Time Telling

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Three Room Suite
triptych, intaglio, printmaking, alterpiece, Renaissance, Middle Ages, interiors, living spaces, pattern, harmony , unity, trompe-l'oeil, narrative, illusions, interior walls, everyday spaces,

“Besant first became interested in ‘interior themes’ years ago,” critic Anne Payne wrote in 1978 of his  watercolourAny paint that uses water as a solvent. Paintings done with this medium are known as watercolours. What carries the pigment in watercolour (called its medium, vehicle, or base) is gum arabic. An exception to this rule is water miscible oil paints, which employ water as their solvent, but are actually oil paints. Colours are usually applied and spread with brushes, but other tools can also used. The most common techniques for applying watercolour are called wet-on-dry and wet-on-wet, along with the dry brush techniques dry-on-dry and dry-on-wet. Colours can be removed while still wet, to various degrees by blotting. Most watercolour painting is done on paper, but other absorbent grounds can also be employed. The papers most favored by those who paint with watercolour is white, very thick, with high rag content, and has some tooth. (Artlex.com)  and  inkLiquid or paste media containing pigment(s) and used for writing, pen and brush drawing, and printing. Writing inks, even blacks, are rarely sufficiently permanent to be used for art purposes. Black drawing ink, known as India ink in the United States, is especially made for use in permanent works. When it dries it is water resistant, enabling it to be gone over with a wash or watercolour. Also available is a water-soluble drawing ink; though otherwise permanent, it is capable of being washed away with water, and may be preferred to water-resistant ink for certain work. Chinese ink is similar to India ink, although various minor ingredients are added to enhance its brilliancy, range of tone, and working qualities. Most colored drawing inks are not permanent; those made with permanent pigments are usually labeled with names of pigment ingredients rather than the names of hues. Printing ink is actually more closely related to paints than to the pen and brush inks. (Artlex.com)  series, The Drawing Room. “What fascinated him then, as now, were the extraordinary events which took place within an ordinary, confined space. Today he derives his themes from normal, everyday, almost prosaic forms.” (Payne, 1978)

Writer Anne Suche echoed this statement a few years later with her observation: “Derek Besant likes to use as his  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter the sort of spaces most of us walk through daily and never notice.” (Suche, 1984)

With Three Room Suite, from the  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Besant presents us with three interior themes where there doesn’t appear to be a lot goin’ on, to as the theme song from the TV show Corner Gas says. We are presented with views of three different walls with a bit of floor in the foreground, and no human presence.

start quoteI might not be a landscape painter, but the distances, longs nights, cold air and wind across the field are all things that influence how I think, and how I react.end quote -- Derek Besant

The walls are painted in distinctly different colours, but the tones are muted. The baseboards are also painted in a variety of colours, and the floor has a random grey  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  against a white background. The only other distinguishing features are the objects that appear on the walls.

Someone must have pasted the paper over the window in the first image, we muse, and tacked papers to the wall in the third image. Is the clock still running in the centre image, or has it stopped, we wonder. In thinking these things we engage with the artwork.  Has Besant lured us, his viewers, into adding from our own interiors to the story in each image? “C’mon in, and bring your own ideas and reactions with you,” Besant seems to be saying.

Besant is perhaps best known for his witty trompe-l’oeil  muralA large design or picture, most commonly created on the wall of a public building, sometimes using the fresco technique. (artlex.com)  which covers the entire side of a building in Toronto’s theatre district. (See this image at Ron Erwin Photography). While trompe-l’oeil art works typically trick the eye, perhaps with Three Room Suite Besant set out to trick our minds into finishing the works for him. Of course, each of us brings our own perspective and our own experiences as we view three walls in three different rooms. What will the rooms look like when each of us fills them with our own stuff?

additional resources Things to Think About
  • The first image in Three Room Suite shows a window almost, but not quite, covered with a sheet of paper. As you look at this work, what thoughts come to your mind?
  • In the third image of this artwork, the top piece of paper appears to be curled up at one corner, and another page underneath is rippled or folded. How do you interpret this work?
  • In the middle image a small clock hangs on an otherwise featureless wall. What are your feelings as you view this work?
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Time and houses/living spaces, an extension

Time and the buildings we live in are interrelated. Although Besant’s work Three Room Suite is about the interior, as an extension, you might look at:

