Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning

I saw the Dorothea Tanning exhibition at the Tate Modern. The overall impression was of doors, which was not surprising, her being a surrealist. The scariest door was the one in Hotel du Pavot Chambre 202, where you could not see what or who was entering the nightmare room. The room also seemed to be an inspiration for the photographs of Francesca Woodman whose photographs blended her own body into the walls of a dilapidated house.

I saw a Paula Rego exhibition at the Musee de Orangerie in Paris last year and it was immediately apparent who Rego’s predecessor was. Tanning could paint in the classical style which made her early paintings very real while they were so unreal and dreamlike. Her later paintings became more abstract, and my favourite painting from the exhibition was Insomnias

.

Figure 1 Insomnias by Dorothea Tanning oil on canvas 207 x 145

Insomnias is a large painting similar in scale to the works of the Abstract Expressionists where human and animal forms emerge from a pastel cloudscape. There are obvious parallels with Chambre 202 and this painting, which harks back to the Renaissance paintings and is almost is a precursor to the work of Jenny Saville.

That I can see her influences on artists who came after her, only goes to show what an important artist she was in terms of the development of modern and contemporary art.

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Post Studio Art

Post Studio Art

Monumental Art

In 2009 in Essex a White horse 50m high designed by Mark Wallinger was chosen as an iconic emblem for Ebbsfleet, the gateway to Europe. There are mock ups and virtual reality pieces, but still no white horse, the project has been defeated by lack of finance.

There is another aspect to this also, what does a painting of a horse signify? According to the Independent Whistlejacket by Stubbs is “a paradigm of the flawless beauty of an Arabian thoroughbred” whereas Race Class and Sex by Wallinger “depicts that the aristocracy is so interested in breeding.” They are both paintings of racehorses. in fact, both very fine paintings of racehorses, so why the distinction. When you interact with a piece of art, that is exactly what you do, it is a very personal thing, to be swayed by the comments of the critics or throwaway comments by the artist is not part of the interaction. If the artist has something to say, unless he can say it on the canvas he should remain mute. There is a quote by Dorothea Tanning “Come lets go into the studio, I’ll show you some new pictures, but please don’t ask me to explain, I  just don’t think it is possible, I paint, I can only describe this as a dry”. Perhaps the fact that the Stubbs painting has been preserved over the centuries is some kind of indication that the upper classes are interested in horse breeding to produce the perfect horse, but for me Wallinger’s insinuation does not add up. I am not aristocracy but I do like looking at racehorses at the track and great paintings of racehorses they are both a thing of beauty if I was interested instead in breeding, I would be watching a whole other part of the internet. To put it another way Degas said “A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.”

Figure 1 Virtual mock up of the Essex horse

In 1482 Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by the Duke of Milan to create the world’s largest bronze horse. The clay prototype was destroyed by the invading French army in 1499. There are Leonardo’s sketches but no bronze horse, the technology to cast such a large bronze statue was problematical and the project was eventually defeated by the invading French.

Figure 2 Leonardo da Vinci studies for a horse

Interestingly there is a postscript to the Leonardo story. In 1999 the sculptress Nina Akamu working from Leonardo’s drawings and ideas after a 22 year fundraising campaign created two seven meter High Bronze horses, one of which stands in Milan and the other in Grand Rapids Michigan.

Figure 3 Nina Akamu 7 meter high Bronze Horse after Leonardo da Vinci, San Siro Hippodrome, Milan

There is another horse sculpture, as yet incomplete, of Red Indian Chief Crazy Horse, mounted on his horse that since 1948 is being carved out of a mountain in South Dakota.

Figure 4 Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota

The three examples above are a perfect illustration of the time and money and politics involved in colossal undertakings of this this type of Post Studio Art.

This type of art has its origins in the ancient world, the Sphinx and the Pyramids and Stonehenge come readily to mind. In a similar way that the Pharaoh’s engaged their subjects to construct pyramids, the Catholic Church created the great cathedrals, the Empires created great monuments to themselves or their leaders  and of course  with more recent art museums it has often been evident that the main exhibit is the building’s own exterior (Bell p176) These undertakings invariably used vast armies of labour, craftsmen and technicians in their creation even Michelangelo’s David had been worked on by previous sculptors and had to be moved into position by labour and its position had to be decided by committee as it was too heavy to be mounted in its intended position on the cathedral.

