Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Modigliani Self Portraits- RES

Fourth grade artists at RES looked at the artwork of Amedeo Modigliani to see how he leveraged color, proportion, and textures to show emotion in his subjects.

 Although Modigliani's portraits are not terribly, um, uplifting, they are certainly effective in showing how someone is feeling. The empty eyes, long necks, tiny mouths, and cool palette he used most often lends an air of sadness to the subjects.  Those sloping shoulders and vertical brushmarks in the background create an undeniable downward pull that accentuates the feeling.

Students has a great discussion of Ms. Hebuterne here, and came away deciding that she was dressed up for some sort of event, like a party or dinner out, given the clues of her fancy up-do, the necklace, and nice dress. Despite the sense that she was somewhere social, students decided her posture, expression, and color palette made her look terribly bored and lonely.

Pulling in many of those themes, some of the RES artists chose to also portray sadness, using blue in the skin tones and leaving those eyes vacant and unavailable.  That was not the assignment, however.  The goal was to use their knowledge of color, expression, body language, and mark-making to create a self-portrait that is showing a strong feeling- any feeling. The variety created are rather remarkable, with their varied approaches that all clearly still nod toward Modigliani as inspiration.

 What makes this translate as happy and calm? Note the artist's choices. A straight, alert posture, perky ponytail, colorful shirt, relaxed smile, eye contact, warm skin tones.

 This one crops off the left side of the page, very effectively showing that the subject is unsure, even slinking away.  The tiny pursed mouth, the sideways glance.

 This one is most effective in person, but the reds in the skin, the tight mouth, the stiff posture, and dark eyes show an inner anger that almost boils, without relying upon cartoonish eyebrow or eye angles for the drama.

 The level of electrified excitement this portrait shows is emphasized by the frenetic line quality, bright, almost uncontrolled color choices, the wiggly posture, and giant alert eyes. Can't you feel how this person has ants in his pants? I keep expecting it to leap off the page and do something sort of naughty.

 This one has really incredible aspects I wanted to note- that shadow on the neck under the chin is sophisticated in a way that moves beyond a heavy outline. Also, this was the only artist to try to draw herself in three-quarters view.

 The directness of the sadness and eye contact seem noteworthy here.  Despite the empty eyes, he seems to be looking right at you, confronting and questioning.

 This one is barely holding it in. Even without a full body in the image, can you picture the curled fists with white knuckles? The ordinariness of the Celtics t-shirt is a great choice, because it makes it seem even more unexpected that this person is so furious at this moment.

The elements of this one that seem particularly effective are the heavy eyelids and the mark-making. The long downward pull of the pastel marks on the face and the avoidance of eye contact show intense hopelessness, almost a resigned sadness that doesn't need tricks like tears to be effective.

These, of course, are not intended to look exactly like the artist. One of the primary challenges in self-portraiture is the self-consciousness that students feel when they are trying to make it "look real."

The intentional abstraction of reality in this project eliminates that stress from the beginning, and eases students into self-portraiture more as a vehicle for expression than one focused solely on realism.

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