Students will learn about what makes an artwork abstract. Students will also learn how to objectively evaluate their own artwork. In addition, students will learn how to research and deliver an oral report based on abstract art.
Still Life with Femme au Coq #2
Time Alloted60 Minutes
State Content Standards
Visual Art, Grade 5
1.2 Identify and describe characteristics of representational, abstract, and nonrepresentational works of art.
1.3 Use their knowledge of all the elements of art to describe similarities and differences in works of art and in the environment.
2.4 Create an expressive abstract composition based on real objects.
4.3 Develop and use specific criteria as individuals and in groups to assess works of art.
English Language Arts
2.3 Discern main ideas and concepts presented in texts, identifying and assessing evidence that supports those ideas.
2.4 Draw inferences, conclusions, or generalizations about text and support them with textual evidence and prior knowledge.
Listening and Speaking Strategies.
1.1 Ask questions that seek information not already discussed.
1.4 Select a focus, organizational structure, and point of view for an oral presentation. 1.5 Clarify and support spoken ideas with evidence and examples.
1.6 Engage the audience with appropriate verbal cues, facial expressions, and gestures.
2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.2 Deliver informative presentations about an important idea, issue, or event by the following means:
a. Frame questions to direct the investigation;
b. Establish a controlling idea or topic;
c. Develop the topic with simple facts, details, examples, and explanations.
- Focus artwork and examples of a landscape, still life and portrait
- Write up on focus artwork
- Markers, colored pencils, or oil pastels
- 3-4 real objects, preferably large with little detail (i.e.: a large vase, a large book)
Abstract: Artwork in which the subject matter is stated in a brief, simplified manner. Little or no attempt is made to represent images realistically, and objects are often simplified or distorted.
Paul Wonner was born in Arizona but spent his painting career in California. He participated in the Bay Area Figurative Art movement during its prominence between 1950 and 1965.
Still Life with Femme au Coq #2 is a painting influenced by Abstract Expressionist paint handling. It features a recognizable woman and a suggested rooster, seemingly drawn quickly. A still life of tumbling objects is emphasized by a brushy field of red paint. It is both abstract and representational, changing between one and the other, as the viewer looks repeated times.
Wonner painted this while pursuing his painting studies at the University of California, Berkeley. It was here that he experimented with Abstract Expressionist stylistic elements.
In 1952 before Wonner met David Park and participated in the Bay Area Figurative Art Movement.
Why is this significant?
At this time Wonner was working toward the Bay Area Figurative Art style. This painting shows his development toward the style with which he was associated until his move to Los Angeles. While living in Southern California his style dramatically changed and he became well-known for his quiet and exacting, hard-edged still lifes in bright colors.
Make a connection:
The Crocker Art Museum has paintings by other artists associated with the Bay Area Figurative Art movement: David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira, Joan Brown and Manual Neri. Locate these and compare them to this early painting by Paul Wonner.
Abstracting the Main Idea
Focus Artwork: Still Life with Femme au Coq #2
Artist: Paul Wonner
Date of Work: 1952
Media: Oil on canvas
Teacher Tips: In steps 4 and 5, using questions allows the teacher to help the student to examine the artwork closely, to really “look” at the piece. The questions given are merely examples. The teacher is encouraged to add any questions he/she deems necessary, as well as encourage questions from the students. This lesson can be divided into two lessons after step 8.
1) Put the word “Abstract” on the board. Ask students to guess its meaning. Show the students three pieces of art, a portrait, a landscape, and an abstraction. Ask the students to pick out the abstract. On the board write the definition of abstract: “Artwork in which the subject matter is stated in a brief, simplified manner. Little or no attempt is made to represent images realistically, and objects are often simplified or distorted.” Note: simplify the definition if necessary so that all students understand the meaning.
2) Hand out the write up on the focus work. Have student volunteers the artwork write up. As the class is following along, ask the students what inferences and conclusions they can draw about the artwork and the artist. When the reading is finished, ask the students if they can picture in their minds what the artwork looks like. Have the students draw a rough sketch of what they think the artwork will look like.
3) Show the students the focus artwork. Hold a short class discussion on whether their predictions were accurate.
4) Explain to the students that the focus artwork is an abstract painting. Have the students answer the following questions about the artwork.
Line: What kinds of lines do you see? Thick, thin, curved?
How do the lines make you feel? Angry, relaxed, peaceful?
Which lines are repeated? Why do you think they are?
Which lines are strong? Which lines are weak?
Shape: What kinds of shapes to you see?
Do any of the shapes create a pattern?
Are any of the shapes geometric? Circles, triangles, squares, etc.
Color: What kinds of color do you see?
How does the color make you feel?
What would happen if the colors were switched? How would you feel?
