Jackdaws At Dusk

Jackdaws At Dusk

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Gwen John Paintings

Went to see the Gwen John paintings today in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, and was very impressed, nourished and inspired by what I saw there. I made sketches of the paintings, plus bought postcards that will be going in my logbook with a full write up on what I saw and thought of the paintings, but for now I'll just say there were stunning, ethereal, elegant and deeply dignified. You could smell the Parisian air in the paintings of her room in Paris.

I was really pleased when I said to the curator, who took me into the vaults where the oil paintings were stored, that a painting by John of a still life on the table, though seen from a distance, reminded me of the still lives by Morandi, because of the quiet dignity in them, and the hazy way of painting, and she said she'd often thought that about the similarity between the two artists, especially as they were both quite obsessive about their specific subject matters, painting them over and over again. It pleased me that I'd made an observation about her work that a professional curator agreed with - and I've never read in any book about this similarity in style!

I also bought a long handled hogs hair brush from the art shop in Cardiff, ready to do some textural, expressive oil paintings ala Lucian Freud - though maybe not of nude people yet! I've got another book on Lucian Freud to read called "The artist at work" plus one of Gwen John. So for now I will go and do some reading.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Viewing Gwen John Paintings

I've just had a phone call from the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, returning my call, to say I can go next Thursday, a week today, to see the oil paintings by Gwen John that are in storage at the museum. There are none out on display at the moment, but the fact that I can go to view her work privately more than makes up for that fact. I want to go to see them because I've read about the unusual way she used oil paints, as apparently they were quite dry, that she drained the oil away from them before applying them, so I'd like to see this for myself. I also want to study her brushstrokes as the paintings always seem almost blurred, as though seen through tissue, so I'd like to figure out how this was done. I'll be able to take drawing materials to the visit, no paints, so I'll make sure to fill plenty of pages for my logbook studies.
When I was in the process of doing the recent figure painting of the girls I noticed how much of a difference it made to hold the brush loosely, and to paint in small side to side motions, especially with the longer handled brush, so I'm wondering if this is something that Gwen John did too. It helped to give it a kind of fluffy edge to the images in the painting, giving them a much more realistic and tactile appearance, so that it wasn't crisp and clean and plastic looking. I will experiment more with this technique, and will invest in a hogs hair brush, long handled, ready to try with oil paints, for any future figure work, like Lucian Freud uses, and I'll also try it to see how it works with non figure based images. The next project is the "movement" project which sounds interesting as it could be interpreted in so many different ways. But before that I still have theoretical studies work to finish for the figures projects.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

"Patrick Heron" by Michael McNay. Tate Publishing 2002

Having previously never understood Patrick Heron's colourful pictures, I've now fallen in love with them after having seen a large painting by him down in the Tate St Ives. It filled my vision with colour, texture and movement. Since then I've tried to find out more about him and how he worked, so I enjoyed this book about him by Michael McNay and I'll include some passages here that caught my interest.

