JOHN MORRA (click here to go to his web site)
The Ghost In The Machine: Painting the Modern Still-life
June 7 - 10
Skill level: intermediate to advanced
Are you tired of painting Sunflowers, Pears and Drapery? Do you long for a fresh painting challenge? Have you ever wondered if the artifacts of modern industry could work in a traditionally painted still-life? In this workshop, you will explore the hidden potential of the mechanical world as still-life.
First, (before the workshop starts) students will select from the following thematic possibilities:
1) The Appliance: If Chardin could take barrels and simple pottery -- the Ikea items of his day-- and transform them by his vision into something bordering on religious art, why not try this with the overlooked implements of today's kitchen or garage? Grandma's old kitchen mixer from the thirties has as much grunge and accretion of history as the noblest earthenware vessel -- so why not enshrine it in a painting? Variations can include the "Iconic single subject" type of image, such as a formal "portrait" of a vacuum cleaner; or the slice-of-life "recipe" picture -- an ensemble of ingredients for a given recipe and the appropriate appliance for making it -- why not give that old coffee press a lead role, with milk, cream and sugar as supporting actors? There are as many possibilities as there are recipes, and no painter's kitchen is complete without a culinary-honoring still-life… or your Mom's kitchen, anyway!
2) The Machine In The Garden…few things are more picturesque and Romantic than a ruin, and the Industrial Revolution gave us a new kind of landscape -- the decaying rustbelt factory. Here, it is more than possible to make a little table-top diorama by mixing the organic (rocks, twigs, plants, etc) with the inorganic (old car parts, simple nuts and bolts, railroad spikes, in order to create a still-life that is a modern landscape, cityscape, baroque theatre and still-life -- all at once. "Sky" backgrounds can be made with colored paper, or by colored light illumination -- why not an orange fluorescent bulb for a sunset sky? The explorations of deep pictorial space are possible here, and the simplest set-up can make for a convincing illusion of a real world.
3) The machine collage, or MERTZ painting: This theme is similar to the #2 above, except that the organic often plays a lesser role or none at all. Who has not marveled at the strange beauty/ugliness of an electrical power station, with its tangle of wires, cables and insulators? Or, what about the strange, shiny world that exists inside of an old radio or television? All of these influences can be combined into fabulous Rube-Goldberg-like factories or assembled together to make fabulously fanciful skylines. Here, an old pot, if viewed from an odd angle, becomes a water tower, and a Christmas ornament atop an old bottle becomes a power station.
On the first day, students will set up their props, and paint in monochrome to assure a satisfying "fit" into their canvas size, and to resolve the drawing; on the second day, the main colors are established, and the correct range of values is realized, and on the last day the painting is brought up to finish. Glazing will be demonstrated as a way to unify a painting, and as a method of building colors gradually. The all-important textures of stone, metal, glass, ceramic and wood will be demonstrated, and the always useful "special effects" of the palette knife will be explored -- along with other top-secret methods too classified to list here!
In spite of the artificiality of these ideas and methods, careful, truthful observation of shapes, colors and textures is still the main engine that drives these types of pictures, and will be emphasized throughout. This class will give you new ideas for what a modern still-life can be.