These vast projects all have a wow factor as pieces of art engineering and tourism and are to the glory of man, their Gods or their leaders and all dominate their immediate environment.

Christo and Jeanne Claude

Christo and Jeanne Claude made plans and sketches to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in 1962 and although the plans and sketches are on their web site it is another project that has yet to come to fruition and has probably lost some of its novelty value as Christo and Jeanne Claude have actually wrapped the Reichstag and Pont Neuf

Figure 5 Wrapped Motorcycle Project for Harley Davidson (1997) Christo and Jeanne Claude

At the London Print Fair I saw a limited edition lithograph print with added collage of Wrapped Motorcycle Project for Harley Davidson (1997) There was no photograph on the internet of the actual wrapped Harley Davidson, so maybe the project was rejected by the Harley Davidson Marketing Department.

Figure 6 Wrapped motorcycle 1962 Christo and Jeanne Claude

There is, however, a photograph of the wrapped motorcycle of 1962 that Christo and Jeanne Claude did in 1962 before they started wrapping buildings, which probably in some way inspired the Harley Davidson Project. Even though the Harley Davidson may not have been wrapped, the print brings to life, the images that are on the internet for the wrapped Arc de Triumph. It is surprising that given the obvious artistic talents  that is evident in the print I saw, that the only records of their finished pieces are photographic, this could be down to the trend that it is considered normal for a happening  to be covered by the media in photography and film or that the wrapped object is the art and as such is there to be photographed as any gallery exhibit.

Figure 7 The Gates Project, Central Park, New York, 2005. Christo and Jeanne Claude

The Gates Project in Central park was planned from 1979 and was only realised in 2005 for 16 days. Strictly speaking this work was a collaboration not only between Christo and Jeanne Claude but also with Fredrick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, the designers of Central Park, itself an entirely man made work of art, (Findlay P129) and of course the construction workers, craftsmen and technicians that worked on both projects.

Wrapping of things has a big tradition in Art History, from Pre-Renaissance times. It was standard practice for artists to do studies of the draperies used to clothe their anatomically correct naked models. Centuries before the idea of abstract art had even been dreamed of, the flow and the rhythm of drapery, its twists of form and its sudden explosions of colour, offered figurative painters expressive possibilities closely akin to those promised by abstraction. Look at how an artist paints drapery and you often see, in its purest state, how they use form and colour to express the emotions that lie at the heart of their work. (Graham Dixon, A.)

There is also the famous work by Il Braghettone (the Breeches maker) Daniele da Voltera, the painter of the loincloths on Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. From the tablecloths of the Dutch Vanitas Artists to the drapes and tablecloths of Cezanne the wrapping tradition continued and Duchamp wrapped miniatures of his paintings in a suitcase.

Jessica Stockwell was invited to create on State Street Chicago, more than anything it is big, bigger being better seems to be a good thing in this type of Post Studio Art together with a healthy dose of government involvement, local or national, which seems necessary. While it is fashionable these days to have clean uncluttered look to architecture and statuary, in former times both were painted and this project harks back to those ancient times

Consider who on Chicago City Council gets the accolade for turning the river green on St Patrick’s Day, which also brings up the thorny problem of who is the creator of a work of art. If you decide to have your portrait painted, and engage an artist to do so, is the artist part of the team in realising your vision? Or does the artist create the perfect impression of your vision in his portrait? It becomes more interesting if you insert real names into the problem “I, Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, would like you, Signore da Vinci to paint a portrait of my wife that would exemplify my love for my Lisa and her cute little smile.”

The undercover way

The alternative is to go completely anti-establishment and make your art in the dead of night when no one is watching, not even a CCTV camera, and you can create works of art on the wall of a cave that does not actually belong to you. The mysterious nature of the creator adds celebrity cult to the reportage.

