The Norfolk paintings

The Norfolk Paintings

I went to Norfolk to study the Ebauche technique at the Norfolk Painting School.

Ebauche is a painting technique that was prevalent prior to Impressionism but in their eagerness to invent a new style of painting this was the technique that the impressionists threw out with the bathwater. Ebauche is a classical technique where the main subject is laid down in a thin oil wash, that is then worked into using the rag to establish the basic tonal form of the subject. The background is then cut in around the ebauche which has the effect of pushing the ebauche into the foreground.  The ebauche is then developed using desaturated colours mixes, before being finished with pure colour thickly applied.

John Singer Sargent was a master of Ebauche oils as were Corot, Turner, Velázquez and Rembrandt (Kinnear) and the technique was revived in the Twentieth Century by Edward Seago.

As part of the learning process I painted this;

Figure 1 Cloudscape, monochrome oil on board 40 x 30 cm

The object of the exercise was to produce a range of values and a range of paint transparencies cross the picture plane, The black and white image illustrates the tonal range and the transparency of the paint is evident from the original imprimatura showing through the paint layers at the horizon through to the heavy impasto in the white clouds

Figure 2 Cloudscape black and white tonal digital image

The process moved on to make a copy of a Seago painting, as I have said before, in copying a work by a master means that you spend a long time looking at the masterwork, maybe longer than since the original was painted. I created this working from a photocopy of the Seago;

Figure 3 After Seago oil on board 60 x 50 cm

After the course was over I created this to internalise the lessons I had learned;

Figure 4 Cley next the windmill oil on canvas panel 50 x 40 cm

Painting the ebauche first enables you to quickly establish the composition form and tones of the painting and having a solid plan allows you to be freer with your brush marks so that the end result is more painterly.

The notan of the ebauche gives you the complete structure of the painting so that there is no need to be making things up as you go along and also allows the painting to develop naturally from dark to light by cutting into the ebauche with the highlights.

The ebauche firmly establishes the drawing so that you don’t heed to worry about it anymore and just concentrate on the actual painting, There are less corrections and you only need to focus on the texture and thickness of the paint and because there is a proper plan in place you can allow the paint to do its own thing and only need to reign it back or wipe it off when it strays too far from the plan.

I am particularly pleased with the texture in the right hand tiled roof as this is composed entirely from random brush marks

The final result provides a good contrast between the warm darks and the cool lights, but If I had to do this painting again I would go for warm lights and cool darks if only to give more transparency in the shadows by starting with a greyer bluer ebauche. I would also pay less regard to the architectural geometry and let it become more gentle and curved and softer

In my next painting I did become less protective of my edges;

Figure 5 The Blakeney Hotel low tide oils 60 x 50 cm

I started again with the ebauche in all areas except the sea and the sky, rubbed it back a bit and then painted the sky and the water. I then painted over the ebauche with dull dilute desaturated colours before a final pass with thicker brighter paint.

Without the underdrawing the painting is far looser and the boats seemed to grow out of my brush strokes it felt like I was drawing with the brush, and with my love of drawing, there could hardly be a finer sensation while painting.

I was particularly pleased with the distant landscape which almost painted itself while I wasn’t looking.

As part of my critique I am supposed to say what I would change if I was to paint it again to change nothing represents a dead end so let’s just say I can see the beginnings of a whole new chapter in the distant landscape that can develop in a whole host of ways.

Bibliography

Kinnear, M, (2017) At: https://www.artistsandillustrators.co.uk/how-to/oil-painting/1941/a-to-z-of-oil-paint-techniques accessed 15 July 2019

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Post Studio Art Practical 2 Critical Review

The Fourth plinth; Written statement of Concept.

The final piece of four dolphins thrusting out from the plinth dolphins will provide a vibrant colourful addition to the plinth itself and enhance its immediate surroundings. The two southernmost facing Dolphins will spout fountains of water in a vast arc into the existing Admiral Beatty fountain in Trafalgar Square directly linking the new sculpture to Sir Charles Wheeler’s existing traditional dolphin sculptures in the fountain. The arc of the fountains will provide a visual link from eye level to encourage the public to look up to see the source of the fountains and will thus naturally draw attention to the sculpture itself on top of the Fourth Plinth.

The intention was for the forms of the dolphins to be sculpted out of plastic coated fencing mesh that would then be stuffed with blue plastic bags thus caging the plastic inside the body of the dolphin and providing a suitable texture to the outside of the sculpture. However, due to the possibility of the deterioration of the plastic bags during the lifetime of the sculpture and producing micro plastics, the plastic bags have been replaced with a resin substructure whilst retaining the plastic coated fencing mesh for its textural feel.

The resin substrate will be turquoise coloured, similar to the colour of oxidised sculpture around the city, allowing the sculpture to blend in to the cityscape while contrasting with the subtle warm yellow tones of the surrounding buildings allowing the sculpture to stand out and be noticed. The black wrapping of the sculpture will give a light linear feel when viewed against the background sky.

The original concept came about due to a concern for the environment and in particular the effects of microplastics on marine life. Micro plastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5mm in length that are ingested by marine life, whilst research is ongoing into the effect of microplastics on marine life it may be many years before the true effects are known.

The sculpture seeks to draw attention to the fact that the investigation into the problem is being carried out at the same time that we are causing the problem, and although attempts are being made to curb the problem, more radical action is required to prevent the escalation of the pollution of our environment by micro plastics.

Post Studio Art Practical

The Fourth Plinth

Whilst researching part 1 it became apparent that much of Post Studio Art is actually carried out in the studio. The designs for the wrapping of things by Christo and Jeanne Claude, the sketch that Damien Hirst shows to his fabricators to explain to them what he wants them to create and the computer mock-ups for Mark Wallinger’s White Horse were all created in the Studio.

Probably this is the way that it always was; Michelangelo didn’t create the design for the Sistine Chapel ceiling standing on a scaffold, the creative thought process is remote from the actual Post Studio Art. Once you know that you want to paint a bison on the wall you need to find a flat enough part of the cave where you can fit it in, which may not be in the same place as that where you make the paint.

What is necessary though is research and planning to ensure that the end result is feasible and will happily sit in the required location and to deal with other considerations such as health and safety, planning permission, structural stability and winning the contest that are also just as remote from the artist’s studio.

It is a different thing entirely from drawing a line in the sand that will be removed by the incoming tide to sculpting metal figures with a solid foundation that will withstand the ravages of the sea over time as Gormley did, it involves an entirely different skill set.

Many of the commissions for art of this scale begin by invitation only, one such example being the commission for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Probably to be invited you could come up with a good enough creative idea and then write to members of the selecting Committee asking to be included in the long list of invitees.

The pdf of the invitation pack for artists from the last competition is readily available on the internet which gives a good indication of some of the non artistic problems that need to be grappled with in a successful application. (London.gov.uk) What it does not give are the actual dimensions of the plinth, so the first step concerns a site visit to establish the scale of the work and to get the feel of the surrounding environment so that you can see how your proposal would fit in with the surroundings.

I chose a warm Saturday in June to do my initial research, combining my visit with a trip to the National Gallery to see the Sorolla exhibition. The current incumbent on the fourth plinth is The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by Michael Rakowitz. That the footprint of The Lamassu is the same as the fourth plinth probably has something to do with the persistence of architectural styles over the centuries, because of its orientation, The Lamassu is guarding the exit from rather than the entrance to Trafalgar Square as it would have been thousands of years ago. This can be easily checked out by visiting the nearby British Museum where correctly mounted Lamassu are on display. The Lamassu in Trafalgar square is the wrong half of a pair and even then would need to be rotated 180 degrees to guard the entrance rather than the exit.

Leaving all that aside, the Lamassu wasn’t attracting much attention from the passing tourists for two reasons, firstly the street theatre on the forecourt of the National Gallery was particularly engaging and secondly people as a rule do not look up. The other three plinths on Trafalgar Square suffer the same fate. Generally people only look up when directed to do so as in “Here is Nelsons Column/Giotto’s Bell Tower/The Leaning Tower of Pisa/The Angel of the North/a firework display, look up and see how magnificent it is” or when there is movement above them such as a helicopter or an aeroplane or even a bird.

