Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education
Take a look at the three sculptures above. What do you see? Do they remind you of anything? What message might the artist want to convey through these works?
The last question was a trick! These sculptures, currently displayed in By Women, are by Liz Whitney Quisgard, whose work is unique among most of what you’ll find in an art museum, not just for its dazzling visual effects, but for the message (or lack thereof) behind it. Quisgard states: “My work is totally decorative. It has no meaning beyond ‘What you see is what you get’ ”.
So let’s back up: what do we see? I see wooden sculptures. Two of them remind me of columns or candlesticks, and the other resembles a waving flag. They are painted in nearly every bright color you can imagine, and that color is applied almost entirely as small dots, which lend the works a sense of rhythm, visual texture, and an eye-popping, Op-art like quality where the vibrant colors overlap. The surface decoration of each sculpture plays off of the carved forms of each: bands of geometric shapes adorn the more straight-sided column while swirls of dots cascade down the curvier form.
Although Quisgard doesn’t intend for her work to carry a message, she incorporates a variety of influences. The dots may resemble the tiles of glittering Byzantine mosaics, and she says her most enduring inspiration is Islamic rugs. You’ve probably seen paintings made entirely of dots before, too; the most famous example is the Post-Impressionist Georges Seurat’s pointillist technique, where the small splotches of pure color are visible up close but visually blend to create an image at a distance. Since Quisgard’s work uses dots, but those dots don’t combine to depict a representational image, her work is known as “pseudo-pointillism.”
While we often value art for its ability to tell a story, convey a message, or express emotion; Quisgard’s is purely decorative, a term that often denotes the work as somehow lesser than “fine” art. She, however, believes that visual art should be just that, and is pushing for decorative art to get its due. Even without symbolism, subject, or message, her works are certainly compelling and beautiful.
Today in the Studio, we’re focusing only on the visual, decorative, and beautiful aspects of our work as we create our own pseudo-pointillist painting inspired by Liz Whitney Quisgard.
- Paint and palette (tempera is best for easy clean-up)
- Variety of paintbrushes
- Newspaper to protect your table
- Optional: small shiny embellishments like sequins and beads, glue
First, prepare your “canvas”. In FWMoA’s Quisgard sculptures, the patterns painted onto each piece play off of the forms of their base structure, so it’s important that we start with a shaped surface. I don’t have a wood-turned column to paint on, so instead I’m using a piece of paper.
Fold it in half lengthwise (hotdog style!), then draw the profile of what your base form will look like. Decide if you want to use more curvy, organic shapes (the pink paper above); or go for a more geometric look (the black paper).
Carefully cut it out using scissors, then unfold it! You should have a symmetrically-shaped piece of paper.
If you look closely at Quisgard’s designs above, they’re not only made from dots–she first paints solid shapes, then fills them in with dots. Sometimes we can even see a third or fourth layer!
Using the shape of your paper as a guide, begin painting in bands of color OR paint a base layer that is more free flowing down the paper. Start to create patterns using geometric shapes like the triangles in Gate #8 or more organic shapes like the swirls and spirals in Wood Turning #20. You may choose, as Quisgard sometimes does, to leave some negative space, allowing the base color of your surface to show through.
Now it’s time for dots! Using the end of a paintbrush or the eraser of a pencil will make your dots more uniform and circular. If you have a variety of sizes of brushes, you can make a variety of different circles! Dip in the paint, then dot on your paper. It’s important to repeat each color of dot in a predictable way within the shapes you painted during the last step (to form a pattern). Beyond that, you should use all the bright colors you have! Do you have metallic paint (or paint marker)? Now’s the time to break it out! Alternatively, if you don’t have paint on hand or don’t want to get messy, this could be done with another medium like marker.
I started with the largest size dots so I could then fill in the remaining areas with smaller ones. The smaller you make your dots, the more dots you’ll need to use (and the longer it will take).
Keep filling in the shapes of your pattern, leaving negative space if desired. I’m filling the whole thing in!
Once you’re done dotting, you could choose to add some additional embellishments if you have them, like the beads and other found objects Quisgard sometimes incorporates.