Figure 8 Banksy meets an original New York graffiti artist in a cave in the Barbican London

You could of course be much less famous and express yourself equally vociferously, although your installation would be much more temporary and would incur the wrath of the City Council who are of course proud on the other hand of promoting installation art, but only so, if it costs lots of money.

 

Figure 9 Installation piece, anonymous artist.

Another method of expression is to spit your chewed gum onto the pavement for the council to remove at their convenience. In two London boroughs Muswell Hill and Southwark artists have taken to decorating the spent gum with miniature works of art.

Figure 10 Gum art, Millennium Bridge, Southwark

When I was crossing the Millennium Bridge at the weekend, the City Council were in the process of removing the waste gum but it was leaving behind traces of the paint that the gum artists had used on the metal of the bridge structure. There needs to be greater investigation of the materials used by the temporary graffiti artists as I am sure they have no intention of causing permanent damage to the bridge structure.

Having discussed the process of production we now consider the artworks. The Monumental Art will endure for generations with minimal conservation as must see tourist attractions. Their planning, construction and promotion are documented on large websites sponsored and dominated by their sponsors, a glorification for the enormous amounts of money invested by these modern day philanthropists. The artist is subservient to the art, sponsor or money in much the same way that the director of a film is subservient to the Studio in the credits of a film. Think of the Statue of Liberty, of all the things you think, not one will be of Frederick Auguste Bartholdi, who designed Liberty as surely as Michelangelo designed David.

The art of Christo and Jeanne Claude is more of an event or happening and it is really a case of having to be there, however, because we live in the modern world it is better to have an official record of the event rather than thousands of unofficial records, particularly as the event would usually have involved a City Council or Municipal body who would be keen to promote their involvement the event as champions of art.

Such events are organised to be communal, the whole of life is an event and only by an artist or performer or even an authority drawing attention to specific events that it becomes special. Consider now the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, it currently has a Lammasu or winged bull deity, but who knows what is on the other three plinths, or bothers to look? Are the sculptures on the other three plinths considered to be art with a capital A? They were once in a bygone age but they are still, the equestrian statue on the matching plinth to the fourth plinth is a horse of no lesser beauty than those of Stubbs, Wallinger, Akamu or Leonardo, it is just slightly less fashionable at the minute.

As the Post studio art gets smaller it becomes more vulnerable to destruction by the authorities indeed the authorities regard it as part of their mission to get rid of it. The chewing gum paintings brighten things up between the street cleaning intervals, but again, just like the other three plinths, they are difficult to notice, you have to be really looking and aware of your surroundings to notice them and even then they only appear as bright spots in the pavement and the detail that you can see in figure 10 is only revealed through a Smartphone photograph taken at knee high level.

Banksy is an interesting phenomena, some of his artworks are preserved and some go the way of the City Council clean up or the building demolition, being more of a happening that a permanent work of art. Banksy has a penchant for painting on smooth rendered walls so it should be possible to remove a Banksy using the strappo technique and then be able to display it in a museum.

Reflection

How would I work with such a set of considerations and what this way of working might bring to my own practice?

The short answer to that is not very well. I am too old to be engaging in criminal activity because although I like being alone, being alone in a cell is quite a different proposition to being alone in  my studio. Collaborating with the City Council, budgets and a whole lot of engineering technicians does not sound my idea of artistic endeavour either.

I guess I could cope with coming up with a basic design and leaving others to develop it sometime over the next 500 years, pass me the mirror and I will write it down, well you did ask.

Bibliography

Books

Bell, J. (2017) What is Painting, Revised Edition: London. Thames and Hudson.

Findlay, M. (2017) Seeing Slowly, Looking at Modern Art: London. Prestel Publishing Ltd.

