This took the form of a video session on Friday 16th April, 2021.
Before feeding back on the tutorial I think it is important to put my reactions in context.
Up to this point, I hadn’t questioned my reasons for painting and where I saw myself after finishing my degree. As a student, I saw tutorials as sessions where where tutor’s dispensed wisdom and I accepted it without question, like being at school. However, I have recently been interrogating why I’m painting and what I want out of my degree; and am realising that tutors, like art critics, have biases and opinions as well as skill and knowledge.
Partly, this is because my programme leader Emma Drye, has talked to the level 2 students, and given us permission to be involved in our learning. Not in the sense of disputing objective observations from experienced academics and practitioners, but in thinking about what we want out of our tutorials. The idea that I can begin shaping my tutorial to help achieve my goal, so that it becomes a partnership more than a teacher pupil relationship, is a new idea, and but one that I think is important to develop for Level 3.
I’ve given a lot of thought as to why I want to paint.
I like being a professional performer (TV/film actor) and getting paid for it, and painting is another way of performing. There are lots of overlaps in the process, and significant differences, but the feeling of being in the moment when I’m acting and painting are the same. In one I’m reacting to a fellow actor (having done a significant amount of preparation and research) and in another to marks on a canvas. And, I would do neither if I didn’t get paid.
I’m not an activist. I’m not painting for self entertainment or therapy, or because I have some deep spirituality I want to share. Nor am I trying to be part of the avant garde, to shock, or to explore the ideological limits of painting.
Equally, my painting is underscored by much research, reading and reflection, and this is the fuel that underpins my visual ‘performance’. I don’t want to make empty paintings that ‘look nice’ or are interior decoration. I want my paintings to be aesthetically pleasing objects with personality, and to be intrinsically human.
So, this gives a new framework to my reflections, as I now want to think about how my learning can help achieve my goal.
The feedback took the form of going through my posts and looking at work. This was useful, but I think even more useful were some of the general comments.
Don’t rule anything out.
I think I have a weakness in making rules for myself to help me change behaviour, such as don’t use photographs. These may have been useful in breaking pre university habits but now, I strongly agree that I should be open to anything.
If I want to do it I should do it. I may end up coming back to figurative painting… or I may not. I need to make decisions but these should be based on artistic need not rules.
2. Don’t tick boxes.
I don’t think I tick boxes, and certainly don’t consciously tick boxes. I try and throw myself into the exercise I’m doing as the ones that seem least relevant are usually the ones I learn most from.
However, the fact that an objective eye can ask the question means I need to guard against it.
3. Trust more at different stages.
This is a difficult one relating to knowing when a painting is finished.
I have a history of getting to a point when I think a painting is interesting but carrying on because I haven’t finished the exercise… and yes… ticked all the boxes!
I need to be more artistically open to the work as an autonomous object and if in doubt put it to one side for a few days. I can always start another painting and come back to it… it may be finished, need a tweak, or need taking in another direction.
4. In-betweens interesting.
I can’t quite remember the exact context but take this to mean that I should trust more at the different stages, and that transitions are interesting places to be.
Once a painting resolves it can become obvious and uninteresting, so those in-between moments can be the places to stop.
5. Quick oil studies on paper.
This is akin to an actor playing with accents or mimicking body posture, or even role playing. It’s collecting visual information and ‘practising’ techniques that might be useful in the real thing.
I think it would be very valuable to visually play more and make interesting marks just for the fun of it.
6. Find patterns in nature.
Trace the outline of leaves or shadows in a tree… overlap them and find patterns. This is not about simplifying nature.
I can see that simplifying nature and using it as a chance generator to stimulate visual research are very different. One imposes the artist’s will and is a closed process, the other opens the artists to chance and allows him to play in order to build his visual vocabulary.
7. Go in close to your subject.
I do this in photography and the views and colours are just amazing.
IN painting, I’ll probably use this as a stimulus to react to rather than a visual image to copy.
I can easily see an artist using a close up view as the starting point for a beautiful painting that ends up abstract (or not). The close up view would, in any case, probably be unrecognisable to the viewer.
Option 4: Project 1: Unknowing: 1st painting:
Tutor: Using primaries red/yellow and blue obvious/difficult… final painting overworked… opaque white hides too much… responding in a hurried way… arrive at gestures… better earlier… gestural marks removed… the white evens out the surface and the tone.. trust yourself more… getting to know a new language of form and colour composition… allow yourself time to process… be more reflective.
Reflection: Looking at this on the wall the colours and texture emerge out of the mist to create visual intrigue so it doesn’t look as flat and opaque as it does on the photograph. Also the heavy surface scratches, which mirror the geometric shapes underneath give it another dimension, and an extra layer. It works almost as if the painting is the ground and the scratches are the figure.
So, while the gestural brushwork has been removed because I was working for liminality – and it may have made a much better if I’d gone down that path – I don’t think the painting fails in its own terms.
Tutor: More successful – expressive – fresh – energy to mark making – joyful – melancholic.
Reaction: This was done in one explosive session with a palette knife and pre-mixed colour palette based on Turner’s Snowstorm. So the marks are energetic and spontaneous. I suspect the melancholy comes from Turner’s palette.
