Artist: Lucian Freud

Looking at books of reading and images of his work in the library. 

There is an attentiveness to Freud’s work that I want to read about. He seems to study his subject with such even focus that the finished paintings are gripping edge to edge. 

He deals with every part of the canvas with the same attention. There is no more detail in the eyes than there is the ears or the neck. It appears as if Freud has spent the same amount of time on every part of the figure. 

Hughes, Robert, and Freud, Lucian. Lucian Freud Paintings. 1st Pbk. Ed. (rev.). ed. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 1989. Pp.7-24

P.80 painting. Covers her face with her arm. Removing her face puts attention on the interactions between the dog and the woman and the sheet beneath them. 

Lampert, Catherine., Freud, Lucian, and Whitechapel Art Gallery. Lucian Freud : Recent Work. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1993. Pp.11-26

Freud has taken his sitters out of the “privileges and burdens of traditional society with expectations attached to roles, relative wealth, age and decorum… The pressure is towards a perilous interpenetration of exteriority and interiority, physical form and feelings, couched in the illusionistic, classical framework of oil painting.” They make “some people transfer themselves, imaginatively, to the situation painted.” (p.11)

“I know my idea of portraiture came from dissatisfaction with portraits that resembled people. I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them… As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as the flesh does.” (p.12)

Freud is concerned with all five senses, not just sight. Lampart says: “Freud was open to manipulating the compositions and limbs just because of the sensual presence of the models: ‘the effect that they make in space is bound up with them as might be their colour or smell.”(p.15) – phenomenological approach to painting. 

Lampart discusses the painting Pregnant Girl 1960-61:
When looking at the painting, the viewer is “invited to have imaginary intimacy though denied a narrative reading of the relationship between sitter and artist. 
^This is a really interesting idea and one that is very relevant to my work! 

When this exhibition book (1993) was first published, Freud had recently been working with a process of making one “large painting simultaneously with several smaller ones”. This seems an interesting way to to work, for Freud this approach “intensified the pressure overall” of trying something more ambitious. (p.20)

“It is often the sitters who suggest how they wish to lie down or sit.” (p.21)
“Freud wants all his works to proceed as if inevitable… It is his custom to start painting the figure and occasionally to nearly finish before other areas of the canvas are even touched with paint, and then revise the whole.” < this could be an interesting way to work since the once the body is down it may be more clear how the surroundings interact with the body and which details should be put down.
“Final adjustments come often not to correct what makes us blush, but to draw a larger, more disturbing point from just this gaucheness.” (p.22)

“‘I believe in Valazquez’, says Lucian Freud, ‘more completely than any other artist whose work is alive for me. I understand Ortega y Gasset’s strange remark on first seeing Las Meninas: ‘This isn’t art, it’s life perpetuated’.” (p.26)

Artist: Andrey Remnev

Why do I want to look at Remnev’s work

His paintings have a mood of mystery, closed emotion, setcrets 
People interacting with surroundings – lots of context e.g. history, location, placement of the body, which provides narrative. 
Use of fabric in compositions – how does this contribute to the above comments on Remnev’s work? 

Remnev works in egg tempera on a variety of surfaces.
Takes inspiration from Old Masters such as Jan van Eyck and Piero della Francesca.
I can see this inspiration in Remnev’s work. His paintings have the same stillness to them as works such as ‘The Flagellation of Christ’. 
A writing by art historian Eugene Steiner says: 

Remnev’s figures with their stillness or slow mannequin-statuary plasticity exist in a distinct static space, where time has stopped, and the atmosphere is so clear and transparent that it reaches the state of airlessness.

http://en.remnev.ru/press/2018-Article

This describes the mood of Remnev’s paintings perfectly – his figures are smoothed like marbled statues, and devoid of painterly flourishes or angular positions that could give any movement to the figures. 
In fact, Remnev’s work is the opposite stylistically to the artist Denis Sarazhin who I have looked at previously. 
Where Sarazhin gives his figures so much energy and movement they appear bursting to move. Remnev’s figures have a smoothness and, as said by Steiner, “are deprived of sensuous curvatures” to the point that they seem unreal and fixed in time. 

This unreal quality to the paintings is amplified with the proportions of the body. Remnev says in an interview that he doesn’t work from life when painting, instead working from his mind or from photographs. You can tell this from his work because the figures in them sometimes have unrealistic proportions. Like in this piece, where the women’s bodies are too long in relation to the size of her head:

Strelka 
2015, 110×170, oil on canvas

It never seems to matter that the proportions are incorrect, and it seems that the proportions are made unrealistic for the benefit of the composition, since they work well, and are not glaringly obvious when first encountering a painting. 

