This gallery contains 9 photos.
exercise: quick sketches around the house – moving around 45 degrees and drawing from standing and then sitting.
exercise: simple perspective in interior studies
I’m laughing as I write up this exercise – I clearly wasn’t inspired. I’ve done the exercise but not any more. There’s no sense of investigation here, there was nothing I was interested in getting across. I’m not disinterested in interiors, perhaps it’s as mundane as not being able to look about my home without thinking about all that I should be doing in it – water that plant, clean the dog sofa, fix the lock on that door, hook the curtain back up, cobwebs, dirty trainers etc etc.
Despite this lack of inspiration, it’s interesting that this small piece of work did feed in to my Assignment and the drawings and the time spent trying to understand the perspective of this hallway helped.
Your painting for this assignment should demonstrate your understanding of colour, tone, composition and the development of your technique in your chosen medium.
Set up a still life in the corner of a room or table – somewhere that gives a surrounding context. Alternatively, you may want to develop further one of the sketches or exercises that you’ve done in this part of the course.
I enjoyed painting the hammer in this part of the course. It triggered a train of thought about specific memory and our past in general. I like the ambiguity of it, that it may trigger something different in each of us. Perhaps our own memories, maybe fear, laughter, maybe just puzzlement. I want to follow on with another piece of equipment, an old crop sprayer, something I bought years ago at a local junk sale. We live by vineyards, and at one point these backpack sprayers were commonplace. Today it’s tractors with complicated attachments that choke out their poison.
I bought the crop-sprayer (no small decorative item, it’s large and heavy) because of its extraordinary patina, it’s twisted leather straps, for the lid with its wooden handle and rusty screw head, for the strange bent pipe attached at the base. These sprayers were made of copper and filled with copper sulphate – used to keep mildew off the grapes.
As with the hammer I’m intrigued by the marriage of man to tool to land. I feel that both the crop sprayer and hammer were used at a time when we worked in harmony with the land. Just about. We took what we needed, maybe a little more. But we didn’t stop there. This crop sprayer not only holds the memory of that farmer who used it, but it’s a reminder of the start of our greed, and our consequent need to conquer nature, to have it bend to our will and not us to its.
Playing about with various settings. I had the idea of placing it in our hallway – occupied with abandoned leather cattle yoke and feeding trough before our renovation began – a reminder that it was here first, a ghost waiting to walk the vines. But with four animals and two teens in the house it would be madness to set up a still life in the hallway.
I was recently struck by William Scott’s Mackerel on a Plate (1951-2) on display in the newly renovated Tate St Ives. As if lit by a ray of moonlight it has a ghostly presence, glowing out of the darkness. This idea of glowing works for me here – the reminder of our toxic presence in the fields we take over.
Quick sketches show that the green patina of the crop sprayer could be made to pop out, almost like neon. The ambiguity of a quirky vintage item representing our alien presence in nature.
The pipe on the sprayer is stiff and unwieldy and in reality bends out to the left but I was interested in having it come toward the viewer – a toxic umbilical cord to the shortcuts of intensive farming, but also a reminder of our connection to the people that lived here before us, walking these flagstones and these vines.
How I feel about the final painting:
In the same way as when I painted the onions, I became stressed as things didn’t go well. However once I had got to the point where I felt I had nothing to lose, I started working more instinctively and it paid off. Areas where I have quickly put down ‘placeholders’ of colour to go back to, (the smudge of blue at the top near the lid and the rapid pale brushmarks) ended up being the marks that I think worked best – the placeholders became permanent.
As I was working I was acutely aware of what I’ve learnt so far – of how the colour of the background (here, Indian Red) can play a part, of how to make colours ‘pop’, the huge range of colour that can come from the three primary colours and how by sticking to a limited palette, colours sit easily alongside each other. I used three colours: Winsor Lemon, Prussian Blue and Indian Red along with white and the tiniest touch of violet (not sure it was even neccessary) and some black mixed into the background.
My idea (taking from a tip from The Big Painting Challenge) was to have two paintings on the go at the same time, to stop the fretting and tightening up. In the end one has followed the other. Being happy with the first one meant I could ‘play’ with the second, something I feel unable to do when I have the requirements of the Assignment rattling around my head….though I know playing is the route to a more interesting outcome.
However before long I seemed to be just recreating the first painting, and not in a good way. Going back to my sketchbook and thinking about the approaches and effects I found intriguing – the ghostly traces, the placing in the (now renovated) farm building, I worked over the painting in chalk, picking out the lines of our entrance hall where I had originally wanted to place the crop sprayer.
A painting I saw a few months ago was in the back of my mind. Francis Bacon’s Study after Velazquez, I can’t really say why, except that it is something about the way he placed his figure in an architectural space – which leads us to those questions about what is really where, and what part our mind is playing.