I measured the size of the fourth plinth by measuring the size of one of the steps around it using the length of my foot and adding a few fingers and then counting the steps not 100% accurate but as near as makes no difference so that I would know the scale of the final proposal, I made a rough sketch of my observations for later use. I also took photographs to envisage how a proposal would look against the background of the National Gallery and Canada House and indeed Trafalgar Square itself before returning to the studio to do the creative thinking part.

As can be seen from the sketch, the top of the plinth is approximately 3.9m by 1.8 meters. The proposal needs to incorporate movement so that it will attract the casual viewers attention and it needs to be either black or of another colour that allows it to stand out from its surroundings. That is three pretty big decisions out of the way, on with the creativity.

Since beginning to study part 3 of this course I became concerned about the wrapping business in the way that people are wrapping their rubbish in plastic bags and leaving them on street corners in a graffiti-like emulation of Christo and Jean Claude. The rubbish is foul enough, but the plastic bags, unless they are carefully monitored, migrate to the sea where they cause havoc to the creatures of the sea.

From recent news reports there is a new deadly version of plastic bags called micro plastic, all fish in the sea have micro plastic in their stomachs and where it not for the fact that fish are gutted we too would have micro plastic in our stomachs. The micro plastic seems, from the news reports, to be a relatively new area of study, who knows how this particular tragedy will unfold; only time will tell.

I thought about the fish having plastic inside of them and of the fish having plastic wrapped around the outside of them and I connected this with Trafalgar Square being synonymous with Britain’s relationship with the seas. I settled on the dolphin for two reasons: firstly, the cast Iron lamp posts at the side of the Thames all feature dolphins and secondly the bronze sculptures in the fountains in Trafalgar Square also feature dolphins, the dolphin is one of London’s historical links to the sea and the plastic bag is one of London’s current links to the sea.

Plastic needs to feature big in the sculpture so I thought that the dolphins could have an outer skin of black plastic coated wire mesh and be stuffed with plastic bags that would show through the mesh to signify the micro plastics inside the dolphins.

There will be four dolphins leaping out of the top of the plinth in various stages of leap, one for each side of the plinth. To provide movement, to attract the eye of the passersby, where the dolphins break through the top of the plinth loose strips of plastic would be fixed to flutter in the breeze.

The creative idea is almost fully formed now and to make it totally clear I have attached my Written Statement of Concept for the stage 1 selection process of the competition.

Bibliography

London.gov.uk (2016) The Fourth Plinth: Artist information pack. At: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/mgla140518-1933_-_attachment.pdf accessed 1 July 2019

The Flower Paintings

The Flower Paintings

I experimented with flower paintings as a way of looking at colours because the colours of flowers are vibrant and vivid and need to be contrasted with a less vibrant ground to make them stand out. I thought about getting a range of thicknesses of paint into the image from the thin washy background through the thicker paint on the leaves and vase to the impasto on the flower heads themselves.

The impasto on the flower heads gives a real three dimensional feel to them and attracts the eye from the surrounding flatter colours while the thinner and duller under paint of the flower heads gives them substance.

The thin almost transparent purple ground of the wall allows the white gesso to grin through and is a perfect foil for the yellow and cream flower head whilst the green of the foliage provides a sharp contrast to the red flower heads.

I gave the tabletop which was originally yellow a red glaze to bring out the contrast between it and the foliage greens in the vase to make the vase pop out from the ground at the expense of losing the contrast between the table top and the wall.

Figure 1. Second pass, oil on canvas board 40 x 50 cm

Making paintings is a constant decision making process, the fact that you have to let the layers dry gives you time to consider the available options before making your decision. As part of my process I carry an A4 print of my work at its drying stage in the back pocket of my jeans so that I can refer to it in the quiet moments. I find this easier to deal with than a back lit phone screen, which I find too small to make rational decisions over.

I think the end result has a definite sculptural quality and if I was to do this painting again I would accentuate the sculptural feel more and perhaps arrange the flowers differently to give more air between them.

Figure 2. Flowers 1, oil on canvas board 40 x 50 cm

I photo shopped a black and white image to check on the tonal range that I had achieved with the colours because I reasoned that the tonal range had a big effect on the sculptural quality of the painting, and I was less than surprised by the result.

