Jackdaws At Dusk

Jackdaws At Dusk

Friday, 20 August 2010

Peter Prendergast

Another book that has enriched my analysis and appreciation of art, especially landscape art, is the book "The Painter's Quarry, The Art of Peter Prendergast" published in 2006 by Gwasg Gomer, which features seven essays written about the artist. Prendergast came to my awareness thanks to a recomendation by one of the tutors on the college forum (one who had been lucky enough to work with him in the past). If I had to describe his paintings in simple terms it would be messy, but messy in a wonderful sense, like rubbing soil into the canvas, with the main difference between soil and his paintings being the colours, as his are like a rainbow of intensity, colours bleeding and blending into each other in such an exciting way. If painting outside is what creates a painting like Prendergast's then I'm all up for it. The essay by John Russell Taylor on page 12 mentions "the emotion he experiences in front of a landscape dictates the movement of the brush quite as much as the physical shape of the scene before him. Thus the paint is applied in great swathes of colour, constantly threatening to burst out of control and run riot all over the picture, moving it insensibly from expressionism to abstract expressionism."

Another passage I want to make note of is on page 11; "A landscape in nature may be beautifully composed, an artwork waiting to happen, but a landscape is the work of a mind and hand as well as an eye" which reminds me of the quote from the book "Art and Illusion" that a painting is a "corner of nature seen through a temperament," which again makes me think of John Piper. There is a thread running through these artists because on page 14 Taylor makes mentions the John Piper paintings of Windsor castle and the response of the kings to the "terrible weather" in Pipers paintings, a feature prominent in Prendergasts paintings too. "Chaos lies in wait ready to engulf art and artist, (p14)" this in response to the wonderful messy style of Predergast, like Auerbach his teacher at the Slade, whose representations of the landscape sometimes lie on a knife-edge.

It is important to think of the human being in the landscape, even if one isn't visible in the composition,and Prendergast makes his human presense well known in the landscape as he creates the majority of his paintings on site, even having to tie down the canvases in strong winds. These intense elements of wind, rain and sun are what feeds into his powerful paintings, full of movement and passion, and whilst looking at them it is so apparent that this is a human being responding to being in a landscape, not just an automaton capturing a moment for posterity; "very direct contact with the scene that inspire him remains an absolute necessity. Prendergast is a reactor, and his art is all about his reactions rather than about the phenomena that trigger them." (p.15)

Peter Wakelin writes on page 35 about the turning point in Prendergast's work when he saw an exhibition in the Tate London of the work by Oskar Kokoshka in 1962. The expressive dynamic properties of this artist spoke deeply to the young Prendergast, and coupled with the influence of his tutor Frank Auerbach confirmed to him that focusing on the structure underneath appearance was of the utmost importance to him. Page 74 in an essay by Robert Macdonald quotes the artist saying; "I have to make drawings to understand the landscape. When I know it thoroughly I work on my paintings. A cloud may come by, the light may change, and with a few strokes I may be able to finish the painting. I wouldn't be able to do that unless I had spent time reassessing, reconstructing, reconsidering. Some might equate the work with children's scribbling. They don't realise all the work underneath. The paintings haven't just arrived from nowhere."

Finally on page 121 the author Tony Curtis quotes the artists saying a profound statement of his art; "For me the nature of landscape is important. I believe that if you could pull the earth back you could find out where the world came from. the picture is made from some sort of glorification, celebration of nature. I don't know what they do for other people. I know that painting helps make sense of my life, as a way of trying to understand myself, to see the world and justify myself in it."

The whole range of his paintings, from the linear panoramic views of the valleys in North Wales such as "Landscape near Bethesda from Parc" from 1973, through to the later more fluid seascapes such as "Rock Pool Below" from 2004-5 all speak of an intimate knowledge of the land and the sea and are deeply moving and interesting because of that knowledge.

Art and Illusion by EH Gombrich

Though I didn't find this as easy to read as the book "The Story of Art" by the same author is was still very interesting and there are a few passages I want to make note of here. The first is from page 4 which surprised me with its honesty and forward thinking for essays written in 1960; "the first prejudice teachers of art appreciation usually try to combat is the belief that artistic excellence is identical with photographic accuracy." This is something that I've been guilty of in the past so it was with relief that I read this and could put into motion the ability to change this.

