Ok, this started in the same way as the two previous paintings - attention to every little groove and crevice - but that attention to detail started to be a pain. This business of "seeing" is the oddest thing. 'What you see is what you get' I said in the last post but seeing a person is not just superficial is it. For a start, in self portrait or portraits of your family, you see your ancestors. Second, you see 'meaning', 'feelings', 'memories', 'stories'. So I went with the flow and grabbed a painting knife. Like running up a hill free with the wind blowing in your face. My mum was always elegant and pretty (I have never had a lot of interest in elegance). Every morning she would do the housework and then after lunch she would change into a pretty dress and high heels- we were not well off so most of her clothes were hand made and she was an excellent seamstress - and we would go into town to do a little shopping. On Saturdays that would often include flowers and a cream cake. She made her wedding dress which was like a fancy day dress in Satin and she wore a picture hat with it (enamoured with the heroines of the Hollywood movies she loved). So the picture hat emerged here. I swear it was not a conscious inclusion. She is 95 now but her memory is good and I am looking forward to taking the painting to show her.
No modelling paste with this one but a good few layers of colour including a couple of glazes. After a certain point acrylic paint starts to scumble on nicely. Perhaps if I go through every spare board in the place I will eventually know something about painting.
Started this yesterday, went to it this morning, it was not right. Morning light usually shows up the faults but then I struggled and struggled. You have to be determined not to give up. This one tends toward a more realistic view. They are all different. I don't make a conscious decision at the start, not usually anyway. I just tend to see what happens. I love abstract portraits but the brush obeys the brain I suppose. Very odd.
I went for my lunch - bacon, egg, Italian ciabatta and a small glass of red wine followed by a rather large hazelnut cookie and a cup of tea which has now gone cold on me as I took it up to the studio (fatal). My first glance at this morning's portrait was disappointing. It just lacked vibrancy, life. So I attacked it and now I'm happier with it. Which is good because otherwise I would have been slightly depressed all evening.
It is now 3.30 in the afternoon and the fog has barely lifted all day so the pearly, pale grey light is just right for accurate photo shots. In another fifteen minutes it will be gone.
Ok, I suspected I would not be able to continue the same style without a break. Or is it a break. Both are me. Just because something appears to be working does not mean something else won't work also. Shrugging off the fear is all part of the journey (see what I mean - in the last post I was running away from fear so I claimed). I wanted to know what would happen if I stayed with brighter colours and more abstract shapes. Doing a portrait this way it is possible - and good - to turn the board upside down and continue to work on it. You see the value distribution better that way. What an interesting process painting is.
These days I have no time or am too tired to go to my life drawing classes but I am trying at least most mornings to get about 3 hours of painting in and knowing what my subject is going to be really helps at the moment. I also have a stash of black gessoed panels to use up which I prepared ages ago. The first thing I do is cover the panel with a loose mix of cerulean and cobalt green which quickly dries then I start to draw/paint the face in vivid colours gradually moving to neutrals and heavier texture aided by the modelling paste. I thought today what beautiful names these colours have - cobalt, siena, ultramarine, indigo, rose... I don't think I will ever tire of exploring faces, especially my own strange face! I am beginning to feel the paintings need to be developed onto bigger boards, in a context, but what.. it has to be dreamed about first. I have no time at the moment for "cold action" which often means you have to abandon a session with a sense of unease, uncertainty and sometimes more than a little fear.
Spent today re-working these two portraits. I added more texture to the surface by using a knife and also acrylic modelling paste by W&N Galleria. I like the idea of building up an image as well as seeking it through previous layers of paint.
I would have found this very difficult to do in one sitting if I had been using oils. Oils blend the best if that is what you want but here I felt I wanted to layer the colours and keep layering them until I arrived at the bus stop!
(Actually I realised I needed to get off at the stop after - hence the re-work. I softened the hard edges a little by adding more layers of paint but still tried to maintain the general ' personality' of the painting).
I have continued to work on this building up the surface texture with acrylic modelling paste which is a new experience for me but very satisfying. It appears to fill in the wrinkles too - perhaps I should try it in real life.
I worked all day on the re-work (the first version was finished yesterday although only posted today). It morphed into various things but all related to what I was seeing in the mirror. Nothing satisfied me so rather than give up for the day, I took some raw umber, drew some dark eyes, simple lines and this emerged out of my memory. It has a feeling for me so I don't want to wipe it off. Not yet anyway. Reminds me a bit of Dumas although I have not been looking at her work for a while. Things stay in your imagination I suppose.
My mother always tied back my hair with a tartan ribbon. She had a penchant for all things Scottish. The hard lines came back but this one might get the "I'm all yours" treatment when she is dry. Not sure yet...
I was becoming uncomfortable with the hard edged nature of some of these paintings. I think this was an emotional response. I thought "yes that's me, but it's not all of me..". I felt a need for some kind of semi-invisibility - that deliberate merging with the background. I tried to do the same with "Party girl" but it didn't work so well. There's always that element of risk and chance as well as judgement.
I mentioned Richter's statement a couple of postings ago
about the "idiocy" of painting and it seems to have struck a chord
with some people. I imagined he would be
fairly abrasive and unshakeable in his opinions but I was wrong. Since reading about the "idiocy" statement, I recently bought a video called "Gerard Richter
Painting" by Corinna Belz. This is a simply beautifully made film and it
does what it says on the tin - it shows him painting some of his large
abstracts. What surprised me most though was Richter's kind, gentle and calm
attitude in the face of all the questions being put to him. If you want to see an artist speak honestly
and totally without ego about his work, then get this from Amazon. It conveys to me this strange "process without end" that painting is.
As a child my favourite game was "dressing up". I would make up plays and act out all the parts myself. My grandmother once worked with her father for a summer in a travelling "Wild West" show (I think in Scotland) and she played the part of a young native Indian girl. She was given two long brown braids which she clipped to the back of her hair. My mother still has a photograph somewhere. Years later as a child I spent a lot of time at my grandmother's house and she used to let me borrow the braids and clip them to my own hair. I don't know what happened to them but I wish they were still around.
Gerhard Richter said "One has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do. Then it is best to leave it alone. For basically painting is total idiocy".
When I first read this statement it really threw me. Wow. But yeh, like him, I have thought painting is rather stupid on more than one occasion. But then I have thought the same about football and dancing and all sorts of other more "creative" activities. What odd things to get up to ! He's right about the passionate commitment though. No point just going through the paces. The key is to ask yourself if you did "leave it alone" as Richter advises, how much would you be saddened? I don't mean for the sake of others but for your own sake. And it is not to be forgotten that Richter produced many many paintings both before and after he had made this statement which is perhaps more of a question than anything else.