20 July 2017. I had planned to plunge directly into the next exercise, but a sense of foreboding kept me from doing that. There was an uncomfortable feeling of not yet having done some of the research suggested by my tutor and of, just maybe, missing the essential bit of emotion to start the exercise in the right mood.
Tacita Dean (*1965, UK) was one of the first artists I was made aware of by my Drawing 1 tutor and at the same time one of those who I felt instantly akin with, not always with their artistic output, but the feel of the world they transport. While Tacita Dean primarily works as a highly original film-maker (Frith Street Gallery, n.d.), she also produces wonderful giant black and white landscape drawings and etchings. Most famous among these are “Fatigues”, a series of connected chalk drawings on black boards made in 2012 over the period of a few weeks in Germany (Art Observed, 2013). For my own work I have always loved the power of black and white, hence also my interest in shadows, but as for now I can find no additional inspiration for my ongoing work. This may of course change any instant so I decided to remain vigilant. Maybe Dean creeps into the work I do unnoticed.
4 May 2017. During the final weeks of Practice of Painting I had realised that I would want to continue working with shadows in this course as well. My assignment subjects will all be related to this area of interest.
For the first assignment we were required to choose the materials liked best so far to produce a series of twenty 15×15 cm square paintings on watercolour paper. When finished we were to arrange and rearrange them, to compare the relative effects before settling on an arrangement to submit (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 44).
Sequence of preparation:
selection of twenty of my found images, which I had already pre-selected to include a large number of shadow-related views
preparation of paper squares from 600 g watercolour paper
selection of attractive square views from found photos (was done using my square viewfinder)
cutting out photos to choice of view
selection of fitting materials and painting styles for each photo, intuitively restricting myself to 4 different painting styles overall, so 5 paintings per style
My grouping the 20 paintings into sets of five felt appropriate, because a typical arrangement into 4 rows of 5 would be possible in a believable way. Also, I have the intention of telling a story in my sequence of images, which this will depend on the overall impression achieved by each tested arrangement, overall it will be one of how light and dark influence and structure the life of human beings through the day.
The selection of painting style was a mix of what I discovered for myself during exercises and styles I came to like when doing my artist research:
5 paintings in a negative space technique discovered when painting with dilute white gouache on black acrylic background
5 blurred shadows of diverse origins requiring additional research for “eroding” technique
5 paintings using white and black ink in Brian Alfred style
5 coloured paintings in Cecily Brown style
8 May 2015. Over the last five days I spent a very long time preparing my paintings. They were great fun to make, but I am glad to have been able to muster the energy to more or less work through. The results are more homogenous, having in common a particular atmosphere and mood, which might have got lost if I had allowed myself to take breaks.
Here are the individual results, grouped into their 4 sets:
Negative space technique (Fig. 1-6)
I had discovered the technique during Exercise 1.2, when working on my black and white found images (Lacher-Bryk, 2017). When painting on a dry acrylic background with dilute white gouache paint, the paint dries up leaving distinct highlights along the wet/dry boundaries and in dents developing in the wet paper. To me the effect is wonderfully mysterious and given the right amount of practice can be used to create intriguing patterns. I tried various degrees of dilution in my sketchbook first (Fig. 1 below). The heavy watercolour paper I used for my finished paintings did not quite have the same efficiency regarding the weird highlighting, but was attractive in its own way.
2. Blurred shadows (Fig. 7-14)
In our bedroom street lights and lights in the houses around us at times produce the most beautiful shadow images of the plants we have on our windowsills. I spent hunting for the best photos for nearly a year, as conditions change and plants get moved, so I had to wait a while to come up with a good set suitable for this part of the assignment. I had never produced deliberately blurred paintings before and the artists to be researched in the study guide do not do this either, so I spent some time looking what I could come up with myself. There do not seem to be too many painters working with blurring, but I had a look at J.M.W. Turner and his “Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway” (Fig. 7). While I greatly admire his incredible skill at staying indistinct over most of the painting to emphasize a few selected spots, this was not what I had in mind. Gerhard Richter’s “Self-portrait” (Fig. 8) came much closer to the effect I was after. The descriptions of the techniques applied by him were however also different from my idea, so I did my own practical research here (Fig. 8 and 9). In the end what I came up with was a white acrylic background covered in a thin layer of gloss varnish, then in grey gouache when dry. Again, when all three layers were dry, I used a very old, word-down small flat brush, water and a piece of cloth to wash away the sections of the background I wanted to highlight. This worked beautifully, allowing both precision and blurring as required.
