New relationship with DegreeArt

I’m beyond excited to announce my new relationship with Degree Art, a leading online gallery for promoting emerging graduate artists! A careful selection of my paintings and drawings are now available to buy on their website. All my online sales will now go through DegreeArt.com.
I’m chuffed to get to work with them, and jump in the right direction towards making this artist career thing happen.

As I’m setting myself up as a graduate artist here in the North West, and as we all adapt to COVID, I’m slowly returning to working in the studio nice and frequently. Regular blog posts should be returning soon.

Reflections and (re)reading the book Art as Therapy

Things have been a bit all over the place recently. Moving house, moving studio, finishing uni. One other thing I have been starting and stopping a lot is my studio practice. I have been thinking and sketching about it in background for a while now, but it’s not something I have had a routine with. For today, I want to reflect on what I have been thinking and sketching about recently, and pull my ideas into this post.

Re-reading Art as Therapy

I read this book years ago and the arguments in it really stayed in with me. Being home for COVID it stuck out on my bookshelf and I was lured into picking it up again. It turns out that one art degree later and this book has only become more important to me! Art as Therapy argues that art is a form of therapy (surprise surprise) that should be harnessed in public and private life. The co-authors did a brilliant job at writing about very complex issues in very simple ways, for instance writing about our faults as humans, and how art can be used as a tool to help us with them.

Having just graduated, it felt fitting to re-read this book, and consider how I can act on these philosophies in my career. This book affected me as a viewer of art, an artist, and as someone with an interest in art academia. I want to separate my learnings into these three categories:

As a viewer of art

I learnt about why objects are important in my life. I learnt about how a great artwork I see in a gallery can make a positive difference to my life even once I leave to go home. I learnt about how I can surround myself with artworks, crafted objects and images to guide me towards living, feeling, acting and thinking better.

As someone with an interest in art academia

This book made me be more critical towards how art is written about in museums and galleries. The book made this great point that the little bits of writing next to a painting in big institutions are written as if the reader already has an interest in art. But in fact most people who walk through the rooms in say the National Gallery in London really don’t. Art as Therapy suggests the writing next to art in institutions should provide a way in, a way for a strange looking 400 year religious painting to mean something to a modern day secular accountant.

This idea plus lots of other great ideas in the book are points I really want to put into practice in my own curation.

As an artist

I learnt about the value of my work, about the shortcomings of painting and drawings, but also the power of them. There was this one bit of the book that really stuck with me: the book argued that historically, paintings make the everyday glamorous, and make us notice and appreciate things like light hitting the wall in a beautiful way, or the colours in a dazzling sunset. Therefore painters focus on aspects of our human life experience and make us notice them, making us savour moments that are perhaps difficult to put into words.

If anyone was to ever ask me what the point is of my art practice, in spending so much time thinking, sketching, talking, writing, drawing, painting about the experience of looking up – in woodlands or at the open sky – I would respond by saying I am artist that is encouraging people to notice a part of the everyday human experience that is tricky to put into words, and I hope that in doing so, my artwork helps us to understand these innate parts of our human experience and savour them more.

The sky and the experience of looking up

The universal but generational experience of the sky

We look up at the sky so much, and there is something human in us doing so. There is something innate in us that makes us want to look up at the big blue, crane our heads out of the window at ominous storm clouds, or glance up at the night sky on the way back from the pub.

It might feel natural and ancient to look up at the sky, but I don’t think the way we relate to the sky once our faces are pointing up has much to do with our ancestors. Instead I think it has everything to do with the culture we are currently immersed in.

The sci-fi films me watch about asteroids crashing into earth, or the books we read about alien civilisations, the news stories about new planets being discovered and rockets launching to the ISS, the planes that float past and disturb a quiet park and the knowledge the ozone is getting thinner with climate change, are some of the cultural associations that affect how we experience the sky.

