Monday, March 21, 2011

Figure identity... drawing vs. formal means

A funny thing happened with a painting I was working on. I had developed a figures head with a simplified profile eye that was cloaked in shadow (you could not see the eye itself). Without an eye, the figure isn't even animate... not even a person... it's just a human body with no soul. It had no unique identity. As a consequence, I think the figure doesn't command psychological attention from the viewer. In this case, it just melted into the background like a piece of furniture (albeit maybe slightly more interesting than furniture)... and made worse because it was the same tonality as the background.

So I was trying a bunch of tricks to bring this identity-less figure forward. I tried to contrast it with the background, making it brighter and/or using complementary colors in the background. In other words, I was trying to use formal devices. But what was needed in this case was actually the psychological device of depicting a real person. So I developed the head to a greater degree, including an eye. Now the figure separates from the background, and NOT because of formal qualities, but because of the psychological quality that comes from the figure having an identity.

Despite the modernist assertion that formal qualities are sufficient for picture making, it seem they are not sufficient when the picture contains figures. Or at least I can say, that they can come up short on our intentions. In my case, I wanted that figure to command attention as a unique person. But without particularity (and eye), it stayed in the realm of formal abstraction, and didn't register psychologically.

This seems related to the issue of abstract (geometric) logic vs. representational logic. I had asserted that geometric logic can define interesting formal relationships when the objects being so arranged are themselves abstract, but that those relations may make no sense vis-a-vis the objects represented. So it would seem with formal qualities of painting (color, value, chroma, etc)... that they cannot not necessarily imbue the figure with meaning.

Here's a further bit of theorizing. The particularity that is required to make a "figure shape" become a unique figure is uncertain. I'm not sure where the line is... but you know it when you see it. I knew that my figure needed an eye to become real. So here's a cool question... is the insertion of an eye a "formal" act? Certainly one has to use some formal device to place the eye, but the eye could be inserted in many ways and would have the same (general) effect of making the figure particular. Therefore, the formal manner in which the eye is painted might affect many things, but I don't feel correct in saying that the eye is a formal device. What I want to say is that the eye is a drawing device, which means I'm considering drawing apart from any formal issue.

Putting aside all the counter arguments to the idea that drawing isn't a formal device, I can instead just consider drawing as something like... "The placement of intended components"... or something like that. I wanted an eye, and so I painted it... and though painting is a formal means... the formal means was controlled FUNDAMENTALLY by the intention to "place an eye"... which is drawing.

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