africa

Painting techniques of Impressionism & Expressionism

Painting techniques of Impressionism & Expressionism

Another elective seminar of my art study program, which I had eagerly anticipated, took place in mid-February 2015. The topic was painting techniques of Impressionism and Expressionism and it was taught by Prof. Hannes Baier.

As usually, we first dived into the theoretical foundations of the topic, before moving on to the practical part. Since we had treated both movements during the compulsory courses of the study program, it was for me more a matter of deepening my understanding and implementing it.

I first worked on two paintings in impressionstic style, before focusing on painting expressively. The later seemed to come to me more easily, even though I find both very appealing. You will probably see both reflected in my future paintings.

I especially like how the two paintings of Old Vienna reflect the difference between Impressionism and Expressionism.

Sgraffito Technique – Series part 3

Sgraffito Technique – Series part 3

This is the third part of a series of Sgraffito paintings that I did for the art academy. The term Sgraffito is usually associated with wall decor and ceramic surfaces and comes from the Italian word graffiare (“to scratch”) and is related to the Greek term γράφειν (gráphein) “to write”.

How this painting technique works, is described in my recent blog post.

These are now the last two paintings of this series, which did not have to be still lives but which I could design freely. I chose to do an experiment with a frame around the hummingbird and the flower. The second one is a repeat from one of my favorite landscape painting, but which is already sold to a collector.

Hummingbird Sgraffito
Hummingbird Sgraffito
Baobab Sgraffito
Baobab Sgraffito

These paintings are like those in the first part of the series, without an oil layer on top. For the first one I adapted the lower color layer to the motive, in the second one only partially. As you can see, it is not easy to photograph these without having a glare on the smooth surface.

Desert Memories – Acrylic Painting

Desert Memories – Acrylic Painting

Do deserts have memories? In this case, yes. This painting imagines what the memory pictures of a desert region would look like. In three picture frames you can see these memories. Dreaming of times where there were lots of green, palm trees, orange and other fruit trees, streams of water between high grass, and light clouds that give shade and coolness in the heat of the high noon. And the caravans of camels are drawn to it, like to an oasis, only to find that it is not real. They are just pictures of long-lost memories.

Wüsten Erinnerungen * Desert Memories
Wüsten Erinnerungen * Desert Memories

This painting will be part of my next exhibition in Bad Schallerbach, Upper Austria. You can buy art prints, posters, and greeting cards of this image here.

Lake Crossing, Mali

This is another painting based on one of my favorite photos – a Boso pirogue (dugout canoe) carries people across the lake of Selengué in the south of Mali. The setting sun bathed everything in orange light and is beautifully reflected on the water of the lake. I have hard time deciding which I like better – the original photo or the painting.

Seeüberquerung * Lake Crossing * Mali
Seeüberquerung * Lake Crossing * Mali

Sahel Sun

September is over and the 30in30 challenge, too. Nevertheless, I wanted to continue along the same lines and paint another ten watercolor paintings, since I added 10 drawings into the mix.

Today’s painting is a typical view of the Sahel – Baobab trees and other dry scrubs in front of a misty afternoon sun. This view is especially typical during Harmattan season when there is lot of desert sand in the air, to the point that you can hardly see the sun.

Sahel Sonne * Sahel Sun
Sahel Sonne * Sahel Sun

Last reminder – the September promotion ends in a few hours. See more details here.

Mali

Several weeks ago we finally made the decision that I would not go back to Mali. This has been on the horizon for some time, but now it was final. As a final homage to the Boso people in Mali and Mali in general, I painted three pictures with Mali motives during May.


Chiwara is something like a national symbol for Mali. It depicts a gazelle, which is often produced as a wood carving.

West African Insects

… because there is no need to think a whole week about it ;-).

