I couldn’t help including this old favorite of mine, although it’s a long time since I painted it but it triggers a lot of memories for me.
I was on the ferry to visit a dear friend in the Gulf Islands, who has long since passed away. While out on deck to enjoy the scenery, I noticed how the sun empowered those potently red interiors of the lifeboats, all in perfect contrast to an otherwise subdued and clouded Pacific West Coast sky. In my eyes, it just had to be painted and although it came with some difficulties–I quite like the result.
While this wouldn’t sell for much in a western european market, it went very quickly in North America and sold appropriately to a hotel in Victoria, British Columbia–where many of their customers likely would have traveled through those same Gulf Islands and would easily recognize those same Vancouver-Gulf Islands-Victoria ferries.
Again, one of my first acrylics and one of my first figure paintings. With this, I aimed to create a reflective scene, sharing that deep inner feeling of peace, calm and contemplation.
When working with people and perhaps especially with the nude figure, it’s not enough to know about media and process.
I knew very little of working with models, especially posing them. Perhaps I had imagined that poses just sort of happened but surprisingly (at least to me at the time,) a whole lot of preparation and directing is involved.
By necessity, I soon learned that the art of figure painting begins long before even stapling canvas to its stretcher bars but I’ve been fortunate, beyond what I could ever have hoped for–the models I’ve worked with have all been very patient and understanding people.
While I had done life-drawing and figure studies in acquiring my Fine Arts and Art Education degrees, this is one of my first paintings of the figure and first uses of acrylic paint. All painting during my studies was done in oil paint, leaving the challenge of acrylic paints for later.
When first encountering acrylic paints I was extremely frustrated with the drying speed, leaving me little or no time for blending. Photographing acrylic paintings of the figure soon became another challenge. The camera perceived painted skin tones entirely different from my own eyes, and I had to rethink my approach to color mixes several times before approximating something the camera agreed with.
There are many things I’d do different, if I was to paint this same painting today–not to say it would be any better but my approach has taken some turns and perhaps become more individualized since then.
In a vague hope of sharing the three-dimensional qualities of Dry Spell’s shaped canvas and keeping in mind the limitations of two-dimensional media, I had to change my approach. Instead of attempting to include everything, I moved in close–showing just portions of Dry Spell. Using close-ups allowed me drastically different viewing angles–and although segmented, a more complete experience for the viewer.￼
The aesthetic qualities of what was initially only meant as details surprised me. The close-ups now seemed to take on a life of their own as little independent expressions, perhaps worthy of being shared and displayed as prints?
214 x 90 cm. Diptych. Acrylic paint on shaped canvas.
105 x 65 cm, acrylic paint on canvas.
By seeking a more universal representation of the figure and excluding all but the actual torso, I hoped to give credit to the sculptural qualities of the female form and not let the aesthetics be an obstacle to the feelings of the piece.
The emotive qualities were however my top priority. Although perhaps entirely too ambitious, I was looking to depict the inner solace found at the core of total acceptance–not just by others but also oneself.
The cooler tones dominating the piece while the composition eliminates all but a faceless torso, is to make viewing it a less personal and more universal experience, creating a comfortable distance for the viewer to enter the space, and relate.
The thought behind this piece is one of great importance to me, acceptance. When accepted and respected, we seem to become better versions of ourselves. This is my visual representation of that acceptance.
When I visited London some time back, I also had the good fortune to see the Picasso exhibition curated by Sir John Richardson “Minotaurs and Matadors” at the Gagosian Gallery. Despite having seen many of Picasso’s works exhibited before (an entirely different and much more impressive experience than seeing them in books or online) this once again allowed me a grand experience.
It’s a known fact that Picasso in a way identified with the bull and with that in mind, his drawings depicting a bull when processing it through a reductive process might allow some insights, as all choices in the process were entirely Picasso’s.
First, Picasso takes on his usual role as the artist, expertly selecting, isolating for focus and removing visual elements–all with the intentions to find those essential elements of art in the subject but as the process nears the end, it becomes more apparent–intentionally or subconsciously, what he chose to reduce almost to extinction.
As is frequently seen in design and icons, the bulls head is often used to symbolise unstoppable strength, mind, mentality and tenacity while also sometimes fiercely imposing, can be enough to clearly identify the idea of a bull. The head of a bull was also enough for Picasso to suggest himself a bull when putting on a bull’s mask, as he would do but in the last image of the Bull Series, the head is as near to being completely gone as it can possibly be.
Similarly have the genitals of bulls been used to refer to the character and traits inherent to the masculinity and strength in the bull, just like people in some parts of the world compare themselves or parts of themselves to that of the bull but again in a final stage of reduction, Picasso almost completely castrates the bull in the last bull drawing.
Returning to Picasso, metaphorically identifying with and relating to the bull or better yet–the minotaur as half man, half bull said “If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a Minotaur.” In Picasso’s world, the bull portion of the minotaur was ultimately destined to fight for its life and die fighting–while man portion of that same minotaur still tries to make sense of it all.
The drawings are indisputably Picasso’s recorded expression as he chose every step of the way, which brings me to question if this was a statement on more than elements of design and abstraction, intentionally or unintentionally? Did Picasso feel burdened by his own success as he inescapably became a greater celebrity, seeing his identity, real strength and artistic freedom reduced to the point of being almost removed?
Here I’m using a type of charcoal, totally new to me and this is my first time using them. They’re amazing but I haven’t quite become familiar with them yet.
While I can never come close to create anything as beautiful as the human form, I try to share my perception in such a way as help the viewer see that same beauty in a different light, with a different set of eyes.
I quite enjoy how the bright sun illuminates the scene, defining the figure while adding an almost marble-like tone to the skin and I’m rather pleased with the result. Much to the models surprise, I gave her red hair in this painting but it just seemed the right thing to do?
Neither is my ambition to imitate the function of a camera, because the camera already does that expertly, much faster and without compare. Instead I merely aim to share my respect and admiration for the endless variations of beauty I see in people around me.