Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Enigma of subtlety: adding mystery

A friend (thank you, Terry!) suggested I consider adding more mystery  to my work .  While I love intrigue and obfuscation, I have often been told I should be more subtle!   So I starting cogitating upon how this could be done…I’ve come up with a few ideas but would love input!!

Lost edges/dissolving
A technique much beloved of painters, where the edges of a form within the paint dissolve into the background.  Paula Nadelstern uses this method to disguise the real edges of her wonderful snow crystals. I used it in several of my shibori/discharge pieces.

In Botallack Mine the edges of the houses disappear into the outline of the headland.   

You can see that effect clearly in this detail (right) from The Arrogance of Calm where i’ve basically only indicated the roof.  It’s an effect that’s a little harder to do without surface design but could be managed by matching values: i.e. if the edge of the object is dark and the background is similarly dark, the one will flow into the other.  As well as adding mystery, it helps with the TOV (the track of vision) or the way your eyes flow through the piece. (His eyes fled to her heaving bosom – I love thinking concretely about these trite metaphors from romantic slush !).  Well…let your eyes float around my houses!!

Something is obscure when you’re not really sure what it is..could it be a group of houses? or a set of rhomboids?  If I don’t give you any clues…perhaps I’ll achieve more mystery.  Another way to obscure would be to introduce more shadows with strange amorphous things possibly happening within them.  How d’you cut an amorph though? I wonder if they sell amorphous templates? Somebody is sure to have thought of it in the name of free amorphous enterprise!

Picasso once defined all art as being abstract (because it’s never perfectly realistic) and no art as being abstract – because there are always associations and influences from the real world. But obviously there is a continuum and I’m looking for a way to push myself nearer to the abstract end.
There are many ways to abstract:  I think one that might be interesting to try would be to work through all the different elements and consider my original scene from the standpoint of one element only and deliberately ignore the rest: e.g. consider only shapes…or only values (that might be really interesting!!), only colour…or only texture…hmmm… my cogitation cogs are churning!


This is an easy way to drop detail and reduce an image to squares alone…put the image into Photoshop and then reduce the pixels.  What’s fascinating is how far you can simplify and still know what the image is.

Unusual angle of view
wow I got so many good ideas from this one! Look!! IMG_1839 IMG_1845

IMG_1847 and don’t even ask me how I managed a double exposure with a digital camera! “Time to Sew!”

always a favorite: (yes I’m in there, upside down..had to hang from the ceiling to get this shot!)

Gestalt – subtraction
I’m a great believer in getting rid of stuff in quilts and very good at telling others about it…need to exercise that on myself.  We know from Gestalt theory that we really need very little information to mk sns f thgs!

I could disguise one thing as another…is that a Dalmation or is it currant cake?  (the next time I see a Dalmation with a currant cake I’ll take a picture to illustrate this point! – or you can send yours in!)

I love this word…how to create an enigma…I shall need to go for a cogitating walk (the best kind) to figure out how this might be done…some kind of translation I think might be the starting point….

I have begun to try this: not so much spelling things out as merely hinting at them – e.g. instead of the edges of a window or a flower, just indicating the shadow on the window, the light on the flower.

Of course in language one should eschew obfuscation, but perhaps in visual terms??? One possibility might be to reverse things like Hockney did so amazingly in his reverse perspective paintings.

anyone for mystery?  let’s hear your plot!
And, if you have been…thanks for reading!  And now I’m off for my cogitating walk.   Elizabeth


margie said...

Delurking here (I've been reading your blog for the last couple of months.)

I find your comments thought-provoking. Today, I especially like the paraphrase of Picasso as I was looking at something over the weekend and thinking exactly that--about the continuum and about how the mind works to see things. I also really love the way you consider art ideas in quilting. said...

Hi Elizabeth, I found your discussion about abstraction interesting. I work with abstract art, and find representational challenging. Conceptual is even harder for me. Given that, perhaps you'd consider a suggestion to ease into abstract work. Try starting with an abstract idea. Something like a color, or a feeling, or an atmosphere, like foggy. If you start with something representational, like roof tops, then try to abstract it, you are really married to the representational, and more or less limited to interpreting it as an impression or representation, which you do very well, BTW. If you start with something like "healing", and consider how to represent illness or injury, repair and wholeness, just with line, shape, value and color, you can avoid making a thing that people recognize. Clear as mud? I'd be glad to discuss it with you.