At the end of each school year, home comes a big folder of of all the lovely paintings my kids have done, week by week. We do a bit of slapping paint around at home too. Some go on the wall. Quietly, quite a lot go in the paper recycling. When in the experimental drawing workshops, I often wonder what distinguishes us from small children playing with paint. I sort of think, not a lot.
We seem to have been playing with monoprints: layering pigment on metal plates and pressing paper on this by hand. The output from the group is very varied. My own approach was at first to use quite dilute gouache, and some ground charcoal and chalk pastels.
I wondered what then to do. I had made nine monoprints in rapid succession. I could look at the pretty patterns and say – “finished”. But a few purposeless patterns are not art any more than just looking at mountains or rivers or the appearence of stained tissue on a microscope slide are art. Eventually, this is the stuff of the recycling bin. Unless I use it. Somehow.
I started to go over these first patterns first in charcoal (not sure about that) and then I explored printing again, using thickly brushed acrylic. This is still experimentation. but I begin to have an idea. I am thinking of printing more sparingly over these patterns, building layers with rose and viridan to re–create an image of a heron on look out that I have previously attempted in watercolour (with very limited success). A version I’ve not posted before is below and I’ve linked to the previous attempts also.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich protested publicly against Putin’s third term presidential candidacy and specifically against the open support of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch for Putin. They were arrested in March 2012 and today, after a laughable trial, were found guilty of “hooliganism”. They have been sentenced to two years imprisonment.
Freedom of protest matters
A day later, I added the link to a thoughtful commentary in the Guardian. Interestingly, my post is a tiny ripple in a big splash, intelligently orchestrated by a very professional art collective. The powerful church and state in Russia have held themselves up to ridicule in their crass and vindictive reaction. Does sharing and disseminating this art shine a light on the abuse of power everywhere?
St Abbs Head is a majestic torn and contorted precipice colonised by kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills among others. I was somewhat overawed, perched myself looking down onto the cliffs with birds soaring out to sea and returning to their nests. I attempted a technique I’d used before but never outdoors: layers of charcoal, gouache and pastel, seeking textures and colours emerging from greys.
This approach works by building layer after layer, allowing these to dry over days, permitting time to look and think. As an open air sketch, it risks being crude and overworked, making texture for its own sake.
That same day we were scheduled to take the boat to Fidra to draw the nesting birds there. The first landing party had left and we stood on the quay waiting for the boat to return for us. It seemed a long time. Here’s a page from my pocket book of Fidra through the telescope.
Actually, the boat had grounded, wrecking its steering gear. Our colleagues who had landed had to be rescued by the RNLI lifeboat. That’s why we ended up at St Abb’s Head for the remainder of the day.
Interestingly, it is claimed that Fidra was the geographic inspiration for Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I have previously illustrated a scene from that book: a high basaltic plug stands proud behind a marsh from which birds rise in alarm at the sounds of foul murder. I’d used the layered charcoal and gouache and ink approach step wise over some weeks.
I arrived in the class last week with the sounds and images from the London Underground imprinted on my brain. Straight away, I tried to depict these is charcoal and paint, as shown in my previous post.
However, this meant that I neglected the works begun the previous week (https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/chicago/). In the last half hour, I was encouraged to go back to these and work in a new layer. Painting upside down (the picture, not me) I picked out and strengthened pre existing textures and tones. I tried to maintain a balance between abstract and illustration. Here is that next version, still drying.
The reference point for all these recent works has been a book of the work of John Virtue. This British artist works only in black and white, eschewing even greys, building land and cityscapes in which recognisable features emerge from smoky abstraction. Google images have a great selection to peruse. I found a page in an academic blog which sets a landscape by Virtue in the context of his contemporaries: http://paintingowu.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/some-contemporary-landscape-paintings/
There is much more to develop on this theme.
These sketches were done in the two hour class last night. They are still drying – I took these shots on my phone.
The constraints put on us were to use just black and white, avoiding half tones. I built in heavy charcoal and then put in white gouache and cheap acrylic ink that had settled like swamp mud at the bottom of the jug.
At this stage, I am just exploring shapes and tones, contrasting painted white, white pixellated with carbon, the virgin white of the untouched paper and the bone white scars left by shredding the surface.
I used a photograph as a reference. I think I was looking west up East Wacker Street.
I’m back in Chicago in a few weeks. I’ll bring charcoal and brush.
In arid sub tropical terrain, moisture collects in pits dug and walled in the volcanic ash. In each hollow, a vine is planted.
For this I threw watercolour at the page, creating the sky, crude green pyramids and a pink and brown ground. When dry, I drew in with charcoal and chalk to define the landscape. A bit of white and black gouache was used to create the stronger contrasts.
I have taken much inspiration from this recently formed and dynamic terrain.
Far away out in the marsh there arose, all of a sudden, a sound like a cry of anger, then another on the back of it; and then one horrid, long-drawn scream. The rocks of the Spy-glass re-echoed it a score of times; the whole troop of marsh-birds rose again, darkening heaven, with a simultaneous whirr; and long after that death yell was still ringing in my brain, silence had re-established its empire, and only the rustle of the re-descending birds and the boom of the distant surges disturbed the languor of the afternoon.
“In heaven’s name, tell me, what was that?”
“That?” returned Silver, smiling away, but warier than ever. “That? Oh, I reckon that’ll be Alan.”
And at this point Tom flashed out like a hero. “Alan! Then rest his soul for a true seaman! And as for you, John Silver, you’re a mate of mine no more. You’ve killed Alan, have you? Kill me too, if you can. But I defies you.” And with that, this brave fellow turned his back directly on the cook and set off walking for the beach.
With a cry John whipped the crutch out of his armpit and sent that uncouth missile hurtling through the air. It struck poor Tom, point foremost, and with stunning violence, right between the shoulders in the middle of his back. His hands flew up, he gave a sort of gasp, and fell. He had no time given him to recover. Silver, agile as a monkey even without leg or crutch, was on top of him next moment and had twice buried his knife up to the hilt in that defenceless body.
From my place of ambush, I could hear him pant aloud as he struck the blows.
You will of course recognise this passage from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book. I have just finished reading it to my young children. It has a remarkably high body count for a book for children but for all that remains a classic adventure story.
This painting was first posted a few weeks ago showing how the idea developed. I had first wanted to show the Spy-glass, a volcanic plug of a mountain sitting proud above a marshy landscape, with trees in the foreground in which our protagonist is concealed.
I then played with this picture, turning it upside down and imposing reflected birds on the iPad.
From this I took the idea of developing the same underlying painting on the iPad into two versions rotated by 180 degrees, each one representing one of the two foul murders in the marsh of Treasure Island.
This is the actual painting after it dried and the various pigments settled. Having explored it digitally in two directions, perhaps I will leave this as it is. It makes sense to me visually now, but this has taken time.
Our previous bedtime book also painted a word picture of a marsh. These settings speak powerfully to me of solitude and wilderness. However, that fen was an altogether friendlier place.