Thursday, 7 July 2016

Paul Klee Exhibition Paris

During our holiday this year we were lucky enough to spend a day in Paris. We went to the Centre Pompidou and saw an exhibition of works by Paul Klee.

The first thing that struck me was the scale of the works, the majority of them were very modest, not grand canvases created by other artist's such as Picasso. I wonder how that affected his impact as an artist. I read about him after the exhibition and he said that 'I have attempted to transfer to large formats that which I have already done in watercolour' he wrote in 1930. 'Of course this cant be done so quickly or playfully'(Lampe, 2016). This suggests an experimental way of working, which may have been hampered by the time investment required for larger works. Working on a small scale also meant Klee was able to produce a large quantity of diverse works (Marnat, 1974).

Klee did produce etchings in the early part of his career, and in the later part of his career produced many mixed media paintings with unusual combinations such as oil and watercolour which were interesting to study to try and imagine his working processes and the way these media would be layered. Some of these mixed media paintings contained oil transfer paintings, which I think is a technique similar to back drawing, and produces similar results.

The primary difference between this and back drawing is that the ink is placed on the back of a drawing which is placed over canvas or cardboard and the lines are drawn from the front, on the piece of paper, transferring onto the canvas behind.

I was drawn to works which are based on symbols and calligraphy as this is an area I am exploring in my own artwork. 

The influence of Egyptian hieroglyphics are clear here. Other works show the influence of other symbols such as music notation, Klee was a lifelong musician

Paul Klee ~ Erzengel ~ 1938

In this work the symbols are arranged to look like an angel, a recurring theme in Klee's late work, representing the limit between life and death. The Arabic alphabet may have been an influence for these symbols. Earlier works were influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese calligraphy and a range of symbols, forming a distinct theme in Klee's work (Lampe, 2016). This theme began after a visit to Egypt and the work Little Vignette for Egypt 1918. This exploration of symbols lead Klee to the verge of abstraction in his own unique way (Marnat, 1974).

Erzengel is created on a thick hessian canvas, the texture of which clearly shows in the work. Klee was experimental in his use of surfaces and ways of preparing these for paint, these choices making a big impact on the final work, often showing through in places.

Some ideas I will take from this exhibition:
  • Explore using symbols including music notation
  • Explore creating stylized images with symbols or abstracted calligraphy
  • Use a range of surfaces for printing with varied textures


Lampe, Angela. 2016, Munich: Prestel Verlag.

Marnat, Marcel. 1974, London: Spurbooks.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Multi block prints

After completing my first multi block print I want to be more adventurous in my use of multiple blocks. My previous print could have been a reduction print, the layers were all the same image. To make a different use of this medium I want to try laying contrasting images over and alongside one another.

I have been looking at printmakers who do this. The first artist I looked at was David Salle and this print High and Low

This print uses lithography, screen print and woodcut. Each medium creates different textures and these are juxtaposed and layered. The different print mediums are used independently of each other to create a deliberately incoherent work. I wrote about Salle before when looking at Postmodernism. He is often cited in this context because of his works juxtaposing different styles. Bold geometric shapes make this lively work interesting to look at, and lead the eye around the different textures and colours.

Conversely this untitled wood cut uses multiple blocks to create one image. The blocks are more similar in their textures and subject matter and the images are layered rather than juxtaposed. This image is successful because all the blocks contain large areas of white so all three images can clearly be seen at the same time, and one layer, the bright red is able to stand out over the others. If more dense images were layered this may become less clear.

I recently visited the Irish Museum of Modern Art Where I was able to see a small selection of prints. Included in these were some works by Alice Maher some of which were also composed with multiple print techniques.

This print is a woodcut. It uses separate blocks of very different textures. Unlike Salle, these are combined to make a coherent image, with distinct elements.

This print is etching, aquatint and photopolymer. The three print mediums create very different textures which again are combined in one coherent image with separate elements.

I am interested in exploring these ideas through my experimental print. I would like to try combining some blocks made on different surfaces to create different textures. 

Friday, 1 July 2016

Abstract Calligraphy

Further to my tutors encouragement I am developing the ideas I began to explore in this post on Arabic Calligraphy.

In that post I looked at 2 works where the words had a significant message, one political, one religious. I wondered whether the use of these words drowns out more subtle visual ideas. The next work using calligraphy that I chose to examine abstracts the calligraphy so it does not create readable words.

The Campus Mosque of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is part of the KAUST International Art Program – developed by KAUST & Aramco International – realized by Urban Art Projects – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – 2010

This plaque placed outside the mosque eloquently describes this work. This idea of the 'aesthetic form of the letters and words' has been a central theme in Mahdaoui's work appearing in a wide range of works:

Mixed media on canvas 2002/7. In this work the calligraphy is quite textural not prominent

In contrast in this bronze Beya 2009 The calligraphy is bold and prominent

Mahdaoui also worked in print, this silkscreen 2010 uses the abstract calligraphy as a dominant subject and on a different scale texturally to great effect. I'm not sure how many layers have been used here as I have not used silk screen and do not know if it is possible to mix colours in one layer, or if the ombre is created by overprinting.

The first work, the mosque is near where I live so I went to see it and drew it from various angles including one of the screens:

On closer inspection I found the calligraphy of the screen is backed with a simple Islamic tessellation pattern.
This got me thinking about layers, this work has two distinct layers, the tessellations and the calligraphy, but in situ it has many more, such as the trees in front of it, the light from inside the building.

The calligraphy itself forms bold geometric shapes and is designed to encourage the viewer to 'make their own poetry'. Not being an Arabic reader I don't know whether there are any recognisable letters in this, my feeling is that there is not as Arabic script is formed of joined letters and this work is formed of many distinct separate shapes. It is a very effective way of exploring traditional Arabic culture. It is an interesting way of allowing viewers to have freedom over interpretation. This calligraphy can be interpreted in many different ways, unlike the first calligraphy I examined which had a clear religious message.

In response to this I began looking at some shapes based on letters. In further development of my ideas on exploring my identity at different times of my life I took my name in the font used on my birth certificate and my name in Arabic, representing me at the beginning and now in Saudi Arabia and explored deconstructing the shapes of the Arabic letters and conversely joining the English letters together

In this design the Arabic letters are prominent and fragmented. These shapes give a strong composition.

In this design I made a repeat pattern tile using this method of cutting the paper. In this design the English letters are equal in size but still slightly less prominent. This design is a bit less balanced.

If I was to cut this I would use a larger block and keep complete figures together, for example the wiggly shape at the top would be taken off and put on the bottom as a complete figure to make registration easier.

Some of these curves would be difficult to cut neatly, particularly keeping the thicknesses even where shapes overlap.

I'm going to look at some other ideas for abstracting text and revisit them all after I have cut my test experimental blocks and look at ways to develop and combine them.