makes Boltanski sound insane to me; but then all great artists are…



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