How to paint like Yayoi Kusama – with Corey D’Augustine | IN THE STUDIO


Today, we are going to be working
in the manner of Yayoi Kusama. Specifically. her Infinity Net paintings. These are the paintings that
really launched her career here in New York City in the 1950s. You’ll see that we’re working on, I guess
what I’d say is a medium format painting. It will be an easel painting shortly,
as you’ll see. You’ll also notice that
this canvas is stretched. And it is already primed here. Kusama, typically, not always. But almost always worked
on primed canvases. And very much like all the other artists
we’re discussing together in this course. There’s not one way that Kusama
made an Infinity Net painting. There’s not one way that Martin
made a gridded composition. So we’re just exploring one approach here. Feel free to experiment
quite wildly from this. All right. So what we’re going to do here, first of all,
is to apply a base coat of a color. Let that dry. And then we’re going to work on
top of that in so-called net to the gestural brushstrokes
over this work. And in fact, because I’m pressed for
time a little bit. And you may be, too, in the studio. I certainly could work in oil. Put on a flat coat of oil. But then I might have to wait a week for
that oil to dry. So I’m going to work in a first
coat of acrylic emulsion paints. Those are water soluble paints. I’m going to let that dry and
use a hair dryer. You can dry it quite quickly. And then I’m going to switch to oil for
the top coat. Rule of thumb here, one more time. Don’t forget, please. It’s totally fine to
work in oil over acrylic. It is not totally fine to
work in acrylic over oil. If you paint acrylic over oil,
it’s going to peel off rather quickly. Oil over acrylic, no problem. That’s what we’re going to do here. Okay. So let’s talk about mixing paints here. I’m working with acrylic emulsion paints. These happen to be made by Dick Blick. But there are plenty of the other
companies out there that make good ones. And what I’ve decided to do today Is
to make a black and white painting. As Kusama did so
many times early in her career. But black by itself is
a little bit boring. At least I happen to think so. So I’m going to juice up this black
a little bit by making it somewhat chromatic. I’m going to start off with
a generous douse of black paint here. What I’m going to do is use
a little bit of burnt umber. This is a much warmer color here. Kind of a dark brown color. Add some of that in there. And I’m going to make it a little
bit complicated with a dioxazine. An organic violet color. Adding some of that there, as well. Now, black and white are colors that really
overwhelm what other colors you add them to. So this is still going to look quite
black by the time I’m done with it. Depending on the consistency
of your paint out of the tube. You may need to add water. I don’t, because this is going to
be a nice brushable paint here. But if you’re working with
some artist quality acrylic, sometimes they have a heavy pigment load. Sometimes they’re kind
of toothpaste thickness. And you may want to add some solvent. In this case, some water to thin that. So, nice thorough mixing there. You can use the canvas to clean off
your paint brush, your palette knife. Why not? Another thing to think about here is
what is going to happen to the edges? Kusama usually left the priming
visible on the edges of her canvas. And sometimes the net, the gestural
composition, goes slightly over the edge. That’s what we’re going to do here. Again, feel free to deviate this
from this model as much as you like. And what I’m going to do now. This is very similar to just the brushing
technique of how to gesso a painting. I’m just going to stretch
out this paint quite thinly. Quite widely here, using a lot of
action with the bristles of the brush. Forcing that paint down into all the
little interstices of the canvas here to make sure I don’t have any
white peeking through. Now, the reason I’m stretching this out
is that I don’t want to have a lot of texture here. Why? Well, the texture is going to come in
that second coat, as we’ll see shortly. Other things you may do,
depending on your fancy here. You may use masking tape on
the edges of your priming here. And what that would do is allow
you to have a really crisp line between this dark violet brown color. Violet black color that I’m adding here. And the white priming visible
on the edges of your canvas. Again, that’s purely aesthetic. It has nothing to do with the structural
dimension of the painting. It’s really just how it looks. Okay. So just very quickly fanning out this nice
kind of black violet layer I put on here. And now I’m really just barely
kissing over the canvas here. Barely touching it. So I’m really smoothing
out the surface and not leaving a whole lot of brushwork behind. Okay. And because this is an acrylic emulsion paint,
