Alexandra Sheldon

Composition + More Composition

Alexandra SheldonComment
After Dennis Parlante

After Dennis Parlante

After Dennis Parlante

Dear Marsha,

Tomorrow night will be our last Thursday night class for the winter semester. I have been pushing composition, composition and more composition. It's hard to write about composition; easier to show it with a big marker on a big paper tacked to the wall. One Thursday afternoon, in preparing for class, I looked thru a stack of collage books. I began doing little studies of the compositions I was looking at. I found this guy named Dennis Parlante in the Masters Collage book (2010 Lark Crafts). I made two collages in the style of this man. Copying can be a great way to see how someone does something, how they structure their pieces, arrange their compositions. His palette is mostly earth tones and he begins by collaging together old antique letters and papers. Then he adds contemporary painted lines and designs which he makes using black ink.  So there is this nice old and new feeling, to and fro, back and forth. I also went online and was able to find some pictures of Parlante working in his studio. I could see that he did these bold abstract paintings in ink on separate pieces of paper and then he would collage them onto his vintage materials. It is so useful to research an artist. Go to museum and if you see something you like, try to see more, read about the artist, try to figure out what they did. I talked to the class about Braque and Picasso, the real fathers of contemporary collage (with Max Ernst). The way they upended pictorial space and played and danced with it. They ran with the ball that Cezanne had thrown into the sky: Cubism. Illusory and flat, all at the same time. Stare at their early collages and you see all this space (a shape put in front of a shape put in front of another shape) made and broken down, made and broken down. Watch how Picasso drew into his collages with charcoal as a way of reinstating illusory space. I showed the class how Robert Motherwell absorbed Picasso's influence and pushed further, getting wilder and messier. Motherwells early collages are beautiful and fast and slapped together and then he does this big black drawing of a stick figure (totally Picassoesque) over the whole thing to pull it all together. He also limits his palette and often paints areas of a collage over to simplify it, often 'cinching' in the waist of the piece by painting the entire sides a neutral color like light grey or soft yellow. It's awkward to describe compositions, I'm better at running around the room with my iPad or an art book showing this stuff to the class.

Recently I've been reading the Ann Patchett book "This is the story of a happy marriage". It's filled with essays and wisdom about creativity (and everything else too). She helped me when she described the beginning of writing a book. How her idea was like a iridescent multicolored gorgeous butterfly and as she mused on the plan of her next story it got more and more beautiful and twirled around her and she would feel downright giddy with inspiration, But then she had to capture the darn thing and pin it down and watch it die as she actually tried to write the book. I do this almost daily: I am inspired, I see the light on the river and I can't wait to get to my studio to make a collage about the light on the river. Only it looks flat when I start making something and then I go get a cup of coffee and the sky is doing this amazing thing and I can almost taste the spring and I come back and try to put the feel of the impending spring into my piece but it looks stupid. Sometimes I give up - the gap between what I dream of doing and what I actually do is sometimes too wide. Mostly though I don't give up. I wake up every single day wanting to bridge this gap. Hope springs eternal. Nature is what inspires me. Every day. Almost too much. There are times I need to burrow away and read, or watch movies. My depression does not stem from not wanting to do anything. It stems from wanting to do everything, go everywhere, paint everything and not being up to the task. Lately I have taken up the practice to thank the Gods for so much inspiration (and to ask them to help me deal with it more gracefully).

Oh! And you must look into this 80 year old artist named Mary Bauermeister who is having a show at Smith College in Northampton and doing a residency there. Very interesting collage, sculpture and paintings. Xx