Assignment 3: Mushrooms

‘Not so Still Life of Mushrooms’: Overview and assessment

For this project I set up a Still Life of Japanese mushrooms. Mushrooms fascinate me because of their varied shapes, subtle tones and symbolic associations. They have associations with death and dying because they often reproduce on dead matter. At the same time they represent irrepressible life, spreading their mycelia unseen under the surface and often living for hundreds of years. Some mushrooms have been shown to have chemicals that counter ageing and cancer. Others have links to magic and out of world experiences, having been used by priests in many cultures as a means of spiritual enlightenment. Yet others are extremely poisonous – meaning that mushrooms in general are also a source of fear of the unknown.

In setting up the Still Life I selected the samples that had the most interesting shapes and textures. Then, starting with photographs, I experimented with different arrangements and composition, exploring different interrelationships between the shapes and shadows. Then I did a detailed charcoal drawing, developing this over time and going through several different stages before deciding the drawing was finished. I then further experimented with cropping and colour combinations on the iPad before arriving at the final design. In the process the mushrooms acquired characters and suggested narratives that led to the final concept: the sexual entanglement of the two large ‘parent’ mushrooms at the back, oblivious and separate from the quarrelling and bullying of the smaller mushrooms at the front. Some of the shapes were also inspired by Picasso’s angular violent images in eg Guernica.

For printing medium I thought first of chiaroscuro monoprint and/or Drypoint. because I wanted to explore different tonal variations within and between the shapes rather than the rather more rigid possibilities with linocut. I finally chose to pursue my exploration of possibilities of collagraph and different inking of an underlying shape structure that I had started in Assignment 2. This time aiming for a somewhat more figurative and subtle treatment. Having explored a number of different papers, including emboss, I decided on thin Japanese paper. Partly to continue the Japanese theme, but also because of the delicate textures the paper could produce for the different mushrooms. Using oil-based ink, most of the final prints were produced from multiple impressions, building up particular parts of the final image.

I produced 18 prints of varying degrees of success. The final selection was made to cover a range of colour and tonal treatments, textural interest across all the elements of the image and rejecting 4 where there was slight mis-registration or the border had become dirty. The reject prints I made into collages of the best textures and tonal range, and ‘rejected imaginings’ from cut out shapes that suggested new narratives.

I am quite please with the final selected prints. I really like the textures that can be produced with this technique and the range of colour and tonal inking interpretations that can be produced from the same plate. I could experiment with these a lot more from the now cleaned plate starting with a completely different set of colours, including possibly some drypoint and carborundum work. This would enable me to produce much more variation in the deep shadows that are rather flat in some of the prints. Partly because of the lack of absorbency of the Japanese paper for thicker ink. In the process I could look at other suggested narratives, particularly between the mushrooms in the foreground, and linkages between foreground and background.

As suggested by my tutor, I could also look to going into much more depth as a project on different ‘not so still life’ narratives of mushrooms. Exploring a range of different meanings of different types of mushroom, with different cultural associations.

Setting up the Still Life, Drawing and Photos

In setting up the Still Life I selected the mushrooms that had the most interesting shapes and textures. Then, starting with photographs, I experimented with different arrangements and composition, exploring different interrelationships between the shapes and shadows. I was particularly interested in the idea of relationship between the two ‘phallic’ mushrooms, and between the swan-like mushrooms. One of the mushrooms was particularly swan-like with a folded wing and aggressive neck. Others had rather more submissive stalk necks, and the ends of the stalks had interesting mouth expressions in silhouette.

I did a detailed charcoal drawing, developing this over time and going through several different stages before deciding the drawing was finished.

I had intended to do more drawings, but as I did not want to disturb the composition I left the mushrooms over night. Unfortunately – it was the hot spell – the mushrooms had dried and shrunk quite a bit when I came back in the morning. So redrawing was not going to be as useful as I had hoped. When working with mushrooms I need to take this into account in timing in future – doing preparatory sketches of particular elements in advance and putting them back in the fridge. Then doing the final process from set up to photography to composition drawings all in the same day.