Internet

Christo and Jeanne Claude. (s.d.) At: https://christojeanneclaude.net/ Accessed 22/04/19

Colour Jam (2012) University of Chicago News Desk At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcZoGoqDUTg Accessed 22/04/19

Crazy Horse Memorial, the (s.d.) At :https://crazyhorsememorial.org/ Accessed 22/04/19

Da Vinci Science Centre. (s.d.) At: https://www.davincisciencecenter.org/about/leonardo-and-the-horse/ Accessed 22/04/19

Fourth plinth past commissions, the (s.d.) London.gov.uk At: https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/arts-and-culture/current-culture-projects/fourth-plinth-trafalgar-square/fourth-plinth-past-commissions Accessed 22/04/19

Fourth Plinth, the. Wikipedia (s.d.) At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_plinth,_Trafalgar_Square Accessed 22/04/19

Graham Dixon, A. (2016) Drapery and the Secret History of Painting. At: https://www.christies.com/features/Drapery-and-the-secret-history-of-painting-7152-1.aspx Accessed 22/04/19

Independent,the. (2009) Mark Wallinger the Mane Event. At:  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/mark-wallinger-mane-attraction-1609205.html Accessed 22/04/19

Leonardo’s horse.  Wikipedia (s.d.) At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonardo%27s_horse Accessed 22/04/19

Turmino, L.S. (2009) DETACHMENT OF FRESCOS “The Strappo Technique.” At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzCDPDmk3AQ Accessed 22/04/19

Whistlejacket Wikipedia (s.d.) At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistlejacket Accessed 22/04/19

White Horse at Ebbsfleet. Wikipedia (s.d.) At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Horse_at_Ebbsfleet  Accessed 22/04/19

Wrapped Motor Cycle Project For Harley Davidson (2018) Lesley Hindmann Auctioneers. At: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/christo-and-jeanne-claude-wrapped-motorcycle-project-for-harley-davidson Accessed 29/04/19

 

Abstraction

Abstraction

One way into abstraction is to examine the details of a scene. I looked long and hard at my Still life Red and Green and decided that the bit I was most interested in, was the highlight on the apple. I blew this up and panted it as a painting in its own right. It is hot and fiery and is a long way from being recognisable as the highlight on an apple. It reminds me a little of a Rothko albeit painted in a brighter and happier key and less geometric.

Figure 1 Number 01 oil on 40 x 50 cm canvas board

I bought a new brush that is 50mm wide and I was experimenting with it to see how it went using only two colours dioxodine purple and cadmium yellow. It went like this;

Figure 2 Number 02 oil on 40 x 50 cm canvas board

I can’t really explain why but for some reason Easter was on my mind, I was listening to Cockney Rebel and Mr Raffles came on, which kind of nails it in the first two lines, but as well as that, the purple reminded me of the church. Purple is prevalent in Lent, the silky sheen of the priests garments and the purple mourning shrouds placed over the statues and it is also the brand colours for Cadbury’s Creme Eggs.

The painting just went where it went, with me responding to what went before rather than where I wanted it to go. When this happens I get slightly scared that I am no longer in control, because being in control of my life is what I am about.

The easiest way to bring a painting back into control is to let it dry and then teach it who is in charge with another layer of paint. There is a strange beauty and rawness in this, a wildness that resists taming, let it be wild.

The rip offs (09-19)

I have carried on making collages out of each edition of the Sunday Times Magazine and I have read about the historical background of the collage.

Picasso who is credited with the invention of collage was influenced by George Bract who had training in painting and decorating techniques to produce trompe l’oeil wood grain and marble effects with paint.

According to the Tate website the preservation of collages is an absolute nightmare because they are not made out of achievable materials. This is one reason that Picasso stopped making collages, because it is of no use to make an artwork for it to disintegrate within a short period of time.

This is not as much of a problem these days as the collage can continue to exist as a digital photograph long after the original artwork has degraded and provided that you restrain yourself to flat 2 dimensional materials the 2 dimensional digital prints are almost indistinguishable from the original collage and have the benefit of a longer lifespan.

Perhaps the greatest exponent of collage in the 20th Century was Max Ernst, although many of his collage works are not true collages but montages in the Dada tradition. A montage or photo montage is a collage that uses figurative images or parts of figurative images to compose the final image.

The most famous montage of the twentieth century is Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? by Richard Hamilton. The original is small, but it has to be as the images used in the process are culled from a magasine in a similar way that in my own process the source material is culled  from magazines. Matisses collages are so large because his components are manufactured on a large scale by his assistants.

