At the beginning of this course I spent time going to exhibitions, I did the first project about Modernist painting and I tried to write reflectively. I felt very excited about all of these new activities. Then a friend invited me to visit a local gallery called DAFO where he introduced me to the person responsible for the initiative. He gave a long explanation of all their activities, the young international artists they associated with, the realities of the art world in Spain, the conceptual paintings they were exhibiting at that time. I felt absolutely overwhelmed by this encounter. I felt like a fraud, out of my depth. I thought I’m such an inexperienced amateur. The experience awoke in me my old fear of rejection which has dictated many of the decisions I’ve made in my life. But I’m very glad I went because for some reason this time the experience inspired me to work.
I came up with a little project to make abstract works on paper which could work as an installation, I felt very inspired by my new studio space and I wanted to create something in reaction to that. I had been looking at Sonia Delaunay’s textile designs on Pinterest and some other textile designs that I found very inspiring, so I began to work on this as I’ve described in this post. From the outset I came up against the main source of conflict in my work for this whole six month period, which is whether to paint figuratively or abstractly. What I’m really interested in achieving is something abstract that is inspired by figurative information from the world and throughout this time I’ve been attracted to the work of artists who work or have worked in this way (Richard Diebenkorn, Daniel Galas, Aubrey Levinthal to name a few).
During this time I blogged about Alice Browne’s work, she works very quickly, usually on a coloured background, so I took her lead and just began to paint using my intuition and some ideas from patterns I found online. Another influence on this work was the artist Julie Torres who also works very quickly and intuitively, and on paper. I love the naivety, impulsiveness and energy of her work.
Shortly after this time I saw a photo of an exhibition of Amy Sillman’s where she had printed out stills from her animated film ‘Pinky’s rule’. I discovered that she had used her iPhone to make the drawings for the animation so I decided to have a go.
I like the way she draws with paint, as well as her use of visible layering. Moreover, the importance she places on colour really appeals to me and the idea that painting is a like having a conversation with oneself. This reminded me of an interview I saw with Albert Irvin where he talks about the difference between working from life and working abstractly; he said that when working from life there is a three way connection between yourself the subject and the canvas but when working on abstracts it’s just between yourself and the canvas. This really helped me to understand the process of painting abstracts as opposed to figurative paintings and to see them as quite separate activities.
I think the main impact of reading Clement Greenberg’s essay on Modernist painting was that I felt drawn to the work of artists from that period and started looking at more paintings by artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard; I really enjoy their use of colour and highly decorated surfaces. This text also helped me to see that a lot of my perceptions of painting and art in general are constructs. It helped me to trust my own ideas and intuition in terms of my work. This sounds a bit vague and I’m not sure what examples to give at this time but I think this refers to a general acceptance of myself and of my desire to paint and make things. I felt that if art has been mystified then it’s normal for me to feel mystified about it.
It’s important to mention that I do look at a lot of paintings every day, thanks to my iPhone; I spend hours looking at other people’s work. I think this is great but sometimes I lose myself a bit and wishing to achieve something similar to what someone else has done I always come up short. But I have become aware of this and now I can find my own voice without being overly affected by outside influences.
I made these paintings after the Christmas break. I hadn’t painted for a while and I really enjoyed this couple of hours of freedom in the studio, these are some of my favourite pieces from the last 6 months. I felt like I was finally finding myself in my work. But then illness struck, mine and my daughter’s and having to spend more and more time away from the studio I sort of lost the thread of this series. It was during this time that I spent more and more time looking at other people’s work and began to lean towards painting figuratively again. I also took a lot of photos. The following pictures are taken from my sketchbooks from this time. They are all drawn from photographs I’ve taken.
After reading Susan Sontag for the project on photography I decided not to draw from photos so much, it made me think about my fear of drawing from life. I don’t like making a spectacle of myself and that’s what drawing in public feels like to me. Drawing from photos is safer but then my pictures are also seen through a lens and I’m not sure whether that’s a positive thing. Sontag’s essay On Photography made me think about when I want to take photos. Normally I feel like taking photos when I see something I would like to paint, and instead of painting it I take the photo so I know that if I have time and some space to paint I can go back to that image. But the truth is I rarely do end up painting the thing I’ve photographed. In the essay she says that nowadays if we don’t photograph our experience it’s as if it never happened; if we don’t capture those moments we’ll never be able to return to that treasured time. It reminds me of the project I did on Fetishising the object of your eye, which talks about the need to be part of the things that we look at, to own them and feel associated with them. I feel that need in terms of figurative painting; to capture things I see. I think that’s why I keep going back and forth between figurative and abstract styles. Working abstractly is an interior process that could involve the memory of something I’ve seen, but also something I’ve felt or nothing that I can put my finger on. This is liberating for me.
So I went back to abstract and began a series using oil paints, which I have very little experience with, so it was quite exciting to use a completely different medium.
With this series I was trying to be as loose as possible but with more painterly mark making than in previous abstracts. I think this is largely down to looking at paintings by Patrick Heron and Australian artist Inga Dalrymple. The small scale of the work is also influenced by Dalrymple’s beautiful small canvases as well as allowing me to work on a lot of pieces simultaneously.
What I’ve noticed about my way of working over this time is that I have bursts of energy and enthusiasm but that I get bored quite quickly so I need to change things up. I also need to work quickly to take advantage of this energy. I can easily overwork my paintings and that’s something I’m still battling with. Oil paint is quite an amazing material to work with but quite time consuming. Much like the works on paper from before Christmas I worked exclusively on this series for a time and then something happened in my life that meant I lost my momentum and I went back to figurative work again.
These two images were made based on photographs, but the important thing is that I painted them on paper, which brought me back to working on paper again, the significance of working on paper is that it’s low pressure for me and therefore liberating.
From studying the project Photography the new reality I learnt about the impact the emergence of photography had on European painting. How it took over painting’s role of representing objects, people and picturesque scenes to a large extent leaving artists free to extend the limits of painting. This encouraged me to appreciate the validity of painting abstractly.
I began to work on paper again and created a series of abstract paintings using acrylic and pencil all on A3 sized paper. I worked on these paintings very quickly and I feel like they’re much freer and experimental than previous work. I felt liberated making them and I see this as a result of learning about art theory and of my growing confidence in myself. During this period I also began to connect with artists I admire and have started making some friends. This has given me an enormous boost as I felt very isolated before.
After reading some more about Patrick Heron’s life and work I see how much his work has impacted my own. His use of bright colour, shapes, line, and drawing in his later work; how his work is abstract but also a celebration of the visible; the influence of landscape and nature on his work and his aim to make all areas of the painting of equal importance. I think what I strive for is a loose abstract style that is influenced by the visible and is full of life.