The paintings I’ve been working on for a while now are starting to look like a series. One leads onto the next. I don’t experiment so much along the way. Whilst working on one new ideas or variations arise that may subsequently become the basis for a future painting.
The current chain of work is following very much that pattern, but I have recently been working on a scaled-up variation of earlier pieces. It takes a little longer to complete, but also adds the possibility for greater complexity and delicacy in the layout. With a little more time on my hands this week I’ve been able to push it the 120cm wide painting to completion.
Essentially the work is three seascapes overlayed on each other. A sea horizon cuts across, perfectly horizontal, a second corrupted/disturbed horizon seems to follow, but doesn’t follow, the apparent folds in the composition and on top of everything is a swirling, churning sky bringing its own unrest.
The templates are cut for the next in the series, which will no doubt in due course follow.
Two weeks ago I visited the Vermeer exhibition in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Just fantastic to see. The famous Dutchman is only too well known for his slow rate of production, but also his fine labour intensive way of working. I don´t want to draw parallels between Vermeer and myself, but it does make me feel a little better about how long it seems to take me to finish a painting. Today one reached completion, reason enough to share it.
The progress may be slow, but the results are good and do seem to be starting to form a quite rich and well-resolved series. There is undoubtedly more to be achieved in this area, so hopefully more will follow.
Yes, I’ve thought that before. In fact, almost always the most recent work feels like it’s the best. You are most in tune with the newest creative processes and the ideas attached to them. But having said all that, these recent pieces to feel like particularly good ones.
I seem to be finding potential of the ideas and approaches that started to take an initial form back in January. They paintings are slow and labour intensive to make, but the results are good. Bringing together visually interesting compositions, with landscape, seascape, weather, and the disrupted effect we are having on our environment.
The result……elements of beauty and elements of fragmentation.
It has been slow, but finally this relatively small painting is finished. Started earlier in the summer with a month-long trip that involved considerable staring out to the horizon on the north Atlantic seas around Orkney, and finished on our return.
Although the idea for the work was essentially in place before the journey north a number of combinations of ideas and occurrences are playing their part in this painting and the steps on to the subsequent pieces now being developed. The countless watercolours made of the Orcadian landscape and coast, the ever-present geometry of the horizon so present around the sea and a treeless landscape. Then there was the visit to an exhibition of Laura Drever’s work at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. Whilst her work is considerably less geometric than mine, we share landscape interests and a surprisingly similar way of layering imagery up.
For me the work hints and opens the door further on the series of pieces I’ve been developing since the start of the year. More subtle and sensitive that the brasher and brighter paintings from the spring. More to follow……
Sometimes things in the studio progress painfully slowly. Any number of things get in the way and finding the spaces in between all the other stuff just doesn’t happen. That has been very much the case in the last few weeks.
Over Christmas I made a couple of collages using elements of lino-prints that I had made. They were good and I could see the potential to take them further into paintings. A few technical experiments followed (unsuccessfully) before I finally landed on how to approach the idea.
Now, a few weeks later, finally my first successfully completed painting of 2022 is a fact. It is a good one I think and has good possibilities to be taken further, hopefully quicker this time round. All in all, a nice distraction from other activities, not least the educational one, which is tough at the moment. But that is another story!
A visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in mid-July certainly isn’t what it once was. It isn’t deserted, but it very definitely is a lot quieter than I have ever seen it. You can stroll up to a Vermeer without having to wait your turn as you filter your way to the front of the crowd around it. Rembrandt’s Nightwatch is still in its glass box constructed for recent restoration work. But here too you simply walk up to the barrier for the best view.
The Nightwatch was one of the reasons for my visit. I’ve seen it often enough, and had the chance to view it better than ever before during our school’s involvement with a Rineke Dijkstra film project a couple of years ago. But at the moment there are some interesting additions to Rembrandt’s masterpiece. The story behind this requires a little explanation.
In 1715, when the painting was moved from its original location to the Amsterdam town hall, it was too big for the new location. The solution for this problem was simply to reduce the size of the painting to cut a little off on three sides, and really quite a large slice from the left hand side.
With the help of the miniature version of the painting made by Gerrit Lundens in the mid-1650s that shows the whole painting and a great deal of digital technology, the museum has recreated the missing pieces, and while the original is still out of its frame have added them to the four sides, extending the painting considerably.
The museum website has documented the whole process…..
The biggest change in the way the painting is viewed with the additions is undoubtedly that the two central figures who for the last 300 years have been extremely central in the composition are now significantly shifted to the right. The effect is that they feel more than ever that they are stepping out and moving towards the now bigger space on the left. It’s fascinating to see how such an “old friend” can change!
The other reason for a Rijksmuseum visit today has been to see the exhibition of sculptural work by Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015). Spread around the museums gardens, and with the backdrop of the museum itself, a collection of nine of the American’s razor sharp abstract sculptures have been assembled from around the world.
Kelly’s work has always had a special alure for me since my student days. He was an artist I looked at a lot as made the steps towards making my first abstract works. Even now I still regularly look at his work as a reference to what I make now.
In the museum garden the sharp flowing lines of the sculptures and their smooth and even surfaces draw a fantastic contrast with the intricacies of the Neo-Gothic architecture of the Pierre Cuypers’ building that was completed in 1885.
Last year I started the year with a plan to draw more. I have drawn a lot in the last twelve months, but still have the feeling that I should do it more, if only to avoid later dead ends in paintings that haven’t been sufficiently planned out.
So this year we start again and above is the first drawing of 2021.
There are quite some contrasts in the emotions of being back in the classroom. I would be lying if I said that I was totally happy and comfortable to be back in the classroom. Having said that, it is great to be back doing some physical teaching and pushing the pupils to experiment and try activities and approaches that simply wouldn’t be possible in the distant learning situation.
One such example from yesterday. The context was an initial session at the beginning of a series of lessons about abstraction in visual art.
Later on there will be assignments giving the pupils the chance to create abstract compositions that focus on dynamism and flow in an image, but today I wanted to get my group of fourteen year olds to loosen up, experiment with abstract mark-making and to draw a parallel with the abstract language offered by music.
Using eight different pieces of instrumental music and applying different ‘rules’ to each drawing a sheet of increasingly wild drawings was made. We had fun, they smiled and laughed on seeing their own and the results of others. They were engaged and curious. The results made were maybe not of great artistic merit, but they were part of a process leading onto other things.
Would this lesson have worked online? Without a doubt it would not. Of course I could have played the music to them via the computers. I could also have asked them to have had paper and pencils ready. I could even have given exactly the same explanation about what they had to do. But still it would not have worked. Such a lesson (and there are many more in all areas of education) only work because you are sharing and participating together in an activity. It is perhaps not dissimilar to going to a theatre to watch a stand-up comedian or watching it alone on your laptop. The material might be the same but the experience isn’t.
We are social creatures and also social learners, being part of a group of peers, together with a teacher, brings a dynamic that rarely occurs in the online environment. In an art room context it is a dynamic that can be used to push learners further as they look over their shoulders and respond and react to the work that others around them are doing.
The first of January, and a first drawing for a new year. Most years I start the year with the intention of drawing more. A kind of unofficial resolution to myself. Some years it is more successful than others. This year I can post the first drawing of the year on the first day…although to be honest it was started earlier and just finished today. However, a second variation is well underway.
It’s quite a somber image, quite fitting for the grey, misty chill outside this particular 1 January. Although it also has to be said that the bush fires that are burning in Australia at the moment and filling the news the silhouette tree motif that I have been using for a while now seems to be taking on an increasingly environmental charge.