Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stendhal Syndrome

Here is an article I found about Stendhal Syndrome. I didn't know such a syndrome existed.

by Clint Watson 

In the July/August Issue of Art of the West Magazine, Tom Tierney and Allan Duerr wonder in their column "Straight Talk" why some people respond to art so strongly while others seem impervious to art's spiritual effects upon one's soul.  As I pondered their questions, I remembered reading about an obscure psychosomatic "illness" regarding cases of people who exhibit extreme sensitivity to beautiful art.  The phenomenon is called "Stendhal syndrome."

Stendhal syndrome is a psychosomatic "illness" that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art.  

Marie-Henri Beyle, the French author known as Stendhal (his pen name), visited Florence in 1817. His book, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio, describes his experience of the "illness."  He actually became dizzy and confused by the majestic beauty of Florentine art. According to an Italian psychiatrist, Graziella Magherini, it happens all the time.  Magherini observed and described more than 100 similar cases among tourists and visitors in Florence. Apparently Sensitive tourists enter the Uffizi, stand in front of  paintings by Brunelleschi or Botticelli, and simply keel over.   
I've seen similar effects upon visitors to art exhibitions that I've attended.  People stand in front of paintings gaping, weeping, or laughing.  Stendhal syndrome illustrates the amazing power that artists wield when they concern themselves with painting or sculpting, rather than making ridiculous splashes or preposterous gimmicks. 

Speaking of splashes and gimmicks, I have to wonder if anyone has ever fainted in front of an Andy Warhol or a Jackson Pollock?  How many tourists have collapsed in tears in the MOMA?  How many have been elated to spiritual highs by the geometric shapes of a Mondrian?  Although to be fair, I have to admit that the apparent appeal and popularity of Warhol, Pollock, Mondrian, Picasso and other modernists does leave me in a state of confusion, but that's not quite the same thing as keeling over from the sheer beauty of their works....

As Allan and Tom point out in their column, those of us who are art lovers "...respond to art because it feeds our souls and, simply put, makes our world a better place."  If being a person who responds strongly to art makes me ill, then I don't want to be well brother!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Women's art show at the Pompidou Center

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." Ellen Parr

Here is a link to an article about a show featuring only women artists at the Pompidou Center in Paris. The show ends August 10th.

And from Making a Mark I found this blog about making color charts to better understand the paints we use.

Hope everyone is having a good Memorial Day holiday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gilding & gold leaf


I recently bought 10 new canvases. I didn't need them but they were on sale. I have five 16x16 and five 36x36. Even though they say they are triple gessoed I always do one or two more coats of gesso. My favorite gesso is Utrecht's Professional grade gesso. Then I covered them with gold leaf. The bottom picture is before cleaning and the top photo is after gently cleaning with an old T-shirt on a small sponge.

There are several types of adhesives to use and my favorites are either Duo Embellishing Adhesive by USArtQuest or gold leaf adhesive size by Old World Art. I've also used matt or gloss medium but you need to be sure it is kept semi-wet because once it dries the leaf won't stick too well. The very worst thing to use is spray adhesive. It is bad for you and the environment and besides it doesn't work well at all. Nasty, nasty useless stuff in my opinion. 

Now it's ready to be painted on and may bead up a bit with the first coat but keep going and the paint will stick very well. I start with the most transparent paints available. Later the more opaque colors can be added when I'm sure I want to really cover the gold leaf. Why gold leaf a canvas if you cover the whole thing with opaque paint?

I recently drove between Vancouver and Seattle which takes about 2 1/2 hours. This is the perfect time of year to drive as far as the scenery goes. The deciduous trees are turning from the very palest greens to more mature greens which creates a wonderful contrast between the evergreens which are sort of black green and the newer greens seen in the spring. I saw blue-purple lupines, California poppies, burgundy grasses, pale yellow mustard plants and the deeper yellow Scotch Broom. Wonderful blue skies and good views of Mt. Rainier too. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When is a painting finished?

This is a question much weightier artists have addressed over and over in books or on the internet. I don't have the answer except to say---it depends---on the artist. When a painting is leaving the ugly adolescent realm and starting to be it's own special piece is when I turn to some tricks or tests. 

The two 12x24 pieces I posted here are approaching this stage of development. 
These two paintings are on at least their fourth go round with me. If they don't come into their own soon they will be the first canvases I've destroyed which gives me a lot of freedom really. I'm working with lots of alcohol now and digging into very old layers.

Tips on finishing:
1. Look at the painting in all four directions rotating it and squinting or take your glasses off.
2. Check out light and dark using a piece of red plexiglass.
3. Do you have different sizes of general shapes?
4. Do you have or want a center of interest?
5. Do you need neutrals to rest the eye? I have a hard time using neutrals at all!
6. If on paper using mat board "Ls" is helpful. Wish I could crop canvases sometimes.
7. Simplify. Major problem for me.
8. Put in a darker room and see it out of the corner of the eye. You'll see things you didn't see before. What about working in the dark?
9. Check it out in a mirror.
10. Take a photo and see it on the computer in color, black and white and sepia. Make larger or smaller. Try way smaller too.
11. Wait a few days and look again. Or a few months!

If I think of other things that have helped me in the past I'll post them later. I'll be gone for a few days.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Artist interview with Leslie Zemenek

Today's post is an interview with an artist from Victoria BC.

On the easel
Leslie's new studio

Leslie, to get started would you please describe your current studio and since
it's a newer studio you might discuss what plans you have for developing
it in the future.

After three moves in an 18 month period, I finally have a stable home
and with that a new studio. At 450 square feet, it also doubles as a
home office for other ventures. About 2/3 of the space is dedicated
studio. The room has built-in cabinets and a kitchenette with sink,
small fridge and even more cabinets. There's also a full bathroom. Just
outside the door is the laundry room, so I have plenty of sources of water.