This first passage is in Heron's own words, about his work, which he wrote about in the essay "Art is Autonomous" written in 1955 and is quoted in the book on page 51. "The meaning which a work of art has for society is not the same as the meaning that the artist was conscious of putting into it. This is because art is not just a telephone exchange which facilitates straightforward communication. The work of art is in some profound sense an independent, live entity. It has its own life. It draws nourishment from its creator that he was totally unaware of having put into it: and it redistributes nourishment to the spectator (including the artist himself, for he is merely a spectator once the work is completed)"
Later, on page 52 he goes on to describe the process of building up a painting using shapes and brushstrokes, almost abstract in a way, that goes into an object, that the viewer knows is an illusion, echoing the work of EH Gombrich in his book "Art and Illusion", but like the greatest magic tricks, we love to be deceived by. He gave this lecture at the University of Texas in 1979. "Even in the most highly figurative of masterpieces the painter knows that it is not Rembrandt's mothers nose he is looking at, but a miraculously ordered mosaic of interleaved, overlapped, opaque, transparent, soft-edged, sharp-edged, rounded or squared, separate brush-touches....A painting's greatness, or otherwise, doesn't depend on that information about the nostril (or about any other of the myriad subjects available): it depends upon the organisational significance, harmony, architectonic coherence - or whatever else you like to call it that those paint marks across that flat surface evoke."
During this trip to Texas he became very ill with pneumonia, and his wife died shortly afterwards. For a while he didn't paint at all, then he started to draw, using a very minimalist, representational style that he'd previously experimented with in 1954. This minimalist style of drawing later found its way into his paintings of the 1990s. The book describes this on page 64 in a very interesting way; "And the whites in Heron's drawings, that pregnant emptiness full of suggested light and colour, seem to look forward to the white expanses of primed canvas he would leave on his final paintings, between the carefree filigree of the scribbled lines of paint."
In an essay on Constable by Heron, entitled "Constable: Spatial Colour in the Drawings" written in 1994, Heron goes into more detail about the illusionistic impression of depth that is created in drawings which is mentioned on page 64; "at every stage in our contemplation of a drawing we are measuring the various depths to which our eyes sink into the illusionistic space the drawing evokes: thirty yards to that tree - seventy yards to that bank, two hundred yards to that hedge - eight-five yards to that gable-end - five miles to that cloud - stop; stop; stop; the eye plunges straight ahead through the illusionistic space of the drawing, down a hundred lines of vision to a 'stop'."
It is not surprising that Heron's primary consideration in his paintings was colour. On page 65 the book mentions that "Patrick equated the spiritual with the continent of colour, better than sex, he said, better than anything as a matter of fact. 'All colour is shape and all shape is colour' he wrote. 'There is no shape that is not conveyed to you by colour, and there is no colour that can present itself to you without involving shape." This suggests that he had a language of shapes and colours that was very personal to him, like a code.
On page 67 it mentions that to the younger generation of artists "Heron was a link with the masters, particularly Braque and Matisse in France; and like Heron, like Matisse's British contemporary Matthew Smith, had not painted out of a sense of inferiority but had set out to learn from the old masters of modernism and match them."
Along side this love of colour was a belief which he had written about many times, "that he believed that figuration would return to painting in a different form," but that "finding parallels in nature was not what Heron meant when he had remarked that figuration would return." He died in 1999, the day after he'd created a series of drawings, based on the map of Australia, that were to be turned into etchings. He was 79 years old, and had pursued the puzzle, the joy and struggle of art until his death.

The Final Painting of Figures in an Interior

This is now the final painting with all the major compositional aspects added. I might alter one or two things, such as the strip of white light behind the two figures which needs to be brighter. Plus there needs to be a bit more detail which I'd like to add to the folded piece of paper on the table, which was made out of lined paper, so I wanted to add very faint lines to show this. Plus the left hands figures left arm still needs altering.

The extra details of shading on the right hand figure adds to a greater feel of three dimensionality to the painting. I'm very happy with the level of detail and realism I've been able to achieve in this painting, the most realistic one I've done so far. I wanted this painting to show that I really could paint and draw, with good observational skills, and I feel I've achieved that. I have to thank the book "Art and Illusion" by EH Gombrich for helping me to interpret what I see and how to translate that to the canvas or paper, by understanding visual language. I've only just started the book and it's taught me so much, so I look forward to more information it can give me with my painting work, both realistic and expressive.

I'll do a full write up on "What I have achieved" for my logbook, but for now I'm happy that it's finished.

Finishing the Clothes for Fgures in an Interior

I'm happy with the faces now, especially since I added the glasses to the figure on the left, so now I've been adding detail to the clothes. It's surprising how it adds solidity to the figures, especially the figure on the right who's head looked a bit disconnected from her body. Adding the detail to the foreground and her legs will contribute more to this illusion of depth and solidity.
I'm looking forward to the composition all coming together now, and to see how the colours work together.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Features for Figures in an Interior

I've spent a while working on the features of the girls, painting and repainting and rubbing out and starting again. I'm trying not to get frustrated but when I shut my eyes I can see paint!

