Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On the Scene; Points of View

Two images from the airport in Islip, New York, to which we fled some months back when the metropolitan NYC airports shut down. A nor'easter had put the region out of commission. Since the system has so many fewer flights in it these days, if you miss your flight you're often out of luck, because following flights are already full. Trying to get back to St. Louis took an additional day, and a late night trek 90 miles east across Long Island in sheets of rain.

The juniors are at work on a reportage project. This time out we are perhaps less invested in pithy summaries of the local than 1) a serious investigation of media and 2) the presentation of varied pictorial spaces. These pencils report visual phenomena without much adjustment, save for subtraction; the man waiting at the gate (will our plane ever come?) overlaps the tailfin which rises over the tarmac outside, because he blocked my view of it. But nothing would have prevented me from manipulating the space to tip it up, ever flatter, so the man would appear at the bottom of the image, and the fin at the top.

Such spatial maneuvers are common in modernist painting. Observe: two German Expressionists take a whack at tipped-up ground planes. The first, by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, View from a Window (1914) profits from the altitude afforded by his perch. But care is taken to push the plane down in front, to heighten the effect–both literally and figuratively. A more radical approach is apparent in Erick Heckel's Bathers (1912-13) which combines a topographic p.o.v. with a theatrical presentation of many figures in profile. The two views–aerial and intimate–are presented with total aplomb, becoming one in the process.

Both of these paintings are in the collections of the Saint Louis Art Museum, which as it happens is brimming with Germans, including the enigmatic Herr Beckmann, whose roomful of paintings justify a visit to the place all by itself.

I have written about spatial plasticity before, particularly in the context of learned behavior in beginning drawing courses. It can be difficult to give oneself permission to treat space like taffy, but there are good reasons for doing so from time to time. And here, an essay on pictorial display for narrative and informational purposes.

Finally, to follow up our discussion of photography as a tool, here is a reflection on same and the sketchbook painting below. (More aviation!)

Students, follow the links for additional material.

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