Monday, February 27, 2017

Warhol-inspired Self-portraits

Andy Warhol has inspired a lot of artists and art lessons, and it's easy to see why. Bold, expressive, and totally subversive, his work turned the self-serious art world upside-down. With his combination of ordinary objects, celebrities, and politicians, he turned the public's and the art world's obsessive cultural lens on itself, asking us to ask ourselves what we take seriously. Pretty heavy, and with lots of parallels to work earlier in the century, like Marcel DuChamp.

Third grade student self-portrait
There are lots of reasons that students love Andy Warhol, and although he was early to bring silkscreening to the forefront of fine art, that's got nothing to do with what kids love. They love his realistic portraits and extreme color. Who can blame them? His work suggests all kinds of emotions, multiple personalities, and satirical takes on famous people who popular culture thought they knew well. It's a terrific jumping off point for students to think about what aspects of themselves they would want expressed visually, who they are by reputation, and who they are internally.

Fourth grade student work
The project began with photographs, where students in my third/fourth mixed-grade classes considered gaze direction, facial expression, and body language to create a visual expression of personality. The result could be a conflict of parts of their personalities, what they want to be, or who they feel they are.
Fourth grade student work
Using their photographs, students transferred sketches to watercolor paper by using graphite transfer paper. It's a great tool, and students were smitten by the possibilities it opened for them. They were able to get over the eternal self-portrait dread of it "not looking like me" and move onto what they hoped the work would express.


 When students completed their drawings with transfer paper, they used watercolor paint to tint the image.


The lesson objectives asked students to deeply consider composition as part of their work. So often, students fall into the trap of thinking that a successful self-portrait looks right at the viewer, and is centered, like a photo-studio portrait. I gave them extra-large paper, so that they could trim it down afterward if they changed their minds and wanted to try different angles or shapes for the composition.

Fourth grade student work
The works above and below have pretty awesome compositional choices. In the work above, she seems to be looking at something we cannot see, and her gaze directs us toward the light side of the image, suggesting a light source that appears again on her hair. She looks on calmly and strongly, and the diagonal angle adds to our suspense about what she sees.

Third grade student work.
In the painting above, his sense of loneliness or sadness is not only enhanced by the color and gaze, but how the artist chose to compose the work with himself down in the corner, enhancing the visual isolation. Students also looked at the use of shades of a single color used in Warhol's work. The painting above effectively used a monochromatic scheme to shows the lights and darks, which can be seen in areas such as how his neck is a darker shade than his face, and his lips are only ever so slightly warm in color.

Fourth grade student work

When students finished their paintings, they presented their work with construction paper matting. They used a variety of colors, shapes, and compositions there as well.

Fourth grade student work
It would be hard to overstate how happy students are with these artworks.

Fourth grade student work
Here are two more, just in case, like me, you cannot get enough of the powerful, creative voices these young artists possess. I am honored to work with them. In case you forgot while reading, these artists are nine and ten years old.

Third grade student work

Third grade student work



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