it’s waterborne paint. This is going to dry very quickly,
I’ve painted this very thinly. So it should dry within an hour or
something like that. Again, if you’re in a rush. Using a hair dryer is a nice
way to speed up this process. Okay, so
our paint layer is now completely dry. And what I’m going to do next
is to do some sanding here. I’ll tell you why in a second. But any time you’re sanding paint, you
really need to make sure it’s bone dry. Because if it’s a little bit wet,
then you’re going to end up smearing it. And pulling and perhaps tearing the paint. So, what I’m going to do here is just
work with a medium grit sandpaper. It’s 120. You don’t want to use something that’s really
rough here. But it’s not so
critical what grade you are using. And the reason I’m going do
some sanding here is twofold. One, I want to matte out this surface. As you can see, in the way that the light
is reflecting off the surface here. It’s pretty glossy. And, in fact, the top coat that I’m
going to put on is also pretty glossy. So I want to provide a little
bit of interesting matte gloss relationships here. So I’m going to sand out
the surface to matte this out. To provide a kind of counterpoint to the
glossy top coat that I’m about to put on. Number two, in sanding. [SOUND] I’m also starting to expose
the tops of the weave white again. So, in other words, I’m sanding off some
of this acrylic paint I just put on to give me a really nice active surface. Not something that’s so flat here. And you can see a little goes a long way. So, just very light sanding. [SOUND] One thing you don’t
want to do is sand too hard. Push down too hard on the edges. Because remember,
looking at the back of the canvas. You have this wooden stretcher bar here. And if I’m sanding right over that edge. And I’m pushing down the canvas. I’m going to get a rather
stupid looking white line. A box within a box,
all the way around the painting. So, don’t press here. Really just some light
sanding is all we need. [SOUND]
All right. So we have the canvas on the easel now. We’re going do some work with the brush. And I just want to
emphasize that this is not the way to make an infinity net painting. Kusama worked in many different ways. Sometimes with sanding,
sometimes without, for example. What I’ve chosen to do here is to
work with a titanium white oil paint. Remember, oil over acrylic no problem. The reverse, big problem. Working with titanium white,
which is kind of a neutral white color. Not too warm. Slightly on the cool side of whites here. And hopefully has a nice contrast
with this roughed up background here. So what I’m going to start
doing here is just to squeeze some of this paint from the tube here. And you see that its consistency
is very similar to toothpaste. Quite thick or quite pastose. As I’m getting a feel for
this paint here, it’s quite sculptural. In fact, I’m actually working as
a sculptor here in the palette. Pushing this these really pastose,
this really stiff paint around. And it’s that kind of use of oil here. The sculptural use of oil that we’re
really going to be playing with. And my first brush load,
you see here, is kind of a scoop. Typically, you’d wipe off excess paint
from your brush to paint like this. I’m going to use that excess paint. I’m scooping that paint up, almost
trowelling that paint onto the brush. And as I’m getting ready for
the first mark of the painting here, it’s just going to be
kind of a looping mark. Now I’m going to simply reload and
then make a similar one of those marks. And we start to see that, okay,
the gesture here was almost identical for those two marks. What kind of gesture is it? It’s a movement of the fingers. The wrist is pretty much stationary. The elbow’s absolutely stationary. So as we start seeing here, each one of these
brush strokes is a little bit different. They’re all off kilter,
they’re all cousins. In a way, it’s the same kind of
gestures here again and again. Slow, tracing gestures using
curves of the fingers,the thumb a little bit of the knuckles here. Not really the wrist, not the elbows and
certainly not the torso like the. So something serial, there’s definitely something
repetitious about this kind of brush work. There is something therapeutic
about this kind of mark making. There are many legends about Kusama, many
of them propagated by the artist herself, that she would stay up for days on end,
with this kind of brush stroke and a huge canvas, literally doing exactly what I’m
doing right now for three days straight. Now, whether that’s actually true or not,
well, maybe we’ll find out, maybe not. But, regardless, what I’d like you
to try to do here is really lose yourself in this serial activity
here as a way to quiet the mind. Now I’m talking here and
trying to describe what I’m doing. But very likely in the studio, if you can
really lose yourself in this activity, you won’t be thinking about your job,