  • Various Saskatchewan artists who have used this theme in relation to old buildings as inspiration for more artwork ideas.  For example:
  • A house and how its interior evolves and changes over time as owners redecorate and re-invent spaces.
  • How much have times changed?  Rembrandt’s home and a tour of it is online – much of it, including the entry foyer and the kitchen and artist studio look like they would fit right in today! Take the tour at Museum het Rembrandthuis: http://www.rembrandthuis.nl/cms_pages/index_main.html
  • As you tour the 400-year-old home, ask yourself: What similarities to your home today are there in Rembrandt van Rijn’s home? Are there rooms with similar functions? How large are the rooms compared to rooms in homes today?  Compared to rooms in your own home?  Do the rooms have the same names as rooms in your home?
  • What items in the rooms do you recognize?  Do you have similar items in your home? Are they kept in the same location?
  • How have times changed? How have people’s needs changed? Have some things stayed the same?  Would you feel comfortable as a dinner guest in Rembrandt’s home? If you were to spend a weekend there, what would you look forward to?
  • What things make a home a home? What are things that time does not change?
Online Activity
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You can find out more about Time at the Science Museum of Minnesota website, including time-lapse images.  Take some “time” to explore this site!


Studio Activity
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Art interpretation activity

What is a triptych?

Altarpiece Triptych

Three separate paintings make up Derek Besant’s Three Room Suite. This  formIn its widest sense, total structure; a synthesis of all the visible aspects of that structure and of the manner in which they are united to create its distinctive character. The form of a work is what enables us to perceive it. Form also refers to an element of art that is three-dimensional (height, width, and depth) and encloses volume. For example, a triangle, which is two-dimensional, is a shape, but a pyramid, which is three-dimensional, is a form. Cubes, spheres, ovoids, pyramids, cone, and cylinders are examples of various forms. Also, all of the elements of a work of art independent of their meaning. Formal elements are primary features which are not a matter of semantic significance — including colour, dimensions, line, mass, medium, scale, shape, space, texture, value; and the principles of design under which they are placed — including balance, contrast, dominance, harmony, movement, proportion, proximity, rhythm, similarity, unity, and variety. (Artlex.com)  of  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  is called a triptych, which is a way of organizing a  compositionArrangements of elements in a work of art.  often used by artists. Originally, triptychs were designed as church altarpieces during the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, in northern Europe.  The three pictures were related in  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  and theme, but the scenes were not sequential (as in a comic strip). Often the central panel contained a larger figure, or main idea, and each side panel contained images that supported the central panel.

You can see some more examples of altarpieces at the following websites:

Look at Besant’s work. Use the Zoom tool to study it up close.

  • What is the main idea of the central panel?  How do the side panels support the idea of the central panel?

Invent a story

  • mystery
  • intrigue
  • secrecy
  • the specific time on the clock
  • empty rooms
  • darkness showing through a window

Create your own triptych

Studio Activity
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Cross curricular (Arts education)

  • Use your artwork as a starting point to choreograph a dance based on the idea of “triptych”.
  • The elements of dance are the ingredients of dance. Often, one or two elements have greater importance in a dance, but all are present. Consider including dance elements such as:
  • Actions (what the body is doing)
  • The Body (awareness of the body) – body parts, body zones, body bases of support)
  • Dynamics (how the body moves) – length of time, amount of energy, kind of rhythm- even, uneven, quality of movement (strong or light) speed, time signature – measured rhythm
  • Relationships (the connections between) these could be between objects, between dancers, between one dancer’s body parts to each other – such as elbows, or hands)
  • Space (where the body moves).  This includes
  • general space in the area for the dance;
  • personal space around while a dancer is stationary (not moving);
  • directional space (forward, backward, sideways, upward, downward);
  • There are levels in space (high, middle, low, deep)
  • There are pathways through space
  • patterns of movement made in the air or on the floor by the person’s movements
  • these pathways are made of combinations of straight or curved lines or both.
  • Base a short drama on the story you wrote earlier to interpret Besant’s triptych

Author unknown.  'Illusion on Front Street.’  Visual Arts Review, Fall 1980.

Besant, Derek.  Introduction to the sculpture “Hand Signals.”  4th Street, Calgary, Alberta.  Retrieved from the Internet on March 26th, 2008 from http://www.4streetcalgary.com/publicart/signals.

Goddard, Peter.  ‘Tangled and abandoned, bedsheets tell tales.’  Toronto Star, September 14, 2006.

Murray, Joan.  The Best Contemporary Canadian Art.  Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1987.

Payne, Anne.  ‘Extraordinary events within an ordinary confined space.’  Arts West, November-December, 1978.

Rogerson, Stephanie.  ‘15 Restless Nights.’  Toronto Magazine/Art Review, September 21, 2006.

Suche, Anne.  ‘Derek Besant.’  Western Living, October, 1984.

“Surface Noise by Derek Bestant,” Centre of Cultural Initiatives, 2006. http://develop.karelia.ru/article/233?lang=eng

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning