This was in the form of a video chat which I find most useful as I can question anything I don’t understand, and the tutor can ask for clarification or feedback.
This was an extremely useful tutorial as having crossed over from figuration to abstraction I was unsure how to move forward.
Option 1: Project 3: Exercise 1.2: The Digital
Tutor: It’s interesting how these two paintings work together, a linear painting combined with a broad slightly gestural one. They are a bit close tonally but there are some interesting lighter sections/gaps.
Me: This feeds in well to my work on Option 4: Liminality as I have started to think about how one visual veil can obscure another to create interest. I agree about the tonal similarity… if this were black and white it would be almost uniformly grey.
Trump glitch – speech with rioters storming Capitol Hill
Tutor: This is effective… the dissolves create visual and narrative ambiguity… this is an interesting way into painting.
Me: If you know the story and the original photographs you can read this but otherwise the images and narratives are struggling to come into focus. However, given his iconic black coat, red tie, orange face, and fist this is obviously Trump (to this generation on that day) and the top of Capitol Hill is also iconic, but the relationship has been blurred. This makes something that was linear (a speech leading to a riot) into something that is non-narrative, almost suspended in time. Combining two clear – real/photographic – images to create a new piece which is visually ambiguous, out of time and place, and becomes a conceptual piece about hidden power/fading power is a very interesting quality and one I could explore in abstract painting.
Kandinsky painting blended with mine
Tutor: Works well – joyful/expressive… would have preferred more movement. Lots of circular shapes.
Me: It’s strange as even though this is filled with colour and marks (so you might expect it to be throbbing with movement) there is no line of travel through the painting and it ends up static, like a photograph of an explosion with shrapnel frozen in mid air.
Series of A5 studies:
Tutor: Colourful/abundant – joyful. Very busy. Very in the moment. Not critical in the formal aspects. Is energy enough? Is colour enough? I need to be more detached critically – very close tonally.
Me: My answer is that energy is not enough… nor is colour. Piling on primary colour is a rabbit hole I’ve been disappearing down (almost in spite of myself like a kid enjoying a sugar rush) and this is a very timely reminder of the wonderful complexity of texture and tone.
I then mentioned the tonal differences and drama in Turner:
Tutor: Turner was of his time – don’t want to do too much drama – allow the joy and mark making to come through without heightening the drama too much.
In between colours are useful – the relationship between colours is critical – context dictates how they will operate – a neutral tone has a sense of purpose.
Me: Being an actor I think I was instinctively drawn to the narrative and drama of Turner, which is very far from abstract. Looking at his painting of a ship in a snowstorm is like watching a disaster movie.
I had corralled myself into using exclusively strong primary colours (I think because it was an easy tool to reach for), almost to the point of not being able to use unsaturated colours/in between colours.
I will introduce in between colours.
Tutor: My research is fine.
Me: I enjoy academic research and find it informs my painting as much as material research. Not knowing the academic level expected for Level 2 it’s reassuring to know that I’m getting this right.
Option 1: Project 4: Exercise 1.3: Mirroring and the multiple image: Practical
Tutor: Liked the charcoal stencil… strong but with a textural edge… liked the stacking of earlier version (above)… inclusion of mirrors in stack works compositionally… moving the viewer through space.
Less convinced by the acrylic paint, doesn’t resonate as well as the charcoal… edge gets lost with the acrylic. Liked the process and maze.
Me: The 3D stack in space incorporating the mirrors moves you through space… and the charcoal stenciling is attractive with its heavy grey black and softened edges. The grains of charcoal on the paper turn the lettering into mark making so it becomes a painting rather than graphic lettering.
The sharp blotchy acrylic edges don’t work at all… I could have stencilled charcoal letters for the maze and then stuck the mirrors on. Potentially the stack would make an effective sculpture and was a good exercise but is not where my future lies.
Tutor: The 1st painting and where end up are very different… the final painting is the strongest.
Tutor: How did I find the marble dust?
Me: I found it hard to use and dusted it over the whole surface which made it milky, so used it visually rather than texturally. I assume it should be used to give texture.
Tutor: It is difficult to use and using it visually is a good idea.
It can be added to gesso to give it more bite and to impasto gels to give them texture… I can understand why you use oil but there are some interesting (thicker) acrylic paints.
