Assignment 2: Looking at artists suggested by my tutor in her feedback: Part 1.

In our video chat she mentioned:

Look at Patrick Heron’s garden paintings.

Look at Sam Francis – beautiful paint handling – how he handles energy/mark making and spaces.

Look at the work of Bridget Riley – her studies more than her finished paintings.

Esther Donaldson

Patrick Heron

B. 1920 – d. 1999… Wikipedia: British abstract and figurative artist… Cornwall… exploration and use of colour and light… all areas of the painting of equal importance… rare and uncanny of gifts: the ability to invent an imagery that was unmistakably his own, and yet which connects immediately with the natural world as we perceive it, and transforms our vision of it… (In late 50’s extended Tachisme painting and in the late 80’s he made works which are)... reactions to real visual experiences, yet are not direct representations; instead the line and colour encapsulate “specific visual realities without ever depicting them”.

This sounds remarkably like what I’m trying to do.

Azalea Garden : May 1956, Oil on canvas, 152 × 128 cm

He has some patches of colour in the background, geometric line, lots of space, thin and unthinned paint, on an easel as thin paint has run, tonal and colour differences, mid saturation colours, horizontal and vertical lines and dots, wet on wet and wet on dry.

Below is an extract about this painting from the Tate: Tate (s.d.) ‘Azalea Garden : May 1956’, Patrick Heron, 1956. At: (Accessed 11/03/2021).

In a letter (27 April 1983) to the compiler Patrick Heron wrote:

“Azalea Garden: May 1956”

Although called Tachist by many at the time, I referred to the series as “garden paintings”, since they certainly related in my mind to the extraordinary effervescence of flowering azaleas and camellias which was erupting all over the garden, amongst the granite boulders, at Eagles Nest … The well-known crisis which confronted many British painters of my generation -I mean the moving over from overt figuration however abstract, to overt non-figuration, overtook me at about this time

(My underlining… this is the process that I have been going through. It’s somehow very inclusive/consoling/enlightening/encouraging to know that other artists have gone through the same process – even if it was in the year I was born and for different social/cultural/artistic/personal reasons. It helps me not to feel alone and that I’m going through a natural process and am not an outlier when all??? my cohorts seem to be focusing on figuration.)

…all transitions strike one at the time as being wholly chaotic and terrifying; one seems, at the time of change, to be jeopardising one’s entire art, and the difference is seen as very extreme indeed…

(My underlining… this is what I have been feeling.)

However, again with the passage of time, it is quite extraordinary how closely these apparently different “periods” seem to draw together again…

(My underlining… I can sense that even though I’m artistically thrashing around and trying to find my way that when I look back I will find some common threads and continuity that I can’t see at the moment)

There was a contrast that seemed quite violent between the broad brush marks of the “garden paintings” and the often invisibly amalgamated brush-weaving of the colour surfaces in both my earlier and my much more recent works. Yet my total interests include both these modes.’

Sam Francis

B. 1923 – d. 1994. American painter and printmaker. From his Wikipedia entry: Influenced by abstract expressionists – loose style most influenced by Jackson Pollock – associated with 2nd generation abstract expressionists… expressive use of colour. In 1950’s Paris became associated with Tachisme… After his 1953 painting “Big Red” was included in the 1956 exhibition “Twelve Artists” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Francis began a rapid rise to international prominence.

His style changed and evolved (though always retained an interest in colour) over his lifetime, often responding to health issues both mental and physical.

As a trainee artist I am going to look at “Big Red’ as that is the painting that first secured his international recognition and launched him onto the After his 1953 painting “Big Red” was included in the 1956 exhibition “Twelve Artists” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Francis began a rapid rise to international prominence. stage.

Big Red, oil on canvas, 303 x 194 cm, 1953

Underpainting blue green… some orange… use of white canvas at the top with yellow organic shapes… overpainting thin red paint (on easel because of drips)… mainly of the same colour and tone.

This has a tiny bit of artistic DNA in common with Heron’s “Azalea Garden” in the use of brush strokes… maybe the Tachisme influence?

What I love about this, and the significance for my practice, is that it could be a response to a bush full of blossom but is a colour driven abstract explosion. It is fresh, exciting… and not at all contrived. And a really bold artistic choice… both simple and exquisitely complex.

From the MoMa website: Sam Francis. Big Red. Paris 1953 (s.d.) At: (Accessed 11/03/2021).

The curator Ann Temkin has a two minute audio about “The Big Red”…

Title… very descriptive but deceptively simple… brushstrokes horizontal and vertical… underneath the curtain of red layer of blues, yellows, and oranges interacting with the red in a very subtle dance… large expanse emotional colour… (she quotes Sam Francis: “Colour is light on fire.”)… he makes colour an animate force.

For my practice this highlights the contrived nature of my ‘geometric abstracts’ (but I am learning a new language and experimenting so I will forgive myself)… and echos how I feel about colour. I can see where I want to go – it’s not easy to describe it in words but I can feel it.

