Wednesday, May 9, 2018

"A Brief Primer on Film Noir - Part Two: Oh, the Drama!"

Film noir movies are modern day myths.

“Catharsis” is from the Greek word “kathairein”, meaning “to cleanse, purge.” Aristotle first used this as a metaphor to describe how watching tragic drama can inspire feelings that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension.

In much the same way someone may like a good war movie or punk rock, yet has no desire to engage in combat or live a chaotic, drug-addled life, many of us achieve a certain catharsis by watching the sufferings of the glamorous figures in a good film noir.
The characters in film noir practice a lot of bad behavior I would never condone. Aside from how much they smoke and drink, they lie, they cheat, they extort and manipulate. I am a person who enjoys a life of minimal drama. Yet it is the drama that I love in film noir! The dream I weave in my pictures is a version of me who is, in a word: clever. Someone who sees through others and can manipulate a situation to her advantage. Very unlike who I really am. But I am utterly uninterested in living a life that would result from being that kind of person. So, I watch it from a safe distance.

In my collage paintings, I use the drama of a noir-esque scene to draw in the viewer not only by depicting figures in evocative, cryptic situations, but by how I organize and compose the image.

In the book “Somewhere in the Night”, Nicholas Christopher describes the noir cityscape as a labyrinth, which reflects the complexity of the movie plot, the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind, and symbolizes the Hero’s Journey into the depths of the soul.

The space depicted in my collage paintings is congested and complicated, sometimes difficult for the viewer to navigate. It is evocative of complicated plot twists and reversals. Lately I have been playing with mirrors, doorways and windows, which I see as apertures into other worlds and realities. The claustrophobic, complex space illustrates the sometimes turgid complexity of our minds and relationships.

The dark, chiaroscuro lighting symbolizes secrets withheld, obscured meaning. Objects and figures that are normally easily identified are shattered and broken down into their essential shapes without superfluous detail. They are transformed, turned upside-down, into something new, special, rarefied.

Eddie Muller, film noir’s preeminent expert, describes it perfectly:


“The men and women of this sinister cinematic world are driven by greed, lust, jealousy, and revenge—which leads inexorably to existential torment, soul-crushing despair, and a few last gasping breaths in a rain-soaked gutter. But I'll be damned if these lost souls don't look sensational riding the Hades Express. If you're going straight to hell, you might as well travel with some style to burn.

“Today, the cynicism and fatalism found in classic film noir seems almost comforting compared to the ugliness and pessimism we confront in the media, on movie screens, and in the streets. We watch film noir with an endless fascination, and an undeniable aspect of our fascination is the realization that, as a culture, we will never be that stylish again.”



Monday, March 5, 2018

Feminism vs. The Femme Fatale

March is Women's History month, and March 8th is International Women's Day.
As part of my blog series talking about Film Noir and how I use it as a source for my art, I have been pondering Noir through the lens of how I relate to it as a female artist.
Part of the enduring fascination we have with Noir is the inclusion of powerful female characters. The zenith of Film Noir was from the 1930’s-1950’s a time of extraordinary change for women, particularly during WWII, when they took up jobs vacated by men who were off at war. The war, plus the changing role of women in society, created nationwide anxiety, much like the anxiety evidenced in our own times.
However, with some exceptions, the classic femme fatale of those times was not a feminist figure. She does not seek to break down the patriarchal system so much as she attempts to use her sexual power to win within it. The Madonna/Whore dichotomy is well in place in most of these movies. My use of the femme fatal in my art is an expression of my struggles with attempts at finding my own voice, independent of the men around me.
Nevertheless, the femme fatale is a challenge to the system, and an early and exciting example of women in power.
In my artwork, I focus on complex human relationships with delightfully ambiguous situations. In them I give my female figures an identity of their own and an interior life. In “Backlight” there is a large, looming man in the foreground, looking back at the woman on display, perhaps a classic depiction of the dominant male and the female object. Or is it? Through this traditional lens a different picture is shown. She stands resolute and firm, her steady gaze back at him makes him appear unsteady and unsure, and perhaps like he is trying to slip away.
"Backlight" Leslie Peterson Sapp, 38"x48" Acrylic on panel. 
I will be writing more about the psychological appeal of Film Noir in upcoming posts. Look out for "A Brief Primer on Film Noir - Part Two: Drama, Intrigue and Heartbreak"

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Group Show at Basic Space Gallery

I am happy to announce that I am in an exciting group show for the month of December at Basic Space Gallery in The Pearl District in beautiful Portland Oregon!

I have made three, count them, three new pieces for this show. In addition there will be several of my miniatures for sale.

Dreamgirl" 16"x8"
Collage, charcoal, conte on panel.
Contact Basic Space Gallery to purchase.

"Office" 10"x12" Collage, conte on panel. SOLD.

"Waiting Room" 12"x12" Collage, acrylic, conte on panel.
Contact Basic Space Gallery for purchase.