I should say, looking back calmly on the matter, that seventy-five percent of the West African insects sting, five percent bite, and the rest are either prematurely or temporarily parasitic on the human race. … If you see a thing that looks like a cross between a flying lobster and a figure of Abraxes on a Gnostic gem, do not pay it the least attention; just keep quiet and hope it will go away – for that’s your best chance; you have non in a stand-up fight with a good, thorough-going African insect.

~ Mary Kinglsey, West African Studies

African Proverbs

« Sumu ɲuɔnliɛn kɔlɔn ye n banu kaa a na kai. » (Bozo-Djenaama)
The stranger has big eyes but he does not see anything.

***

« Jirikurun men o men ji la, a te ke bama ye. » (Bambara)
No matter how long a log stays in the water, it doesn’t become a crocodile.

***

« Akpa le tome gake menya tsi fe vevie nyenyeo. » (Ewe)
A fish is in water but does not know the importance of water. (literal translation)
A fish is the last to acknowledge the existence of water. (figurative translation)

***

« Kidole kimoja hakivunji chawa. » (Yoruba Swahili)

One finger cannot kill a louse.

***

These proverbs will be part of my first teaching session tomorrow. Can you guess what the topic will be?

Scenery, machinery or people?

Scenery, machinery or people?

In anthropology we learned about the “scenery, machinery, people” approach of most Westerners: we often divide people in these three groups and treat them accordingly.

– The “scenery people” are for example those that we photograph during our vacations. We see them as decoration or objects on display, not as real people. We do not care whether the photo we are taking respects their dignity or not.

– The “machinery people” are those that we expect to function in a certain way, but again we do not see them as real people. For example, the gas station attendant or the cashier. On a good day, we might see them as people and connect in some personal way, but most of the time we treat them as “machinery” not as people.

– The “real people” are the small group we have a relationship with and care about. We see them as people with individual personalities, emotions, opinions, gifts and needs. On bad days we might expect even people in this group to just function and not require any “maintenance”: such as the burlesque husband coming home from work in the evening who expects his wife to have a meal ready, as well as the newspaper and the slippers, and be left in peace to watch TV by his children because he is tired. In this case he does not see his wife and children as people and does not treat them as such. They are not allowed to have needs.

Whom we expect to just be “scenery” or function as “machinery” is often culturally defined. And this is where culture shock often comes as a natural result.

– The market person in Africa does not function like a cashier in the West, who just rings up the goods we picked and lets us leave without any personal interaction. No matter how small the purchase, you cannot buy anything on an African market without going through a certain amount of greetings, both on arrival and leave taking. Depending on the country you are in and on the type of good you are buying, you will also need to bargain.

○ I remember a story I once heard of a Westerner who did not have the time on one day to do the required bargaining. He told his friend on the market, “Please for once let’s not do it, just ask any price and I will pay it.” His African friend was deeply offended, not – as we might expect – happy about the opportunity to ask for more than usually. For him it was a disregard for his dignity as a human. He had been treated as machinery.

– In many African countries there is a strong awareness of hierarchy but despite of it every employee still expects to be greeted by others in the same organization. Not greeting them robs them of their dignity as humans and reduces them to “machinery.”

○ The context of greetings is one example where I discovered how contradictory courtesy can be. When I come into the office and see two people talking with each other, it feels very impolite to me as European to interrupt the conversation in order to greet them. But this intuition is wrong in the African context. According to African courtesy it would be impolite to not interrupt and walk by them without greeting them. Or as a friend put it – “treat them as if they were trees” – which again expresses the idea of treating others as humans not as things.

– Requesting permission to take the photo of somebody might seem odd for Westerners but is a good rule of thumb in Africa. People do not like being “scenery” but want to be respected as humans. It might mean that you cannot take a picture if a person does not consent to it.

○ Probably there are also different traditional ideas that come into play of what happens to a person’s soul when somebody takes a photo of them. I have rarely heard them stated but only read about these ideas. Even though many things have changed, these ideas might still linger in the back of people’s minds.