Figure 3. Check on tonal range digital image

I was sitting in front of a different bunch of flowers experimenting with the palette knife on small board and created this:

Figure 4. Flowers 2 oil on board 20 x 25 cm

I mixed more colour and added three extra boards so that it became this:

Figure 5. Flowers 2, 3, 4 and 5 oil on board each panel 20 x 25 cm

They do not look so bad but I prefer them hung like this:

Figure 6. Floral Symphony oil on board each panel 20 x 25 cm

It reminds me of music, the first movement slow and gentle, building up in the second movement to the great crescendo of the third movement and drifting back slowly into silence in the fourth movement.

It is probably the first time I have thought of curatorship, but it was really hard to avoid when I had what were, in effect four coloured building blocks.

The next painting in the Flower series was painted at the Norfolk Painting School, which I would thoroughly recommend, as well as teaching techniques, they teach an enormous amount of stuff about gesso and mediums that ordinarily I wouldn’t care about. Panels come ready gessoed who needs to worry about that? Well everybody really, now there are short grounds and long grounds and all types in between that effect the final look of your painting who would have thought that?

Figure 7. Sunflowers after Vincent oil on board each panel 50 x 60 cm

The exercise was not about impasto or producing a copy of Sunflowers but about direct painting and under painting and how the under painting shows through the final layers.

Copying a work by a master gives you a marvellous understanding of their use of negative space, tone, decorative pattern, composition and design. Staring at the work for five hours puts you up there with the amount of time Vincent spent looking at it as he painted it and relevant phrases start coming back to you from your textural research “I have no need of Japanese art here, I tell myself I am in Japan” (Walther 33) “There are virtually no shadows in Chinese Art nor Persian or Japanese”(Hockney and Gayford p. 63) and you are really reminded that “we only see what we look at, to look is an act of choice” ( Berger p 8)

Despite all that looking, however, I can hardly wait to go to the National Gallery and see “its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (Benjamin)

Bibliography

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of seeing. London: Penguin

Benjamin, W.(2008) The Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin

Hockney, D. and Gayford, M.(2016) A History of Pictures. London: Thames and Hudson

Walther I. F. (2016) Van  Gogh. Koln: Taschen

Don McCullin

‘The ethical dilemma involved in producing beauty from tragedy has been a concern for the field of photography almost from its inception’ (Bloomfield). This was part of the writing on the wall in the recent Tate Britain McCullin Exhibition, as you can probably see, I did not read it on the wall of the exhibition, gleaning it instead from a secondary source on the internet. I make a point of not reading the walls in galleries, when I go to an exhibition I go to see the primary source of an artist’s work rather than the secondary sources of the curators.

It is perfectly possible to replace the word photography with art in this quotation, a few examples would be Grunewald’s Issenheim Altar Piece, Velasquez’s Christ contemplated by the Christian Soul in the National Gallery and the myriad Egyptian works inspired by the tragedy of the death of a Pharaoh.

Tragedy, or the depiction of it to create something beautiful, looms large in the history of art. The curators’ attempts to conceptualise McCullin’s work using detailed accounts of the tragedies that gave rise to it, rather than focusing on the composition of the photographs and tonal genius of the post production process used in the creation of the work is, to me, akin to writing bible verses on the Gallery walls when exhibiting Renaissance religious works.

I do not believe that it the job of the gallery to educate its audience on the tragedies of the latter half of the twentieth century that fully inspired McCullin’s work, but merely to expose the work of the artist to inspire and allow for contemplation by the public of works of art.

Don McCullin’s journeys to the world’s war zones are a biographical detail that seems to have little effect on the beauty and skill of the works on show, the photographs taken in Finsbury Park and England are just as beautifully composed and technically executed as the war zone photographs. I think it is important to see the photographs as works of art firstly and documentation of war secondly, I recently went to the Army Museum to see an exhibition of Alfred Munning’s work and though I found the museum interesting in itself, I was far more interested in seeing Munning’s brushwork up close

I went to the McCullin exhibition to see art, not to be politicised by the Tate curators or Susie Linfield, whilst I have now read her views on the subject, for which I thank her, I am unable to say I agree with them. Her citation from the history of art is limited to Rembrandt and Freud neither of whom bring suffering to my mind and probably not the mind of the average viewer.

