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«i MY VISUAL MEMOIR A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Laguna College of Art & Design by MICHAEL J. HARNISH In Partial Fulfillment of the ...»

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A Thesis

Submitted to the Faculty


Laguna College of Art & Design



In Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the Degree


Master of Fine Arts

May, 2010

Harnish 2

© 2010 by Michael J. Harnish

No part of this work can be reproduced without permission except as indicated by the “Fair Use” clause

of the copyright law. Passages, images, or ideas taken from this work must be properly credited in any written or published materials.

Harnish 3 Table of Contents Abstract/Introduction……………………………………………………………………………...4 Drawings………………………………………………………. …………………………………5 Paintings…………………………………………………………………………

Methodology …………………………………………………………………………………….17 Research …………………………………………………………………………………………20 Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………………………24 Works Cited…………………………………………………………………………………….. 25 Harnish 4 "I don't really have studios. I wander around people's attics, out in fields, in cellars, anyplace I find that invites me." -Andrew Wyeth Abstract The culmination of this body of works is centered on my experiences. The paintings of this series follow the story of my life at this time in the past and the present. I want to depict places and people that mark a specific time and place in my life. Each painting holds a purpose as part of a memoir and a personal reflection of that specific moment. These paintings will not hold the same value for different viewers; however the hope is that they too can relate to these personal experiences. These paintings are not necessarily investigations of the subject matter of the painting, but they are more intrinsically embedded. One cannot in other words recreate a moment in the way it was originally experienced. The paintings provide more than what a photograph might since they have a deep personal connection. This project, like a journal is intended to develop nostalgia for the viewer by painting an autobiography.

Introduction There was a great amount of liberty with the concept of painting a visual memoir. The original intention was for the work to not be considered as a standardized series of work. The commercial galleries' display or present guidelines for showing a particular artists work. For

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scheme throughout the paintings, and fixed subject for the entirety of the presentation. It is possible that this is done in order to help them sell the work with greater ease. The proposed idea of this series was to disconnect from these perceived gallery norms. This can be viewed as the only true manner of interconnecting the variety of an artist's expression. By capturing places, people, and objects there is an in formalized weave showing the greater sensitivity of life. By means of these depicted realities, the viewer will be able to gain an understanding of the artist as well as develop a story for themselves.

This project was formulated as a response to the multitude of mundane and exciting experiences of everyday life. By representing events, places, and experiences artistically, I am able to digest and further understand my role in society. I want to capture specific moments of life. These paintings serve as a book mark and a constant reminder of a specific time and place.

Drawings My hope is that the included charcoal drawings will be valued with the same frame of mind as was outlined for the paintings. For example, the mark making and fluidity is quite similar to that of oil paint. Throughout time, drawings were seen as preliminary project for oil paintings. At one point were called cartoons. Dictionary.com defines a cartoon in Fine Arts as, “a full-scale design for a picture, ornamental motif or pattern, or the like, to be transferred to a fresco, tapestry, etc.” I do not want my drawings to be solely design elements for something

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mind set and the environment I was living in felt cold and empty. I did not feel a sense of relationship with any of my surroundings at this point. The image shows my Julian with his shirt off, a cigarette in mouth, holding an empty container, and seated in an isolated space. The constant repetition of stale daily life along with a recent breakup was slowly eating away at any hope of peace. I chose to depict Julian as an outward depiction of my emotions and attitude at this point in time.

Heavy contrast in light with an emphasis on the dark areas helps to create a moody backdrop. A classical light source was used by many of the heavy Baroque artists of the 17th century to portray that same moodiness. I tend to gravitate towards more contrasting light when dealing with charcoal since I am working in tones. I want to utilize the full range of value.

The portrait of Stephanie is a life size charcoal drawing. This piece has significant meaning because it was drawn from the last photograph I took of my ex girlfriend. The odd look was captivating, so I found myself drawing it. During the execution I had no foresight that this would be one of the few visual reminders of the many years spent with this person. Her confident posture and awkward smile were what I gravitated to in the camera image. This basic gesture described her wonderfully. This image will serve as a strong bookmark for this time of my life.

The image is rather simple. Stephanie’s light face pops out from the dark and simplified background. The drawing is more of an icon due to her centrality and the heavy cropping on the side. The mark making in the ambiguous background makes the setting a little uneasy since there is no place for the eye to rest. The background becomes a sublime space filled with tense charcoal marks. In each mark I struggled to find some sort of reason for their shape and position.