How I feel about the second finished piece:
I’m not sure about it, not at all. BUT I am happy to have tried something new….I had no idea I could use chalk on the dark paint (blindingly obvious!) and I particularly like the effect of the chalk through the wet paint – sometimes removing paint, sometimes laying down chalk, depending I suppose on how dry the surface is. .
I like the slight sense of uncertainty created by the overlap of drawing and painting, though it feels a bit messy. I wonder if the stairs to the left are too dominating…?
It feels quite personal to me. We kept the carcass of this farm building, laying down our modern interior, but it still holds ghosts of those that were far more connected to the land than we are today. Though we live here now, the land around has become just a view and a place to walk the dog.
I had two trains of thought regarding this crop sprayer – one that it marks the beginning of our hideous relationship with nature, and secondly that we are forever walking in the footsteps of others that were here before us. Each painting has led from a different path of thought.
With its new additional gallery space St Ives finally has its permanent collection on display. Three rooms combine paintings and sculptures alongside cabinets of letters, photographs, books and exhibition posters referencing the St Ives School. In a tucked away hidey-hole a BFI film reel of Barbara Hepworth at work in St Ives is played on loop. Having first visited St Ives as a 16 year old (a long, long time ago!) and been a repeat visitor ever since, the work of these artists has slowly seeped in to me over the years so it was wonderful to see their work side by side and in their place.
My only complaint (sorry, Tate) is the placement of Lanyon’s St Just and Thermal. It’s impossible to stand back from St Just for hitting a cabinet behind, and the lighting in the gallery throws a reflection top left. Thermal is in a wonderful spot (with the ocean in view through those wonderful curved windows), however a glittery gold sculpture in the foreground is distractingly close.
The force of this painting in the flesh is undeniable. It’s so solid and despite the red that might suggest energy, it’s presence is more of confidence and a charisma that demands attention. Its description mentions a friendship with Patrick Heron and possible influence by Piet Mondrian who was attracting a lot of interest at the time. In this painting Hilton is described as expanding ‘the idea of blocks of primary colours to suggest a human form’. I didn’t see human form in the image, and didn’t need to. The texture of the white ground intrigued me, and I suppose did render the black and red more figure than abstract.
It was a treat to find Peter Lanyon’s sculpture (construction of oil paint on wood and sheet metal) placed just in front of Porthleven. I’ve never seen any of his sculpture before and the similarity to his painting is striking. Both thrust upward, as if he is punching up through land and sea with a giant’s fist, letting land and wave, mine and boat fragment like shrapnel.
Porthleven itself is dominated by its church, standing strong against winter storms, and yet in this painting it looks precarious, carelessly painted with a couple of brushstrokes, as if telling us to look elsewhere for the soul of this place. Sea and land are tossed about by a hidden energy. The painting feels part cross-section of the land, delving deep underground, and part view from above. The emotion Lanyon has for this land is palpable through his paintings. As if he is trying to grasp all the elements at one time, the force of the sea and wind, the danger of the mines, the history of those that live here.
Just as I was moving away from the painting a school group were being given a talk by a member of the Tate staff who told them how Lanyon had spent months with his sketchbook before completing the actual painting in just two hours. This explains the sheer energy of the piece, I’m not sure it would be possible to convey that through something laboured and meticulous.
Above: detail of Porthleven. Paint is applied quite thinly, canvas is bare in parts
My notes from standing in front this: “The more I look the more I see/feel:cool mists, shadows over land, harbours, sea mists, rolling land, boats, slicing of land, iron ore. Looks like paint has been rubbed in/off board and then painted. Quite thin paint again”
above: detail from West Penwith
This painting felt much more worked than Porthleven and the size and elongated proportion I found a bit frustrating – as if it was containing something bigger. However it also gave a sense of travelling along the landscape, reading it, as if from left to right.
This painting surprised me – I know next to nothing of Dubuffet – and this doesn’t represent the little I thought I knew of him. It reminded me of Basquiat – the scratching doodles, the townscape silhouette reminiscent of a crown. As with Lanyon, this feels forceful, full of a contained energy pushing up through the land, Dubuffet’s scratchings revealing hidden layers.
Though I knew Sandra Blow had a studio in St Ives, I’ve never given her work much time before now. This visit I found myself very drawn in to the few works I saw – Orange Field (screen print on sale at the Porthminster Gallery), Space and Matter (above) and Vivace (1988) and I wonder if that is as a result of beginning to use paint myself. Cornwall is all about its rock – a myriad of colours and textures – and in this painting I can sense Blow investigating the texture of that rock.