or your children, or whatever it is, whatever kind of
stresses that you have on your mind. Normally, you can really lose
yourself in this activity. And this is not unique to painting. Some people get the same loss of inertia
and escape from anything repetitious. Chopping wood, running, sowing, whatever it
is that you’re accepting what’s happening here. You’re not doing any kind of aggressive
editing, you’re just allowing the mind to just accept what the hand is doing
here and really just to go with the flow. Because I’m working with
paint unadulterated here, straight out of the tube, you’ll notice
that there’s a lot of very rich imposto. There’s some very loud tracks
of the brush, if you will. All these bristles leaving these
strokes in the paint here. And you’ll see that in some,
but not all of Kusama’s work, because as I run out of this paint. I’ll change it, I’ll do something else
to it, and then a different zone of this infinity net will take on a different
character from a preceding one. It’s important that these brush strokes
go all the way to the edge, and perhaps over it. These infinity nets, they’re all
over a composition meaning that. Just kind of slow gestural, tracing mark
making does indeed go all over the canvas. It’s not something that is
kind of relational composition where you’re reading one
part to another part. Instead, this entire painting
will be able to of a kind, it will have a kind of optical flow. Couple of things I’d like to
bring your attention to here. First of all,
I’m not doing a whole lot of editing. I’m accepting almost every
single mark that’s made here. Also, I’m trying to really
have some kind of consistency. Not exactly the same kind of mark, but same
kind of speed, the same general amount of paint on the brush. Also, I’m leaving roughly the same
amount of empty white space between all of these marks, but you can
see that none of these are identical. Of course, each one is different, but they’re
all informed by the same general parameters of mark making. Where did Kusama’s technique come from? Well, in the slide lecture this week, we talked
about her hallucinations that she had as a young girl. But certainly, when she arrived
in New York City in the 1950s as a Japanese woman, the odds were stacked
rather violently against her chances of becoming a successful artist in this very
male dominated New York Avant-garde, Kusama a very bright young woman. You better believe she did some careful
looking at the other painters around her. And I promise you that she was deeply and
very sensitively aware of the abstract paintings of Philip Guston in the 1950s. Guston known for his very slow
anxiety-ridden kind of nervous brushwork. Which doesn’t look identical to what
I’m doing here, and what Kusama often does in her work, but rather,
it’s a reference for Kusama. The slow sculpture or
sculpting type of brush stroke here. Because actually, if you look at each and
every one of these marks here, think about them as individual sculptures. And in fact,
when you start to explore Kusama’s work, you realize that she
does make sculptures but all these strange little organic
protrusions off of them and really those are an extension on this very sculptural
process of painting that she practiced. Okay, so I’ve a nice start here, and we can
see some really beautiful texture being developed here, a lot of really
bizarre and interesting little nnoks and crannies. These voids, these black voids in there. But I am going to use something
a little bit different. Adding a little bit of
a material called Maygilp. Maygilp has been used since the Italian
Renaissance and you can see it’s thick, kind of this honey consistency. But you can see it’s like adding
honey into your paint here. And it’s going to soften the texture
of the paint considerably. So, this next area of the painting
that I’m going to be working with, is going to have more of
a buttery consistency, rather than that toothpaste consistency
of our first paint application. Kusama would more typically doing this, adding
some more medium to her paint in a different hour of painting, let’s say. So that although the infinity net
is relatively consistent in terms of the color, in terms of the brushwork, etc. The paint itself does have these does
have these rather nebulous zones floating around within it. And what you’ll notice in a studio, when you
start adding more medium into your paint, whether it’s maygilp, as I’m working
here, or perhaps Venetian turpentine, another medium. Or just more binder,
more linseed oil or poppy. The oil is that the feed back
from your own hand has changed. And be sensitive to what
this paint feels like. Because it’s really part of the process
as I’m feeling out this canvas, as I’m allowing painting to
really grow in front of me here. The friction this really slow, solid,
mark making that I started out with here has been replaced by something