Gombrich is also aware of the high illusionist abilities of the Old Master painters, such as Caravaggio and Da Vinci, with their perfect, clean, crisp paintings lead us to assume that the same standard of excecution is to be sought after now; "When we deal with masters of the past who were both great artists and great 'illusionists', the study of art and the study of illusion cannot always be kept apart." But it is important to realise now that the role of painting has changed from what it was to something richer and more multi layered than just illusion. However the description made by Plato in the "Sophist" and quoted by Gombrich on page 7 is a beautiful homage to the ability of art to defy reality, that it is a "man-made dream for those who are awake."

There is a significant section at the beginning of the book devoted to the developments made by Constable in his search for greater realism in his paintings which consisted in relinquishing the styles of the past and the assumed standards for painting, the classic example being his use of green paint for grass when it had previously been painted as brown. This radical shift in the creation of paintings is written about in interesting terms in the book on page 30; "much of the knowledge gained by these experiments in the past has become common property today...Indeed there are artists who think the field to which Constable devoted his scientific endeavours has been fully investigated by now and that they must turn to different areas for experiment. Instead of exploring the visible world, they probe the mysterious of the unconscious mind or test our response to abstract shapes." It is humbling to think of how far the developments in art have come, and interesting to think of how much an effect the invention of photography must also have contributed to the new areas in painting.

On page 55 Gombrich quotes Emile Zola who said that a painting was "a corner of nature seen through a temperament," which to my mind brings back what I'd been reading about Piper and the way that he viewed the world around him, surely inspired to a great degree by his own passions and personality. There is a quote in the "Finding Your Way" course book which says "A work of Art created without emotion is not Art" and this again ties in with the quote above. It could also be looked upon that any painting, landscape or not, is created through a temperament.

I have been interested in the work of Lucian Freud recently, for a number of my projects both written and painted, so it was humorous to read on page 80 about this "young" artist (bearing in mind it was written in the 60's). But what was really interesting (age aside) was his input into the illusionist, Pygmalion powers of painting; "A moment of complete happiness never occurs in the creation of a work of art. The promise of it is felt in the act of creation, but disappears towards the completion of the work. For it is then that the painter realises that it is only a picture he is painting. Until then he had almost dared to hope that the picture might spring to life." I find this deeply touching, especially as it is primarily his family, friends and lovers that he paints (as he has said in the past who else could he paint with such honesty? -very much like Frank Auerbach). But is there also an element of preservation in his paintings? Especially in the deeply touching ones of his mother. His paintings contain that glimmer of life, that Pygmalion power that they could move, yet you are also aware of their encasing in paint, as he is aware too.

Another point of the book which made me laugh was page 98 and the story about Matisse and the lady who came to visit his studio who said " 'But surely, the arm of this woman is much too long,' the artist replied politely, 'Madame, you are mistaken. This is not a woman, this is a picture.' " This shows a different outlook on the act of painting to the one by Freud, as he realises from the outset that his is nothing more and nothing less than a painting.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

John Piper by Frances Spalding


I've just finished reading the book "John Piper, Myfanwy Piper, Lives in Art" by Frances Spalding, copyright 2009. I really enjoyed reading it because it flowed like a novel and it was easy to get caught up in the lives of these fascinating people and their family and home whilst also being absorbed with the creative contents of their lives. I want to include some of the passages that interested me in particular.
Page 18 of the book includes a wonderful quote by William Blake, whose work Piper admired tremendously because of its"exuberant creativity." Upon reading the work of this artist he came across this question posed by Blake and the impact of it was obviously felt throughout the whole of Piper's creative life; "Shall painting be confined to the sordid drudgery of facsimile representations of merely mortal and perishing substances and not be, as poetry and music are, elevated to its own proper sphere of invention and visionary conception?" This is a very powerful suggestion that I can see settled into Pipers brain at an early age, he would have been about seventeen at the time, and helped to form the way that he used his art, as he very thankfully did not go down the route of facsimile representation in his art. The whole of his career was fascinating to read about, flowing from pure abstraction to a Romanticised vision of the country and its buildings (fueled by the destruction of buildings, villages, towns and cities by the Second World War) which he created in oils, watercolours, aquatints, lithographs and prints, through to stained glass windows, murals and tapestries.