It was the text The Discarded Image by C.S Lewis which made me aware that hundreds of years ago, the sky was not the gateway to uncountable other worlds, stories and possibilities of progress, but instead a great ceiling which held heaven on the other side.

So what does this have to do with my art practice?

I don’t know why this theme has fascinated me so much, but that doesn’t matter! I want to paint it. I have been doing lots of drawing, in pencil or ink, and this always involves lines in the sky, rings, lines that attempt to show the vastness and size of the sky, a passage way that looks alien even. When I get back in the studio I want to push these ideas much further with actual paint – woah. With acrylic sketchbook pages en plein air, and also big paintings. The glazing style that I have been doing might work well? I don’t know until I try. I’m looking forward to seeing what I find.

The medieval universe and a painting by Botticini

I am looking at paintings titled ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’, they’re all paintings from the Renaissance or older. The most compelling ones, to me, are the ones with incredible rendering of dark and light. It appears that light is really important for creating atmosphere in a painting. There’s something tangible, something present, something palpable about effective light in a painting.

I have been fascinated by this painting for sometime now:

Francesco Botticini, about 1446 – 1497 The Assumption of the Virgin probably about 1475-6 Tempera on wood, 228.6 x 377.2 cm Bought, 1882 NG1126 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG1126

I used to look at it every time I visited the National Gallery, although it is no longer on display rip. The composition of the piece really fascinates me; the vast size of the opening to heaven that dwarfs the landscape on Earth. The rings of blue are IMMENSE. They fade out into this sky blue which permeates the length of canvas, and seems to bounce off the complementary earthy colours of the landscape.

The painting is large, and when you stand before it, the dome shape dwarfs you. It makes you sit down in front of it and stare up at the holy scene above.

It looks kind of as if the sky has a hole cut in it. The layers of blue are the layers underneath the sky blue sky one can see on a clear day. The painter is suggesting that if you were to peal back the layers of blue, like defined layers of the atmosphere, they would reveal heaven on the other side. This analogy fits with the medieval universe model, which depicted Earth at the centre of something like an onion, with layers of space between Earth and the furthest out layer which was heaven.

It amazes me that this image may have reflected the artists beliefs about the world when Botticini painted it. I was told recently by someone that they think artists takes things that are difficult or complex or large, and translates them into objects (or events), which allow for viewers to have discussions and gain understanding. I thought this was so insightful! Re-reading a passage from Gerhard Richter: panorama (2011), I realised Gerhard Richter thought the same thing:

NS: But painting is not about efficiency.


GR: Actually it is, in the sense that it allows us to find a form for a complicated idea, that’s to say, to make something chaotic communicable, it is efficient.

P.21

By doing this, the artist takes something unconfined, something utterly complex and seemingly never-ending, overwhelming perhaps, and translate it into an object or event which is contained, with edges, which may attempt to reveal or describe the issue, or comment on it etc in a palpable format. Viewers (and the artist) can therefore use artworks as a way of grasping an issue, as a promp/ focus for discussion, to see the issue/topic/subject in a new light.

In ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’ it seems that Botticini was doing just this. He was taking the complex, massive, perhaps overwhelming idea and belief that the Earth was at the centre of this great onion structure, with heaven on the outside and Earth at the centre, and translated it into this painting. The simple imagery and the familiar story (of Mary going up to heaven) makes this massive belief structure into something pleasing to the eye, something tangible, something to sit in front of and contemplate, something physical to process, as a method for understanding an intangible/ abstract/ aerial idea.

I want to respond to this work. I’ll start with some ink drawings.

