Monthly Archives: January 2012

Malevich to Kounellis…

Malevich was the founder of the Suprematist movement whose aim was the “lend supremacy to the basic means of art, colour and form, over the mere depiction of phenomena in the visible world” [Art of the 20th Century Ruhberg et al, Taschen]. The work Dynamic Suprematism at the Tate is dated “1915/1916” and is a clear use of basic visual grammar – squares, lines, rectangles, dots – the most extreme examples of which Malevich produced being Black Square on a White Ground (1913), Black Circle (1913) and White on White (1917)…


… which forms are reflected in the Kounellis piece, Untitled…


Malevich is also credited as being one of the first artists to appreciate the expressive nature of empty space, which is very clear in the Dynamic Suprematism piece…

And this becomes even clearer when you learn that he had been flying, not that common in the early 20th Century… A direct influence on Russian poster design on the 1920s…

A connection between Malevich and Calder also becomes clearer following this further research. You can see the influence of the pure forms of Malevich in the Calder piece, which is also reflected in this piece by Velzeley:

So where is this stream of consciousness leading… I’m not sure, other than it’s made me more aware of the open space and a greater appreciation of the visual language we have been studying that will inform some experimentation soon…


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Tate Modern Structure…

Everywhere you look at the Tate Modern there appears to be a grid or formal structure. As Susannah has very clearly shown on her blog the building itself is of a very simple, symmetrical design which can be reduced to rectangles and lines. This is then reflected throughout the building which appears to have no organic forms within it. It’s all straight lines… from the turbine hall, which is this vast tunnel that draws you into the building, to the flooring, the lighting and even the staircases. The are all arranged at right angles…


This structure gives the Tate its physical identity and so, not surprisingly, it has been carried through into the gallery itself in the signage, the cloakroom layout, the way the shop is laid out and the layout of posters, for example…


Clearly the architects worked with the structure of the building when they designed the conversion. Indeed, as it says on the Tate website (“The final choice [of architects] was Herzog and De Meuron, a relatively small and then little known Swiss firm. A key factor in this choice was that their proposal retained much of the essential character of the building.”).

I’ve not yet done the research around the City Hall area but I know the building at it has a very different form from Tate Modern. It’s a curvaceous building with a structure made from panes of triangular glass that the architects, Foster & Partners, have made somewhat a “house style”. They are also responsible for the Gherkin and the Great Court at the British Museum.


So maybe in the way that it has been possible to classify the pictures according to simple, complex and random structures it is possible to do the same with buildings… Some more “random” looking buildings might include the Guggenheim in Bilbao (Frank Gehry), or the works of Gaudi in Barcelona:



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Tate Pictures… Random (or no?) structure

And here are a few that I think have no formal structure… although the piece by Vezeley (top right) is reminiscent of Malevich where there is more research needed…

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More Tate Pictures… Complex structures

Here are some with more complex structures. What I observed with these pictures was that the structure was very often not apparent when you view the picture close up, but it would reveal itself from a distance (I noticed this particularly with the Picabia – top left). With a picture such as the Paul Klee (top right) the structure is more apparent from the direction of the diagonal lines in an otherwise seemingly organic form

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More Tate pictures… Simple Structures

Following on from my post last week, I’ve now categories the other works I looked at according to whether they exhibit a Simple structure, a Complex structure or a random structure… Here are the simple ones:

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Experimentation and Contextualisation… I think

Since my trip to the Tate on Tuesday, I’ve been thinking about what to do with all those photos I took, and notes I wrote. After a little time (probably too much) speculating whether or not what I do is “right or wrong”, I took the advice of last year’s students and “dived in”… Here’s some of the results…I’ve surprised myself in a way as I didn’t expect this to yield much… Where next is the question…

Bridget Riley:

I like Bridget Riley and have always found her work pleasing to look at – calming, intriguing and just very beautiful – so I started with her piece Evoë 3… Knowing that we were looking for structures, I’d convinced myself when looking at the painting in the gallery that there was clear horizontal and vertical grid aligning the tips and sides of the curves. If I’d read the label alongside the work, and spent a little more time looking, I might have spotted what was really there – and what I discovered once I began analysing the picture:

A very clear vertical and diagonal grid.

