Friday, 14 March 2014

Matisse "The audacity of simplicity"

"Do I believe in God?  Yes, when I work"  (Matisse)

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Why is painting so complicated?


Diana Hand Red and pink 30 x 15  Acrylic on board

Diana Hand Arctic   30 x 15  Acrylic on board

I have never felt confident about making paintings. A lot of people seem to share this vulnerability., as though they  are putting their self confessed "inadequacy" on public display.  But it is not like this with drawings.  That we can do without self consciousness or fear of failure or ridicule.  But...pick up a paintbrush with the intention of making marks on a surface and suddenly the whole canon of western art is on your shoulder. Plus there are the uncertainties of working with the mysterious properties of paint and its awkward property of colour -a lot of different colours, uncontrollable and unpredictable in their relationships with each other.. 

Diana Hand Special place 18 x 16  acrylic on canvas

So how to find a path?  One way is to learn traditional painting skills and make the kind of figurative work that is still much admired (and bought) today.   Then at least one can hold onto those precious skills and fine tune them.  I never really got on with that way.  Perhaps I did not have the patience, maybe I felt it had been done so many times before and so much better.  But it did seem to be a necessary stage in learning to paint. -  just go into any bookshop or art store for examples.

For me colour is a gestural statement, and for years I have found a satisfying expression of my energy by applying colour in the form of liquid dye to cloth. I sometimes think "that would make a great painting" or "that really works" , but have also thought also that making a painting was an entirely different statement and procedure.  Right, up to a point.  But what if when I did a piece of cloth, I also created  a little painting with acrylic?  Quite thin acrylic, echoing the translucency of the dye.

Diana Hand Colour games 18 x 16 acrylic on canvas

What happens is that I start to think of the "painting" process in a completely different and entirely abstract way.  No more angst about line and tone and complementary or simultaneous colours.  Just let paint works its magic, mixing the natural energy of painting with dye with the improved scope and control of paint on board or canvas.  Watch this space.

I started to try this new approach courtesy of  the late Abigail Mclellan's recent exhibition at Open Eye Gallery.  Abi used acrylic in her own way, building up layers of glazing to create a glowing effect.   My thinking was miraculously reinforced by a visit to the Klee exhibition last week.. "paintings saturated with primary colours liberated from specific local objects, and this independence of colour from form presaged abstraction" (Making Visible Tate catalogue p. 19) 

Diana Hand Special place #2  18 x 16 acrylic on canvas

PS   But the next day I returned to three-dimensional work, grounded in the body, and relating more senses than just the visual.  Relief!   Painting is too scary, full of unknowns with the colour slipping about and presenting a million variables and opening up holes in the consciousness in a sneaky way.  It is too uncertain for me. It just takes huge amounts of psychic energy.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Paul Klee "Making Visible" exhibition at Tate Modern, London

Paul Klee in 1911

“First of all, the art of living; then as my ideal profession, poetry and philosophy, and as my real profession, plastic arts; in the last resort, for lack of income, illustrations.”

—Paul Klee.

I visited the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern in London this week. Klee (1879-1940) had always seemed a mythical figure to me, inaccessible and remote in his iconic status and his enigmatic paintings and writings.  I approached with trepidation. This was going to be hard work, I thought, and time to put the “effort” cap on.  It turned out in fact to be a most rewarding experience.  This is a large exhibition, and it was organised sequentially, with particular emphasis on Klee’s constant experiments with different techniques.

This meant that it was possible to see the full range of his work, from the most detailed early fine drawings to the extremely vague spray paintings, via delicate abstract watercolours, and this helped me to understand and admire him as someone who bravely experimented throughout his life, had his frustrations and (ultimately) great successes, and it was an opportunity to see all his work as a unity.  I also understood him as someone more accessible that I could learn from. 

View of Kairouan (1914)  watercolour

My holiday photo of Kairouan medina (2012)

The personal and historical aspects of Klee’s life were well described:  for example, the significance of his friendship with Macke, Marc and Kandinsky (some other members of the Blaue Reiter group).  Only when he met artists such as this was he able to clarify and develop his ideas more fully.  A brief trip to Tunis with these friends in 1913 was, famously, very important to him. For the first time as an artist he felt confident about using colour, particularly in an abstract way.  Colour and I are one” he wrote “Colour possesses me.  I don’t have to pursue it.  It will possess me always; I know it”.  For Klee, colours had their own spiritual, emotional and symbolic properties which are distinct from colours found in “reality”.

Battle scene from the Comic-Fantastic opera "The Seafarer" (1923)

Many artists of Klee’s generation were rethinking art in the contemporary industrial world, and also in the light of a new awareness of the subconscious.  Nowadays we are rethinking art in the new digital world, but in contrast I don’t think we are so concerned with the subconscious, rather more we are exploring the mysteries of the mind and body as a form of neuroscience.  For Klee art was always a balance between the rational and the intuition, and the successful resolution of that tension is one thing that makes his work so strong.  It is a theme that runs through all his work, and unites the different “styles” of his paintings.

Ghost of a genius (1922)  Oil transfer drawing and watercolour

Crosses and columns (1931) pointillist method
 The styles reflect his constant experimentation with techniques. These range from extremely precise drawing to the vaguest cloud paintings.  He is celebrated for his “gradations”, in which he builds up layers of overlapping colour, either in watercolour or oil paint.  Another favourite way of working was to reproduce the spontaneity of the quick sketch (statement from the subconscious?) by monoprinting it onto a clean sheet of paper which could then be worked in other media to build up the colour.  Later he experimented with spray paint and pointillisme, and with different surfaces such as raw burlap.

Fire at Full Moon (1933)

I was also very impressed with the extreme meticulousness with which he approached his art, particularly when working out a system of teaching, and in cataloguing and numbering every single drawing and painting, so he had a quick overview of all his work.  How much simpler life would have been for him in the digital age.

The visit was a most positive and inspiring experience for me.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Roy Oxlade obiturary

Olympia's Trolley (1989)  by Roy Oxlade

I enjoy the way this painting relates to my previous post about Chanel catwalk show.!

Roy Oxlade was a celebrated painter and an excellent and dedicated teacher, as well as being an opponent of self conscious "artiness" :)).  Read more about his life here

Friday, 7 March 2014

Chanel Paris show staged in designer supermarket!

A model shopping in the Chanel grocery store aka Paris catwalk

A model sets down her Chanel chainsaw to look at groceries

"Last season Lagerfeld riffed on fashion and art, but this season's supermarket sweep collection suggested he believes commerce and desire are equally as valid and not something to be ashamed of."  (Imogen Fox)

I like this sentiment, up to a point.  Trouble is, commerce and desire tend to find their way to the top of the pile rather more easily than art!

To see more go to Chanel supermarket sweep