Lethe 
2015, 90×90, oil on canvas

In this piece Lethe the placement of the lady’s head on the mans shoulder is I think the most important part for the narrative of the piece. The uncomfortable movement of her neck outwards, and her hands placed in her lap relate so well to the man and create a real sense of unravelling narrative. This piece illustrates how much I still have to explore with placement of the body, and how much is possible! 
I am only painting one person in each painting so far, so how could I have a body interact with their surroundings so that a feeling/narrative unravels, in the same way that the lady’s body is interacting with the mans. 

High Water
2016, 100×50, oil on canvas

This painting High Water is very striking, and has the same theme of painting someone resting as my work. I want to focus on it because although the subject is similar, the piece has very different intentions to my own work, and it’s useful to acknowledge that. So there is a double perspective happening, which is subtle but effective.The girl’s head is seen from above, looking down. But they dress and the cushions are seen from side-on. It is an incredibly endearing portrait.
Here the girls face is a focus, and the body secondary. We can see there is a deep care between the artist and the girl, seen by the careful way he paints her features and the placement of her body.
In my work I don’t want there to be such personal ties when I paint figures, and I don’t want the face to be important. So although the subject is the same, I use the body instead of the face. Looking at this painting shows that this distinction is ever more important. 
It was worth including this piece so that I can make observations about what I want to achieve and also what I don’t! 

Unexpected conclusions

I have taken things away different things from looking at this artist than I expected. I expected to focus on the fabric and the colour palette, but instead I realise the most relevant part of his work to mine is the stillness of the people, and the way they are places in space. 
Perhaps the fabric and colour palette is something I will come back to. But for now I think the part of my work I’m grappling with is the placement of the figure in – the body positioning and the body in relation to their space. 

Moving forward with my work 

For my next series of paintings of people in their beds, I want to think more about what parts of the body I show, and where I place their body. 
So things like:
– is the body curled up on their side or stretched out
– what are their hands doing? placed carefully or flung above their head? 

The more I experiment the more I am making conscious decisions in my painting, instead of painting on automatic. This opens up so many unanswered questions, but also leaves more room to explore. 

Links:
Images of paintings from Remnov’s website: http://en.remnev.ru/gallery/paints&nbsp;
Eugene Steiner (art historian) on his work: http://en.remnev.ru/press/2018-Article
Interview: http://en.remnev.ru/press/2018-anthology

Podcasts

I discovered a podcast whilst researching the artist Felicia Forte last week. The podcast is called ‘Savvy Painter Podcast with Antrese Wood‘. 
They’re conversational interviews with artists and the first I listened to was interviewing Felicia Forte. It was a great episode to listen to to understand Forte’s work from a more personal view of the artist behind the work.
I have gone on to listen to a number of episodes with artists, they’re great to listen to whilst I paint. 

I also found the podcast called ‘John Dalton – gently does it‘, who also interviewed Felicia Forte. Both of these podcasts are going to be great to have on in the background whilst painting, and provide insights into the life of the artist behind a work. 

Artist: Felicia Forte

I first saw this artist at the BP Portrait Award 2018 at the National Portrait Gallery this summer. I was struck by Forte’s technique of layering the paint (in gradually thick layers) onto the canvas. Leaving parts of the canvas quite bare, so early layers can be see, and to the right of the figure’s head – you can see a patch of the bare canvas.

This painting really stayed with me, hence why I want to look at a few of her pieces for this project.

Felicia Forte
Time Traveller, Matthew Napping, oil on canvas, 72″x72″

From the BP Portrait Award 2018 website:

Time Traveller, Matthew Napping finds Forte’s sweetheart Matthew DeJong asleep on a sweltering summer’s day in Detroit. Forte says she was struck by the beautiful contrasts in the scene – the ‘cool light from the window meeting intense red light from the bedside lamp and the loneliness of the sleeper amidst the festive colours.’ The portrait was the culmination of a body of new work made in residence summer 2017 at Redbull House of Art in Detroit.

I think it was the loneliness of the piece that made this painting so vivid in my memory. The saturated colours fit with a fuller-than-life image. But the reality is a lonely napping figure, and this contrast between colour palette and content makes for an intense portrait.

The size of the canvas makes the feeling of loneliness stronger because there is literally a lot of ’empty’ canvas surrounding the viewer. The fact that the room is abstracted and objects are reduced to blocks and gradients of colour really helps to capture this feeling of emptiness; if the objects were detailed and realistic, the figure would I think look more grounded in the image, and surrounded by objects that fill the space around him. This would mean the feeling of loneliness wouldn’t be nearly as strong?

Felicia Forte
Private Eye, oil on canvas, 36″x60″

This painting Private Eye is similar to Time Traveller, Matthew Napping. The difference is that the objects and the room surrounding the figure are more detailed, and of course the viewer is looking through a door frame into the bedroom, instead of being in the room with the figure.

