I started this about three years ago. I have worked a lot on it today. I am enchanted by their funny, sweet little faces (especially the boys) and in the end I scrapped the "modernising" idea I originally had in order to allow the faces to be the focus of this painting. Yes, I am on there. Can you guess which one?
I suppose dabbling in "abstracts" and "portraits" does not stop you from being a narrative painter. After all I still write stories in my head even though they never get to the keyboard these days. A couple of years ago I painted a small picture of a woman in the park with a bird cage, setting her birds free. I was not totally happy with the execution of that painting and lately I have thought I might revisit some of those "park" series and see what happens. If we give ourselves the freedom to act on a whim then it poses interesting questions - to which, as artists, we are not at all obliged to provide answers!
There are two things about painting - the meaning or subject on the one hand and the application of the paint on the other. I am beginning to dislike the term "abstract painting" and it's implication that this is just "formalism" because there is always meaning behind any painting, it's just that sometimes we may not be conscious of that meaning or even wish to explore that sub-consciousness. I must be honest though and confess that this was initially an attempt to work quite intuitively with colours I am not particularly used to. Burnt Sienna (apart from an initial surface all over stain) and Indian /Venetian red (my favourite) were banished. How far could I get without them?
It is noticeable that with greater accessibility to
plastic surgery these days those with the dosh are putting themselves
under the knife and often eliminating or reducing whatever personality they had
beforehand (I am talking about "vanity" surgery here of course; my concern is not with addressing the issue of disfigurement). One of our current
actresses, can't remember who, said - have you noticed they are all coming out
looking the same. This is inevitable as women
strive to conform to some external standard of beauty. Was it always thus? I
don't think so somehow.
Anyway, I have for a long time been interested in bashing this idea about, in "symmetry" and consequently "asymmetry" Every face
has irregularities, imbalances, which to me symbolise that person's inner core
or identity. I have wanted for a while
to do a series of paintings which show this and use exaggeration and distortion to achieve the result. Each painting should be, for want of a
better word, "beautiful". I
wanted to destroy the "pose", to see beneath the surface, to find the
"real" beauty lurking there in all of us.
Untitled I Acrylic and oil on linen canvas 16" x 16"
Untitled II Acrylic and oil on linen canvas 16" x 16"
And in case you think number I is fairly symmetrical, here she is "flipped":
I've taken this painting off. I needed a few days to know if it was what I was looking for and to me it falls short. And no amount of touching it up will resolve it. So I'll put it on one side for now. What I am after with these portraits is the feeling I get when I look at the "Silver Skies" painting. It's a combination of emotion and paint technique. Thanks anyway Marcia and Ruth for your positive comments but you are both painters and you both know that in the end the success of any work is down to the perception of the artist themselves. Back to the drawing board.
Working on (more representational) portraits and at the same time working on these more abstract panels is really interesting. I am taken by the idea of digging deep to find the image just as archeologists dig deep to find the evidence. The painting "Excavation" was challenging because the panel was very textured with hard gesso ridges dried on from previous paintings. An image asserts itself if it is "true".
Not a good pic because the sun is shining brightly through the studio dormer window and I accidentally broke the blind - but never complain about the sun in the north of England. The colours in this are much more varied than you can see here and I used a variety of mark making from palette knife, brush, plastic scrubbing brush, screwdriver, and then some soft brushed on areas which contrast nicely with the harder edges and grooves. Fish and chips, best take away in the north.
I paint a lot of different stuff that doesn't always show up
on this blog. I have had a strong sense of the need to explore the different
ways I could put paint down on a surface. As many people say - a journey. It has always been a matter of being acutely
sensitive to the process I felt I wanted to discover.It seems the more paint mileage you get under
your belt the more you are able to paint in a whole variety of different ways but simply thinking about it won't do for me. I
have to try it out and so I can spend weeks "experimenting". I was having
coffee with an artist friend and she said "It's perhaps a way of
discovering what and how you "prefer" to paint. That seemingly simple
statement is at once profound and brings an element of "choice" into
the process.And the more you entertain
that "choice" or "preference" the more the subject and the method become
indivisible.When I look at the
paintings I did over the last twelve months I don't have much trouble
identifying my favourite ones. That is the key I think and maybe the starting
point for a deeper exploration. Which paintings would you save if your studio
set on fire and you could only grab one or two before you got out? I know
immediately which mine would be.
The frescoes I saw in Italy made a lasting impression on me and I find myself quite intuitively trying to emulate them. Images trapped in a medium, in the original case, plaster; in this case worked, plastic acrylic, knifed on. Combine that with the richness of oil and something magic starts to happen.
Many portrait painters have said - it is not about capturing a likeness, it's about capturing something more generic about the human condition (sorry it's a bit of a hackneyed phrase). You have to start with a live model or a representation of a live model - but then what a joy it is to let fly. Carving, sculpting, modelling with the paint, letting it drip and drool - but all the time with discipline. There is a phrase associated with Hughie O'Donoghue, but I don't know if he actually used it: "Excavating the figure" - letting it grow out from the support on which it's created. It was there all the time.
I love the idea of images receding into and emerging out of darkness. Sculptors will often say the image is there within the block of wood or stone - it just needs finding, almost like the images in our subconscious minds. I must acknowledge a debt here to the Canadian painter Maya Kulenovic whose haunting work pays immense tribute to this notion.
All paintings need to be viewed "in the flesh". This is no exception. There is more layered depth in this painting than is visible through a digital image but this is about the best I can do at the moment.