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Paintings Oil paint is an endless medium for the exploration of life. It is filled with the personality and sensitivity of the artist when explored in its relative context. The specific application of paint is crucial and prominent when exploring the surface of an artist’s work. Aside from the paint, subject matter helps to distinguish the individuality of the creator. Oil paint has many properties ranging from a dry solidified application to a wet, looser, and more transparent approach. This

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Lemon Trees is an image portraying the garden behind my house. As I moved into my new residence, I found a sense of rebirth. The new home entitled Chateau Du Champs is the largest place I have ever found myself living in. The previous owner could not afford to pay the mortgage so we were given the opportunity to rent it at a reasonable price. The new experience

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I found the lemon trees and the space surrounding them interesting formally due to the amount of ambiguous shapes and colors within this environment and it was these things which sparked an interest in the composition. When I first began painting this scene, I found myself waking up at 6 am to paint the area from life. I wanted to capture a specific time. I found that during this time, there was not a lot of heavy light and shadows. Also there were a lot of intense dark colors which I responded to. As the painting progressed I found myself making diligent changes to the image and brought the painting into the studio. Here I invented a sky and changed a few passages of light and visual space on the ground plane. I found myself looking a lot at Corot who also loved darker depictions of space facing against the light of the sun.

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depiction of an everyday object helped to describe this transitional period in life. The dryness that was experienced after having been in a relationship was communicated through this overlooked object. By painting this everyday object, I felt it would remind me of routine and help in the readjustment phase of life.

First, the shape and color of the lamp appealed to me. When it was placed near a grey wall in my studio, I found the relationship between the object and wall intoxicating. Not only was the contour shape of the lamp wonderful against the flat wall but also the color relationships between the two portrayed a peculiar beauty. It was this muted relationship that gave more validity to the choice of a lamp. It reminded me of a color palette that the artist James Whistler might have used. I too wanted to explore Whistler’s color relationships using a personal item.

Using portraiture, I have investigated detailed attributes of people in my life. Each has contributed to my sensitivity and understanding of life. In response to notable portraiture of the past, the artist has glorified the subject by representing the image for future generations. The portraits in this series depict grandiose poses reminiscent of the 17th century artist, Diego Velazquez's royal portraits. In an attempt to echo this manner of representation, I chose to paint some of the subjects, life size. I felt as though the size would help add validity to the piece.

Working on this scale, the viewer begins to become confronted by the image. The images I am

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The portrait of Nicole is the second painting for this series of work. Nicole is a folk musician. Her talents have inspired me since her music provides uplifting tonal melodies. In this portrait, I wanted to invoke some of the joy that she brings. This is the reason for adding more color in this piece. It is intended for the viewer to gain a similar sense of peace and joy in

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Nicole and I had a sort of intimate relationship at one time in life. I felt that by being in her company after another relationship ended, I would find a way to move forward. She was a great friend full of helpful insight and wonderful companionship. As my recent relationship ended, Nicole was on her own path, so unfortunately we were only able to share a few good times together. Her inspiring music and profound insight regarding the life of an artist were uplifting and helpful in me discerning my own placement in life.

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The expectation for the portrait of Nicole was to follow the great painter Johannes Vermeer. I found myself looking at Vermeer for his depiction of space and light. Vermeer’s gives a wonderful sense of life in his space and figures. The wall behind her has a similar reflection of

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this image is placed to help with the emotion of the image. Arthur K Wheelock Jr. describes Vermeer’s light in a similar way. He states" This use of color, light, and perspective to reinforce the emotional impact of a scene is characteristic of his work throughout his career." (Wheelock, 1995) The Tea Drinkers is a depiction of my two good friends Julian and Jack. They are portrayed in the sunroom of my current house drinking tea in the afternoon. I wanted to portray elements of both characters which help give the viewer a stronger idea of their character. Each person has turned into a different character due to their current surroundings. I found this fascinating and wanted to provide a narrative surrounding a conversation over tea.

I find it weird how life can take people on completely different paths.

Jack's life is completely fast paced and full of adventure, while Julian's life is slow. It seems that the bond between them is weakening. The two close friends are now far removed from one another. The differences in interests and new environments can change a person in many unforeseen ways. This chapter of my life is a time to represent the rejoining of friendships. I feel like one of the characters in the painting, slowly drifting away from these characters as I also find myself on a new path.

In this painting I wanted to pay attention to a certain type of sensitivity to light and tonal values. I wanted a rather gloomy feel so I chose muddy colors with minimal saturation. The space helps create a sort of framework that helps add to the tension between the figures. The placement of the figures is odd in relation to one another. Jack is portrayed rather sluggish and

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Garden no. 2 is a depiction of the space behind my ex girlfriend's house. The garden depicts a copious amount of dying vegetation. At the time I was painting this scene I found the comparison between the dead and dying vegetables to be stimulating because of the relationships of green and brown colors.

The twisting and turning of tangled tomatoes vines mimic my indecisiveness and

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for the first time and had been seriously contemplating the idea of marriage. However I felt I needed to be prudent in my decisions since I was not finished with school and had no financial means at the time. With all the outside pressure, I felt confused and it was leading me to become stagnant. I felt I was projecting my confusion and unhappiness on my past girlfriend.

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Methodology I. Creative approach I believe that from the point I witness a valuable moment or place of value, I have a strong desire to represent it. This inspiration cannot be forced but occurs when I least expect it.

I see something, someone, or some place and I immediately find myself wanting to capture it.

From the moment I start the painting to its development years later, the value of the image often

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the experience.

II. Technical approach Traditions of various cultures are always something that has always appealed to me.

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