Tutor: Interesting and effective combination of colours with primaries, earthy orange, and zingy purple, but it looks contrived… however lots of learning going on in the process on form and colour… important decisions… effective colours that aren’t flat such as the blue block… interesting relationship between shape and colour.
This is maybe a specific road of abstraction that is not for me. Look at the work of Bridget Riley – her studies more than her finished paintings.
How do I feel about this style of painting?
Me: It’s a little cold and ascetic and not really me, I like to engage emotionally. However, it does hold a kind of detached fascination like looking at a butterfly in a display case.
Tutor: Maybe that’s enough to have a journey with it?
Tutor: Preferred the earlier stage of this with more space – another joyful painting with abundant colour and shape. Look at Patrick Heron’s garden paintings…. abstracts/colourful.
The earlier stage had more tension… problem with abundance is it’s difficult to maintain compositional tension. Too many hard edges… need variety of marks and soft edges.
It’s verging on the decorative – has an evenness of shapes. It is too abundant – needs more space and definition. The final painting is too resolved (I have taken away the tension). Needs coherence and balance but not in an easy way – needs ambiguity – could explore this in future paintings.
As I go through the process I will get better at trusting my instinct and judging when to leave a painting – there is often a better solution than resolving it.
This (final) painting is the most successful.
(Referring back to the 1st painting)…
There is more tension between tonal choices than the final painting, but it’s on the cusp of being muddy. Interesting gestures and a bundle of movement which is trying to settle… much more to do in this direction… investigate space/gaps/the unknown and combine this with this energy of mark making.
Look at Sam Francis – beautiful paint handling – how he handles energy/mark making and spaces.
Have a few paintings on the go with different amounts of colour and tension. Modify them in places so not all bright – be more selective – make watercolour studies – be experimental.
Try different colours – have a more thoughtful investigation of colour – use dead colour – it’s dull but enhances painting – all this is an interesting area to explore.
Me: I think I made myself some false rules in order to cross from figuration to abstraction such as having no grounding for my painting. For example, I gave myself the rule of not responding to any external visual/experiential or conceptual stimulus because I didn’t want to be referential. Painting a representation, even the joy of a sunset, felt like copying and detached me from the painting process. My answer was to respond solely to the marks on the canvas like improvising jazz.
Tutor: Try different styles… approach the subject with more depth… try several paintings in the same style (gestural?) but with differences…
Me: I know abstraction is where I want to be but having made the emotional transition (which was difficult) I now feel lost. I have lots of experience as an adult (and on this course) on judging figuration but have no (knowing) experience of making or judging abstraction.
Tutor: Finding me is going to be important… WHO I AM.
Make simple intimate studies… What do I find interesting? What do I want to say?
Am I interested in painting the sublime? Or is it the paint itself that fascinates me… or responding to the mark.
Me: I love nature and being in the elements… I used to go fly fishing and I’d look down and trout would be feeding between my legs. The sense of oneness with nature excites me, not in a religious sense… not walking through nature… not ‘looking at’ views like a camera… but the moment when you become part of the landscape.
Tutor: Maybe what I want to say is rooted in something closer to home – find the real source of my energy. Express my essential self in making my work. It will evolve with the work and become clearer. You don’t have to find it in words, that’s why you’re painting.
Find what matters to me – What does it feel like? Melancholy? Threatening? What resonates?
Sit in nature and take a watercolour sketchbook – or pastel – jot down a few words – some shapes (I don’t have to describe a tree) – capture space and movement – then use these techniques/resources to make a painting. It helps to have some foundation (in reality) with abstraction. The expressive quality is stronger if it is responding to something. It’s worth trying to see what comes out of it (sketching in nature).
Purely studio painting can be contrived – work from life then abstract – so it becomes something else – (this way of working) has more originality as it is rooted in a response to something in the world which gives it energy. The same source of inspiration but leading to a different work – so not a tree but a response to the tree.
Experience of landscape is very connected to the painting experience – the materiality of landscape and changing light is very close to painting.
Me: This feels like a release. It means that I can paint abstracts in response to nature. It’s the best of both worlds because I can use what I connect to (nature) and paint in a way that excites me (abstraction).
Now, I’ve just got to go away a learn how to do it!