Descriptions of his time spent in Wales were particularly interesting to me, visiting areas such as Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and the Teifi lakes where he enjoyed the "weird solitude". His trips to North Wales during 1945 also produced rich and dramatic paintings, reminiscent of the layers grazes used by Turner, though enhanced with textures and added depth through his interesting use of thick gesso which he used to "complicate and enrich the surface of the painting."(p.288) Other parts of the book also used more details of his working method, involving the thick layers of gesso and thin glazes of oil paints as underpainting and scraping back, ideas which helped to inform the way I painted my own version of a ruined building. He was always aware of the painting serving the need for being a representation of something seen whilst also existing as a painting in its own right, and the process of experimenting and marking the surface of the painting in a way which shows it as an object, and not just an illusion of something, is something that was very important to him. He always drew on the spot with mixed media, including pencils, black and coloured inks, pastel and oily chalks, watercolour and gouache and would only use his oils when back in the studio, as the amount of equipment needed was just too much to take on site. Page 216 describes the scratches into the paint, using the wrong end of the brush, as carrying "a memory of the building's imagined past."
Cotman was another of the artists who Piper admired for his choice of ruined buildings and who always found "rich beauties in every building he visited" no matter how decayed they were. Piper was one of the artists who helped to revive this Romanticised view of nature and the countryside as favoured by Turner and other artists of the past. Piper also published his own book on the subject in 1942 called "British Romantic Artists" which opens with the striking line that Romantic art "is the result of a vision that can see into these things something significant
beyond ordinary significance:something that for a moment seems to contain the
whole world; and, when the moment is past, carries over some comment on life or
experience besides the comment on appearances."
Which to my mind harks back to the quote above by William Blake that had struck Piper as a teenager, and goes to show how much of a resonance it must have held for him. Christopher Hussey in his book "The Picturesque," quoted by Frances Spalding, says of the Romantic movement in art that is was a process of "feeling through the eyes" and it was this that fed his imagination to see into and beyond the destruction that he beheld in the ruined Coventry Cathedral, his turning point when it came to dealing with the destruction of the war and the painting that inspired me to take the ideas from it to feed into my painting of a ruined building.

A passage in page 202 made me laugh when Piper was commissioned to paint Windsor Castle and upon seeing the finished images with their dark and brooding storm clouds King George VI made the comment "you seem to have very bad luck with your weather, Mr Piper." However if it hadn't been for this expressive use of landscape then Piper would have just ended up as another typical typographer, not as a Romantic visionary of the British landscape.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Final Image for Painting in the Style of Another Artist

It's been a while since my last entry because I wanted to make sure the base layer of paint was dry before started painting on top of it. I didn't want any wet on wet dragging effect, but wet on dry so that I could get a scumbling affect and that the base layer of paint, either darker or lighter that the top layer, would show through underneath as it often does in Pipers own paintings. This can be seen in the close up of the front of the building.

The close up of the stone wall shows how the chunks of dried paint which I added to the canvas in the early stages of the painting have now been integrated into the whole image, with both adding on more layers of sticky paint, plus scrapping back. This has helped it to look more organic, and not so artificial; it's a technique I'll remember for the future.

The colours themselves have changed since the last photo shown here, some bits are lighter, like the building which gives it a spotlit effect as used by Piper, then the sky is darker, with patchwork areas of colour to break up the expanse of blue. The painting of Piper's which I used for this arrangement of colour in the sky is Seaton Delaval, used on the cover of the book "Lives in Art" by Francis Spalding which I've been reading and will write about here soon.

The skyline has also changed because I decided to get rid of the hills in the distance. I didn't really know what to do with them, give them colour or make them dark or light, so in the end I decided they weren't really adding anything to the composition and could go, so I covered them over with the new colours used for the sky and I much prefer this new dramatic skyline as it makes it look like smoke rising above the building.

The other area where the colours have changed is the trees, which I'd also wondered what to do with. But I found that the bright colours were too out of sync with the building, so I decided to give them a more autumnal tone, more in keeping with the muted warm colours in the rest of the painting, and I've also scrapped them back in areas to show the brighter green underneath as this gives it more variety in both colour and mark-making.

I'm really fond of the colours used for the smoke damaged part of the building, because even though they may look a little artificial, and they were again inspired by the vivid colours used in Seaton Delaval, there are actually hints of pink and orange in the paint work of the building in real life that were affected by the heat of the blaze. I feel that the final image works really well as an integration of the style of John Piper, plus representing expressively and accurately a real building in its ruined state.

(Added April 12th 2011) I've since found this on a website featuring information on the town of Tonyrefail, where I live. It gives some interesting images and information on the building before and after the ruined state. http://tonyrefail.org/inferno.html