Tag Archives: art movements

Expressing Creativity – Exploring Materials

Modernism, the historical art era encompassing the late 19th Century through the first half of the 20th, is characterized by an emphasis on materials, media and form rather than metaphorical content. They also wanted to remind people that art, even that of the great masters, was just paint on surfaces.

Artists were exploring the tactile quality of paint itself or the properties of stone or metal – essentially examining the Elements of Design (Shape, Line, Color, Texture, and so on) in their pure forms without seeking to tell stories or express meaning. One might say that the Modernists were fighting a losing battle against human nature, since we are biologically programmed to seek meaning and notice relationships – create stories – and will do so even when none exist. Humans seek to make sense from information, while one big part of Modernism wants to depict nonsense for its own sake. (Eg Dada and Theater of the Absurd).

Writing included the stream-of-consciousness novel and poetry that was more about the sound of words than their meanings. In music atonal or 12 tone music rose, with all its unresolved glory along with the famous John Cage conceptual composition 4’33” – one of several silent pieces. The Wikipedia entry on Modernism has a positive cornucopia of links to the theoretical thinkers, writers and artists of the era. They wanted to explore the stylistic conventions of various kinds of art work, but from a distance, without getting drawn in to the stories.

Rothko Chapel

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was a Modernist painter whose large scale mono or duo chrome works are the epitome of Modernist non-subjective art. The Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX is a non-denominational meditation chapel, and is open and free to the public. Inside the Rotunda, lit entirely by natural light, are fourteen large scale monochrome oil paintings by Rothko. The light constantly changes so the texture of each painting also changes.

Rothko Chapel

Interior Rothko Chapel

When I visited there in the mid-1980’s I felt like there were figures buried inside the darkness. I persisted in trying to see what was hidden. The paintings seem to have a lot of depth. It was very serene and relaxing, but I still wanted to find a subject in the non-subjective artworks. But then again, I also like finding shapes in the texture of popcorn ceilings.

What does this mean for a creativity practice today?

Modernist practice gives us permission to play with materials and media, to enjoy the process without worrying about the outcome or product. We can smoosh paint, or roll it, combine blocks of color or repeat simple shapes over and over. We can stack wood, metal and stone pieces in pleasing combinations.

Some of the best ideas for Modernist experiments come from ideas for children’s sensory play crafts. Throw pigments, pour, spray and embrace randomness. But also combine surfaces and textures. Use one color of different media for a shadow box or other display – paint, inks, pencils, crayons, collage, fabric, found objects

Simple Art Project Ideas.

Scumbled Duotone Canvases 

When used in theater sets, scumbling is a paint technique where colors are mixed together on the surface with the painting tools. In art scumbling refers to washing the darker finish with lighter colors (often with a nearly dry applicator) to mute the colors below. The tool defines the kind of edges the paint makes – roller, brush, sponge, rags.

  • Use two of your chosen tools to smoosh paint on the surface and then blend the edges together forming an ombré.
  • If you like Rothko, try pairs of rectangles with soft edges. Also consider a central circle surrounded by another color.
  • Arrange several of these finished canvases in a grouping to enhance your modern styled interiors.

Pinned Color Swatches

  • Cut many squares from paint chip samples.
  • Pin them in a geometric arrangement to a cork board with small ball pins in one color.
  • Alternatively use a hole punch to make many exact shapes quickly.

Enlarged Macro Images

  • Collect random items with only physical characteristics in common, such as shape, color or texture.
  • Take photos of them, especially macros, and print to create another art grouping.

Resources and Places

Scumbling, glazing and wash at Artists’ Network 

Suzy Kitman demonstrates Impasto This is a very cool palette knife technique shown by artist Suzy Kitman. I would argue that despite there being a subject in her work, the main value is the texture and the paint itself, which to me makes it Modernist. The image is just an excuse to use particular colors.

Pete’s Original Art – Abstract painting video showing many tools and blending techniques.

Modernist Pin Board

Modernism

 

 

Inspiration from Art – Tramp Art

Tramp Art box

FolkArtisans.com Tramp Art Box

Hobo or Tramp Art is a Folk Art style of utilitarian decorative and functional art objects carved from wood made during the period from the late 1890’s through the Great Depression. Visually the style is characterized by the appearance of stacked layers and repeated geometric motifs, with distinctive V-shaped notches along every edge.

That is because the carving or whittling is the simplest possible method – using a simple pointed blade like a pocket knife with repetitive motions. In most pieces, pyramid shapes predominate, and the artisans also like using heart shapes, especially for gifts for the ladies in their families.

There is some dispute about whether it is correct to use “hobo” interchangeably with “tramp”. Most collectors and scholars challenge the assumption inherent in either name that this work was created by itinerant workers or homeless travelers. Research shows rather that these highly detailed and time consuming practical objects were created primarily by self-taught working class or low income men, using what was available to them, to make gifts and items for use in their homes. Some even consider the etymology of the name Tramp Art to be from the German “trampen” referring to woodworking apprentices in medieval times, who did travel to different masters’ workshops for their artisan education, rather than the contemporary itinerants of the US Depression.

Most of the objects created are inherently functional – boxes or other containers. People are beautifying their everyday items, just as folk quilt makers would combine their wool scraps in pretty patterns in making their functional bedding. The beauty did not add to the functionality, but did enhance the pleasure of use.

The other interesting point is the scale of the pieces. They can be as small as a jewelry box, or as large as a wall mounted armoire. Other common finished items include picture frames, doll’s houses, clock bodies, money boxes and small chests. Vintage tramp art has become highly collectible, and contemporary tramp art is a popular sub-genre of folk art and prim style home décor.

The reason I want to share about this extraordinary art is to focus on the use of the found materials. People making tramp/hobo art are making do with what they can find, primarily wood from cigar and produce boxes. Cigar boxes at the time were made from high quality wood, quite solid but not legally reusable for cigars. Often the pretty motifs from the labels were incorporated into the designs. Sometimes mosaics from broken pottery were also included. The artisans enjoyed mixing different kinds of woods to create striped or shaded effects, and using different varnishes.

They weren’t struggling with labels of creative or not, and probably didn’t consider their own work necessarily as art, but as a craft, easy to learn, inexpensive to practice, and since it involved wielding a knife, no doubt considered manly enough. It would be simple enough to start with a small box and layer notched rectangles each a little smaller on all four sides and the top, and then stack a few more to make legs.

I imagine that once someone starts wood working, enjoying the tactile beauty of the woods, the meditative repetition of the motions, and starts seeing the speed with which an object can become texturally fascinating, it would be easy to become engrossed with the craft.

Here are a couple of gallery sites:

I have a couple of project ideas that I’ll share on Twitter.