I took a look in the catalogue from her 2003 Tate retrospective that I have a at home and found some images of studies, not of this painting, but of similar pictures.

I also played around with the grid itself to see what composition I could make with it and, no surprises here I guess, it resulted in something similar to the grouping pictures we did last week in the Visual Grammar workshop:

And of course some of earlier work is exactly this…

George Braque

I turned from Riley, back in time, to Braque to see what results this would yield. As it says in the description of the work – “Ordinary objects – a bottle and fishes on a plate, laid on a table with a drawer – have been dramatically fragmented to form a grid-like structure of interpenetrating planes.” – I was sure that some pretty cool grids and structures would reveal themselves… And I was not disappointed. What I found, though, was more than a classic grid. I think that Braque was doing something with triangles:

The focus of the picture is the table, which appears to be based on an isosceles triangle centred in the frame (outlined red in the picture on the left). I then seemed to find a series of equilateral triangles. So I made the composition on the right hand side as a sort of abstraction from the work…


Finally I took a look at the Picasso Head of a Woman as I thought it would be interesting to see what sort of grids/structures could be found in a three dimensional work. As it turns out, for a work that appears organic it seems that it is based (at least when looking at it from the front) on tight structural form. The main grid seems to emanate from a cross with the bridge of her nose as the focal point. The side on view doesn’t reveal much, I though:

Having completed this analysis, I started thinking about the remaining works in the brief to see if there was some sort of classification that could be made. What I came up with was that there appeared to be 3 types of work:

  1. Simple – those where the grid is obvious from the work itself. You could say that the grid is the work
  2. Complex – those works that are based on a grid but where that grid lies underneath the finished work
  3. Random – those works where there is no formal grid; placement is left to chance or some other force

And this is how I classified the 12 works that could be viewed at the Tate (the Richter not being on display):


Jannis Kounellis, Untitled; Ellesworth Kelly, Mediterannee; Richard Serra, Trip Hammer; Karl Andre, Zinc Plain; Richard Artschwager, Table and Chair


Bridget Riley, Evoë 3; George Braque, Bottle and Fishes; Pablo Picasso, Head of a Woman


Jean Arp, Constellation According to the Laws of Chance; Max Ernst, The Entire City; Kasimir Malevich, Dynamic Suprematism; Alexander Calder, Mobile

I took loads of pictures of other works which I’ll have a go at classifying along these lines in a later post… Perhaps you could add your contributions too!


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Cycling info graphic

This guy did some great posters for the Tour de France. Check out his other work…

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January 19, 2012 · 7:56 pm

Just some stuff…

Posting some things I’ve seen recently that I like. This one went down well at the weekend…

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January 19, 2012 · 7:49 pm

Rolling Stones

Love the colour and bold, almost Soviet, style of this poster:

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January 19, 2012 · 7:37 pm

This might be a useful type primer…


1.19.12 / Tree of Type

dhrule1.jpgIn 1937, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of The Bauer Type Foundry in 1837, the storied firm issued “Bauer’s Family Tree of Printing Types.” The beautifully illustrated and precisely lettered arbor may not be entirely accurate, history-wise, but it is a delightful way of learning about the lineage of type.For your enjoyment, I reproduce the tree in parts and as a whole, as well as the text, which was set in in Elizabeth Roman and Italic. Just think how tall the tree would be today 75 years (if my math is correct) later. dhrule2.jpg



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January 18

Photo-Lettering and the Paste-Up Era
Stencil Passion

January 17

Linotype: The Eighth Wonder of The World



The Young and Charmed Career of Jee-eun Lee
Editorial Cartoonist Thomas Nast, Anti-Irish, Anti-Catholic, Bigot?



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is the co-founder and the co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts. He writes the Visuals column for the New York Times Book Review and the Graphic Content blog for T-Style. He is the author, coauthor, and/or editor of more than 120 books on design and popular culture, including the recent book Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig (Chronicle).


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