Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Georges Seurat was one of the first major neo-impressionist painters. He was very interested in modern color theory, in particular the idea that when we see two colors placed next to each other, our brains perceive a third color. He used this idea in the development of his pointillist style, where he first put down a layer of paint in one color and then put dots in another color over top. His most recognizable work in this style is his masterpiece Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, painted over two years from 1884-1886. Here Jeremy Moody recreates this painting as a LEGO mosaic. Jeremy also used the same idea of color theory, where he places 1x1 round lego tiles in one color over top of layers in other colors. He describes his work in more detail in the extended quote I included below the images. 'Sunday Afternoon' is the companion piece to another work, Bathers at Asnières, which together show people on two different shores of a river. 'Sunday Afternoon' is full of upper class people, fairly static, largely shadowed, while 'Bathers' has working class figures in more dynamic poses, bathed in sunlight. One of the bathers seems to be calling out to the others strolling on the far bank. 'Sunday Afternoon' is now at the Chicago Institute of Art, while 'Bathers' is in the National Gallery in London, so unfortunately you can't see them in real life side to side. Perhaps Jeremy will oblige by making a LEGO version of 'Bathers.'

Here's Jeremy's description of his creation, quoted from his Flickr page:
Based on the painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat.
When I designed this mosaic, I wanted to capture the style and essence of the original painting as much as the image itself. Since Seurat used high­-saturation colors in his painting, I omitted gray from the color palette. To achieve the pointillist appearance, I used round plates ("dots") instead of the standard square element. Behind the dots is another layer of color, which can be seen in the gaps between the dots.
I digitally designed the top layer first by reducing the original image to a palette representing all possible combinations of dot colors and background colors. I then designed the bottom layer as a sort of "correction" to make the mosaic closer to the actual color of the original. For instance, if a section of the original image is more "red" than the same section in my top layer design, the bottom layer element at that point will be red. The exact method requires taking into account that the dots are roughly 3.66 times the size of the gaps, so the bottom layer pixel at any location is:
4.54*(O - 0.78*D)
Where "O" is the RGB value representing the original image sampled at that (square) pixel and "D" is the average of the four neighboring pixels in the generated "Dots" layer.
As I tell the attendees of my "Build your own mosaic" workshop, designing mosaics is very much an art - the computer helps speed the process along, but the computer is not an artist. Mosaic artists need to experiment, and make changes where the computer gets it "wrong." This mosaic was no different. By the time I had finalized my design, I had completely scrapped over a dozen designs before it.
Other builders have made mosaics using "dots" placed directly on top of the stud below. What's different here is that I've placed each dot in the center of the group of four dots on the lower layer. Although this may seem an insignificant change, it has two major benefits. First, since the stud is visible between the dots, the background layer is closer to the front, resulting in less shadow, and thus higher visibility. Second, it means the pixels in the bottom layer are in different locations from the pixels in the top layer, so I can sample the original image at twice as many points, effectively doubling the resolution.
I spent about 80 hours to build this with help from some awesome volunteers at Brickworld who collectively contributed about another 40 hours to the project.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Le Radeau de la Méduse

Turning to the other thing that prompted this blog category (don't worry, I'll come back to the Sawaya exhibit), the BrickPirate contest inspired Captainsmog to make a LEGO version of Le Radeau de la Méduse. Théodore Géricault created this huge (5 meters by 7 meters!) oil painting in 1818-1819. It's based on a shipwreck that occurred in 1816, so the connection to current events caused a stir when it was first displayed at the Paris Salon, an influential annual art show at the Académie des Beaux-Arts. This work, seen as very influential on the Romantic school of French painting, is on display at the Louvre.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

American Gothic

I wanted to start off with one of the creations that pushed me over the top to add art to my blogging categories. Nathan Sawaya's new Times Square exhibit includes several LEGO renditions of famous artworks. The first one to jump out at me was this version of Grant Wood's famous painting American Gothic, recreated as a combination of sculpture and mosaic. This seems a great place to start, since the painting is one of the most recognizable paintings, and therefore most reproduced and parodied, along with the Mona Lisa and the Scream (and yes, there are multiple LEGO renditions of those, and I'll feature them). I know there is debate over whether a copy of an artwork is an artwork, and in future posts I'll address that question, but I also see this blog, as with GodBricks and SciBricks, as a way to teach something about a topic (and learn, myself) through a fun medium. To make a comparison, last night I watched the first two episodes of America's Got Talent, and there were two different acts that came out, a mariachi band and an orchestra/chorus combo. Each time, we got asides of judges (Mandel and Stern, respectively) saying they didn't like that kind of music, but then the groups ended up doing contemporary pop songs (Sexy and I Know It and Call Me Maybe, respectively), and winning the judges and the crowd over. Some might say that in doing so they were betraying their art forms, and bringing them down to a kitschy level for the lowest common denominator, but I'd say the opposite - they were bringing people up to their art forms who may have never paid attention if they'd done traditional pieces.* Anyway, I think that some people might never consider going into an art museum, but would very much enjoy a LEGO show. And that LEGO rendition would open the door to an appreciation of the original artwork. So, I hope that featuring LEGO reproductions here will help teach readers (and myself) to appreciate the original art even more. Okay, back to Woods' piece. He painted this in 1930, inspired in part by the absurdity of putting a gothic window in a very simple farmhouse. He put two people in front (actually his sister and his dentist) representing the people who would live in such a house. The painting has been described as both a critique and a celebration of the rural midwest at the start of the depression era. The painting is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, though I know it sometimes travels as I saw it when it was on loan to the Smithsonian about five years ago.

*BTW, I'm not saying that a general crowd would not respond to more traditional art. There were also two singers who totally won the audience over singing opera, and I think it's fair to assume that most people don't consider themselves huge opera fans.

Welcome to ArtisticBricks

I'd promised that I wouldn't add another topic area to my blogging, but here I go. The whole area of LEGO as art is one that comes up again and again, and I want there to be some place focused on just that. What pushed me over the edge was the coincidence of two things. First was the opening of a new exhibit by Nathan Sawaya in New York. Nathan is by far the most prominent artist working with LEGO, and in this show several of his pieces reference well known artworks. The second was that that currently BrickPirate is running a contest to recreate painting masterpieces in LEGO. I'll cover both of those items in subsequent posts. This blog is going to focus on the intersection of the art world and the LEGO world. This isn't just for MOCs that I think are cool or pretty or whatever, but I can't really define where that line is drawn. I guess it will be a bit of a work in progress. I have to say up front that while I know LEGO and I know blogging, I'm completely untrained in art. So I'd welcome some co-bloggers or guest bloggers with art expertise. If anyone is interested in joining in this endeavor, or if you just want to suggest something that I should blog, e-mail me at bricktalesATgmailDOTcom.