This blob, curvy, flowing style all started when I picked up oil paints again, when for the first time since being graduated, and of course since the pandemic, I took them outside to paint. This was the painting I did then:
This painting was of Morecambe Bay. On this stunning day:
Leading up to this painting I had been painting quite a lot, outside in acrylics only. Making jagged, unending shapes made by just lifting the paintbrush off the paper and leave the mark as just a movement of my arm across the canvas. This is evident in this painting, done days before The Jetti:
There are half-formed ‘orby’ type shapes that appear in this painting, and longer thinner marks are starting to form collectives of colour. I’ve identified the half-formed curvy orbs in this image below:
What was it that caused the curvy shapes to become rounded and refined in The Jetti?
I don’t think it is a coincidence that these shapes appeared with the first use of oil paints in a long while. The difference in drying time between oils and acrylics is significant. Acrylic paint has a very quick drying time; a mark can be dry within minutes (max. 20 minutes for thick layers), and so you can layer marks i.e. recorded sensations, without paint mixing with what is already on the canvas. Once each mark is applied, it cannot be smudged or re-worked, edited in hue or tone, it cannot be blended with other marks, unless of course the paint is quite thick which does happen, however even then you have to act quickly.
In contrast, oil paint takes days if not weeks to dry (unless very heavily thinned). This means oil paint remains malleable for the duration of a painting session, which has its advantages and its challenges. Applying a clean bit of paint to the canvas can be tricky, since each brushstroke can easily mix with the paint under it and around it, if too much pressure is applied to the canvas. If there is too much pressure then paint from lower layers is picked up onto the brush and mixes with the new paint. Scraping off paint with a palette knife before adding a clean layer is a way to overcome this. On the other hand, if I don’t like the type of brush work, or a shape in the painting, I can just pick up a brush and re-spread the paint to suite. This feels very much like pushing and pulling with paint. The paint can be moved around which doesn’t happen with acrylics. And this maleable quality I think is evident in the finished The Jetti painting. The shapes in it appear to be spilling light, flowing liquid, rippling surfaces, pieces of sky hanging in the air, haze cloaking like spilling curtains.
As I paint, marks on the canvas are shifting, morphing, growing or shrinking, spilling outwards, or flowing into something else, and I am negotiating this process. It reminds me of cells, growing and dividing; an instinctual and biological chaotic process seems to take place.
These fitting descriptor words: spilling, flowing, it is as I am describing water.
Let’s move on to the work I made over summer. This wasn’t using oil paints, but oil pastels which are similar, in that each mark put down also effects everything below or above it, due to its semi-transparency. And with this medium I continued to make orby, curvy shapes on paper:
These works bring up another possible reason for the new style of working, which is the scale I am working in. My work for some months has been far smaller than I ideally like. This new scale seriously limits my ability to make gestural marks to record the expressive movement of my body on the canvas. To record impulsive, emotional marks takes up a big area of a canvas, it would fill the entirety of an A3 page or most of a 90x60cm canvas.
My marks in these small works therefore become controlled, and therefore tend to be slower, more careful. Does this make a painting/drawing worse at describing a landscape-event?
Let’s explore this. I acknowledge that when living in the world, there exists a gap between the subject and the ‘out-side’ (to use Jane Bennet’s language, it means everything beyond my body). When I paint, I think this phenomenological gap is filled with the action of painting. With paint I am recording the becoming of the out-side to the subject’s, my, consciousness. If each mark I make is slower, more controlled, more planned, then does the gap between the subject and the out-side become larger? Filled with a self awareness, a thought process that obscures, puts a veil over my perception of the out-side. And this would mean there is a greater disconnect between me and the place I am in, because my own thoughts and ‘conceptualities’ are a greater distortion between me and the place I am painting in?
This doesn’t mean these curvy shapes are simply bad. I noted this summer that when I am shaping the edge of a curvy orb entity (what word should I use?!), I am defining the edge of a sensation. Perhaps I am giving my sensation-marks such decided boundaries as a method to manage such broad, vast, seemingly whole landscapes. This method might reflect my human predisposition to break up and categorise my total surroundings. And that’s exciting, that I could capture the same mood of a place by breaking things up? It is a reflection of my human perception of the world. But my paintings that were made more on impulse, unrefined marks, were they a reflection of a different layer of consciousness? A different layer of emergence of the ‘out-side’?