So far I have not resorted to the use of figurative image preferring to experiment with colours, somewhat similar to the approach used by Joseph Albers in his investigations into colours, and the effect that a coloured ground has on the arrangement of colours ripped from the Sunday Times colour supplement and review sections.

There are only three rules to the process, all the collage pieces must be culled from the current edition of the Sunday Times magazine and the ground must be a sheet of A5 card either white of coloured, the use of a black sharpie is optional as the artist sees fit.

The black outline flattens the images, preventing the colours inducing recession and instead any recession is governed by the overlapping of the contoured shapes.

Because I am avoiding the figurative until I get used to the colours the shapes torn from the magazines have an aspect of the absence of the figures that the collage pieces avoid. That influences the shape of the collage pieces. This is not immediately apparent from the finished pieces unless you are aware of the context of the shapes.

While it feels like a serious experiment there is a massive amount of play involved the collage develops by the addition of further pieces that the existing collage seems to demand and the process stops when the collage is pleasing to my eye. Looking back at them I can understand why I stopped but sometimes I think is it possible to push this one or that one a bit further, so far I have resisted going back into them but that day could come, especially as a printable archive is stored in my computer and the perishable original could serve as the ground for a new work.

At present each original remains as a record of a couple of pleasant hours spent on a Sunday evening and I am not sure as well if I want to dilute that.

I am not a big fan of shoe horning quotes into my writing, but Picasso once said, There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality. I start with the Sunday Times Magazine, remove all traces of reality and end up with abstract art.

Figure 1 ST9, collage on A5 card

Figure 2 ST10, collage on A5 card

Figure 3 ST11, collage on A5 card

Figure 4 ST12, collage on A5 card

Figure 5 ST13, collage on A5 card

Figure 6 ST14, collage on A5 card

Figure 7 ST15, collage on A5 card

Figure 8 ST16, collage on A5 card

Figure 9 ST17, collage on A5 card

Figure 10 ST18, collage on A5 card

Figure 11 ST19, collage on A5 card

Writing on painting

 

I have been thinking about painting and more particularly about what painting means and why I paint what I paint.

Being an art student, I have to write about the paintings I paint. I am never really sure if I am writing the right thing, but everything I write could be quoted as an illustration of how I feel about a particular painting, painting in general or even taken out of context with a Freudian slip to explain how I feel about anything whatsoever.

Sarah has a very rare disease and went to see a specialist doctor in Madrid. The doctor gave her the most marvellous news, the day after receiving the news she took this photograph from her hotel balcony.

Figure 1 Digital photograph taken by Sarah

As a northern European it is not difficult to be inspired by the sun glinting off clay tiled roofs in a hot climate there are many such photographs, indeed I have taken such photographs myself when the opportunity presented itself.

This is one I took;

Figure 2 Digital photograph, taken by myself

I thought about this for a while and decided that such photographs are like a dose of vitamin D for Northern Europeans so that Northern Europeans would have a likeness for such views even though they may be considered mundane in more Southerly climes.

Then I thought of the motivation of the photographer, my own photograph was taken as a reference for a yet to be executed painting that I now realise would appeal to Northern Europeans. I know this because I took the photograph, I did the looking and I did the noticing and I eventually realised that such a view would appeal to Northern Europeans

I have no idea of Sarah’s motivations for taking her photograph, there is probably an equal amount of looking, noticing and milliseconds of camera time, involved as in my own photograph. Probably more of each is involved because Sarah’s photograph is taken on a proper camera, not a mobile phone.

In order to reconcile my view of Sarah’s motives for taking her photograph, I like to think that Sarah’s photograph was taken in a new spirit of hope, wonder and happiness resulting from the good news she received the day before. Sarah’s journey must of necessity fit my perceived story or impression of Sarah’s journey.

This may or not be true, and I will of course discuss it with Sarah the next time we meet up, in the meantime inspired by what I perceived to be the emotions contained within Sarah’s photograph I painted this;

Figure 2 Hope wonder and happiness in Madrid, oils on 50 x 40 canvas board

I hope it makes you feel hope wonder and happiness because these are the emotions I have tried to express in this painting along with a bit of technique of perspective and the golden section. If you just feel a bit of vitamin D don’t worry because that is, I have decided, a Northern European thing.