3. Clear ink paintings (Fig. 15-20)
When doing my Part 1 artist research I decided that Brian Alfred’s particular flat style does not correspond at all to my intentions, but the attempt at recreating one of his paintings with materials of my own choice produced a result (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b) I wanted to explore further in my third set of assignment paintings. Since the technique was straightforward to apply (grey acrylic background, ink line drawing, then water-soluble black ink and water-proof white ink), I placed the focus on testing the white highlights in my sketchbook before attempting the final paintings (Fig. 15).
Coloured Cecily Brown style paintings (Fig. 21-27)
This was the most demanding of the four sets. Cecily Brown and her approach to integrating the figurative and abstract into one painting is a very attractive concept to me (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c) and while I know that I am not yet able to work in this way consistently I felt that this style was required to complement the three more figurative black and white sets. I had chosen five photos, which I needed as figurative starting points to what was to become abstractions (Fig. 21).
I then prepared white acrylic backgrounds to paint on these with an intuitive selection of colours of acrylic paint. In my sketchbook I made thumbnails first, which helped me to find initial ideas for the abstraction process (Fig. 22). The rusty parts on the deck of a boat became a bathing scene, the wooden fence and shadow in our garden turned into attacking soldiers, the shadow of a tree on the street became a coral reef, some flamingos and their weird shadows turned colourful and the shadow of a tree on a building stayed what it was, but was painted upside down to result in a view I would not have been able to make up without turning it upside down in the first place – here I included some very valuable insight gained in exercise 1.4 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017d).
9 May 2017. Here are the results for this set:
Today I arranged the paintings in grids and, overall, given a nearly endless number of possible, plausible and attractive arrangements, I decided that I would need to place my focus on the most important aspects. These did not include, as I had first planned at the start of this assignment, a story. Any sequence would have allowed any number of stories to be told, which is a consequence of selecting images as instructed by “wanting to paint them”. So I tested black and white backgrounds (Fig. 28 and 29 below). Of these white was more neutral towards the placement of my coloured paintings, so I continued with white, although I liked the stabilising effect of the black. I might have included any number of possible grids like single rows, double rows, pyramids, diamonds, patterns including the background, whatever. It was overwhelming to even think of these, so I stayed with the rectangular, testing narrow, wide and no gaps (Fig. 28-34), landscape and portrait versions (Fig. 33-34) as well as “quiet” and “loud” impressions (Fig. 30-31 appear particularly “loud” to me). It took me a while to come up with a solution I liked, which was overall quiet enough to allow a viewing of the individual images. The rest produced interesting patterns when viewed from a distance (difficult to test in my workshop), but invariably made my head burst when trying to see each single painting. The – what I would call them – energy clashes running along the individual borders appear to determine the overall impression to a greater extent than the contents of each painting. Also, all grids are far easier and more pleasant to view on the computer. What looks nice and sorted in the photos below was mostly none of the two in real life.
The version from Fig. 34 above is the one I want to present as my Assignment 1 piece. I would not be able to tell which particular combination of factors works here, but I am pleased with the outcome. I could spend weeks rearranging my paintings, as there are so many interactions to learn to see, feel and consider. When assessment time comes up, I will prepare a set of preferred sequences and present them together.
Self-assessment for Assignment 1 to follow in a separate post.
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Research Point: Painting Style – historical and contemporary painting [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/research-point-painting-style-historical-and-contemporary-painting/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 1: Own experimentation supplementing introductory research point [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/part-1-own-experimentation-supplementing-introductory-research-point/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017d) Part 1, exercise 1.4: Look at what you see – not what you imagine [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/part-1-exercise-1-4-look-at-what-you-see-not-what-you-imagine/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]
Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.