Hughs R. (1991). The Shock Of The New, Edition 2?, London: Thames and Hudson Ltd

  • ‘The silence of nature itself, in which the random noises of culture were swallowed up – was one of the dominant facts of medieval life, outside the cloister as well as inside it.’ P.324
  • ‘…might well have exceeded anything we take for “normal” cultural experience today. Now we see the same cathedral through a vast filter that includes our eclectic knowledge of all other cathedrals (visited or seen in photographs), all other styles  of buildings… the desanctification of the building… the secular essence of our culture… the memory of “mediaeval” sideshows at Disney World,’ Pp.324-5
  • ‘the pre-technological eye was obliged to scrutinize – one thing at a time.’
  • How is my painting a reflection of the image intense culture I have grown up in?
  •  ‘The idea of sitting down and painting the environment of signs and replications that made up the surface of the modern city was obviously absurd. But how could art defend itself against a torrent of signs that were more vivid than its own images?’ P.325

Essay: American Scenery–Thomas Cole vs NASA

I was reading this essay for my dissertation, but there were some interesting points made that directly link to my practice.

Squinting at this picture, we see a technological revolution, using a satellite to climb above the mountain, computers to capture the image, and pixels, not paint, to portray the scene. 

But we also see a decline in passion, a withdrawal from the subjective, a tendency to find beauty in the elegance of mathematics, optical resolution, and orbital mechanics…rather than personal experience, or nature.

http://museumzero.blogspot.com/2018/12/american-scenery-thomas-cole-vs-nasa.html

Is contemplating art like contemplating the scenery?

Like nature, Cole argues, art affects our heart, our intellect, and our spirit.

How? They help us grasp “the past, the present, and the future—so they give the mind a foretaste of its immortality.”

http://museumzero.blogspot.com/2018/12/american-scenery-thomas-cole-vs-nasa.html

Light Model Photos

To understand how light would hit a space full of brushstrokes I made a model of 3D brushtrokes with the intention of shining a light through a small hole to get something similar to the cone affect of light I want to paint.

I used this wire because it is self supporting, making it great for creating shapes moving upwards that are only supported at the base.

I shaped the wire by keeping in mind the kind of shapes I tend to make on the canvas i.e. long verticle brushstrokes in the middle, squiggly brushstrokes at the top, denser brushstrokes at the bottom.

I then added two mirror brush shaped pieces of paper, gluing them together to either side of the wire to mimic the shape of brushstrokes, and then I painted the brushstrokes with acrylic paint to make them a bit more believable.

I repeated this process a second time, adding the brushstrokes already there to make the sculpture denser:

I knew that for shining a light I could use the structure sculpture and the paper cover I made last term. I cut a hole in the top of this paper cover so that the only place the light could get in was through the top centre hole.

These are the images that this produced!

They look so cool!!! It just shows how light can really affect the atmosphere of a scene. The light at the top of the structure makes the space look holy in my eyes. There is something Godly about the white light shining down. The fact that the brushstrokes are encased in this religious structure frames the light, and created a sense of the holyness being contained within the structure, with the viewer being an observer of this holyness, catching the edges of it.

As for the light play on the brushstrokes, the reason I built this model!, the funnel of light is not as contained and distinct as I would want it to be, but I think I expected that. The funnel of light would had to have had a much stronger light source I think. I can define the funnel of light better when painting.
The gradient of light and dark on the brushstrokes is interesting. Some parts are in shadow and some bits hit the light strongly.
I am surprised by how many brushstrokes near the ground are in shadow.
This line, where some of the brushstroke is in light and some is in shadow is really nice. I want to use this in my painting:

When I was taking these photos I was with (another!) Georgina who also works with 3D brushstrokes. Except her sculptures of 3D brushstrokes are far better then mine because she has been working on her methods for a long while.
We decided together that it would be cool if we put one of her sculptures inside my structure sculpture and shined a light on that. This was the result:

*I have full consent from Georgina to use these photos on my blog*

It looks so cool!! The brushstrokes are so much more believable and otherworldly than mine. The brushstroke mass is a lot denser, so it will be helpful when painting areas of the canvas where the brushstrokes are this dense.
The whole scene looks so strange and weird. But there is also something in it that is familiar?
They shapes of the brushstrokes are not very similar to my painting brushstrokes. Georgina’s are much denser and the direction of them in a lot more horizontal, with shapes wrapping around each other. But nevertheless this was really interesting to do!