5) Tell the students that because this is an abstract piece of work, the meaning may not be immediately clear. Have the students answer the following questions:
a. What was your first reaction to the artwork? Why?
b. What are you curious about?
c. How would you describe what the artist was trying to say?
d. What does the artwork mean to you?
e. Do you like or dislike this artwork? Explain why using the art vocabulary of line, shape, and color.
6) Place in a central location three to four large objects. Tell the class that they are going to use the objects as the basis for their own abstract artwork.
7) Before the students begin, ask the students to create a class rubric with at least three criteria for students to follow. Some examples: the artwork must have at least two objects in it, the artwork must have clear use of color as a unifying theme, the artwork must cover the whole page, the artwork must have a background. Allow the students to create their own rubric, making sure that the criteria addresses abstract art.
8) Be sure all students can see the large objects. Hand out paper and either marker, colored pencils, or oil pastels to the students. Direct the students to create an abstract artwork using the objects in front of them. Remind the students that abstract means objects are often simplified or distorted. Encourage the students to make deliberate choices about line, shape, and color. Have students begin their artwork, and allow time for students to finish.
9) Place the class into groups of three and have them use the rubric to talk about their artwork and the other artwork in the group. Remind the students to stay focused on the criteria and use art vocabulary as they discuss their artworks.
10) Tell the students that they are going to work on an oral report about abstract art and how they felt creating abstract art. Give the students the following questions to use as a resource for their oral report.
a. Choose your point of view—before you created your own artwork, did you like abstract art? Why or why not?
b. Describe abstract art. What makes an artwork abstract? Give at least two details about what you learned from the focus artwork write up and viewing the work itself.
c. Explain how you felt as you created your own piece of abstract art. Did your opinion of abstract art change any? Why or why not? Use a specific example from your artwork to support your opinion.
d. Has your point of view changed any? Do you like abstract art? Why or why not?
11) Have the students write their rough draft of their oral report. Set the criteria for how long the oral report should be (i.e.: 1 minute, 2 minutes, etc.).
12) Pair up students and have them practice their oral report. Give time for suggestions and revisions.
13) Have the students give their report in class. If time permits, the class can create a rubric for the oral presentation and then the students can grade each other’s presentations, based on the class created rubric.
• Students will demonstrate an understanding of what makes an artwork abstract by using shape, line, and color in deliberate choices to create their own abstract work of art.
• Students will demonstrate an understanding of how to evaluate their own artwork objectively by creating a class rubric for their work and applying that rubric to their own artwork.
• Students will research and deliver an oral report.
• Students will also demonstrate an understanding of abstract art by sharing how creating their own abstract artwork influenced their opinion of abstract art.
American, 1922 - 1993
Oil on canvas
Crocker Art Museum
Untitled Landscape, 1941
American (born Germany), 1880-1966
Oil on board
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Wells Fargo
American, born 1952
Easing the Spring, 2006
Acrylic with mixed media on board
48 x 60 inches
Crocker Art Museum Purchase with contributions from the James Irvine Foundation
Paul Wonner was born on April 24, 1920, in Tucson, Arizona. He graduated from Tucson Senior High School in 1937 and entered the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of Arts), earning his B.A. in 1941. Between his graduation and 1946 he was stationed in San Antonio, Texas with the U.S. Army. Wonner then moved to New York where he lived until 1950, working as a package designer and continuing his art training at the Art Students League. He returned to California to study at the University of California, Berkeley. While at Berkeley he worked in the main campus library throughout both his undergraduate and graduate studies. It was while at Berkeley that he began to experiment with the Abstract Expressionist style. He earned his B.A. in art in 1952 and an M.A. the following year.
Only two years later Wonner began library studies at Berkeley and shared a studio with Theophilus Brown whom he had met in painting classes at U.C. While working on his degree in library studies, he participated in drawing sessions and met David Park who encouraged Wonner to work from nature. In 1956 he was awarded his Master of Library Science degree from U.C. Berkeley and also had his first solo exhibition at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. He continued to paint with Brown and participated in occasional drawing sessions with both Park and Richard Diebenkorn. At this time he moved to Davis, California to work in the university library and established a studio behind a dairy there. In 1957 he showed The Glider in the Oakland Art Museum’s Bay Area Figurative Art survey exhibition. In 1960 Wonner returned to San Francisco and had a studio on the Embarcadero.
In 1961 Wonner was a guest instructor at UCLA and taught painting. A year later he moved to Malibu. Here he continued life drawing with Theophilus Brown, Don Bachardy and Nathan Oliveira. He lived primarily in Southern California before his eventual return to San Francisco in 1976. While in Southern California his style changed dramatically to an almost hard-edged painting style, and he concentrated on still lifes. As Kenneth Baker notes:
The Dutch Baroque still life tradition served as a historical source for Mr. Wonner, but he typically painted objects from everyday contemporary life. His mature pictures distinctively portray things as separated by almost surrealistically vacant distended spaces.
