Before you go any further in Part Five, give some thought to the piece of written work that you’ll submit as part of Assignment Five. This will be a research project into the historical and contemporary use of a specific painting medium. You should write around 500 words and illustrate your essay appropriately. For this written project, choose a painting medium that you enjoy and have used during this course and look at one historical and one contemporary artist who uses the same medium.
For example, if you were to choose watercolour, you might look at J.M.W. Turner and Emma Talbot and investigate the different ways they use watercolour and why you find these appealing and effective. Reflect on the influences these artists have had on your work and ways in which you might continue to use the medium in your work.
For Part 5 of the course I followed a different path than in previous course work and left off posting anything onto my online learning log until the last minute. I felt that this time I wanted to concentrate on the work itself rather than the technology of posting material to the learning log.
However, I believe that in leaving the write-up of my course work to the end (last week of June prior to 3 July deadline) it has allowed me to take in a wider overview and perspective on what I have been exploring during the research, the course exercises and the final assignment. In some way, a more holistic approach.
So, for the research write up I am drawing on the notes, images and text from the last two months since I started Part 5.
As can be seen from my research notes below, and in the notes for my essay, I looked at more artists than were mentioned in the brief. I found the task of focusing on three artists particularly challenging and have much more supporting material than it is possible to cover here in the space and time available. For example, I have notes on all of the artists mentioned in the brief and elsewhere in the course material stored on my online Evernote account, which I continue to populate and refer to.
But a selection of three artists must be made according to the research brief. So here goes.
I find it difficult to begin discussing artists depicting their close environment without mentioning Leonardo da Vinci. His 15th century Flower Studies [metalpoint, pen and ink on slightly brownish paper] is arguably one of the first examples of close detailed botanical drawing:
The precision and detail displayed in Audubon’s work is to be admired. However, in terms of my own work, I have been gradually developing a style of painting that is less detailed and more inclined towards the painterly, gestural and even abstract.
My second artist is Michael Landy and his brief excursion into botanical illustration, particularly his Nourishment prints of found London ‘street flowers’ / weeds:
Again fairly detailed, showing roots and above ground spread of flower, this image draws on the history of botanical illustration. However, again I find that it is not really for me. I could, I am sure, view my own environment in this way, but this does not fit with my developing style, other than in the abstractness of the shape/form when I half-close my eyes – roots, body and arms (and legs).
My third chosen artist is Archie Franks. His 2016 painting Fragments displays a more vibrant exploration of the natural environment:
As Sally O’Reilly writes: “Luscious canvases complicate the blunter visuals that high-key leisure, with its bright lights and artificial flavourings, deliver. The encrustation of paint perverts slick mass-cultural banality and suggests a historical specificity, a subjective response. The paintings seem friendly but barbed or reticent. … The Baroque, Franks notes, fully acknowledges its own illusionism, and draws analogies with the fictional spaces of the psyche. It is this self-awareness that Franks instils in the work…” Available at: http://archiefranks.com/approach/ [Accessed 1 June 2017].
What attracts me to this painting is the vibrancy of the brush work and what Ian Sinclair observes as “Green is seductive. There’s something unnatural about its chemistry.” In: Sinclair, I. (2003) London Orbital: a walk around the M25. [e-book] London: Penquin Books, p.155.
From my reading I also picked up the observation that ““Place” is a restlessly changeable phenomenon.’ In: MacFarlane, R. (2009) The wild places. [e-book] London: Granta Books, p.143. This gels with my viewing of Fragments and of my own natural environment.
During the course of the Part 5 exercises and in the final assignment I have been inspired by what Paul Nash spoke of as “unseen landscapes”. Speaking about the Wittenham Clumps in Oxfordshire, he observed that these unseen landscapes `’…belong to the world that lies, visibly, about us. They are unseen merely because they are not perceived; only in that way can they be regarded as invisible.”
I have opened my eyes and my mind to what lies around me in my ‘taken for granted’ local environment and have attempted to capture something of the idea and essence of it in my work.
My research notes for Part 5 are as follows. Please click on the image to enlarge it.
Do your own research into some of the artists mentioned in the course notes. Can you find any other examples of tondo painting? Try to decide why the artist in question has decided to paint in this format. Look also at artists who have focused on aspects of the domestic interior. Does any of this work give you any ideas for your tondo painting in Part Four?
A tondo is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art, notably employed for paintings of the Madonna during the early Italian Renaissance.
“In this tondo Michelangelo placed, next to the stern Madonna, a Child whose pose recalls that of ancient funeral genii. Thus the overall effect, despite the apparently playful attitude of the Child, is deeply serious, and the Madonna has an almost prophetic force, because of her size, which bursts out from the frame of the relief.” Available at: http://www.wga.hu/html_m/m/michelan/1sculptu/2/2tondo1.html [Accessed: 27 February 2017].
