I mentioned a number of artists in my sketchbook, but here I wanted to keep a visual record of the artists that made the biggest impression on me. By viewing them together I can see the main theme is abstraction and the suggestion of a larger picture. By that I mean the patterns and shapes in all three paintings looks as if they are a small section of a larger pattern/ experience/ texture. Gross and Yi’s work suggest this because they both have no fixed point, no clear start or finish to the pattern. It is even and therefore has no apparent ending (regardless of where the canvas finishes). Abt’s piece Leve suggests a ‘larger picture’ because it appears that the subject is a zoomed-in view of a bigger, more intricate web of lines. I think it’s the smooth textures that suggest this macro view.
I want to incorporate this idea into my work; the idea of my paintings being only a small part of a big forest, or a greater experience. The experience of walking through a forest, that is greater than what’s on the canvas.
Experimenting with colour is the way forward for this idea. Focusing on layering washes of colour and the technique I have been using perviously – ink drawing.
This layering has partly been inspired by this experiment that I am reworking. I have now done a sheer wash of gesso all over the piece, then added more ink on top with a pipette. This cloudy layerings of lines creates a new dimension to the piece that I want to explore.
I have been talking about using colour throughout this project. Before my motive has always been because I want to capture the atmosphere of landscapes.
Looking through the book ‘Howard Hodgkins Absent Friends’ published by the National Portrait Gallery for their 2017 exhibition, I realise that colour has the potential to be used for more than to capture the colour and light in a landscape. (Note it’s interesting here that I say colour & light as if they are inseparable – idea that I think I promote a lot in my work – perhaps something to investigate?)
“Everything is locked into place, and a strange stillness is pervasive.”
P.13 talking about painting Memoirs.
“Whether relying on descriptive elements or entirely compromised of autonomous painterly gestures, his work must be about something. It must possess meaning in the unequivocal sense that each painting has to refer to something beyond its pictured image or surface characteristics.”
Perhaps colour will bring this meaning into my work, since all my previous experiments I have been capturing the landscape with purpose being to push the technique. Is that enough? Or could I find something more with colour?
LAYERS OF CAPTURING/COPYING/IMITATING THE LANDSCAPE AND THEN LAYERS OF SOMETHING ELSE.
COLOUR LAYER – FOR FEELING/PERSONAL/MEANING
BLACK AND WHITE – FOR DESCRIBING THE LANDSCAPE
Layered on top, underneath. Colour lying underneath – washes, texture of brushes, think subtle layers with thick dark ink drawings on top.
“In a later interview, which took place in 1981, he [Hodgkins] stated, “They’re much more about myself now, or incidents which have personally involved me.’ Memory and emotion are central concerns, and the reasons are evident. We attempt constantly to fathom the significance of the world we inhabit. We do so by interpreting its visual characteristics.”
“the reality of things is not entirely – if at all – a matter simply of how they seem… appearance alone is an unreliable servant. To grasp the world and its occupants in a fuller and more complete way, we must reach beyond the merely apparent..”
P.14 – 15
For Hodgkin’s memory was his way of reaching beyond appearance.
Reading the essay by Paul Moorhouse at the beginning of the book sparked some ideas that I think have been growing for a while. Hodgkin’s work stuck with me since seeing his retrospective last year. Although his work and ideas are different to my practice, his work has been in my mind throughout this project.
I wanted to write out some lines from the essay that I think are important, but not quite sure why yet. I want them to be easily accessible here so I can read them again in the future.
This idea of layers, of colour and monotone, is really interesting. I want to explore this. I have some pictures in my head of work I want to make, but first I think I need to look at more visual inspiration, so that I have both visuals and theory to work with, and think about going forward.
My recent experiments reminded me of Bien U’s photographic work of trees and forests. It was the monochromatic filter and the misty background that is similar to my current experiments.
It’s been interesting in my most recent ink experiments trying to capture a sense of height and ‘loftiness’ to the treetops. Looking at these photographic works and the different camera angles used will help me figure out which angles would work for me when taking photos for reference and selecting compositions.
After my previous two experiments I have become interested in texture, control of the medium and layering different techniques to create the impression of a landscape.
Below are some paintings from the RA Summer Show 2017 that I visited last year that demonstrate this idea well.
Both of these paintings play with this idea of abstracting the landscape. You can see the movement of the artist in the brushstrokes. There is an element of letting the medium control the outcome, especially in the top painting. Letting different mediums sit together – blend, bleed into each other, separate etc to create these patterns and textures that remind the viewer of a marsh scene.
One artist that uses these ideas a lot in her work is Mal Levittoux.