much smoother, much softer and much more buttery again, here. So that you hand knows that, and as you’re
becoming a better painter, now when you look at that paint, you should be able to
know, that’s what that paint feels like. And this is going to help you when you
start going to museums and galleries, and you start understanding how some
of these gestural paintings, the aesthetics that the artists
are dealing with, have so much to do with the way their
body moves with the way. That they’ve prepared the material
to track the different actions or gestures of the body in different ways. So, even though my hand is moving in
the identical way, as I did earlier here, the pain feels different,
the paint looks different, and really, this is the name of the game here. This is how this painting is
going to grow in an organic way. Okay, and for the third application here,
sticking with nice titanium white here. But now I’m just going to use
good old fashioned linseed oil. This is the binder that’s
already in this paint. So, I’m just going to give it
a haphazard nice generous douse there. And again, I’m not going to be to methodical
about blending this paint perfectly. Because in fact, I like the fact that each
one of my brushstrokes are a little bit different here, so, I’m just going to get
some of that nice juicy medium in there. And this is good enough, a kind of
heterogeneous, incompletely mixed, blobby, kind of slimy
mixture of this paint. And this heterogeneity is what I’m
actually going to capture here. What I’m also going to capture is
a different geometry of my hand here. Because everything I’ve been doing,
I happen to be right-handed, everything has a certain logic to it,
based on how a right-handed person is going to move the knuckles and
the wrist, so on and so forth. I don’t want that to inform
the entire painting. So rather than paint left-handed, although
you could do that if you’re feeling daring, I’m just going to change
the orientation of the painting, and I’ll continue to do this a couple
times throughout the painting. So that, again, it’s one more variables that
each one of these little zones Within the entire infinity
net composition is imparted with a slightly different character. And now I’m going to carry on
painting exactly the same kind of gestural slow brush mark that I
made before, but look at that already. You’ll notice that because this is so
poorly mixed, intentionally poorly mixed, that it’s falling off of my brush. It’s going to have a slightly lumpy,
moving blobby kind of a texture. Great, I’m accepting everything here,
and that’s the name of the game. Work with it, don’t try to force it to
follow any kind of preconceived notion of what the painting should look like,
and allow it to be translating your hand in different ways as you
move across the canvass. Okay, so after a nice course of painting
here, a painting that could be finished or could keep going. Couple things I want to draw
your attention to, first of all, these different zones of the painting
that each have their own character. This area here,
you can see these dry brush marks, which really highlight the texture of the
canvas, at the end of those brush strokes, contrast that to a much more richly
painted area that has some really thick, kind of blobby soft areas of paint. And then,
contrast that to some more thick paint, but here the texture is much heavier. We have a much more crisp kind of impasto
there, kind of a crackle of the paint as you have some of these real
stiff spikes of paint peaking up. The reason for
changing that consistency is that, okay, this is an all over composition,
but it doesn’t get boring. Because your eye has no center of gravity
here, your eye kind of, restlessly moves around this canvas, and it’s not the same,
so that, wherever your eye roams, there’s always something really
satisfying for it to appreciate. This is the reason why Kusama’s
painting work when they’re real small. When they’re medium format, or when
they’re huge and almost environmental. Other things to think about, some Kusama paintings
are not painted as thickly as this. Some are actually quite thin,
others are thicker than this. So start to think about how
you want to handle your paint. Also, this painting is not necessarily
done, sometimes what she does then is to go back into these black holes, if you
will, with something really dilute,and to color them, or to make them glossy,
or to make them matte. So that essentially what we are dealing
with is a figure and a ground, only two part painting, but she does very, very complex
handling of that figure and that ground. So a painting here looks really simple,
white on black in the beginning but as we start to test our hand and
also our eyes on them, we realize that there’s actually
a lot of complexity here.

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