“The painting is not on a flat canvas but on a section of a wooden sphere that reproduces the shape of a convex mirror. It is said that Parmigianino had a ball of wood made up at a turner’s and then divided this in two, and on this he painted everything that he saw of himself in the mirror. The gilded circular frame surrounding the image also adds to the effect that the viewer is looking at a mirror.”
“Caravaggio was a pioneer in Italian Baroque style, which grew out of the Mannerist art movement. Italian Baroque was very similar to Italian Renaissance, yet the color palette was darker, and richer, and themes of religion were more popular.”
“…the purest of abstractions of this time, a circular painting of seven concentric bands of solid colours divided into quarters, with the more intense primaries and complementaries closer to the centre.” In: Foster, H., Krauss, R.E. and Bois, Y.-A. (2004) Art since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism and Postmodernism. New York: Thames & Hudson, pp.122-3.
“My paintings begin as a dialogue with an image from art history – a painting by an Old Master that may then be rearranged or used as a starting point from which to playfully but reverently deviate. My recent work is concerned with the struggle to capture the relationship between the spiritual and the sensual, apparent opposites that are expressed in my work through the conflict of high narrative themes and sensuous painterly marks. The sheer enjoyment of making these marks is not intended to be a Dionysian pursuit that drowns out the appearance of the real through a curtain of subjective, expressionistic gestures, but rather an attempt to transform and redeem the form through the act of making.”
Henny Acloque references images from medieval objects, works of Breugel, Cranach and German renaissance –
“Appropriating the work of deceased artists, I forensically unpick and reassemble the layers of each image I work from. I view my paintings as being evidence of evidence. I bind the paintings (mostly oval) with a glossy resin. This gives a sense of infinity, inferring that both the landscapes and our ideologies expand and contract outside the image” In: Bukantas, A. (ed.) (2012) The John Moores painting prize: 2012. Liverpool: National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, p.46.
“Temporal is from a series of paintings based on three-dimensional PET (positron emission tomography) scans. Hall writes: ‘I use medical imagery as my point of departure for a contemporary meditation on the nature of mortality. The idea of medical imagery, something that images the skeleton while we are still alive, seems somehow impossible for our minds to fully grasp. The body, presented in a form of stasis, is frozen between life and death.”
A still from “The video that I took of the shifting ice pack reflected in a replica Claude Glass, is reminiscent of the fragmented prints carried so many years before on the same route through the sea.” “Intrigued by the way in which the Nova Zembla prints and books were transformed through their time locked for centuries in the ice, I decided to make the journey into the pack ice of the Arctic. As a result, the objects themselves have taken on new meanings and associations for me. Retracing part of the route that Barents and his crew made to Nova Zembla, was an extraordinary experience.” Siân Bowen, Guest Artist in Drawing, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 2010-11.
Helen Chadwick, Body Visual, worked with embryonic tissue at Kings College, 1996. An exhibition of new commissions by artists examining key areas of medical science. Circular forms are common in science research (cultivations are often done in circular Petri dishes).
“As the title suggests (a tondo is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art), this artwork is part of a series with a circular form without edges. It is made of paper painted with ink and enamel, then glued on a canvas. Its round shape confers it a multidimensional character, since it can be hanged, in line with the artist’s intention, in four directions. As often with Kröner’s work, poetry and beauty emerge from the subtle combination of a relatively rigid framework (here, the vertical and horizontal grey lines), with more random and lively colour marks.”
John Currin “is best known for satirical figurative paintings which deal with provocative sexual and social themes in a technically skillful manner. His work shows a wide range of influences, including sources as diverse as the Renaissance, popular culture magazines, and contemporary fashion models. He often distorts or exaggerates the erotic forms of the female body, and has stressed that his characters are reflections of himself rather than inspired by real people. “His technical skills”, Calvin Tomkins has written, “which include elements of Old Master paint application and high-Mannerist composition, have been put to use on some of the most seductive and rivetingly weird figure paintings of our era.”
“From the perspective of contemporary art, the most influential purveyor of deformation may have been Philip Guston, who late in life turned from Abstract Expressionism to cartoonish paintings of body parts and anthropomorphic objects. Gusto’s willingness to jettison the pieties of Abstract Expressionism created great consternation among his AE colleagues, who saw his move as a betrayal of their common values. However, it also made him a hero among younger artists, who saw in his late work, permission to subvert god taste and formal decorum in an embrace of the grotesque. His paintings feature floating heads held submerged in water, giant eyeballs resting on the horizon like rising (or setting) suns, and dissolute smokers and drinkers glumly contemplating their lives from the safety of their beds, as in the aptly titles Painting, Smoking, Eating, 1973. In this, and many works, body parts and other objects – shoes, feet, irons, severed limbs, brushes, nails, books, cigarette buts – are piled or scattered over bleak landscapes.” In: Heartney, E. (2013) Art & today. London: Phaeton Press, p.195.
