Little Collage



If someone drew a map of the inside of my brain, I think it would look like this.  Wow.  Looking at this now, I’m wondering if anyone can see where I left my keys?

I made this image by copying a landscape — in a straight forward way — from a book.  Then I tore the image up into little pieces and reassembled them rather haphardly into this arrangement.  Over that, I drew new lines and added some embellishments.

And I liked it.  Don’t know why.  It just pleases me.  Perhaps it’s because it’s a map of the interior of my brain?  It gives new meaning to the term “interior design.”

[Top of the post:  Little Collage by Aletha Kuschan]


Thinking Big

To enlarge a small, jewel sized non-representational image into something of the scale of this drawing is quite a project.  I had fun.  Pure fun.  The kind of fun children have. The detail that appeared in the previous post comes from this large drawing, that measures 52 1/4 x 60 inches.  It’s based on a little collage (next post) that is half the size of a standard sheet of typing paper.

[Top of the post:  Large Little Collage by Aletha Kuschan]


I paint things.  But from my earliest recollection of seeing the paintings of Richard Diebenkorn, the great American abstract painter of the last generation, I was smitten.  I always loved Richard’s paintings.  It was love at first sight, a love that is still going strong.

When I was coming up, abstraction was considered not merely a given, but was thought to be the form that had forever left representation behind.  That judgment was clearly a bit hasty. And while I never bought into that dogma myself, I think anyone considering the question today can easily see that “representation” is a central facet of human experience and ain’t going anywhere.  But even now the trend watchers will swear that their movement is the wave that washes everything else away.  Not quite.

What struck me about abstraction in my earliest experience being a painter, and which I suspect needs repeating even now, is that all perception is “abstract” in the sense of being partial, evocative and incomplete.  Artists take things apart and reassemble them on the canvas.  In between stages of taking the imagery apart are “abstract,” which is to say they consist of just lines, tones, shapes, colors.  Even in a finished and highly realistic painting, the process of the image is still visible to a discerning viewer.  These marks of the painting-as-painting are abstract elements that separate it from and distinquish it from its real, its actual subject.

How could art not be abstract?  If you paint apples, they are not apples but depictions of apples.  All that is left out by virtue of their being imitations of something is what makes them “abstract.”  Admittedly though, we reserve the word for images that are so removed from sources as to be unidentifiable.  But in truth all art is abstract — only sometimes the artists are the only ones really understanding this.  Realist artists know this better than anybody.

A friend asked me how Diebenkorn chose the framework of his pictures.  Couldn’t he have cropped it anyplace?  Why is the painting this format that it is and not some other?  His questions struck me as incredibly insightful.  Indeed, close observation of Diebenkorn’s surfaces show smaller “versions” or intervals of the same processes and ideas that wash across the whole.  Diebenkorn’s visual ideas are like Chinese nesting boxes or almost-fractals.  In that regard, they have intellectual touchstones amid certain ideas of mathematics and physics!

Aesthetically, what we can take from these questions, I think, is this:  the painting (or drawing) should have a structure that is strong in the parts as well as in the whole.

[Top of the post:  A detail of the author’s large abstract crayon drawing.  By Aletha Kuschan]

the Silent life of Things

What a beautiful clay pitcher.  I had forgotten I even owned it or the jug either.  After I found the painting stacked amid other forgotten things in the attic, I went looking for the jug, too.  It’s North Carolina pottery, beautiful, handmade, exquisitely painted and fired.  It must be there, I reasoned.  I painted a picture of it; I must have it somewhere.  And sure enough, the pitcher turned up.  In a box, behind something, that was behind something else.

Every space, every centimeter of this picture can be dealt with as a small passage or composition in its own right.   Not only can painting for painting’s sake, it can be for life’s sake — made for noticing whatever is around us.  And there can be a thousand paintings hidden inside a single motif.

Whale Whistle

It’s not for calling whales, that’s for sure.  If it is, it doesn’t work.  Because I’ve blown this whistle many times, and no whales ever showed up.  So I take it’s purpose as being to call whales to mind.  It is very good at making one think about whales, this black shiny carved whistle.

Here’s one of my favorites of my own paintings.  With its being so unassuming, how shall I presuade you of its merits?   I’m going to be completely immodest and talk about it as though someone else painted it.  Otherwise, I’ll never get to its virtues and no one will understand what’s so wonderful about it.

The artist has hastily assembled some ordinary yet secretly meaningful objects, haphazardly arranged (however the artist is ignorant of what meanings lie hidden here).  The bottle is transparent, yet the artist has taken few pains to tell it.  The whale whistle is picturesque, yet it’s painted in simple, loosely stroked shades of black and gray.  The deep red cloth has a few, quickly rendered folds.  The little white milk pitcher is boldly out of proportion, but somehow it doesn’t matter.

It’s just a painting to like for its directness, its lack of presumption, for merely being the reminder of one day.

[Whale Whistle Still life by Aletha Kuschan]