Opening: First Thursday, Dec. 6th, 5:30-8:30
Show dates: Dec. 5th-30th
Gallery hours: Tues-Sat 11:00 to 5:30,  Sun & Mon 11:00 to 4:00
327 northwest 9th Ave. Portland, OR. 97209

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Brief Primer on Film Noir - Part One: The Formal Visual Elements

As many of you know, I have been creating collage paintings based on film noir imagery. Film noir is one of the most enduring and beloved of film genres. The term "Film Noir" was coined after the fact, much the same way many art "movements" were coined by art historians after the so called "movement" was largely over. During WWII many American films were not available in France. In 1946 there was a retrospective in Paris of American Hollywood films and the Parisian critics called the style "film noir", or "black film", which may be more correctly interpreted as "dark film". But what exactly is film noir, and where did it come from?

German expressionism was an art movement in Germany starting at the turn of the 20th century, and encompassed painting, theater, music, literature, and the brand new medium of film. It sought to express emotion and subjective experience by the using symbolism, exaggeration, and distortion. The style reached it’s apex in Berlin during the 1920's. A few of the most famous expressionist films are "Metropolis", "M", and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (my personal favorite!).

"Metropolis" poster 
"Metropolis" by Fritz Lang
"M'  by Fritz Lang

"M"  by Fritz Lang 

"The Cabinet of Dr, Caligari" by  Robert Wiene

"The Cabinet of Dr, Caligari" by  Robert Wiene

Then those nasty kill-joys, the Nazi’s came into power. Expressionist artists of all types  were proclaimed “degenerate” and their work was confiscated, destroyed, their careers were derailed and many times their very lives were in danger. On top of that, many were also Jewish, Catholic or queer. Unsurprisingly they made efforts to flee to safer locations as soon as they could. Along with this exodus, a number of film makers wound up in Hollywood.

The Hollywood Studio System was in force at the time, which had a tiered system of movie production costs and qualities. While epic movies got a lot of funding and top star billing, crime and detective movies where considered of a lower budgetary class, sometimes even B movies. They were pot-boilers, and often cranked out quickly.

A number of the new immigrant film makers were assigned to these films. Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, and Otto Preminger are the most famous. German expressionist film was film brought to a high art and were far more sophisticated and considered than anything that was typically produced in the United States at that time. These directors used their techniques and sensibilities developed in Germany in the new crime dramas. This was not fully appreciated at the time; crime and detective movies ran under the radar and attracted no critical praise. But the superior film making techniques made the movies more popular and is what has made so many of these films gain popularity over the decades.

The techniques used included deep focus cinematography, extreme camera angles, dramatic lighting shone from raked angles, and chiaroscuro (which is an painterly technique developed during the Renaissance where use of deep variations of light and dark is used to enhance mood and create dramatic effect).
"Out of the Past"  by Jacques Tourneur  

"Out of the Past"  by Jacques Tourneur 

"The Racket" by John Cromwell and Mel Ferrer

The ultimate example of chiaroscuro; Caravaggio!

Caravaggio "Judith Decapitating Holofernes" 1599

The fact that the movies were often low budget productions actually helped make the movies better. The famously dark lighting covered up cheap productions. Dramatic lighting made up for lack of funding for expensive special effects and uninteresting sets. There was more of a dependence on exciting scripts and clever dialogue. The rushed timetables forced productions to be fast, tight, and efficient. And because they weren’t considered important, they were often under the radar of producers and the Motion Picture Production Code! 

The visual style of film noir is my primary concern when I create an artwork. I consider the masters of noir my teachers as well as my inspiration. Even when I am dealing with an image that hasn’t come directly from a film noir, I still infuse it with the elements of film noir. For example, the image below is based on a Torchy Blane movie "Chinatown" from 1939. While Torchy Blane movies may have involved detectives, reporters and solving crime, they are light comedy adventure films, and most definitely not "dark"!
Leslie Peterson Sapp, "Objective II" 30"x48" 

Aside from the formal artistic elements of noir, I am also inspired by the stories and style. I will write about that in my next blog post, "A Brief Primer on Film Noir - Part Two: Oh, the Drama!"

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Making of "Collared" - the Final Piece

As I described in my last post, my technique for developing my collage paintings involves multiple steps. It starts with a drawing, then moves onto a small collage sketch on illustration board, then onto the large final piece on wood panel.

In my last post I shared with you as I made the drawing and then went onto the collage sketch. In this post I made three short videos about the making of the large, final version of "Collared".

Please excuse the film and sound quality of these videos - I'm still learning how to produce them! Here is a picture of the piece at the stage it was in when I made this video.

Who is Leland Bell? A great American artist who started out as an abstract painter and moved onto figurative, narrative painting. (Not to be confused with the other Leland Bell, a Native American painter who shares the same name.)
Leland Bell, "Three Figures with Butterfly" 1979-82
After working on it for a few hours, I followed up with a review of my decisions. 

This is the final video where show ways I have resolved certain issues, and new decisions I have to make. 

