Artist research: Marlene Dumas

15/18 July 2017. I came across Marlene Dumas (*1953, South Africa) before in preparing for Assignment 5 of Drawing 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). Her haunting portraits are based mostly on photographs. They are done quickly using dilute watercolour or oil and by selectively wiping off pigment, leaving ghostly sketches of her subjects. Most are not intended to portray a person truthfully, but rather an emotional state (Moran, 2015). Her technique reduces a facial expression to its absolute essentials. This lack of diversion by unconnected secondary messages I think makes the portraits so strong. When I compare them, a great many appear to radiate trauma in one way or another. Maybe it is my own experiences which make me (hope to) see a hint of something similar in the faces of other human beings, so that I may not alone, which leaves the hope of being able to share the emotions intact. It is horribly fascinating to see that a child’s face, without the everyday traces of having lived visibly engraved, can radiate as much trauma as that of an adult’s (see e.g. Dumas, n.d.). Since these shadows from the past are central to my own projects also, I will tackle exercise 2.2 of this course and very likely Assignment 2 with Marlene Dumas in mind.

References

Dumas, M. (n.d.) n.t. [online] [watercolour drawing]. n.k. Available from: postmedia.net/dumas/dumas5.htm [Accessed 17 July 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A, (2015) Part 5: Personal project – more research [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA study blog, 5 December. Available from: https://andreabrykoca.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/part-5-personal-project-more-research/ [Accessed 17 July 2017]

Moran, F. (2015) Close up: Evil is Banal by Marlene Dumas [online]. Tate, London, 3 February. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/close-up-evil-banal-marlene-dumas [Accessed 18 July 2017]

Part 1, exercise 1.3: Quick and focused

4 May 2017. Considering the amount of work required for the first two exercises in this part of the course the present one looked so straightforward that I was worried about probably having overlooked an essential instruction. But no, it was no more than three 1 minute A4 or A3 overlapping drawings, with paint, of five of my found images (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 41). I chose images with as much distint content as possible. One giant demolition project next to my son’s school, paragliders over a mountain top, a spirit level used when building in our front garden, a student jawning and pink-orange buildings photographed when on holiday in Curaçao a few years ago. I painted on A3 high quality watercolour paper with my Schmincke watercolours, selecting the respective dominant hue to paint with. This is the result (Fig. 1):

Figure 1. Three watercolour drawings of five overlapping found images

What I learned from the exercise was the following:

  • As expected each repetition made me more familiar with the main structural element of each photo, so I was able to place the focus increasingly on those elements I thought essential.
  • The result here is highly dynamic. Althought the photos had nothing in common initially, the identical style of painting resulted in a believable whole.
  • The overlapping elements, at least in this case, seem to create a transparent three-dimensional space, which I like to investigate. On a completely different level they exert a similar influence on me as M.C. Escher’s world-famous impossible buildings.
  • A series like this looks interesting because it is a series. It seems to be a human characteristic to want to compare and contrast. My eyes keep wandering between the paintings to see where they differ.
  • This kind of start to a project may help to set the scene, investigate a subject in a playful way and draw inspiration from.

References

Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.

Part 1, exercise 1.1: Using Found Images – painting thin and small

19 April 2017. It seems like an eternity that I signed up for this course and for various reasons it took me a very unusual two months to finish my first exercise.

Instructions required the preparation of A5 sized backgrounds on high-quality watercolour paper and painting on these with highly diluted paint based on found images. Since the study guide was quite vague regarding the nature of the backgrounds and the number of images to use, I asked the OCA. They could not help me either, so I decided to stay with what I felt was a good solution. I made around 20 backgrounds using diluted paint (acrylics, gouache, watercolour, ink, varnish) and based my painting on a single photo of my son coming out of the shower. Overall I think that it was a very rewarding exercise, since staying with the subject allowed me to make direct comparisons between outcomes for different materials and media. It took a lot of stamina, though, and around no. 17 oder 18 I found that I had had enough. Also, halfway through the exercise I started adapting the instructions to my own ideas, so there are some combinations included that are not part of the original set. After having been to Vienna last week to see Egon Schiele’s famous graphical work at the Albertina (Lacher-Bryk, 2017), I decided to try and include one experiment with was I think may have been Schiele’s techniques with watercolour and gouache on a weird, shiny sort of wrapping paper like baking parchment. This was not part of the instructions, but I wanted to do it anyway. The experiment was not sucessful with respect to learning out about Schiele’s technique, but I am determined to find out one day.

With regard to study guide artists to research and base my work on regarding loose and thin paint I was not happy with what I found (post on that research to follow!), so I took the risk and experimented on my own.

So here come the 20 paintings:

Ex_1_1_painting1_18042017
No. 1. Background: gouache splodges, painting: dilute writing ink
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No. 2. Background: thin black ink, painting: very thin acrylic
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No. 3. Background: transparent acrylic varnish, painting: very pale watercolour
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No. 4. Background: black acrylics, painting: coloured watercolour
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No. 5. Background: transparent varnish and shellac, painting: white gouache
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No. 6. Background: grey acrylics, painting: pearl-white matte household varnish
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No. 7. Background: acrylic splodges, painting: black watercolour
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No. 8. Background: watercolour splodges on wet paper, painting: diluted pearl-white matte household varnish and added diluted black watercolour wash
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No. 9. Background: grey gouache, painting: diluted black acrylic
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No. 10. Background: dilute coloured acrylics, painting: coloured watercolour
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No. 11. Background: thin black ink, painting: dilute black acrylics
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No. 12. Background: diluted pearl-white matte household varnish, painting: diluted black acrylics
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No. 13. Background: coloured watercolour, wet, painting: dilute watercolour
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No. 14. Background: diluted pearl-white matte household varnish, painting: diluted shellac
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No. 15. Background: coloured watercolour, dry, painting: red wine, straight and boiled down
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No. 16. Background: boiled down red wine, painting: white ink
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No. 17. Background: very pale watercolour, painting: mix of white and black water-soluble ink
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No. 18. Background: dilute green antique ink, wet, painting: dilute Persian red antique ink and paper towel
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No. 19. Background: white gouache, then green antique ink, dry, painting: dilute white ink and dilute black acrylics
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No. 20. Background: dilute black acrylics on baking parchment, painting: mix of white and black gouache

This exercise certainly helps to gain a good first impression of the endless possibilities available using just a few standard types of paint. I could include any number of words about the experience gained with each of the above. Some of my thoughts I entered into my sketchbook together with the paintings. But the longer I look at them the more confusing my thoughts become. Many of the combinations have overlapping merits and problems and I think that my appreciation of the results changes from hour to hour, depending on mood and external atmosphere. I guess that I am not the type of artist to discover THE method working for me, but every time I start something new it will be totally different.

One particular combination, however, I would like to find out about regarding the chemical reaction that must have occurred. In no. 16 I used boiled down red wine as a background and painted on that – while it was still moist – with my water-soluble white ink. If applied carefully, a layer of ink would float on top of the moist layer of wine for a while, before it would start contracting and forming a craquelee-like pattern. If mixed with the wine, there was instantaneous coagulation. I had to heavily fix the ink to prevent it from flaking off after having dried. If used with a good amount of pratice and a fitting subject this could produce very attractive results. Will hopefully be back with the chemistry behind it!

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Gallery visit: Albertina, Wien [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/gallery-visit-albertina-wien/ [Accessed 14 April 2017]