Line, please

I’m not at all schooled in the visual arts, but, as they say, I know what I like. Whether it’s a painting, etching, sculpture or building, I love lines. Lines are the way I “read” the work, as they define the story that I think the artist is trying to tell. Are they long and dominant? Short and playful? Is there conflict? Harmony? A painting lacking effective lines may as well have no color, a building without them no bricks or mortar.

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Nadia in Sharp Profile

In a visual work of art, there’s the elemental function of a line — together with other lines, they establish the template of the image that’s being represented. Is it a person? A glass? A tree? Even a layman like me knows lines serve to give an object shape. But what strikes me as gifted is the ability to do so with a bare mininum (yes, I’m a sucker for minimalism — check out the name of my blog theme) .

I saw this talent firsthand last year in an exhibit of prints by Henri Matisse. The process of print-making was a diversion for the French painter, but the work displayed in this exhibit, particularly the lift-ground aquatint titled Nadia in Sharp Profile, demonstrates his mastery of lines. It’s difficult to determine where one stops and another starts, so I can’t count the exact number he uses, but the work nevertheless contains remarkably few of them. With no visual depth, color or physical detail, Matisse still is able to offer a vibrant representation of a woman, with all the warmth and personality of the real deal. There’s no skin tone, no cheekbones and only a hint of a hair style, but with some well-placed lines I feel I know Nadia better through this print than had she been photographed. That, for as little as I know about artistic technique, is why I love it.

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