As well as being a place of safety and normality, ‘home’ can be “a place of waiting and trauma”. The narrative here might be an eavesdropper at the top of the stairs, listening in to dialogue they are not meant to hear? This domestic interior also contains nods to the painting of figures, interior space, hints at a landscape through the window and still life of a group of elephants marching along the windowsill. Leaving the viewer to ask “What is actually going on?”
Painted in an expressionist style, a uniform gray palette and with points of recognition of form and features – some floating and some firmly fixed. Oehlen has commented that painting has survived because it permits “the visible working through of inferences, misunderstandings, ideas to be criticized, and also your own mistakes. It’s not a principle, not a justification – it’s work. It means nothing else.”
Using found images from family photos Gottgens interprets the normal photographic representation of place/space in a more atmospheric manner by using techniques such as blurring, dripping, sweeping and pooling paint. “My aim is to create paintings that present a world slightly off-kilter, suddenly menacing and uncertain, in surreal scenes that express our fragile attempt at order in the face of entropy and collapse”.
Ideas for tondo painting
I like the idea if trying to create a piece along the lines of Parmigianino’s convex mirror-like wooden sphere painting. The renditions of Medusa by both Caravaggio and Mindy Lee fascinate me. The introduction of some abstraction also appeals along the lines of Delaunay and maybe too a cubist/surrealist approach similar to Dali.
The use of different kind of surfaces is also appealing, such as those used by Fairnington and others – wood, board, paper plates…
Verran’s use of delicate lines may also help with my colour pencil drawings for Exercise 4.2.
But most of all, I’m really looking forward to experimenting with thinned oil paint and different techniques of application, such as pooling, blurring, layering (e.g. Oehlen, Gottgens) as well as making expressive gestural marks (e.g. Andrews), while all the time trying to allude to some kind of narrative story (e.g. Murphy, Kentridge).
I had never worked on monotype prints before, although I do remember school days when I worked on lino prints. In preparing for this part of the course I looked around my stuff to see what I could bring to the creation of monotypes.
It’s amazing what you find amongst your possessions when you look closely – I came across an old ink print roller that I must have used on school day lino prints – you can see it here in the picture:
I also pinched various glass plates taken from pictures around the house (I will put them back once I clean them up, promise). Also seen in the image is a home-made baren (made from a drill buffing attachment), masking tape, kitchen roll, cotton buds, a dental prod for scraping paint, a hand-made ‘punchinella’ made from an old office wire filing tray to add paint texture, and a bottle of Liquin for thinning the oil paint.
Quite interesting for me was that I noticed I had used the old ink print roller on a previous course as a still life object:
At my time of life, in my sixties, it is pleasing to know that I can remember such synchronicities.
This meaningful coincidence linked with ‘the trial and error…inherent in the monotype process’ resulted in a most enjoyable, messy period of experimentation throughout the exercises.
There have been successes and failures – as predicted in the course notes – but overall, I believe that I have made progress with the monotype process.
What I found most difficult initially was achieving a good balance of paint and thinner to make the oil paint the right consistency to apply to the glass plate and produce a recognisable print of the painted image.
Some of my failures were caused by overworking the paint on the printed image, while some of my successes were achieved by reducing the amount of paint applied to the glass plate and then removing paint in places:
How do I think my work in Part 3 stands up to the course assessment criteria?
Demonstration of visual skills: materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills:
I concentrated mainly on head self portraits throughout the exercises, eventually venturing into head and shoulders and upper body experiments in the assignment. I think that my initial ink studies were a good grounding for the monotype exercises as they covered a fairly wide range of facial angles and expressions.
Quality of outcome: content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas:
As recommended by my tutor I concentrated on getting straight into the monotype printing process: experimenting with image sizes; consistency of oil paint; and types of ground (card, canvas). At the same time I began carrying out research into artists who made use of the monotype process and also gathered information about the process itself. As a result, I experimented with techniques of subtraction – working from a dark field, covering the glass plate with paint and then removing, scratching and wiping paint off in order to create an image; and techniques of addition – working into a light field, adding thin paint to the surface of the glass plate, printing the image and adding paint if necessary to pick out highlights and providing more body to areas where the paint has not transferred as might have been anticipated.
Demonstration of creativity: imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice:
As the exercises progressed I began to see links emerging between some of the images I created, giving them individual names that expressed to me what the image was about or suggested, such as:
I took this naming practice into the assignment as well, for example with ‘ghostly Bobby’ (second print made from the same painted glass plate):
and ‘scraped Stuart’ (image scraped back from dark field of paint):
Context: reflection, research, critical thinking (learning logs and essay):
As I progressed with my research while still printing I began to see a pattern emerging in my own work that can be best expressed by a reduction in amount of paint used in the printing process. Making images simpler and less worked into (less is more) seems to result in more pleasing monotype prints:
What I have taken from Part 3 can be summed up by learning to be willing to accept less than perfection (in my eyes), to distil my practice to more meaningful mark making and to embrace happy accidents when they occur.