I chalked a rendition of a Degas painting at McGaugh Elementary School for the celebration of its 35th Annual Pageant of the Arts last Saturday, April 29, 2017. About twenty years ago I was a student at McGaugh. I even danced in a splatter paint sweatshirt in front of a Jackson Pollock painting, to music originally composed for the pageant, when I was in 5th grade. I presented a piece as “Monet’s Wife” in 4th grade. The whole event involves so much collaboration, creativity, and art across senses. Such a mix has kind of been my favorite thing for a long time, and I wonder if this is one of the places I learned it could happen.
Through the glory of Facebook moms, I learned of McGaugh’s call for chalk artists and wanted to play! Degas was the featured artist this year. I knew Degas painted ballerinas and liked awkward/candid postures and off kilter compositions. I’ve seen a grip of his sculptures and paintings in Pasadena at The Norton Simon Museum.
Ballet is the focus of the Degas piece in the pageant, so the organizers suggested I draft something different. I searched through his “complete works” (which are available on http://www.edgar-degas.org/) and chose three to sketch and send as a pitch. Even though I didn’t go with this option, I really liked the laundry ladies (above). The colors, shapes, and angles makeup an interesting composition depicting some hard working ladies who probably lived an underrepresented life.
I ended up going with this third option of two women leaning on a fence. It’s more complicated and has more perspective. Some lovely landscape.I upped the saturation of the painting and made chalk colors to match. I spent a fair amount of time staring at these chalks and squares and the blurry blades of grass of the pixelated photo of the impressionist painting. (Note: Degas did not consider himself an impressionist because he ascribed his art to explicit study and application of the Classics.)I don’t often use grids to expand compositions, but I thought I’d give it a try. I even made little square cut outs of the grid. The process may have been helpful as time to meditate on the composition, but I didn’t end up using the individual squares. The grid on top of the painting and my outline served as the go-to reference. I practiced in my driveway, playing around with different applications of chalk to create texture and blend shades.I had just a few hours of sunlight when I’d get home from work, so my play was purposeful and quick. I wanted to get the grass and fabric texture down. I didn’t worry too much about the background (perhaps I avoided it because it took the most squinting and colors). The day of the event was warm and windy. I painted next to another McGaugh alum and Seal Beach friend, Zoranno Knego. Our elementary school art teacher, Miss Johns, came to the event. She’s amazing.
Kids practiced for the main event in the auditorium and outside. They were super into it.Two hours in I wondered where the time went: My technique practice was helpful, but didn’t prepare me for putting all that I learned together in a single sitting with a timeline. Plus, I started at the top, the place I didn’t get to when practicing, so that ate up an unexpected amount of time.Ironically the face in the shadow, which I was most concerned about going into this, is one of my favorite parts of the final version. The other face was one of the last things I added. Looking back, I can tell that I used the reference much less in the last hour. I could have used an hour more (I can always use an hour more :)), but I’m happy with the result. This works out, because McGaugh sprayed the art with a sealant, and it’ll be around for a while. While Zoranna and I were chalking in the front of the school, students and their families chalked in the hallways. Pretty. Darn. Impressive. I hope McGaugh keeps The Pageant of the Arts around for another 35 years and then some. It was enlightening to hear kids discuss the paintings they were chalking and fully commit to theater-mode.
In a single month, I have returned to both my alma mater and my elementary school to art. I have gone away to come back.
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