However I achieved pretty much the same result through using black and white versions of my reference photos, with some close-up crops together with the digital process below.

Design: cropping and simplification 

From the photographing and drawing process I then further experimented with cropping and colour combinations on the iPad before arriving at the final design. I cropped in further, cut and paste some of the mushrooms, eliminated others and examined the image against a thirds grid.

In the final concept design the focus is the sexual entanglement of the two large ‘parent’ mushrooms at the back, with their heads coming together towards an imagined ‘kiss gap’ on the top left rule of thirds intersection. This makes them oblivious and separate from the quarrelling and bullying of the larger aggressive ‘swan’ mushroom towards the (simplified) smaller swan and tortoise mushrooms at the front.

The ahape of the ‘swan’ at the front – reminded me very much of Picasso’s angular violent images in eg Guernica and his drawings of cockerels, so I exaggerated this angularity in the digital version. And particularly in cutting the collagraph shapes.

I explored different colour variations on my iPad, particularly trying to find quite violent ‘Picasso’ colours like those he uses in some of his still life linocuts like ‘Still Life under the Lamp’. Just as a quick experiment as it would be difficult to exactly replicate these with ink on collagraph because of colour mixing.

Inking and printing process

For printing medium I thought first of chiaroscuro monoprint and/or Drypoint. because I wanted to explore different tonal variations within and between the shapes rather than the rather more rigid possibilities with linocut. I finally chose to pursue my exploration of possibilities of collagraph and different inking of an underlying shape structure that I had started in Assignment 2. This time aiming for a somewhat more figurative and subtle treatment.

I constructed the plate paying attention to texture and thickness of the different elements to emphasise for example the smoothness of the parent mushroom caps, and the skeletal spikiness of the aggressive swan, and the different textures on the other mushrooms. This further clarified and emphasised the shapes. In particular the figure-like shadows on the curtain on the right, and the shapes of the round submissive mushrooms and the sharpness of the wing and beak of the aggressive swan.

Having explored a number of different papers, including emboss, I decided on thin Japanese paper. Partly to continue the Japanese theme, but also because of the delicate textures the paper could produce for the different mushrooms.

Using oil-based ink, most of the final prints were produced from multiple impressions, building up particular parts of the final image. I produced 18 prints of varying degrees of success. The final selection was made to cover a range of colour and tonal treatments, textural interest across all the elements of the image. and rejecting 4 where there was slight misregistration or the border had become dirty.

The reject prints I made into collages of the best textures and tonal range.

I also used some of the remaining cut out shapes as ‘rejected imaginings’ that suggested new narratives.

Final Reflections

I am quite please with the final selected prints. I really like the textures that can be produced with this technique and the range of colour and tonal inking interpretations that can be produced from the same plate. I could experiment with these a lot more from the now cleaned plate starting with a completely different set of colours, including possibly some drypoint and carborundum work. This would enable me to produce much more variation in the deep shadows that are rather flat in some of the prints. Partly because of the lack of absorbency of the Japanese paper for thicker ink. In the process I could look at other suggested narratives, particularly between the mushrooms in the foreground, and linkages between foreground and background.

I could also look to going into much more depth as a project on different ‘not so still life’ narratives of mushrooms. Exploring a range of different meanings of different types of mushroom, with different cultural associations.

Sources

Guse, E.-G. & Morat, F. A., (2008) Georgio Morandi: paintings, watercolours, drawings, etchings, Munich, Berlin, London, New York: Prestel.

Hauptman, J., (2016) Degas: A Strange New Beauty, New York: MoMA.

Galleries and Exhibitions

British Museum

Recent acquisitions two sets of Picasso linocuts (10 January – 6 May 2014)

Courtauld Gallery

The Spanish Line: Drawings from Ribera to Picasso (13 October 2011 to 15 January 2012)

National Gallery

Monochrome: Painting in Black and White (1 November 2017 – 18  February  2018)  Rembrandt, Picasso, and Gerhard Richter

Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell (20 September 2017 – 7 May 2018)

 

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