I have a love hate relationship with this painting as it is a swirl of movement, which is exciting, but I want to go further and there’s nothing else there. On one level this is what I was trying to achieve, being blinded in the snowstorm and only being able to see a few inches, but I think it needs more… the gestural marks on their own are not enough.
Tutor: Final red mark (semicircle top right to mid right hand side) made after a couple of days works and draws you into the painting. Too many drips… drips are very seductive but should be used sparingly… too stylised… high drama… an interesting and valuable experiment… could try the same with a different colour palette… look at different colour combinations.
Reflection: I really enjoyed painting this and though it was an exercise I didn’t treat it as such. It was made after looking at McKeever’s work and the way he uses ‘curtains’ of glazes and blank canvas to give you a 3D environment, almost as if it’s a sculpture.
I love high drama, but when I look at it I see the spaces more than the colours so, for me, it isn’t overly dramatic. I think areas of it work very well but it doesn’t jell as a whole.
The drips were a new discovery and I went a bit overboard, but they are very effective in places. In future I need to be more discerning, but it was great fun.
Option 4: Project 2: Gaps and Spaces:
Tutor: Interesting underpainting – 2nd layer better than where I end up – in 2nd layer some shapes stylised but an interesting balance of colour and movement… 3rd layer loses energy (but some interesting openings) – right thing to paint over it with red dabs – final red interesting – subtle depth – think about what you want to push forward/push back? What do you want to say?
Reflection: I agree the 2nd layer is interestying:
It almost works in it’s own right, it just needs something… a focus/subject? I think it would have been better to develop this painting rather than push the painting down the, ‘I’ve got to follow the exercise’ route.
Having painted my self into a corner with the 3rd layer the red dabs were a rescue mission. I’m glad there is subtle depth as that was my intention… to have a very thin glaze for the red glaze so that I could overglaze to give depth, and the occasional drip.
It’s a difficult choice with an exercise because, because I never want to destroy a good idea, but I also want to learn, and finishing the exercise teaches me things I wouldn’t learn any other way… even if it destroys a good idea. So, I’m sometimes torn between painting as a learning step and painting as making a finished product.
Painting 1 and 2:
Tutor: Stripes – not clean/slick/slight angle downwards/some interesting colour combinations – no hard edges… both feel like formal experiments. Had beginnings of own voice in earlier work, here it is an exercise.
Reflection: I wanted to paint a stripe painting so the form is an exercise, but no more than if I decided to paint a landscape, which is a different form… a figurative realistic one with its own sets of visual rules and conventions. The stripes were painted intuitively in the moment, each relating to each other, so not as an exercise. And the second painting was purely what came into my head so not an exercise at all.
They may look like exercises in isolation compared to my more gestural work, but I’m enjoying trying out different ways of working.. like trying on different clothes to see which I like. It may even be that this style is my final voice… or one I use occasionally… or just a visual vacation.
Tutor: More interesting… subtle shimmer… interesting blue yellow combination… colour vibrating… pushing off edges…
Reflection: I’m learning a new visual vocabulary and a set of techniques, and having fun.
A new development is that my paintings all look much better in real life than on a photograph (it used to be the other way around). I like the way the background vibrates underneath a shifting colour ground and the colours glow, also the size also has an impact. It’s almost as if you switch the painting on in natural light, and you can’t reproduce that on a photograph.
The ‘subject’ in the form of the shapes are interesting in themselves but too formalised, I need a bigger canvas… or smaller subjects? Or maybe less variety of subjects? Because of the background interest it doesn’t look as bad in the flesh, but on the thumbnail it looks a bit like a number 5.
Tutor: Too close to a Heron… green/yellow works… red/purple well balanced.
Reflection: This was almost a copy of a Heron and done as an exercise… so much too close to a Heron. I wanted to see what it was like to paint with flat areas of colour and use the composition to create interest rather than make an open painting with glazes.
The colours are much more muted than Heron but the composition and relationship of his colour palette is so wonderful that it still works.
I painted it freehand from memory, so it’s not a ‘copy’, but again his composition is so masterful that even with my ‘adjustments’ it still powerful.
Tutor: Playful… similar colours to previous painting… not as clear an intention… raw… more naive than the Heron… it needs intention to work.
Reflection: Seen next to the Heron this looks hugely naive, but he was a world master at the height of his powers and I’m half way through my fist degree, so it’s not surprising.
The intent is a really interesting point, and I think it relates to this style of painting – flat all over colour (a bit like the Nabis in being blocks of colour – though there intent was totally different).
I agree withy my tutor that my painting lacks intent, and indeed, I painted it in the moment like John Hoyland without intent. Hoyland painted by reacting to the marks he had made on the canvas without thinking. Painting like that in the moment (in an unknowing way) by reacting to marks seems to work for paintings where there is a large degree of visual ambiguity, but not for ‘flat’ paintings like these… so maybe with visually unambiguous paintings intent has got to be a compositional element?
You also have the question of where that intent comes from, and how it is held in your head. Is it a visual intent such as the Nabbis portraying nature, or a more intellectual one… or maybe an emotional one? I remember reading about Hodgkin (who’s paintings definitely seem as if they’re about ‘something’ and remind me of a muddy version of Patrick Heron – rather than John Hoyland) who said his paintings were always about a remembered event, so at some level his ‘intent’ was to ‘represent’ or ‘capture’ those events.