Saturday, May 7, 2016

Jean-Michel Basquiat Speaks

The thing about the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat is that it speaks directly to children's approach to drawing and expression. Great ropes of chunky lines and shapes scrape and trace images above and below. I am not sure there can ever be enough crowns, capes, and roars in a child's drawing repertoire and there is Basquiat drawing more.

Before beginning large panels, the children sketched just crowns to get the feel of the oil pastel across the paper in jagged lines of up and down zig-zags that make up a Basquiat crown. Then they painted figures and shapes using tempera on panels of left-over grocery store signage. Using the signage as background brought us yet another connection to the artist who would drag things from the street back to his studio to paint over.

After painting these panels, the children added embellishments using oil pastels. These added details of crowns, bones, letters, and SHOUTS and ROARS, really connected the child artists to the artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

He also worked on several canvases/surfaces at once, walking over them to get to others leaning against walls. The children also worked on multiple pieces that will all be joined together for a final piece (the background to their self-portraits).

Basquiat once said, "I was a really lousy artist as a kid. Too abstract expressionist; or I'd draw a big ram's head, really messy. I'd never win painting contests. I remember losing to a guy who did a perfect Spiderman. "

That, my friends, is a struggle we will push back against. Art can be found in the arcs of line, in the firm placement of shape, and in the invisibility of the thing that is missing but still very much THERE. Art catches the eye, it moves the heart to a drum beat, it both frightens and brings joy. Sure, we all need a good Spiderman, but I hope we also let the abstract expressionist's ram's head win the next painting contest!

For more information about Jean-Michel Basquiat...

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Power of the X

I watched as he sorted through the direction sticks and all the markers and created a map. He stood, hands on hips and turned his head slightly this way and that as he checked his work. He announced that now he would need paper, turned on his heel and walked to the table collecting an index card on his way. 

The only chair available was positioned so that his back was turned to the map he had made on the floor, so he would turn, look, then turn back, draw a line, and then repeat the whole sequence line for line. After a time, he got up with his card and held it above the map and said, "I can't get this right." I suggested that he stay close and look for the shapes that he had made with the direction sticks and markers. The x was not hanging him up, it was the path. The x is easy. He has been drawing that for months. X marks the spot. X is for danger, it is to cancel out bad guys, to stop the witch from coming inside, and it shows you where to look for the treasure. Once you have the x though, you will soon have the rest of the story.

The direction sticks take you from the purple school around and through the forest, over the bike bridge, past the dragon tooth rock, and eventually the blue house. At the top of the photo, you can see his drawing of his map. It begins with the x.

Other works that begin with the x and move into line and more importantly, story.

In the photograph above, the illustrator tells me that the figure at the left is the Superhero Dad. This Superhero Dad has x-ed out the Gobbledygook there on the right. The Gobbledygook is not happy about this situation because his dinner, the figure in middle who is the Superhero Son of the Superhero Dad, was pulled out of his slimy grip. See the slime? Rescued, but still slimy, hence the grimace. The Gobbledygook is trapped by the x. He will never be free.

Knowledge about the x is not just about drawing. Think about how the x is used in other places as well. For instance in this construction. The leaning branches of the den are in an x! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Color Reactivity: Science and Art

Let's talk about human bodies, specifically blood, muscles, veins, and skin.

Each year, the four and five-year old children paint layers on paper silhouettes that represent the internal bits of their bodies starting with their organs and moving to the outer layers of skin, facial features, and hair.

Each year, when we arrive at the muscle and vein layer, we talk about how the books we are looking at will take creative license with this by showing arteries and veins in shades of blue and red. Blood itself is further dissected in its visual representation in book illustrations to show red and white blood cells, etc. Muscles are are shown in reds and whites. This last is probably more accurate than the rest, but mostly as children always cut right to the chase in everything they do and look to their own bodies for evidence of the discussion, they will tell you that veins (and blood) are blue-ish, green-ish, and therefore blood can obviously be blue and red. Obviously.

Each year, this is further supported by parents with highly developed ideas for the children's evidence-based observation. The most common one is that once a vein or blood is "oxidized" or exposed to air, these will turn red and that contained inside a body these are indeed blue and green. In real life, blood is either bright red or dark red it is not green or blue. Ever. Unless you are a zombie or a mummy as one of the children told me this year.

This is the thing about color studies using the thing in front of you (your eyes looking through your skin at something) and transferring these to a visual medium (a printed book or painting) layers change things below. The layers of skin and fat change the thing beneath and this year, the children are experimenting with how to use paint in the same way.

So in previous years, the children add that last layer of muscle and veins and then move right to the skin color. What is different with paint is that when a new layer of tempera is added to an already dry layer of tempera it will reactivate the paint beneath. In other words, the skin layer will reactivate the muscle vein layer and our lovely shades of browns and beiges become tinted with deeper shades of red from the previous layer.

This year, because of this discussion about how the layers of skin and fat will change the appearance of the things beneath we added a new layer. We added a layer of fat. Now why I never included this important layer in previous years, I have no answer. The layer of fat we all have is actually quite important and useful -- "Every part of our body takes care of other parts of our body," one very insightful almost 5-year old observed.

This fat paint layer, in reality, will add a buffer for that reactive process and because I want to not only teach how paint works, but also how color shades work, the children used a light shade of yellow-green as the paint layer.

Now fat is not yellow-green in real life I reminded the children, but as any good make-up artist will tell you (or in my case, a really good drag queen taught me) greens will overcome or neutralize reds. Our mission is to neutralize the red layer so that the skin shades will be as true to original mixture each child creates. This is why the children had those pale yellows and pale greens to mix together. This should neutralize all those dark and light reds underneath.

We spent a lot of time observing how that lower layer was reactivated when the children moved the yellow-green paint across it. Will it be enough of a neutralizing tone as a base for the skin colors? Only time will tell. Have we started a new misunderstanding similar to the "is blood blue or red?" by making the fat layer yellow-green? Only time will tell us that as well.

Lots of adventures in store!