Decomposing paintings

As I mentioned in the last post, I had to give a little art talk to a mixed crowd of artists and art lovers in Idaho and I didn't have a lot of time to prepare, also was without chalkboard, moving shiny things or  powerpoint app for iPad, so I had to punt a little on a prestentation. It has been floating around in my head (which is akin to that giant plastic island in the middle of the pacific, lots of useless stuff swirling around going nowhere) for a while that talking about composition is like trying to explain the greatest meal ever, something gets lost. Sure, you can recreate all the yummy sounds with the eye roll maneuvers and excited hand gestures and drooling but, it's not the same. I have had the idea of taking a finished painting and deconstructing (decomposing) it so that the viewer can compare the befores and the afters to get a feel for how the elements actually operate in a painting. Most every painting, whether realist, impressionist, neo-classicist, abstract or whatevs uses these elements to move the eye through: color (hue, value, chroma), mass, line, shape and repeating shapes, division of space, edge (hard/soft), form, and surface. Keep that in mind when looking at these.

My first shot at this was this post, which I still think is funny, the premise being to have a client slowly nitpick a  master painting into lack-lusterville. But with Sargent you can pretty much to whatever and his greatness still shines through. Edward Hopper, a master of composition, came to mine noggin. And as much as it's blasphemy to mess with a master painters work (using the term where it actually fits) it is all with the intent of larnin' a thing or two. No art was harmed in the making of this blog.

First up

This unusual composition by Hopper is the simplest I could find. One could argue its success but when I see this piece I always think of a fulcrum with the trees in the middle acting as a sort of pivot point and counter point to the weight of the left.  Rather than putting those annoying lines you find in books on composition that show how the eye moves through the painting, just be aware of your eyes movement as you view these images. The hierarchy in this is simple, big dark tilting wall and figures first, then trees and then all the subtle subshapes that resonate with one another. Now take a look at the decomposed version.

By removing the trees, I took out the counter weight to the mass and figures on the left. And by "painting out" the sliver of light, I dropped a resonant shape, so now it's just an "L" with all the weight to the left. Hope it doesn't fall over, that would be sad.

This Hopper is a personal fav, probably because of it's austerity and cleverness of design. Take a look and feel how your eyes move through, where they want to be... and why. I'll give you a minute. Times up. Here's what I see. Eddie used a classic lead in but not in the usual way, the tracks into the tunnel. Something like this would normally blow the painting if it weren't for the two counter-weights; the red/blue buildings and the black smoke stacks. These two elements use contrast (hard edge, light against dark) to hold the eye and chroma (red) and mass (big) for balance. I want to go in that tunnel, which is unusual for me, but the rest of the triad keeps me flowing around in circles.... I can't leave... I'm stuck..... eyes.... moving... in ..... ....  ..    .circles.

Not any more. Now it's two paintings that are held together by sticks n gum.

Now for something a little more complicated. If Mondrian had an apartment with a girlsqueeze in it, this is what it would look like. Rather than seeing a figure in a room of stuff, think about each object and shape as having a specific weight. I guarantee that the Hopster put some serious thought into this one. He resonates shapes and colors without exactly repeating; the red column and the dresser and bed thingy are all supporting one another, as are the white things and the blue things. so what happens when some of those things "accidentally" fall off?

Oooopsie. The shape police came and repo'd a few things. Somebody forgot to pay the bill. Now without the red thingy there's less to pull my eye through and I just have to settle for the girl in a bathing suit. Awesome. I took out one other resonant shape, can you see which? ... anyone? Okay, I took out her army helmet, something she probably used to keep her head in that shape. Fewer resonant shapes mean more boring.

Now that you know everything I know, I'm not going to get in to how this thing works, except to say it's complicated. I'll just cut to the decomposed version. But cast your eyeballs up on it and think about colors and shapes repeating and moving you through, most of the things that are creating balance I removed.

I hope this has helped. My apologies to E. Hop-diddy, I have put everything back the way I found it.