And here it is! The final piece is done. Email me for purchasing information.
Leslie Peterson Sapp, "Collared" 16"x20" $950.00

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Making of "Collared"- a Work in Progress

As many of you know, my technique for developing my collage paintings involves multiple steps. It starts with a drawing, then moves onto a small collage sketch on illustration board, then onto the large final piece on wood panel.

During the past week I participated in a facebook/instagram challenge put on by my art business coach Cory Huff at The Abundant Artist. Because of this challenge I created three short videos of myself discussing creating of my newest collage sketch for a piece I will call "Collared".

Here are all three videos, (each one is about 2 minutes long) along with pictures of the sketch at it's various stages.

 First, here is the image itself. I was attracted to the woman's collar - hence the title! I also find that the word has many, somewhat uncomfortable meanings and associations which I think helps add depth to the image.
Next, here a is one of two drawings I did of the scene, trying to simplify and create order of the image.

As you can see, I made the collage sketch while at the beach for a long holiday weekend. Maybe this is why I appear so jovial.
Making of "Collared" collage sketch, take 1 from Leslie Peterson Sapp on Vimeo.

This the first stage of the sketch:

Making of "Collared" collage sketch take 2! from Leslie Peterson Sapp on Vimeo.

Next I made a big decision about color. In the first picture, the table tops in this bar are tan colored. This tan color is my go-to color choice for table tops. But making"by route" choices is the downfall for a fine artist! The purple-taupe cools the image down and creates a mood.

In the final video, I talk about some of the last adjustments I need to make to feel "right" about the finished sketch.

The Making of "Collared" take 3. from Leslie Peterson Sapp on Vimeo.
And here is the final! (Maybe! I am still wondering about that wine bottle.)
Now I will move onto the final piece, which will probably 16"x20".
 (BTW, this collage sketch is also for sale! It is 4"x5" and is $150.00)

Monday, June 12, 2017

A Brief Primer on Collage.

Some of you have never seen my work in person. But even those of you who have, it can be difficult for people to tell how I make my art using collage. Often people don’t realize it is collage at all.

There are many ways to make collage art. I would organize it into two main techniques:
1. Cutting up and combining recognizable found images
2. Using colored paper as a form of paint, building an image similar to the way a pointillist uses dots.

Many artists use some combination of the two. Each combination of techniques has its pluses and minuses, and lends itself to different intents. Borrowed imagery tends to be more conceptual, because it makes us think about the imagery in a different way. Using colored paper as paint tends to be more formal or aesthetic. 

Although the deep history of collage is ancient, the modern concept of collage probably started with Georges Braque, in 1914 (though some credit his buddy Pablo Picasso with this)

Georges Braque, Still Life on a Table Gillette, 1914

Braque first added wall paper with a wood grain print to his cubist drawings as a sort of visual pun. The collaged paper also functioned as a color to support the abstract cubist design.

Georges Braque, Mandoline, 1914

He went on to use found objects and images such as text from newspapers and advertisements. Can you believe these darn things are over 100 years old?

A good example of an artist who uses found images is Hannah Hoch, who was a pioneer of the art form and used found imagery to create art that made social commentary.

Hannah Hoch, Da-Dandy, 1919
Hannah Hoch, Untitled, 1930

In the 1960's, Robert Rauschenberg combined found images with silk screen, paint and drawing. 

Robert Rauschenber, Skyway, 1964
Robert Rauschenberg  Mirthday Man, 1997

A couple of contemporary artists who do similar things are Ellen Gallager, and fellow Portland artist, Karen Wippich!

Ellen Gallagher, Getting Hair Did, 2005?
Karen Wippich, Basket of Adorables, 2017

Kurt Schwitters is a good, early example of an artist who used paper primarily as one would use paint, to create abstract designs. Although he did use text and photographic images, they were used as color, value and texture, rather than for conceptual references. (He was also an early developer of installation art.)

Kurt Schwitters, Fur Moholy, 1934
Kurt Schwitters, Santa Claus, 1922

Many collage artists used found images in combination with using colored paper as a form of paint. Romare Bearden was a master of this, using photographic images to create narrative and reference, mixed with pure colored paper to support the formal aspects of the picture.

Romare Bearden, House in Cotton Field
Romare Bearden, Springway, collage on paperboard 1964

Finally, some artists use colored paper exclusively, with no found images, to build a picture from the ground up. This is the technique I use, and Romare Bearden also used this technique in his "Black Odyssey" series.

Romare Bearden, The Water Nymph, 1970's
Leslie Peterson Sapp, Ino and Odysseus Have a Chat, 2017

At times I will also use text, but in the manner that Schwitters did, simply as color and texture.

Leslie Peterson Sapp, The Paradigm, 2016

Finally, there is contemporary encaustic art, which often uses found imagery embedded in layers of wax, creating an atmospheric, layered affect.

Bridget Benton, Catching the Fall, 2016

I don't tend to use borrowed imagery because, frankly, my mind doesn't seem to work that way, and I just get all confused while I am doing it. I have chosen to do collage because cutting paper forces me to simplify shapes in a way that makes my art stronger.  But who knows what direction my art will eventually go????