Second Responses to Photos

I felt that I achieved a lot yesterday as I managed to produce a fair amount of work and generate some good starting points for my final major project. As most of my time has recently been spent "fighting" with my dissertation these little creative breaks are a huge relief and I find I lose myself quite easy in them. I often find the college to be a hard setting for me to get really creative in. This is due for several reasons, it can be quite noisy at times and I will often get interrupted by someone when I am working. For me to be really creative I need to be on my own so I can zone out and get into the state of mind I need to be to create good work. I also need no interruptions to snap me out of this state as it’s then hard to get back into it.

I have found it easier to work in college when I bring my headphones in and remove myself from the group. This probably looks a bit anti-social and I probably look really feed up stuck in the corner not communicating with anyone but I really need this to be able to produce good stuff.

Today I started by making washes on my canvases to remove the harsh white of the gesso and give me a nice under layer on which to paint on. Here is the first one. This also shows the simple grid arrangement pencilled in that I had been discussing yesterday. Although I made the grid using a ruler this was purely for a rough guide. I did not want to make my painting using perfect geometric lines for a highly ordered grid. I was hoping that it would be a bit more loser with some rectangles slightly bigger than other. I very much wanted to show the "hand of the painter" in the work rather than it looks like some machine made painting which is what I have actually wanted in some of my painting from the past.

Below is a photo I made have way though to show how the under painting has helped me assess the tonal greys better than before. For this work I had been making up my greys by adding small amounts of black to larger amounts of white. I also added tiny amounts of Ultramarine, cadmium red and yellow as well as greens and ochre to nudge the greys towards colour.

Here is the final painting below. I feel that this has actually worked quite well. I don't feel that it is obviously influenced by Brutalism and it could be seen as a standard work of abstraction. I really like the tonal qualities and how they are presented in a uniform way as though for viewing inspection. I also like the fact that several formal elements had been removed or minimised so that I am really only presenting form and colour and the forms themselves are very simple squares and rectangles.

However, I still felt that the tones where a bit to samey in terms of their value. There are a few darker areas but I feel that the work needed a bit more contrast in tone between light and dark. I also feel that the cheap acrylics I have used are very obvious in the end result. I wanted a more painterly finish to the squares and I was hoping there would be positive signs of my application such as brush strokes. But all I got was that horrible little ridge you get at the sides of the brush strokes which I hate and it looks so amateurish to me. This seems to be a regular end result when trying to paint in a more painterly style when using cheap acrylics. They end up looking like exactly what they are, cheap plastic!

I decided to concentrate on trying to remove what I saw as the negative painterly effects and replace them with more positive ones such as texture and evidence of individual brush strands. I also made the grid structure simpler with fewer elements. This is down to two things. I often look at what I do and think can I do this in a simpler way? I feel that the strongest work I produce has often been quite simple and often the more complicate it is it tends to get weaker.

I also had been reading a book about Irish painter Sean Scully. During my dissertation meetings with Bill we had often discussed various painters and he leant me the Sean Scully book. I was previously aware of Scully and liked his simple approach to his work. Its fair to say that nearly all that he produces is quite simple and very obviously a Scully. Although this is not exactly what I want to achieve with my work as I like variety but I do like the confidence of putting forward a simple painting with a kind of "there you go" gesture. I also like Scullys matter of fact attitude to art and he will say what he means. I don't always agree with what he has to say and often I entirely disagree but I admire him for it. He is also from Ireland so I feel a kinship as that is where my parents come from.

Sean Scully

Scully’s work could actually be seen as being directly influenced by Brutalist architecture as they are essentially simple geometric forms often painted with muted colours. I decided to reduce the grid structure that I first painted to a simple square. I also had a variety of material that I could add to my acrylic paint to increase texture and hold evidence of the paints application.

Below is the first result using this approach?

I had been using a combination of modelling past and filler both powder and paste form. The modelling paste can be seen in the bottom left square and it has produced a really disappointing result. If anything it has made the acrylic look even more plasticy than before. It has retained evidence of application but it has kind of rounded of all the harsh edges to make them somewhat muted. This is not what I was after.

The square that is in the middle on the left was made by using paste filler. This has come out much better and I can clearly see evidence of brush strokes. However, the brush marks are somewhat softened and a lot of the small ridges had disappeared leaving only the large ones. I had deliberately chosen my coarsest hog hair brushes to get some good textures in but the end result is a long way from what I would have got from oils.

The bottom right square has probably come out best as this was made using powder filler mixed very wet. As the water evaporated from the mix as it dried it has started to crack the filler. This I see a happy accident. I love this effect and glad that it happened. This gives an Ansel Kiefer like quality to the work and this is something that I could exploit.

Although some of the textures had come out well and even the ones that did not showed me techniques to avoid in future I was still very disappointed with the tonal qualities. It seems that the acrylics I was using (system 3) simply mix together too easy to get the variation like tones I was seeking. By this I mean that the individual squares would have their own inherent tonal variations within its own tonal shade. When using these acrylics I just could not get this right. The tones were either "flat" like in the first painting or the looked too "manufactured" like in the painting below. These look to me like someone has deliberately tried to make an interesting tone but fallen somewhat short and this is not what I wanted to convey.

I now started to think about the pros and cons of oils and acrylics. One of the things that puts me off using oils is that the long drying time. I know straight away that if I was to use oils really thick in a similar way to early Auebach paintings I would get lovely thick slabs of colour that has lovely subtle tonal variations of exactly what I need and also the marks my brush or palette knife make will not be altered when the oil dries. But this is also the problem, the drying times of oil. If I was to use them as thick as I wanted then I would need to consider the very long drying times and the problems associated with this especially when it comes to transporting and showing work that effectively has wet paint.

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