I could say that this painting encapsulates the contrast between the Spain of Don Quixote and the vibrant modern Spain of the twenty first century, but having read the foregoing, you would know I was making it up as I went along.

What is written about paintings or photographs is the writers subject opinion of the same and rarely if ever coincides with the opinion of the artist or photographer. Writing about painting must always be approached with a heavy dose of scepticism while reading.

No votes were influenced by this painting but the writer would like to point out that the references to Northern Europeans were not made with any partisan or racial intent.

P.S.I have been reading the new edition of What is painting  by Julian Bell on my tube journey and I have managed to answer some of my own questions in the regard and be able to cite high authority for these answers. George Berkelya philospher in the !8th century came up with the ding an sich theory  Which roughly taranslates to the thing in itelf is unknowable, meaning that objects only exist as they are percieved . Kant ran with this theory that material.representations of an object are the only thing we can know. It follows that all figurative paintings are an expression of the object in themind of the painter.

Joshua Reynolds addressing the Royal Accademy in 1786 said;

If we suppose a view of nature represented with all the truth of the camera obscura, and the same scene represented by a great artist’ how little and mean will one appear in comparison to the other where no superiority is supposed from the choice of subject.(Bell p. 54)

Reynolds said this more than 50 years prior to the invention of the Camera ( for use of the camera obscura in art see Hockney’s Secret Knowledge)

Bell goes on to propound a theory of expressionism with its roots in the 18th century alongside the accession of artists leaving mechanical reproduction to the camera.

I think it is really nice when things come together of their own accord and I am at last beginning to understand what the philosophers are going on about

Bibliography

Bell, J (2017) What is Painting, Revised Edition: London. Thames and Hudson

Hockney, D. (2006) Secret Knowledge, New and expanded Edition: London. Thames and Hudson

En plein air

En plein air

The sunny Sunday that we had in February prompted me to take a 500 x 400 canvas board for a walk in the woods together with my pochade, folding easel and chair.

Usually when I venture out with the pochade I paint on the 250 x 200 cm boards that fit inside the pochade, a painting this size can be complete in an hour maximum but that day I took a board 500 x 400 cm and the metal easel to stand it on. In the house I stand at the easel but the lightweight metal easel is not tall enough to stand at so I took the folding chair as a compromise.

I often walk in the woods so I knew where I was headed, a small gravel island in the middle of the stream by the bend. I spent most of the afternoon there, maybe longer, a painting is not a measure of time but that is exactly how long it was. I painted this;

Figure 1 Spring early Spring, oil on 50 x 40 cm canvas.

I always seem to paint a bit looser when I paint outside, things seem more direct and immediate and it is like you are over excited to get painting having had to set up all the equipment, that the drawing stage gets missed. The substitute is a kind of quick measuring with my hands to decide the composition before I actually begin painting, a bit like in the still life class when you quickly decide where best to put the figure on the page, before starting to make marks.

I carried the completed painting back to the car still fastened to the metal easel and adjusted the legs of the easel to wedge it in the boot for the journey home. I transferred it to the large easel and let it dry for a couple of days before I tinkered with it a bit, and that is basically the how I did it.

The why is a little more complicated but not overly so. I had the options of sketching the scene in graphite, watercolour, a small oil or even taking a photograph and coming home to paint from my reference, but I have done all that before. I had seen people do this on reality TV shows and wondered how hard it was, in real life, it turned out to be not that hard. I had also seen photographs of Cezanne and Monet doing this and thought that if I did it I would be able to see for myself if there was any benefit in painting this way. It turned out that there was, it takes away the guess out of the bits you didn’t pay attention to when you were making your reference sketch that you sometimes have to go back to look at when painting on a bigger scale, the reference is right there in front of you.