The scale of his canvas helps, almost 3 x 2 m, as colour in blocks has a physical impact. So, on one level, my 60 x 60 cm canvases become my sketchbook… but if you get up close they are just big enough to start working physically. That’s what I can afford in canvas size and paint… and is easily shippable… when I’m selling regularly I’ll go bigger.

Bridget Riley – studies

B. 1931 –

Exhibition at David Zwirner gallery of Bridget Riley – Studies, 1984–1997 – Bridget Riley: Studies, 1984–1997 (s.d.) At: (Accessed 11/03/2021).

Bridget Riley at work, not dated or credited… but given that her work still uses stripes and rhomboids maybe late 1980’s?

From the exhibition notes: works from the 1980s and 1990s that reflect the connection between the writings of Paul Klee (1879–1940) and her own understanding of abstract painting… studies that show a movement from ‘stripes’ to ‘rhomboids.’ In the earliest of these works, Riley begins to cross her stripes with short diagonal elements, to move the eye around, across, and through the pictorial area, leading to the development of a new visual form, her ‘rhomboid’ paintings.

Bridget Riley Study for Code of Manners, 1988 Pencil and gouache on paper 26 3/4 x 35 3/4 inches (67.9 x 90.7 cm)

“Right up to, and in some ways including, the stripe paintings I used to build up to sensation, accumulating tension until it released a perceptual experience that flooded the whole as it were. Now I try to take sensation as the guiding line and build, with the relationships it demands, a plastic fabric which has no other raison d’etre except to accommodate the sensation it solicits….I wanted more. A way of working which allowed me to get to grips with plastic issues, to get closer to the real problems of painting.” —Bridget Riley in conversation with Robert Kudielka, 1990

Riley started by using… square and oval, circle, line or curve

Blaze, Screenprtint on paper, 53 x 52 cm, 1964

… but she moved onto Rhomboids which are… determined by the junction of a vertical and a diagonal. This relationship becomes the new unit. The shifting depths of these units gave rise to dynamic fields of broken colour.

Talking about colour Riley said: “I no longer treat colour in a purely perceptual way. Sensation of colour is a different thing, it takes in attendant qualities, so to speak, such as glitter or sombreness, buoyancy or weight, dull glow or full brilliance, impalpability or density, softness or hardness—in short a surprising variety of sensual relationships…If a painting is to be a work, a work that aspires to the condition of art, it is obliged to express the tenor of existence.” —Bridget Riley in conversation with Robert Kudielka, 1990

This feels like another way of saying what Temkin said about Sam Francis… that colour is an animate force.

This is very interesting for my practice as it is the pinnacle of geometric abstraction (and doesn’t seem contrived even though a huge amount of planning and consideration have gone into it – see the photograph of Riley working).

The colour combinations are wonderful and, in their own slightly detached way, captivating. I can almost fall into the painting, which is what I want to do and make, but the lack of spontaneity, emotion, gesture and abandon put me in a different place… more the awe of a cathedral, breathtaking in its beauty, but confined by its regulated spirituality. I can’t shout or sing… there are rules. I (metaphorically speaking) want to be in the field of summer flowers with the wind in my hair, a skylark singing and unfettered joy in my heart.

If this is the summit of geometric (considered) abstraction, then it is not art that I want to make nor a destination I need to visit.

Action points from my tutor:

Esther Donaldson

… graduating from Edinburgh College of art in 1993… (very successful/many exhibitions/public recognition)…

Her work is based on gardens, woodlands and Country Estates.

Autumn Lily Pond . acrylic on paper . 2021

This is a little bit Nabis and a little bit gestural. It’s quite an interesting composition but doesn’t work for me. It has tonal contrasts, saturated and unsaturated colours, dead colours and live colours. I’m struggling to put my finger on why I don’t connect with it – I think it’s very proficient but lacks an emotional connection with the subject… it’s driven from the outside not the inside.

‘ The garden for me is a place of quiet, a place to stop, an almost religious ‘building’. It has witnessed the brevity of life, the joy and transience of beauty, the daily toil, death and re-birth, the seasons of life.

I love the garden, and it does witness all life… but for me it is a constant source of joy, life, movement and beauty. I don’t see it as a cathedral – I see it as the opposite. My mental framing is very different.

I want my art to reflect these seasons. My work is becoming increasingly more referential and not entirely realistic, inviting the viewer’s participation and hopefully giving a glimpse into the life, toil, death and re-birth of the creative journey.

Adam and Eve, acrylic on Langton paper . 2021

I would say “Adam and Eve’ is very referential, narrative and conceptual (part of religious iconography/myth). This is not a path I want to go down.

Working quickly building up layers, the work takes on its own life and often ends up in a way I could never have predicted or planned. I enjoy these surprises!’

It’s difficult to see how Eve on the painting above would be something that could never be predicted or planned… other areas are certainly worked quickly… but I’m not sure she is working with the canvas like Sam Francis or Patrick Heron. Her marks seem like a first stab without any response to them on the canvas.

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