The title of this painting is 160804 Seated Woman Wearing a Cashmere Sweater, Maxi Tube Skirt and Clogs, With Rifle, Feeding Ducks. It’s a pretty thorough description of the picture and it makes me laugh. It also reminds me of the titles that Jim Shaw gave his Thrift Store Paintings.
I think it’s kind of an ugly mess. Part of me thinks I should scrape it off and re-use the canvas. This is the first time I’ve painted onto a stretched canvas, and I made the stretcher myself so I know it’s a lot of work to make another one. It’s also too big to store easily. I can see the sense in re-using the canvas, but… I’m not in the habit of destroying anything I’ve painted so far, and I like living with my “mistakes”. The more “wrong” they look to me, the more I want to understand their “wrong”ness.
When I think something that I paint looks “right”, that usually means it reminds me of another painter’s work, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I don’t want to develop a style that’s obviously similar to my favourite artists. That would be boring for the viewer, and for me. So when I paint something that looks “wrong”, I try to see what exactly makes it “wrong” and whether that “wrong”ness might be useful in some circumstances.
Having said all that, today’s painting might look “wrong” to me, but that doesn’t make it wildly original. I see echoes of plenty of other artists.
The untidy wet-on-wet brush work reminds me of some Neo-Expressionism, I’m not sure which painter exactly, maybe Baselitz?
Another artist I thought of is Gauguin, although there isn’t a huge similarity and he’s not someone I often think about. Perhaps he came to mind because of Vision after the Sermon, which, like my painting, features wonky drawing, cropped figures, and an orange-red ground that fills the frame.
More obviously, the oats that my lady is throwing to the ducks are definitely some bastardised van Gogh brush strokes.
There are also a couple of derivations that I was conscious of when I was painting. (A), The duck has a yellow outline because I saw yellow outlines at the Alex Katz exhibition at Serpentine gallery. Katz often uses them in his portraits, especially this one.
And (B), my lady’s strangely drawn legs began as a shapeless doodled blob, but the blob reminded me of the legs in John Currin’s Stamford After Brunch, which gave me the idea to turn the blob into legs in my painting too. (Why is derivation so hard to resist?)
I didn’t set out to paint a seated woman feeding ducks. I planned to paint the canvas all-over one colour as a background and let it dry before improvising something over it next week – abstract or figurative, I didn’t have anything in mind. When I started painting this background I tried to modulate the colour a little, but that became a whole variety of shapes. The so-called “background” can be seen below, on the left. When I looked at it this morning the shapes suggested an image to me, of this seated woman feeding ducks, so I just painted in the remaining details. Now that I look at the two side by side, I wish that I’d been more sparing in what I painted on top.
By adding so much detail, I lost a lot of what I liked about the original painting. In future if I try the same process, I’ll only paint in the details that are absolutely necessary to suggest the figuration I have in mind. As a process for making pictures, I like this method. It’s a development from the unintentional figuration stuff I wrote about here.