This got me thinking about future instillation work. And it has proven that light (and dark) greatly affect the atmosphere of an image/ painting.

I will be referring back to these images lots when I am painting.

Lyrical Abstraction

A term I had not heard of until now. There’s a great definition of it on this website: https://www.ideelart.com/magazine/lyrical-abstraction , where it is defined as:

Lyrical Abstraction is a seemingly self-defining term, and yet for generations its origin and meaning have been debated. The American art collector Larry Aldrich used the term in 1969 to define the nature of various works he had recently collected that he felt signaled a return to personal expression and experimentation following Minimalism. But the French art critic Jean José Marchand used a variation of the term… decades earlier, in 1947, to reference an emerging European trend in painting similar to Abstract Expressionism in the US. Both uses of the term referred to art that was characterized by free, emotive, personal compositions unrelated to objective reality.

https://www.ideelart.com/magazine/lyrical-abstraction

I know this has a link to my work.

The website says these ideas can be traced back to the artist Wassily Kandinsky. The website states that there was a group of artists, embodied by Kandinsky, that approached abstract painting differently from the Cubists, Futurists etc. Instead of expressing objects in abstract and sometimes symbolic forms, this group used abstraction without knowing what the meaning of it was. This approach was much more free, with no links to ‘the objective world’. This allowed for paintings such as Kandinsky’s that communicated emotion, imagination, passion, and subjectivity. (‘Kandinsky likened his paintings to musical compositions’).

The Lyrical Abstraction of Kandinsky… was not specifically associated with any religion, but there was something overtly spiritual to it. Other artists associated with styles like De Stijl, Art Concrete and Surrealism were making art that was secular and lent itself to objective, academic interpretation. Kandinsky was seeking something that could never be fully defined or explained. He was expressing his personal connection with the mysteries of the universe in an open way. It was like he invented a kind of spiritual Existentialism.

https://www.ideelart.com/magazine/lyrical-abstraction

Lyrical Abstraction became prominent again after WWII because of the existentialism that rose from the war.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, a great number of abstract art movements emerged that all in one way or another involved subjective personal expression as the foundation for expressing meaning in art. Abstraction Lyrique, Art Informel, Tachisme, Art Brut, Abstract Expressionism, Color Field art… One of the most influential art critics of this time, Harold Rosenberg, understood this when he wrote, “Today, each artist must undertake to invent himself…The meaning of art in our time flows from this function of self-creation.”

https://www.ideelart.com/magazine/lyrical-abstraction

This is so interesting to think about because my work deals with the spirituality, holyness, greatness, atmosphere of the woodland and its ties to interior religious buildings. Then my painting is based on the personal, subjective experience of a location i.e. a modern and post WWII way to think about the world and my place in it.

It’s interesting that I am dealing with spaces and ideas connected to those spaces that are old – they tie to the old medieval model I have been reading about, to pre-WWII ideas of a person’s place in the world. And yet my painting is modern in the sense that is individualistic, subjective, and as I saw at the end of last term, verging on the existential!

Artists listed on website that deal with Lyrical Abstraction:

Early 20th c – first embodyment of the (later coined) term:
Wassily Kandinsky, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Fautrier, Paul Klee and Wols

Decades later:
Georges Mathieu, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Pierre Soulages and Joan Mitchell

Late 1960s and 70s ‘revitalized & expanded the relevance of the position’:
Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Mark Rothko and many more

Contemporary artists:
Margaret Neill, Ellen Priest, Gina Werfel, Melissa Meyer.

What holds all of these artists together in a common bond is the fundamental quest of Lyrical Abstraction: to express something personal, subjective and emotive, and to do it in a poetic, abstract way.

https://www.ideelart.com/magazine/lyrical-abstraction