Having got that off my chest, I was full of admiration for the tonal organisation produced in the darkroom by McCullin from his original negatives for the exhibition. In these days of digital photography it is unusual to see a photographer “painting with light” to produce his work. I think the old fashioned method produces greater subtlety in the tones whilst giving a greater tonal range that McCullin uses well to emphasise and bring out his compositions.

I found there was a dreamy sometimes nightmarish quality to McCullin’s images that somehow reminded me of Francis Bacon’s work, which I suppose is hardly surprising as no doubt Bacon was most probably influenced by the photographs in his Sunday supplement.

 

Bibliography       

Bloomfield  R. (2019) I am tired of guilt At: https://weareoca.com/study-visit-review/i-am-tired-of-guilt/amp/ accessed 11/06/2019.

Merhez A., Baker S., and Mavlian S. (2019) Don McCullin: London. Tate Publishing.

Thinking through Art

Thinking through art with Emma Drye

If Arlene has taken the trouble to organise it, it is definitely worth going. It is always an interesting day at the London Art Group.

When the flyer came through the topics were;

An introduction to research

Different perspectives

Personal key words

Resources and strategies

Discussion and Reflection

You had to bring a piece of research something to write on and some coloured pens, what no sketchbook? I was quite sceptical, how can you think through art without a sketchbook? As it turned out you could.

There were twelve of us on the course, with Emma that made thirteen. Emma spoke for a while about research and then tasked us to read an article from a book as a group of three. Emma, Steve and I read Unidentified Foreign Objects which was basically the transcript of an interview between Elizabeth Fischer and the artist Phyllida Barlow.

It was Steve’s job to summarise the text, Emma’s job to summarise the way we went about the research and mine to come up with the killer quote.

I have never read a book at the same time as another person since I was at infant school. There was the obvious problem of the speed of each other’s reading, which after the first two pages wasn’t such a problem as we adjusted comfortably to each other’s reading speeds by some form of group telepathy.

The way we went about our research was by having a group discussion after each two pages read which meant you instantly got two different points of view of what the last two pages were about from people with differing life experiences that of your own. This in itself was highly illuminating, comparing my male impressions of the text with the ladies’ feminist approach, particularly so because the article was one woman interviewing another.  We then had to give a presentation to the whole group of our findings. It would take too long here to summarise the article suffice it to say that the killer quote was that “A painting is an approximation of something that could be even better.”

The next exercise was writing, I hardly do any hand writing anymore, longer than a post it note, so it was interesting in itself to write for fifteen minutes without stopping about what I was researching. It was a sort of surrealist game and surreally I wrote it in the back of my neatly typed research.

In fifteen minutes I wrote three sides of A4, which more than surprised me, about carrier bags, dolphins recycling and how since the carrier bag charge, people have old dirty unhygienic plastic bags, there may be less of them but now, we are gifting the dolphins plastic bags with germs that could possibly kill more dolphins than our previously clean ones.

I think that the writing has made my research a bit more practical, and less bookish, hopefully that will show through in my work. I do have a thing about people having dirty carrier bags, but until performing this exercise I never considered the effect that dirty carrier bags could have on dolphins.

It is an excellent technique that allows your mind to wander around the thing you are researching, I will definitely use it again. Perhaps it is a normal research technique that helps more people reach their eureka moment while researching, if it is not then it should be.

The next step was to underline the 15 minutes writing with four colours to indicate whether the words used were material, visual, process or ideas. I was pleased that visual and ideas were the predominant highlights of my unconscious mind.

This is entirely consistent with the research I have been doing into Post Studio Art, where the material, where do you acquire a dead shark? and the process, how do you preserve it in formaldehyde? are less important than the visualisation of the original idea of a shark in a vitrine and the impact that it would have as an artwork.

The remainder of the day was spent listening to each other’s research into the various topics that were being researched by members of the group as part of their own studies. What was interesting for me hearing these was that my own research was in two separate boxes, the bookish type and the practical type. I learned from listening that it is possible for these two boxes to become one so that the bookish research can provoke new materials and processes to realise new ideas and visions to inform my creativity.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day regardless of the absence of sketchbooks, Art is not always about drawing, sometimes you have to think more than you draw. Thank you again to Emma and the rest of the London Group for advancing my understanding.

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.