In Space and Matter, Blow uses liquid cement, chaff and charcoal. The whole gives a sense of the forces that created the formation of Cornwall. I was intrigued to find that Blow worked closely with Lanyon while in Cornwall, she has the same feeling of working fast to capture energy.
One of the joys of this collection is how the pieces feel so deeply connected to the place. Nuam Gabo isn’t from Cornwall but arrived in the 1930s and was a major influence on other artists. This piece feels connected to Hepworth and Lanyon in particular. Every angle is beautiful, a movement slicing through land, sea and sky.
This painting that can simultaneously take your breath away and set the pulse racing. It’s a whirlwind of sensation. The sensation of how our body feels.
My notes from standing in front: “Hits you like unexpected surf. Whirling. This is what it’s like to be a seagull. Areas of nothing (blue lower right) a blank, sea, then a twist, a lightness – up and down altogether looking up (white) and looking down (blue) and the mix. From the lable Peter Lanyon noted “sitting in the air you are sitting in all dimensions”.
I’m only at the beginning and have already learnt a heap of stuff: opacity v transparency in paints (I didn’t quite get this in part one, but doing the colour work has made it obvious), colour mixing (I’ve been sticking to the three primary colours out of sheer terror for the choice, but now I’ve seen in practice how I can go anywhere with the three primaries) and white – having only dabbled in watercolour to add colour to sketches white was quite alien, and now I see that it can be used in a host of ways.
Though I didn’t spend that long on the exercise ‘drawing with paint’, I did find it interesting and in some ways reassuring. It’s the one exercise I’m most keen to revisit, I’ve always noticed when painters use a line to delineate, to separate colours. Likewise I notice when colours butt up next to each other, and what this can do for impressions of light.
I’ve learned a great deal about colour through the colour theory exercises and have hugely grown in confidence when it comes to mixing.
More and more I find art that I have seen (in the flesh) seeps in to what I’m working on myself, sometimes from something I didn’t think I had paid that much attention to, or sometimes from work I didn’t even like that much.
I know that my tendency is to tighten up, and I’ve noticed that at the stage when I think I have ‘nothing left to lose’ I start to make more interesting work. If I’m to be able to cut straight to this point, I need to remember this from the outset. Maybe think of Diebenkorn’s advice to ‘violate the canvas’.
As ever my main frustration is the lack of time to be able to get lost in the paint – to let it lead me, rather than the exercises.
Research the work of the Dutch realist genre painters and choose two or three paintings that particularly appeal to you. Find out what you can about the artist and their intentions. Look at the devices employed by the painter to draw the viewer into the experience of the occupants of the room.
In the book The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, it’s the works of Jan Steen that get my attention, mainly for their humour, perhaps absurdity. An artist of the C17th, Steen was working at a time when the move against the Catholic Church had all but put an end to paintings of religious, even mythological or historical subject. The focus was on contemporary life, though as with Dutch still life there are no shortages of signs and symbols to give us an insight into the image but also as a reminder of our own life.
In both The Morning Toilet and The Physician’s Visit, the scene is full of detail, giving us clues as to what we’re looking at. In both objects in the foreground feel as if they’re within reaching distance of us. Objects disappear off the side of the frame, giving the sense that if we take a step forward and in to the room we’ll see more.
In The Morning Toilet there is a clear sense of looking into a brightly lit room from a darker hallway. The woman is brightly lit against the darker confines of the curtained bed. Above the bed we see the ceiling and shadowy corners of the room. The tiled floor helps with the sense of perspective as does the bedside mat. Between us and the woman lie a trail of objects, leading us in or out of the space: shoes, a lute, skull and book – the pages of which tip over the step in the immediate foreground.
We are close to the action in The Physician’s Visit, we would have to lift our head or turn to see the whole room. Though the sense of light direction is not as obvious as in The Morning Toilet, there is a distinction between where the main action occurs and where the woman’s husband (?) sits reading in the background. This is a snapshot, a moment in time, as the pulse is taken, the boy takes aim with his arrow, the doctors and maid cast a conspiratorial glance at each other.
For Pieter de Hooch the structure of the space has equal, if not more importance to the overall image than what fills it. As JM Nash describes de Hooch: “His art depended on the manipulations of space. At best he was a wonderful inventor of spacial effects. Nature and the laws of optical perspective were at his command. Planes, intervals, doors, shutters, corridors obey his will. Light calls at his command.” (Nash, 1973)
We see this clearly in The Courtyard of a House in Delft in which the lines of perspective can almost be seen leading away to the imaginary point on the horizon. Again, there is the immediate foreground of barrels and cooking pot within the courtyard, the brick tiles, the darkened corridor, arched entrance and door ajar to the bright street beyond. To the left, a shutter opens towards us revealing the dark, unlit interior.
Nash, J. (1973). The age of Rembrandt and Vermeer. London: Phaidon.