When I moved in, all the walls in the home were painted a dull pink
beige, much like the color that used to be called "Flesh" in the 64
piece Crayola Crayons box. It sucked up all the light, so the first
thing I did was paint the studio walls a bright white. As I sit in the
room, I'm feeling a need for a little more color, so my next step will
be to paint the trim around the windows and doors a nice deep hue. I'm
still undecided as to color. There is a large picture window that looks
out on the garden. Since that wall has no room for hanging art, I plan
to do some painting and doodling directly on the wall. I also want to
stencil some of my favorite quotes funning along the wall just under the

Other necessary upgrades include better lighting and more electrical
outlets. I suspect that as I use the space I will discover other things
I can tweak to make it more efficient, comfortable and mine.

What is your favorite reaction that anyone has ever had to your work?

Although this rarely results in a sale, I'm always pleased when people
find it difficult to look at my work for more than a second. I'm not
talking about the "nice, but not my cup of tea" look. I'm talking about
a reaction of palpable discomfort. I believe art should evoke emotion.
Even though my subject matter is not particularly disturbing, it is
thought provoking and is likely to either evoke excitement or unease.
Whenever I see people who look anxiously away after a moment's glance at
my work, I know it's doing it's job.

What was the most deflating? What would you really like for people to
say about your art?
I'm pretty resilient when it comes to my work, I know it's not for
everyone, so I can't say I've ever felt deflated by anyone's reaction.
I'd say I'm more disappointed when people don't take the time to
actually "feel" or "experience" the work. It doesn't matter if they like
it or not, just that they take it in and allow it to speak to them,
positively or negatively. I'm unhappy that so many people seem to prefer
view art that is predictable, kind of like the visual equivalent of Muzak.

When you are working in your studio do you think about your audience
and their reaction to the work? And if yes, who do you imagine your
audience to be? 

When I'm in my studio I'm performing for an audience of one -- me!

If you could go anywhere-any country-for inspiration, where would you
go and why?

My list of places that I want to visit expands and changes constantly.
Right now that list includes Prague, Montreal, Greece, Morocco, and a
sail down the Nile.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Rather than choose a place, I am interested in living somewhere with a
particular kind of energy. When I find that place, I'll know it instantly.

Who are some artists who stir you soul and why? What is it,
specifically, about their work that draws you to it?

Like places on the globe, my list of artists whose work inspires me
grows and changes. One artist who has remained on my list since early
childhood is Marc Chagall. Maybe it's my Russian ancestry that connects
me to his work. But I think it's more than that. I love the mystery of
the stories told visually in his work, I love his colors and gestures.
His work never reminds me of the work of any other artist, and no other
artist's work reminds me of his.

Do you find titles to be integral to understanding a work of art?

I rant constantly about artists who call their works "Untitled" or even
"Untitled 206." I had a long discussion with a curator once who
explained to me the philosophy behind the lack of titles. Calling
something "Untitled," to me, indicates laziness or a lack of
imagination. If the artist felt strongly enough to communicate a vision
or idea in a visual manner, it shouldn't be a stretch to come up with a
title that expands upon that vision. A good title adds untold dimension
to the work.

Describe how you develop titles for your work.

The titles whisper themselves in my ear at some point during the
painting process, most often when I am about 2/3rd to 3/4ths of the way

Is an artist's statement really important or just something you do out
of obligation? What purpose does your statement serve?

Like a good title, I think an artist statement is another extremely
important way to communicate the artist's vision. I've heard some
artists argue that the art should speak for itself. Unfortunately I
think that in this age of YouTube, much of the general public isn't
"listening" on a soul level. A well crafted statement can help to spark
the dialogue between the observer and the art.

Does art serve a function beyond decorating walls?

A lot of art does just decorate walls. But that's not what I'm
interested in. Art should come from and speak to the soul.

Do you think artists are fundamentally different than other people? Why
or why not?

Yes and no. I believe everyone has the seed of an artist within, but
those who have cultivated that seed do approach life differently and
face different and more difficult challenges than those who don't. We
live in a world that values left brain processes. I can't prove it, but
my feeling is that this lopsided approach has caused a lot of the
world's problems. Artists and other right brain thinkers may very well
turn out to be tomorrow's superheroes.

Tell me about your favorite tools, type of paint, color palette or your
painting process.

I know a lot of people don't like them, but I keep my paints in a
Masterson Sta-Wet Palette. I am also lost without my spray bottle of
water. I actually don't mix a lot of color at once. If need be, I mix it
again. I don't mind if it isn't exactly the same as before, that adds to
the depth and richness of the paint.

My basic color palette consists of Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Permanent
Violet Dark, Payne's Gray, Pthalo Turquoise, Quinacridone Gold and
Cadmium Red Light. Instead of white I use a Liquitex color called
Parchment which is on the greenish side. I love it.

See more of Leslie's work here.

Thanks so much for answering my many, many questions. Later on, when you have your studio up and running I would love to post a photo or two. 

Friday, May 1, 2009

The next paintings

I have three paintings patiently waiting for me to continue with them. The two 12x24 pieces have previous paintings underneath what you see. One has silver leaf on part of it and the other has gold. Still not certain at this stage if they will be portrait or landscape. I've heard of people putting two hanging wires in each direction on the back so the owner of the painting can hang it which ever way they want. Sometimes, even in the later stages of a painting, I'll decide to change the orientation and wonder why I haven't seen it earlier.

The 24x30 painting has gold leaf over the whole canvas and I'm not sure where this painting will end up either! 

But they are all worthy of attention and time and will probably change a good deal before I think they're finished. Just a matter of finding the time which is always the way it seems to be around here.