I decided to take a leaf out of Lucian Freud's book and paint with a longer handled brush, which has given more texture on the left face which is more interesting and "painterly." It's also enabled me to add more texture to the hair, which I'm pleased with. The shading is coming on better too, plus the features are more accurate, especially on the face on the right. The eye closer to the foreground on this face has given me a lot of trouble, mostly because of the tricky angle, which I thought was on a flatter angle than what it is in the original photo. This has resulted in me having to paint over and start again around five times, but I'm glad I made myself do it, rather than put up with an area I knew was wrong, and have to see it as wrong every time I looked at it.

I think I'll concentrate more on the clothing now, and work my way down the painting, so I can see it as a whole, then I can decided if the features need any further work. Plus I think I'll have to add more shadows to the left figures arm, the one closer to the edge of the canvas, as it still looks a little flat, plus the colours don't match up with the colours of the face.

More detail to Figures in an Interior

I've started adding detail to the hair and the features, now that I'm satisfied with the background. The issuse with the section behind the figure on the right has been resolved, thanks to adding more layers of a thin wash of lighter paint.
The features still needs a lot of refining, but it's starting to take shape, which I'm pleased with. The forms still look a little flat, especially around the arms of the figure on the left, but the face some good modelling to it, but again it needs finishing details, and the face on the right needs a lot of work to it, especially due to the tricky angle.
At the moment neither of the girls in the painting look exactly like their version in the original photo. I was hoping to get more of a likeness, but if it doesn't work out then I won't be too disappointed.

From starting to read the book Art and Illusion by E H Gombrich I've started to see the paintings and drawings I do to be more connected to the realm of illusion which is what they really are. This has helped me to see the shapes and forms that are created in the paint as more like abstract marks, which has helped me to analyse the images much more effectively. So rather than thinking "that's a nose, so lets paint a nose" it's more like thinking about what kind of shape that nose is, which can be very different to what you think the nose should look like. This has been very important to me in the development of the features, as has the information in the "painting portraits" book, indeed they seem to compliment each other.

Adding detail to Figures in an Interior

The pink areas for the clothing have now been added which brings more interest and warmth to the image, and adds even more of a contrast to the cool colours in the background. Plus I've adjusted the drapes behind the figure on the left so that it has more contours. The area behind the figure on the right is still a bit a problem because it looks too flat. Once I've sorted out these background areas I'll start work on the features which are the hardest bit of the painting.

I've been reading lots from the book Painting Portraits by Rosalind Cuthbert for any tips to help me with this task, and there's some very useful and important information in there, such as the way that the features distort as the face turns away. The figure on the right will be particuluarly problematic because not only is the face in a three quarter view, but is also turned slightly on an angle. I can see now that the eyes aren't at enough of an angle to match the figure in the original photo which has a much steeper angle to it. The figure on the left presents a problem because she is looking so low down. This means that the lips are hardly visible plus the ears will be much higher up in the composition that usual.

Development of Figures in an Interior

This photo, taken in the daytime, which more accurately depicts the colours used, shows the warm areas for the figures plus the cooler areas for the background that have been added. The photo which I was painting from had cooler shades of grey in the background which, even if they weren't there I would have added, as they'll help to push the figure further forward in the composition.

Next stages of Figures in an Interior

This next images shows the underpainting of burnt sienna, yellow ochre and white. I wanted warm undercolours because it's going to have a lot of areas of skin plus the colours of the clothing are pinks and purples. Maybe I should have used green as the underpainting colour because I've since read in a book called "painting portraits" by Rosalind Cuthbert that green was primarily used because it was a
contrast colour to the warm tones on top, plus it was able to effectivly portray areas of veins, especially on the hands.

Figures in an Interior

These are a series of photos showing the work in progress for the Figures in an Interior project.

This first photo is the sketch at the very beginning, with some paint added at the bottom. The colours are very warm looking just because I took it at night, so it's giving a false impression of what it looks like.