It was a quiet part of the woods so it was an immersive experience there was no cat to feed, no internet to check, no kettle to boil in fact nothing to disturb the act of looking and painting. It could have been a hundred or more years ago when it was indeed possible to slow your eyes down and look properly and thoroughly at what is staring you in the face. Perhaps that is the true context of the exercise, to be at one with nature a rare slow concentration in these rushed times, I think the painting gives a sense of that.

Still life

Still life with restaurant 1

Last November I had a delightful lunch in a lovely restaurant in Paris near the Marmottan Monet Museum called La Rotunde de la Muette.

As the people on the next table left, I did a quick sketch of the still life they left behind before the waiters came to tidy up. It was a scene that stayed with me, one of those cheer me up memories for a rainy day, a sight that looked for all the world like an impressionist painting.

Figure 1 sketch ink on A6 cartridge

I recalled my memory when I was back in London especially when I saw this;

Figure 2 A Bar at the Folies Bergere, Edouard Manet

and then later this;

Figure 3 The Dining Room, Vernon Pierre Bonnard

And of course this;

Figure 4 Christ in the House with Martha and Mary, Diego Velasquez

In each case I was fascinated with the importance of the still life in the overall composition. I thought about it for a long time and then I painted this.

Figure 5 Still life with Restaurant Oils on 50 x 40 canvas

What is it?

It is a figurative oil painting on canvas in landscape format 50cm x 40cm. The background is washed subtle blues that give a suggestion of distance, there is little detail in the mid ground, preserving the aerial perspective whilst the foreground is fully detailed drawing the eye to caress the still life forms at the expense of the deliberately peripheral ground.

What was the process?

The initial inspiration was the small sketch done on location, further inspiration came from the works at figures 2, 3 and 4, the composition of the final piece was based on the Golden Section and was drawn onto the canvas using dilute blue oil paint The whole of the canvas was washed in using oil paint diluted with Gamasol and then thicker layers of paint were added to the foreground and midground to bring them forward.

What is the context?

It sits in the long tradition of European easel painting and is particularly inspired by the images at figures 2,3 and 4. Still life has been an important genre in painting since early times and it flourished in the Renaissance as an excuse for the artist to display his talent and techniques, Caravaggio in the Baroque period added the most marvellous still lives to his religious paintings and you can see the importance of the still life in Velasquez’s painting at figure 4 . In 17th century Holland the still life reached its epoch in the Vanitas paintings, as religious paintings were no longer required painters turned to depictions of the wealthy object of their merchant patrons, however the history genre paintings still required a amount of still life objects to add realism to the overall paintings, thus the still life genre retained its importance. With Manet the supportive still life flourished, you only have to look at the discarded luncheon in Le Dejuener sur l’herbe or indeed the still life on the bar at figure 2 to realise how important to the composition as a whole the still life group is. Whilst Bonnard is famous as a colourist the importance of the still life objects in his paintings is patently obvious as can be seen in Figure 3.

The painting is an investigation of space, in the hole in the wall fashion, using aerial and single point mathematical perspective to create depth on a two dimensional canvas.

It would have been quite easy to develop the midground and the background of the painting to take the total focus off the still life group and make it subservient to the busy restaurant, but the still life group was what caught my eye in the first place, it speaks as an absence of people, almost in a vanitas way, fore-telling that people are transient and there will always be empty bottles and glasses and bills in the restaurant long after the current patrons are dead and gone. It is an extortion, if you like, to live well, because one day there will be another to take your place after you have left. The empty table and the still life contrasts with the ghostly conviviality of the diners in the midground.

What would you change if you had to do it again?

This is not a difficult question to answer, because I did do it again, although in a different way and this question is answered further on in this post.

Still life red and green

Having painted still life in a restaurant I thought a little more about still life went to Sainsbury’s and set up a still life and did a few sketches and drawings.

Figure 6 Compositional sketch for Still life red and green, graphite on A4 cartridge paper.

Then I painted this;

Figure 7 Still life with red and green, oils on 40 x 50 canvas board

What is it?

It is a figurative oil painting on canvas board in portrait format 40cm x 50cm. The background is washed subtle blues that give a suggestion of distance, there is no midground, the foreground is fully detailed emphasising the form of the still life objects and their relationship in three dimensional space.

What was the process?

