This project is conceptually moving at a slower pace than projects I’ve worked through in the past. It feels as if I am am finding my way in the dark more so than previous work processes.
By this I mean each painting is not straight forward but a journey itself. Before this project a painting would have a clear intention, and mostly a clear finished product that would steer me in a direction. Now however, each painting is a maze. With issues to overcome and a lot more thought and therefore time required to complete.
This is due to my method of working – from sketches rather then photographs. And so what I want to achieve has to appear in front of me as I work, instead of something I have pre-planned or expected.
I have come to a point in the project where it feels right to assess what I’ve done so far, and think about how I want to move forward. Since the ideas at the beginning of the project were clear, but since then the experiments have been such journeys in themselves it has been hard to keep track of why I am painting them in the first place.
Also, the research and thinking I have been doing most recently has brought about some phrases and words that I think are key to my work. These are:
Intimacy and stillnessfrom brainstorming in my sketchbook
imaginary intimacy though denied a narrative
(Lucean Freud blogpost) Lampert, Catherine., Freud, Lucian, and Whitechapel Art Gallery. Lucian Freud : Recent Work. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1993. Pp.11-26
They make “some people transfer themselves, imaginatively, to the situation painted.”(Lucean Freud blogpost) Lampert, Catherine., Freud, Lucian, and Whitechapel Art Gallery. Lucian Freud : Recent Work. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1993. Pp.11-26
Throughout this project I have been talking about how the body can be used to create narrative. And I’ve been experimenting with compositions and looking at artists that use the body (not the face) to create this narrative.
But I think my experiments have been doing something quite different. And reading about Freud’s work made me realise this. Especially when I came across the sentence ‘imaginary intimacy though denied a narrative’. I realised my paintings have been denying the reader narrative but providing the context for intimacy. So the opposite of what I had been thinking I wanted to achieve!
Examples of my work to explain this:
For this experiment, the room, the lighting and the person in it makes the viewer assume intimacy through association. However the viewer is hardly given any information about the girl on the bed; she is facing away and her face is covered. So the viewer is told nothing about the girls emotional state, or even who she is. The only information we are given is through the vague shape of her body under the covers: curled and wrapped up under the covers.
The girl facing away and the perspective of the piece – standing looking down on the bed – makes the viewer feel unwelcome (- something people have said when viewing the painting in my studio).
So I am covering the person with the duvet and this is removing the narrative of the body; this makes the duvet important – something I could play with – a metaphor: physical representation of something illusive/ that doesn’t normally have form?
With this (unfinished) experiment the same ideas apply. The setting of the room and the person lying honestly on the bed causes an unconscious association to be made so the viewer expects the painting to be intimate. But no narrative is given. We do not know how the girl is feeling, what is going on in her mind (I am undecided about whether to cover her face to ensure this disconnected sense, since her face has been painted well and maybe I don’t want that disconnection!).
I keep coming back again to the quote: ‘imaginary intimacy though denied a narrative’ – it is definitely fuelling what I’m writing here.
The viewer is projected into the space – why? maybe because I include walls that wrap around the canvas and encompass the viewer.
This time the viewer is more involved – placed on the edge of the bed. Does this make the viewer feel more uncomfortable or more welcomed into the scene? I am going to ask people in the studio what they think…
Talking with people in the studio about my work:
Which feels more inviting of the two paintings? (the two I discussed above):
the second unfinished piece “feels more inviting. come join me in bed vibes.”
Do you feel more connected to the person?:
“something about the person’s face [in the second painting]. the fact that her face is shown in important. the person is looking directly at you inviting you to join her. Also the fact that the girl is facing the viewer instead of away.”
So the face is important. And whether I cover the face or not would make a big difference to the final painting and how it is received.
The angle and shape of the body is not providing a narrative but it is telling the viewer how open or closed the subject is to the viewer being in the room with them – now this IS something I have discussed before.
This is a simple idea but one that needed confirming with experiments.
What about this painting? (Also unfinished but I have a clear sense of where it is going now)
This experiment is different because the room the girl is in has not been included. The shape of her body is the same as the first painting however. This is useful because I can directly compare the two.
Just having the body and part of the bed makes the painting about the body. There is nothing else to look at except the folds of the duvet, the colours, the shadows and highlights. So the materiality of the painting is of greater importance.
I think the viewer is less involved in the piece. Going back to one of the quotes from Freud research this painting does not “transfer [the viewer], imaginatively, to the situation painted.” The viewer is kept outside of it, and because of this the idea of the viewer being either welcome or unwelcome doesn’t cross ones mind. It appears to me as much more of a technical study of a person lying in a bed, rather than a painting that plays with being welcomed or not into someone’s intimate space.
This is very useful to realise. I can now say that to explore ideas further I need to build compositions that “transfer [the viewer], imaginatively, to the situation painted.” To do this I must include the surrounding room as well as the person on the bed. So far I have achieved this by including three walls of a room that encompass the viewer well. Would it still work if I just included the back wall? Or would the scene feel less involved in the scene? – This question reminds me of Hockney’s double portraits which are very flat and only include one wall in a room… these engage the viewer and make them feel in the room because the sitters are engaging with the viewer by looking at them. So when I remove this engagement with the viewer through the face I need to use the composition of the room – the walls encompassing the canvas to create the same feeling.
SUMMARY OF LEARNINGS FROM WRITING THIS
- My paintings have been denying the reader narrative and intimacy but providing the setting for intimacy.
- The viewer expects intimacy because the setting of the painting (-the room, lighting, bed etc) is associated with intimacy both emotional and physical.
- The viewer is denied any information about the person in bed – her face is hidden/unclear her body is covered – no emotional state or identity is provided.
- The duvet/sheet covering the body is an important part of the painting since it hides the person and therefor hides the narrative and emotion.
- I want my paintings to transport the viewer into the painting and make them react to the scene as a result.
- My work is looking at painting that plays with being welcomed or not into someone’s intimate space.
WHAT NEXT? THOUGHTS
I was not expecting writing this to be so crucial to how I think about my work! But I think it was necessary at this stage.
So I am covering the person with the duvet and this is removing the narrative of the body; does this make the cover/duvet an important part of the work? Something that I can explore in research and in painting.
The less narrative and emotion I give the piece the more space there is for the viewer to find their own narrative/ apply how they have been feeling onto the piece. ( This idea really links to abstract painting like Rothko’s I’m sure).
These thoughts are all good. But what to experiment with next?! Talking to tutor will help with this perhaps.