Levittoux’s work explores the balance between abstraction and recognisable shapes. In the top painting the only recognisable shape is the dandelion (top-centre). Using one familiar item in the painting gives the viewer enough context to then start making sense of the rest of the painting. It’s like giving the viewer clues, then letting them interpret and create their own meaning for the rest of the composition.
On Levittoux’s website she writes in her description:
Just as in the conversation there is a secondary silent dialogue in which the real exchange of feelings takes place, so in painting, there is a rich background of unstated knowledge, a tapestry that is never unrolled.
The colours and lines built up in layers really capture this sense of the underlying and unstated. The idea of a tapestry works so well with the rich visual she creates.
Levittoux’s painting feel very whole and complete without having filled in all the details and covered the whole canvas. This idea reminds me of when I was halfway through my last experiment:
Looking at a piece half finished you can see the process and layers far more easily. It is a much more revealing showcase of work, because we are not just seeing the perfected finished piece.
This idea of leaving spaces in paintings/drawings works so well in Levittoux’s work perhaps because the scenes she is drawing – nature, is always constantly moving, growing, dying. Therefore having a piece that shows what marks have been put down far before and hints and what else could be added is fitting.
In summary, there are some ideas that I would like to experiment with next:
Leaving pieces more unfinished, not having to fill in every part of the paper, showing the process (less is more).
Carry on abstracting the subject, and using recognisable shapes occasionally to give the viewer some context (without telling them everything).
Work on a bigger scale. So I have more room for details and big gestural marks.
Completing B&W experiments of light coming through trees has illuminated the shapes and patterns that can be captured in these scenes. I was first interested in Mondrian’s work because of the contrast between his paintings of nature and his grid-like abstract paintings. I want to explore how these styles are linked.
< One of Mondrian’s early paintings. Expressive, loose brushstrokes and vivid colour contrast between red and blue.
< This piece is a reworked painting of a tree, influenced by Cubism.
< By 1914 Mondrian had removed all curves from his work, and by 1916 there was no subject either, working with other primary colours. This new kind of abstraction he called Neo-Plasticism. Mondrian thought this art was based on a ‘greater, universal truth’ more important than the everyday.
Bridget Riley says in her book ‘Mondrian: Nature to Abstraction’:
“There are two conflicting traits in his [Mondrian’s] temperament… One is a feeling for rhythm, which quickens to pulse of life and seems somehow to be connected with his positive sense of the new; and the other, a love of order and balance, which is at the root of his search for unity and fullness… the lively quality may lead to an extreme dynamism and fragmentation, while the insistence on order can sometimes turn into a bland and almost schematic statement.”
You can see this experimentation with order and chaos in Mondrian’s work. His early work is so loose and disorderly yet his later works seem to have found a balance between order and chaos.
Reading more of Riley’s writing on Mondrian discusses how Mondrian worked. For example, the painting Pier and Ocean 1915 is based on a small, scribbly sketch of a starry night Mondrian made walking one evening. This sparked a series of experiments that lead to this final painting:
He then went on to produce a coloured version of the same piece Composition 1916:
Mondrian is taking scenes in nature and then reworking them, basing his decisions on something other than the original scene. What then was Mondrian’s work based on? How did he make decisions? Were there aesthetic or theoretical motives? Perhaps it’s a more personal method of working?
Mondrian’s writing in his essay Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art in an issue of the journal De Stijl helps to answer my questions:
“As a pure representation of the human mind, art will express itself in an aesthetically purified, that is to say, abstract form. The new plastic idea cannot therefore, take the form of a natural or concrete representation – this new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and colour. On the contrary it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour.”
How does all this relate to my work?
This idea of making conscious decisions about a painting irrelevant to the scene in front of you is something that has always seemed too extreme to fit into my practice. I enjoy, for now at least, drawing form and colour from what’s around me. But a less extreme version of this, more like Mondrian’s earlier work, where you take a scene an abstract it slightly, is something that could fit well into this project.
Am I getting ahead of myself here? I need to do some painting to explore and think about all this.
This passage from the book ‘Monet to Matisse – Painting the Modern Garden’ captures why I was drawn to the subject of natural light in landscape, particularly the idea of capturing ‘fleetingness’. I have selected some impressionist paintings from the book that link and inspire my project.
Looking at all the pieces I picked together, one feature in all of them is the way vibrancy of colour that is used to create mood and portray the intensity of sunlight.
This painting by Kandinksy was so different from the other paintings in the book. After reading the passage discussing the painting (below) I thought the abstraction and symbolism used was an interesting way to describe a memory of people or places.