○ Another complication is the idea that you might make a lot of money with the photo you are taking. Even if this is not the case for most of us, people have heard about this and want a share in your gain. Some will not give you permission to take a photo without a payment. Since I don’t have enough money to pay everybody whom I photograph, I usually chose not to take that photo. One market lady however managed to convince me nevertheless: “You are happy about the photo, so why don’t you want to give me some happiness, too?”

– Doing everything on your own and alone is unnatural for many people in Africa. Going alone to the market, carrying all your shopping alone, eating alone, staying alone in your room/house, etc. Sharing burdens and joys is an important part of most if not all Africa cultures.

○ Westerners might consider offers to carry their shopping a nuisance. However in African cultures younger people are obliged to honor older people by carrying whatever they have. In return the older person will give a blessing to the younger person. This can be a spoken blessing, in some cases accompanied with spitting (saliva being considered a means of transferring power), or a small coin or other kind of tangible gift. Along the same lines, a market seller feels obliged to send a young person with his customer to help carry the shopping to the car, who then will be expected to give some small token of gratitude to the young helper.

○ The African give and take is not guided by rules of how much to give but by what people have. Many financial requests will be quantified by “whatever you can give.” This puts Westerners in a bind, because we are not used to think in these terms and often have so much more than what we find appropriate to give in such a situation. In addition, local people often have wrong ideas of how much we really have, to the point of seriously believing that our financial supplies are unlimited because we can print our own money.

In all these examples, there are people who want to be seen as people and treated as people which is in contradiction to many of our Western habits and laws of efficiency. The Western habit of just saying “Hi!” and walking by clashes with the African understanding of politeness. Africans would probably never consider a time spend with other people a “waste of time.” My guess is that there is no single situation in African cultures that allows people to treat others “as if they were trees” – trees that you can pass without greeting, that you can expect to function and give you shade or whose photo you can take without permission. People are always people and want to be treated as such, not as “scenery” or “machinery.”

P.S. I know that speaking about “African cultures” or “African” in general is a sweeping generalization that does not do justice to the variety of cultures in Africa. However, I have the impression that the points mentioned above apply to many of them, maybe to all, and possible also to many if not most non-Western cultures.

Sharing a meal

This is one of my favorite memories from my time in CAR (Central African Republic). I wrote it for Pictures, Poetry & Prose when the theme was “Sharing a meal”. I forgot to check back and discovered only now that my contribution had been chosen, and I received the “Exceptional Writing Reward.” My first blogging reward!

expwriting

1994: Our team of sociolinguistic surveyors arrived in a remote village planning to do a group interview on language use. We were told that the men were all out in the field drinking palm wine. So we had to wait for the next day. In the late afternoon the other female team member and I got the crazy idea to cook a local dish – Gozo (manioc/cassava fufu). Our guide organized all the necessities – Manioc flour, stones for a stove, fire wood, sieve, cooking pot, large wooden spoon. We did not need to pound the flour, but we nearly forgot to sieve it. We had quite a few spectators – two white women cooking on an open fire? Most village women had never seen a white person before. Can white women cook? They did not think so. When the Fufu was nearly ready, we decided to open two tins of lentil soup to accompany it, instead of a local sauce that would have taken a lot more time. Suddenly we had the even crazier idea to ask the village chief (who was present and not drinking palm wine) to eat with us. In an African context a very normal thing and matter of politeness and hospitality – except when you are not even sure how your meal will turn out. To our own surprise he accepted. So our team, our guide and the village chief sat down together and ate as is normal there – from one big bowl with our hands. It tasted quite good but the lentil soup must have been unusual for the village chief.

The next day in the morning we were finally ready to start our group interview. The village chief gave a moving introduction speech concluding it with the words: “Formerly white people came and treated us like monkeys. Today another type of white people has come. They are white people with whom we can put our hands in the same bowl (which is an important sign of friendship).” We were all deeply touched.