Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Abstracting Figures

Three Posers  sold
Last Friday morning my friend Elisabeth and I painted together. She lives on one of the barrier islands on the west coast of Florida (off the Gulf of Mexico), and I have the good fortune to spend time in the same locale in November and the winter months. Elisabeth is a very talented painter of beautiful landscapes.  Our painting challenge was to 'play and experiment', do something different and complete what we started in one hour.

Sitting on the Edge
Sometimes the hardest part of painting is deciding what to do. My sketchbooks are full of images and plans for all sorts of paintings. I love drawing the human figure and often attend open life drawing studio sessions. During these sessions I usually start out drawing the figure quite accurately, however I inevitably start to distort proportions and exaggerate line and so have a collection of abstracted expressive figure drawings that sometimes find their way into larger paintings. I have included some of these works above, at the left and below right.

Seated Goddess

The day before our Friday painting date I had been looking at these drawings and did the small painting below. I love to accentuate the hips and contrapposto stance - giving the figure lots of attitude. A modern day Venus and so I am calling her Venus of Longbeach.

Venus of Longbeach  12"x16"
The last painting I will show you is the one I completed in the hour with Elisabeth. I had made a very simple thumbnail in my sketchbook of this pose, loosely based on the  The Bather of Valpincon by Ingres, but of course exaggerated. I was really drawn to how the shape of the figure filled the rectangular 'frame of reference' and decided to see what would happen with paint.

I began by painting the figure and then added the orange in the top right area around the figure and really liked that. Then I darkened the area below the ledge on which she is seated for some value contrast. I felt that the upper left quadrant needed more than just colour and so I added a palm branch (part of the Florida scenery) and sort of attached it to her through colour. Looking at it a day later it appeared to me that the figure was engaged in a common activity here and anywhere there is water: sitting at the beach watching the sun set (orange) over the water (blue below). And so it's called Island Sunset.

Island Sunset  18"x24"

Monday, 28 November 2011

Edge Loss Continues

Harmony in Blue and Green  30"x48"  SOLD
I completed this large still life soon after Edge Play, my first foray into the world of 'defocus and blur' in painting. While that was still a goal here, I found it difficult to limit my palette and reduce and simplify detail. (I love colour and I just had to go with my instinct as I painted, rather than be a slave to any formula.) It was easier in certain areas of the painting to blend the colour of the object into the background colour, or just soften the edge of an object through blurring. I do like how the wall at the right blends with the tree scene through the window at the left and then down into the table top. I also really like the intense colouring in some of the objects. Can you see the pastel lines suggesting some topical detail in the flowers? I do like drawing back into a painted area. I think it keeps me from getting too tight.
Peonies and Pears     24"x24"  SOLD
Here is another still life painted soon after Harmony. Again I have softened some object edges and the interior wall blends into window scene outside at the right, through colour. But again, the painting is more detailed than Edge Play.  
What do you like better? The more abstract nature of Edge Play or the more natural look of Harmony and Peonies?


Sunday, 27 November 2011

Lost and Found Edges

Edge Play  24"x 20" sold
This is a recent still life in which I wanted to 'play with edges' (hence the title) and the relationahip between 'figure and ground'. I began with a fairly straightforward drawing of the objects using black acrylic paint, and then as I painted, limited my palette to blues, yellows and greens, with a bit of red and orange for contrast.
I had been thinking about something Robert Genn (of the Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letter) had written  in A Free Chapter of "The Painter's Keys"  about making "lists or recipes...systems you use: plans, directions, techniques" when painting and then gives a sample recipe list. Among the many important ideas is defocus: "Paintings that are equally sharp and focused are boring. When we work from life, our eyes dart around the subject, focusing on each item, and this creates a problem. Real life is different....Your paintings will pick up life if subjects you wish to feature are sharper, and secondary elements softer". Then he goes on and suggests that by blurring some subjects and areas in your paintings you can "Create mystery and paucity. Paucity means smallness of number or quantity. In art it means the minimal expression needed to convey the form or idea." He talks about reinforcing negative space areas and suggests lost and found edges: "Evaporate some things and let the viewer's eye behold some mystery and excitement."
I began to look for those ideas (defocus, blur, lost & found edges) in the work of other artists and immediately thought of Henri Matisse. In his painting The Blue Window you see a collection of still life objects arranged on a rectangular surface in the lower third of the composition. Behind this is a window through which you can see a highly stylized voluptuous tree, some hills and sky with one lone cloud. All other parts are painted in varying shades of blue so that the distinction between table surface, interior wall, and outdoor three dimensional space is blurred, creating a wonderful play between figure and ground, reality and illusion. You can see similar ideas at work in The Red Studio and Harmony in Red as well.

Tulips, Pears and Peaches
With Matisse's paintings and Robert's ideas in mind I started painting my still life. My 'normal' artistic approach with this kind of subject is to draw the objects accurately in a credible three dimensional space. Once I have claimed the image as mine on the canvas, I follow my intuition in how I paint and the colours I use. The two paintings at the left are more typical of my style.

Really Big Pears 
My goals in Edge Play were to blur the lines between object and background, find and lose edges, and ultimately play with space and illusion. I loved the painting process - the internal decision making as to which edge to lose by blending the object's colour with the background colour, and which edge and therefore object to maintain and focus on. At the same time of course, there was the need to keep design principles in mind -  location of focal point, rhythm, harmony etc. Probably the biggest challenge was to just let some objects be a weird (even for me) colour - and here I am thinking about the daffodil leaves, vase, and pears.  I am very happy with the painting and see it as the first in a new series in which I will continue to explore lost and found edges.
What do you think?

Friday, 25 November 2011

One Photo - Two Paintings

A couple of years ago I was visiting friends in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. One day we drove to Comox and along the way I snapped photos of the landscape, through the car window.  Of course none of the photos were great, nor could I really capture the magnificence of what I saw, but that has never stopped me from trying!
One of the photos inspired two very different paintings, as you will see below. The photo reference is above, and the first of the two paintings is below.
Road to Comox 30" x 40" sold
I worked on this Road to Comox  for several months, really not sure what I was doing. At that point I had not painted many (any) landscapes (too much green, too many leaves!). I had been working with Japanese coloured and textured washi (and other) collage papers at the time and decided to add some of the paper in the rock area of the composition. Once I started adding paper onto the canvas, I just kept going, especially in the leaf area of the trees. At the same time I painted over top of the paper......until the work was finished. I was delighted with the completed painting, a highly stylized landscape with a richly textured, colourful surface. 

But.....the story continues! Sometiomes I just can't get an old image out of my mind, even though there are so many new ones competing for attention. (Is this what Monet thought when painting haystacks and cathedral facades?) Often I don't even realize that the image is there, just percolating away. Last week, inspiration took hold, and this was the very different result.

BC Back Road  30" x 40" SOLD
You will see that this painting  is closer in form to the original photo, but I have, as usual, taken liberties with the colour and overall interpretation. No collage paper additions here, but there is lots of pastel mixed in with the acrylic paint. You may be able to see some of the lines, especially in the lower/central green and purple area. The finished painting is presently sitting on my mantel and therefore under constant scrutiny - and I am loving it.  Again the surface is rich and visually textured, with lots of drama in the silhouetted trees .but relieved by the back light.  What do you think?
Do you ever revisit subjects, compsitions, or familiar images and re-interpret them? 
Have a great day.