The inspiration was to investigate space in relation to the forms, the composition of the final piece was based on the Golden Section and was drawn onto the canvas using dilute blue oil paint. The whole of the canvas was washed in using oil paint diluted with Gamasol and then thicker layers of paint were added to model the forms. Once the composition was established the still life set up was removed and the objects were handled to establish their volume and feel.

What is the context?

It sits in the long tradition of European easel painting. Still life has been a genre since Egyptian art and after its zenith in seventeenth century Holland it was thoroughly investigated by Chardin in the eighteenth century and again by Cezanne in the late nineteenth century.

This painting is an honest investigation of the volumes and forms of the objects and the light falling on them. It has avoided the chiaroscuro of Chardin preferring the lightness of Cezanne

What would you change if you had to do it again?

I would soften the hard edges within and as contours of the fruit  and introduce darker darks to the fruit to give more modelling.

Still life with restaurant 2

Still life with restaurant 1 had been hanging on the studio wall for a couple of weeks and I began to think it would look better if the still life was a bigger focus of the picture plane and to further subjugate the restaurant. So I painted this;

Figure 8 Still life with restaurant 2, oils on 50 x 40 cm canvas

What is it?

It is a figurative oil painting on canvas in landscape format 50 x 40 cm. The background is washed subtle blues and greys that give a suggestion of distance, the midground is suggestive of a crowded restaurant, the foreground is a fully detailed still life

What was the process?

The inspiration was Still life with restaurant 1 the composition of the final piece was again based on the Golden section and was drawn onto the canvas using dilute blue oil paint. The whole of the canvas was washed in using oil paint diluted with Gamasol and then thicker layers of paint were added to model the forms. Once the composition was established the still life set up was removed and the objects were handled to establish their volume and feel.

What is the context?

It sits in the long tradition of European easel painting and has a more modern post impressionist feel than the first version. The paint handling in modelling the forms is much softer that either of the two earlier of the still life’s and it is all together less harsh in the choice of colouring producing a more harmonious gentle effect. The still life dominates the picture plane whilst still giving a nod to the restaurant setting.

The figure on the right reminds me of an out of focus Vincent and is probably an unconscious reaction from my trip to Auvers sur Oise last November.

What would you change if you had to do it again?

Seriously not a lot it may benefit from developing the background to give the whole thing a flatter less perspectival feel bur the background is quite flat and mirror like already so I am not sure if this would help. I did do it again though in a much flatter and different style.

Still life with restaurant 3

There was something about the composition of the second version that got under my skin that meant something deeper to me. I investigated this composition further in my sketchbook because I was a little unsure how to take the series on.

I produced this;

Figure 9 Sketch ink on A4 cartridge

This followed;

Figure 10 Sketch ink and marker pens on A4 cartridge

And finally this;

Figure 11 Sketch ink on A4 cartridge

Eventually I had the courage to take up the brushes again and I painted this.

Figure 11 Still Life with Restaurant 3, oil on canvas board 50 x 40 cm

What is it?

It is a non figurative oil painting on canvas board in landscape format 50 x 40 cm. There is an overall flatness to the piece that is disrupted and denied by the overlapping forms and the positioning of the colours giving a shallow picture space.

What was the process?

The inspiration was Still Life with Restaurant 2 the composition of the final piece was again based on the Golden Section it was painted alla prima using brushes and a palette knife.

What is the context?

It sits in the long tradition of European easel painting but is somehow no longer a traditional easel painting. It has a contemporary feel to it and it is only from the title and the sketches that you can realise that it is a struggle with the form of objects in a similar way that Picasso and Braque struggled with form in their cubist experiments but with a markedly different result.

The use of texture in painting is a modern innovation and this painting exploits the use of texture to the full in the relatively shallow picture space.

The small blue rectangle at the base of the picture is almost a monochrome version of the original picture, this was unconscious and I only noticed this after the painting was dry.

What would you change if you had to do it again?

Absolutely nothing, and as well as that, this was the most enjoyable painting of the series to paint there were no forms to achieve and the painting just flowed where it wanted to go with only a slight touch of the rudder by me.