Deconstructing A Realistic Painting Toward Abstraction
Lessons Learned From Gabriel Mark Lipper’s Deconstructing Class.
For most of February and March of this year, I have participated in art instructor Gabriel Mark Lipper’s “Deconstructing a Painting” Class. Hmmm, I don’t recall if he actually had a title for the course. In any case, seems to me that we called it the deconstructing class or deconstruction for short.
I thought it would be a good idea to capture what we did and what lessons I learned while the class is fresh in my mind. I would like to share with you the work I did to illustrate the process.
My other hope is that perhaps this article will inspire those of you who are painters to try this on your own. That is, if you haven’t done so already.
Deconstructing as defined in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary: “to take apart or examine in order to reveal the basis of composition…”
I interpret deconstructing or deconstruction to mean to simplify, re-arrange and generally have a good time seeing what I can do with paint.
What We Did.
The idea was to go from realism toward abstraction in a series of paintings.
To explain, we were all tasked with coming up with a reference still life or photo to use as a starting point. If using a reference photo, it could be anything from a still life to a figure or landscape, for instance. The idea was that the source material be from life. I ended up using a photo of a still life I set up on my breadboard.
The assignment for the first week was to paint a realistic painting of our subject as accurately as possible. The idea behind the accuracy is that you are investigating and studying your subject through the painting. This was our start point.
For the second week, we put away your initial reference material and used only the first painting for reference. We created a second painting of the same subject.
Week Three and Subsequent Weeks:
Same as week two, only using the previous week’s painting as your reference material.
- Generally speaking, we kept our canvas or paper the same size and orientation (vertical or horizontal) throughout the class.
- Honor among artists, we were encouraged not to consult previous paintings to find solutions to problems.
- It was OK to change color or value patterns.
- Simplification and abstracting encouraged.
- Pushing your boundaries and abilities was the idea; take risks!
Let the Deconstructing Magic Begin.
As Gabriel pointed out, by the third painting, one starts to want to explore possibilities. I felt the urge to dive in though it was a bit scary. You might say “ well, its just a painting”, and that’s a great way to think about it. The trouble is that you are stepping out of your comfort zone. The magic of deconstruction starts to happen when you realize the sooner you take the plunge the better.
Being excited to jump in, I came to class with an idea and went for it. I will admit that I had been looking at one of my books on Cubism and it had sparked an idea. I added a rectangle around a couple of the items in my still life and that changed everything.
The other thing I did was not dither or dwell on having a fully conceived drawing before I started. Wow! Was that ever different! I gave myself time to quickly outline my subject then started working with a paintbrush. For week five, Gabriel even brought out palette and putty knives. The difference in paint application added another dimension, and risk!
- It is exciting to push your own limits and comfort zone in painting. In this case, taking risk is good!
- I found it interesting and completely engaging having to react to each mark on the paper.
- Imposing limits, like a limited palette or value range, ends up being empowering. Or, maybe it was just easier because it freed me to consider the entire design elements.
- This is a great way to approach learning about abstraction.
- I think each of us has learned something about what we like and who we are as artists.
- Deconstructing a painting is somewhat different from the theme and variation that I have done before. The sequence of using your first painting as your source material for your second; second for third and so on helps reinforce the idea of getting to understand the construction of the subject through simplification and abstraction.
I was thinking that it is indeed easier to leap into the unknown when one is in a classroom environment. Gabriel was excellent in coaching us through the process. He encouraged us to try things. He guided us through design problems and considerations. Gabriel was as enthused about our work as we were.
Oddly enough, I think one of the interesting things that Gabriel did was not do a demo of deconstructing a painting during our class. The reason I thought it was a good idea (after the first week) was that we were forced to use our own resources to figure out how to deconstruct.
You see, during the first couple of weeks, I wanted to see what Gabriel was doing so I could get an idea about where to go. In other words, I wanted to see his solutions to the deconstruction problem. But, instead, I had to use my own mental resources. I had to struggle until I dove in to the work and tried things.
Just to clarify, Gabriel did a lot of instruction, especially one-on-one. He also inspired us to stretch ourselves and then work outside of our comfort zone.
Oh, and our fellow classmates. Their work was equally as inspiring and insightful. We each solved our deconstruction problems in different ways.
Do this process on my own. I would imagine that this is a great process to use from time to time. The work encourages examining your own process, esthetic and limitations. Plus, its great fun to plunge in and do things you thought you might like to try and never got around to doing.
My other thought was that going through this kind of exercise periodically might keep an artist from getting stale. Also, you might find some of your own little quirks. For example, I tend to create shapes that are the same size, sort of like soldiers in a formation. By questioning the habit, I may better employ it when it’s useful. Otherwise, variety in shape sizes is something I might want to watch purposely.
Yes, I would wholeheartedly recommend to fellow artists to either take Gabriel’s deconstructing class should he do it again. His expertise, especially his knowledge of what makes a good painting, is invaluable.
For those of us who don’t live in southern Oregon, perhaps you might want to go through a deconstruction exercise on your own. Or, maybe you have a friend that will do it along side of you so you can encourage each other. I suggest that the lessons learned are well worth the time invested!
Update: Post Deconstructing Class.
I am continuing to work on my own. I have seen the benefits and find it exciting. You might notice “Three Minute Egg v8”, its a work in progress. I’m deconstructing on my own.
Invitation To Share.
I would love to hear from you; please feel free to leave a comment. For those of you who have done a deconstruction series, I’d enjoy seeing a sample of your work! Matter of fact, I’d love seeing a sample of your work regardless!