I have looked closely at how doors/windows change the dynamic of a painting in the past, and my conclusions were they disconnect the viewer from the scene through the opening, and remind them of their distance from a scene. So a door/window can be used in a composition to detach the viewer from a scene and make them feel as if they are looking through into a private scene. I think this theory applies here. As the viewer we are peering into a quiet, personal moment.

It’s interesting what Forte says in her artists statement:

[I’m] searching for a moment when the least amount of detail meets the truth of my subject… In the essentialist space of my work there is room for others to experience their own reality.

You can see this intention in Forte’s work. The choice to leave the face featureless and not include any objects in the room that appear personal to the artist or subject.

This idea of allowing the viewer to apply their own narrative / emotion to the piece works really well, it’s something that has interested me in this project (referring to the Art as Therapy book), and why this painting made such an impression on me when I saw it  exhibited.

Most of Fortes work may draw on the same ideas, but have a very different subject matter:

The bottom painting of the lamp is worth including because one really gets a sense of the painterly quality of her work. You can see the way she layers colour. Was this lamp painting a ‘practice’ piece for the larger work I looked at above that included the same lamp and striped wallpaper?

That might be something to consider: painting pieces that focus on objects in the room before going in on a big canvas with the whole scene. This might help to work out composition and light before stitching it all together.

More on how this relates to my own work: 

There are a lot of parallels between Forte’s work and the intentions of my own. Aspects of her work such as the scale of the canvas, and the way she simplifies and abstracts the subjects are ideas that had already been forming in my mind, but are just strengthened with this example of an artist who is applying these ideas very successfully.

I want to make sure I am not too influenced by Forte, and my work draws too many parallels with her work! If that’s possible?! More experimenting will reveal that.

Artist: Denis Sarazhin

Contemporary artist, born in Ukraine, 1982.

Initial thoughts about Sarazhin’s work.

  • chiaroscuro – more recent work
  • interlaced bodies
  • portraits
  • placed figures
  • reminds me of people sleeping – the awkward angles their bodies are in

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 13.48.52.png
Oil on Canvas
24 × 24 in; 61 × 61 cm

Image result for denis sarazhin Pantomime 10
Pantomime 10 

In the garden
In The Garden

It is hard to describe the way I interact with these paintings, because the mood Sarazhin has captured is not tangible; by this I mean that the completed painting holds more meaning than the sum of the physical paint and canvas. The painting has an essence? I want to create an essence in my work.

But talking more specifically, I have picked these three paintings to include here to highlight that the people in Sarazhin’s paintings always seem unaware that anyone is ‘watching’ – be that painter or viewer. The subjects seem absorbed in their own world, mentally a world away and also physically preoccupied – contorting their bodies in shapes that remind me of people sleeping, or moving with un-intention.

In Sarazhin’s more recent work like Awaken and Pantomime 10 there is also sharp contrast between the highlights and shadows. Whilst researching who Sarazhin is influenced by I could see there were artists current and historical who used chiaroscuro in their work. This technique combined with fresh and vibrant colours creates a fleshy, impactful show.

The faces in Sarazhin’s work tends to direct the viewer towards the body and away from the face. He does this by having the face/body face away from the viewer, or having hands/arms covering the face. This means the figures never make eye contact with the viewer, they are always looking elsewhere.

Reading the face is an instinctual way of reading someone, so when Sarazhin doesn’t allow this, the viewer has to look to the body to discover the meaning and emotion of the piece.

An article by D.S. Graham and Harriet Lloyd-Smith explores this idea further:

we feel the sensuality of the body, but also disgust at the over-attention thus paid to the flesh…It’s a profound reflection on our own physicality. More importantly, however, it’s a reflection on contemporary human relations. How do you approach a Sarazhin painting? How do you struggle without their Faces? How do you struggle without Language?

In an interview with Sarazhin, when asked about the importance of hands in his work he states:

Hands are a very important part of the human body. They are taking part in the expression of emotions and feelings. This is one of the ways of non-verbal communication… So when I’m depicting hands I set a task, not only to display correctly and truthfully, but also try to express by them a certain emotional and nonverbal value.

So without language, Sarazhin uses the body to communicate. Evident in his more recent body of work named ‘Pantomime’:

Pantomime – the kind of performing arts, in which the primary means of creating an artistic image is the human body and action without words as a means of expression.

How does this impact my practice? 

After looking at Sarazhin, I have a clearer idea of how I can communicate a feeling of intimacy, open / closed emotions, physicality – using the body:-

  • positioning the body
  • how I paint the body – brushstrokes, colour
  • the balance between focus on the face and focus on the body – covering the face focusses attention on the body.

Looking at Sarazhin has helped me to explore how the mood of a piece can be captured with practical technique.