Extending a painting upwards

In my last post I had the idea to extend this above painting upwards, to include much more of the sky. Low and behold less than 24 hours later the canvas the gesso and the staple gun have been out!

The top orange bit in this photo is the added on part. I wonder if it’s too wide, but I can always chop part of it off. It’s very freeing I must say to be able to add and detract from a painting. I like the idea of painting on wooden panels actually because I could do this easily, and also move the panels around the studio, rather than being confined to stapling them to the wall. Although the current downside to panel painting is that I don’t have a wood panel cutter tool thing, whilst with canvas I can cut it easily myself. There are pros and cons to every painting surface.

Anyway! I made a few test digital sketches to see what the painting could look like when expanded:

The one on the far right has been my favourite all day, although as I look at them now, I think how successful the central image is! The central image has a sense of space. The blue curved shapes in the sky point towards the centre of the painting on the top half of the image, and the curved shapes in the bottom half of the painting point to the centre of the image, and so your eye is drawn in towards the centre of the painting to create the feeling of space and depth between the sky and the river. It’s funny how thumbnail/small versions of images help you see things in a new way.

Looking at the proportions of the canvas added to the irl painting, I think the size will, at its max be about halfway in height between the middle and the right-hand image. That will work well I think.

I’m wondering whether to mount the two parts of the painting on seperate panels (when it comes to that) so there is this wonderful edge between the two. I got this idea from Joe Packer’s paintings. He fits panels inside of larger panelled paintings. His paintings that have this element remind the viewer that a decision making process happened between the artist and the work. Extended paintings leave an impression of the artist and their creative process which I think adds to the intrigue of a painting as a human made, intimate object.

I got my long charcoal stick out and put two light marks down on the new bit of canvas, with the intention to sketch out shapes. But something stopped me, and I reached for A3 paper and charcoal instead, to do some initial sketches first. The Agnes painting is what made me do it. That painting worked so successfully through thorough drawing and reference material before any painting was done. I find that kind of painting alluring, fascinating, and so I wanted have a go doing drawing before I started on the painting here too.

Here’s a first charcoal sketch composition plan. The dark patch on the left is the night sky. And on the right, sunny, sunset-esque weather cuts across into the night on the left. It’s basically a multi-time-of-day painting!? I’m unsure how that will go. But actually, saying that, the Agnes painting is multi-time-of-day too! When I do this kind of painting it’s like I’m taking all the parts of my memory of that place, cyphering through the crucial ones, and then putting them on the painting. And of course the crucial moments aren’t always going to be from one time of day. These paintings (Agnes and this current one) as an amalgamation of multiple memories, created into one aesthetic painting.

The next thing I want to do is go and walk back along the river in the dark on the way back to the station this evening to notice the sky. Similarly, I feel I need to go and look and study the sky in the day, and at dusk too, when the blue sky is out. By doing some plein air painting, that feels appropriate. Yes! Because when I’ve been looking at this part of London, I’ve been focusing my attention on the stuff around the horizon. Except there is the whole of the sky above to paint too! Here’s a lil sketch of what I mean:

In my London plein air paintings such as these:

You can see I have painted and focused my attention on what is relatively close to the horizon; the dark blue section in the diagram. When in actual fact there is also all of the light blue space; the sky going way up and over my head (and also what is right up close to me). In this extended painting, I am adding this light blue area to the painting, to make a painting that hopefully will feel like a more complete, whole painting.

It’s a day or two later and the planning for the extension of this painting continues! At the start of my working day today I walked along the river along South Bank and did some quick drawings in my sketchbook of my impression of the space above the river. It has been a beautiful day, and when I was there, around midday, the sky was totally clear blue with not a cloud in the sky. A cold, still winters day.

What really hit as I walked along the riverbanks was the sense of relief to see such immense space in this city. A sigh of breath at the wonder of the open sky, a clean space that shoots up into unfathomable heights above. Immensely calming. I begun to draw the river, and with this experience of the river, I began to sketch out the structures of this empty space. I then back to the studio and made some more drawings from the sketches. Here are some photos of them:

Since then I have done a few more drawings, all on this theme of a structure that defines the empty space and my experience of it. It’s like a tunnel following the route of the river through the city. I have this tendency to use structures, architectural looking ones, to define the experience of a place in a painting. More specifically, to define the experience of space looking up, in a painting. Just like I was doing back at uni. This tunnel shape does not describe what the place looks like, it describes my experience of the place, I am finding visual motifs to describe more-than-visual, bodily experiences. I am attempting to build an experience that I have had in the past, using designed, created, abstracted motifs to do so. And this experience is intended to be experienced, glimpsed at by a viewer of my painting. And in some way their perspective shifts, or their own feelings, experiences feel understood, communicated, shared. Very profound, dramatic intentions!

I have not acknowledged the aspect of memory in my painting. But yes, I am building shapes, structures, that create the illusion of depth, to recreate the sense of vast space and whatever else is bound up in a place, through colour and brushwork and the scale of the painting etc, so that the viewer may see the place with the same perspective that I have.

Yes! That is what I am doing. And I judge the success of a painting of mine depending on its success in this – whether the painting is successful in conveying the particular experience I have had, whether it successfully conveys the perspective I have of this place. The aesthetics of the painting are secondary to that. The aesthetics of the painting serve these intentions.

I think that is why I am struggling to be pleased with this painting:

It doesn’t convey any experience I have had. It’s too far abstract. It has abstracted a place but without any feeling. The abstraction is for abstractions sake, and therefore the painting has no purpose to me. When I say the painting is too abstract, I mean it is too removed from the place it is based on, because it is too far removed from the bodily experience and significance of this place. It is an abstracted look of the place, rather than the abstracted experience of the place.

I have been saying and thinking that this painting needs more expression, before writing the above I knew something was up with it but couldn’t quite articulate what. And I was thinking more expression needs to come from the way I paint i.e. I need to be gestural with the painting, add marks that somehow have feeling. However after realising the above, I think if I want to improve this painting, I need to visit the spot that this painting is based on. I need to go to the place and bodily-ly experience it. I need to pay attention to my bodily experience of this place. If I do more work on the painting, the aim is to connect my bodily experience of the place to the painting, the object.

It shall be interesting to see how visiting the place goes. Perhaps nothing about this view of the river has bodily significance for me. Every place has bodily affects, since our environment is constantly affecting the confederation we call ourselves, ‘me’. But I am not painting just any bodily affect, I am painting bodily experiences that strike me, which I am spurred to paint, recreate on the canvas, excited by. For reasons I do not know! (Seemingly on the theme of big spaces and heights, who knows!) Perhaps this spot I am painting doesn’t contain whatever cocktail of elements makes me have a significant bodily experience I want to paint. Although perhaps this attitude is due to me never being open to bodily experience emerging with place-attention. This should be an interesting experiment.

Wow it’s amazing what I realise when I write through something. I have gone on quite a tangent here!

I’m not sure I have too much else to say. Back to the extension painting, I am going to play around with drawing some more, and perhaps revisit the site a few more times. I think repeated visits, drawing(/painting) and careful noticing is the key to paintings that fulfil the intentions I explained above.

Let’s see how it goes…

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