It was for this quiet and exacting style that Wonner became critically acclaimed and well known. Throughout his career Wonner continued teaching at various institutions. Paul Wonner died on the eve of his 88th birthday in 2008.
About Bay Area Figurative Art:
Bay Area Figurative Art grew out of dissatisfaction by artists with Abstract Expressionism. The latter was a post-World War II art movement, the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and was centered in New York City. Abstract Expressionism, as seen in works by Jackson Pollock or Franz Kline, was emotionally intense, spontaneous, and physically charged. Most common was a de-emphasis of the human figure, clearly evident in the works of the San Francisco Bay Area artists of the time as well, like David Park, Elmer Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn. Then, in 1951, David Park shocked the art community when he submitted a figurative painting to a competitive exhibition and won a prize. Park explained his position a year later:
I believe the best painting America has produced is in the current non-objective direction. However, I often miss the sting that I believe a more descriptive reference to some fixed subject can make. Quite often, even the very fine non-objective canvases seem to me to be so visually beautiful that I find them insufficiently troublesome, not personal enough.
For Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn, they were venturing forth on a new adventure, a new kind of painting, distinct from Abstract Expressionism. It was both abstract and representational; the image looked like a recognizable subject at one time and upon a second look it looked like a boldly colored, abstract composition of thick slashes of paint.
What gave the nascent “movement” its focus was an exhibition of “Bay Area Figuration,” organized by Paul Mills in 1957 at the Oakland Art Museum. After the exhibition in Oakland, the show traveled to other venues, bringing it national attention. At first Mills wanted to feature only Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn, but the artists themselves urged him to include more painters. And thus, the final exhibition included eleven artists; among these eleven were Paul Wonner, his friend Theophilus Brown and James Weeks.
In the evolution of Bay Area Figuration, Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn are recognized as the first generation. These three were committed at the time to figurative art as a way to progress beyond Abstract Expressionism, to keep the style alive without causing it to become “mere decoration.” Other artists, such as Paul Wonner, Theophilus Brown and Nathan Oliveira were designated as the “bridge generation.” None of these artists had been staunchly non-objective painters as had the original three. The bridge generation felt quite at home, using both abstract and figurative painting styles. The “second generation” and last Bay Area Figurative painters emerged in the late 1950s, and these included Bruce McGaw, Manual Neri and Joan Brown. Both Bischoff and Diebenkorn, by this time, were influential teachers for this second generation. David Park had since died.
Caroline Jones, author of Bay Area Figurative Art 1950 – 1965, attributes the demise of the movement in 1965 “not out of decadence or exhaustion” but to a “conscious response to broader currents in the evolution of American Art.” Times had changed and a different response was called forth.
Title and date: Still Life with Femme au Coq #2 1952
Artist and dates: Paul Wonner 1920 – 2008
Still Life with Femme au Coq #2 was created in 1952, the year Paul Wonner graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in art. While at Berkeley, according to Caroline A. Jones, Wonner had begun experimenting with Abstract Expressionist stylistic elements. The painting presents a lot of information for the viewer to absorb. The head of an abstract, faintly Cubist woman is featured against a white background. Her figure appears to have been drawn “on the spot.” In fact, she looks more like a drawing than a painting. Another “drawn” shape with bright blue shapes on each side suggests the rooster of the title (Coq) with its crown visible.
Paint in areas like the upper left appears to be applied in visible brushstrokes that are not blended together and again appear to be “spontaneous.” In the lower right, however, the drawing of a chair or small table appears to be more deliberate and thought-out. The red paint in places suggests haste with other colors added on top of the red; in other places the red is more uniformly applied. The small oval objects of the still life seem to spill from the red area onto the chair/table; some look drawn, while others are composed of impastoed paint. At the bottom is a swath of green paint onto which white paint drips.
The dripping paint, sketchily drawn figures, separate and unblended brushstrokes and the different shades and tints of red overlapping one another look spontaneous. The more carefully drawn chair/table, the smoothly applied white paint area by the head and the green area below look more deliberate. The painting seems to change before the viewer’s eye: one time abstract and the next figurative, oscillating between one and the other. The spontaneous-looking areas are characteristic of Abstract Expressionism, but the more deliberate areas are not. The painting combines both abstract and representational elements.
www.sfgate.com Kenneth Baker, Chronicle Art Critic, “Bay Area painter Paul Wonner dies.” 1/15/09
Thomas Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area 1945 – 1980. University of California Press, 1985.
Caroline A. Jones, Bay Area Figurative Art 1950 – 1965. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art / University of California Press, 1990.