Subconscious repetition: Scooter Woman

I’ve written here before about what I’ve called subconscious referencing – when I paint something “from imagination” but find later that I’ve drawn the image from a memory – usually a pop culture image from my childhood or youth.

I made these two paintings (above) this year, improvising the content “from imagination”. I wrote about that process here. However, today I found this old drawing in my archives. I drew this in 1997 when I was sixteen years old. The similarities are obvious: the female figure positioned on the left, leaning her weight onto her right arm, facing the viewer eye-to-eye; the exaggerated spherical breasts; and in the background, potted palms with flat brittle looking leaves.

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97 Scooter Woman (1997) pencil on paper 24 x 20cm

This drawing was also “from imagination”, apart from the scooter which was drawn from a photograph. I remember drawing women of this type and in this way, influenced by Richard Williams’ design of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), and by a small book of postcards drawn by Tom of Finland. For sure these drawings were also an outlet for the repressed transgenderism I described here.

Seeing this drawing again, and comparing it to the recent paintings (above), I’m most struck by the palm trees. I thought that palms, drawn in that way, were something I just started doing this year. It surprises me to see that I also drew them nearly twenty years ago, looking very similar and performing the same compositional role.

Dana Schutz, close up details

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Dana Schutz Surgery (2004) oil on canvas

Surgery is a painting by Dana Schutz. It was made in the early 2000’s which is my favourite phase in her work (so far). I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see any of her work in reality, so I was happy to find these close-up photographs of Surgery (below). Thank you Chris Lowrance for posting these on Flickr.

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Dana Schutz Surgery [detail] (2004) oil on canvas

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Dana Schutz Surgery [detail] (2004) oil on canvas

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Dana Schutz Surgery [detail] (2004) oil on canvas

Sometimes I make paintings of faces with Schutz’s work in mind, and I nearly always like the way they come out. It encourages me to approach colour, light and modelling in a different, less high-contrast way than I usually do. I’m intrigued to see if I can incorporate some of that into more complex compositions in future.

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160918k Blond Stubble (2016) oil on canvas

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160918j (2016) oil on canvas

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16???? (2016) oil on canvas

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160918h (2016) oil on canvas

Painting as homemade bomb

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161228b Bomb (2016) oil on canvas 34.5 x 37cm

Working from a photograph again, finding that a useful exercise lately, although I’ve never much liked paintings that are complete renderings of photographs. Feels like too much of a mechanical copying process. A bit like putting a photo through a filter app. Of course there is a whole world of painting dealing with the relationship to photography, but this year I’ve been more interested in what painting can do if you let in a bit of non-photo-derived drawing, etc.

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Working from photograph on 161228b Bomb (2016)

Anyway, I painted an IED because I was thinking about how a painting can be like a homemade bomb: basic materials that can be bought by anyone, combined in such a way to make something powerful that can reach a lot of people, violently in the case of a bomb, but positively (hopefully) in the case of a painting. It’s a small wanky insensitive idea, but at least it’s some kind of idea, which makes a nice change from the “exercises” I’ve been doing for most of this year.

I’m still painting wet-on-wet, quickly, and trying to match the brush size to the size of the object or plane that I’m painting, for example: each rock and stone is one brush stroke, with a black shadow added. I’m also enjoying the sculptural effect of impasto, although it does create difficulties in how to light the painting when photographing it. (See how the black areas reflect light differently in the picture above and the close-up detail picture below.)

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(detail) 161228b Bomb (2016) oil on canvas

For the technique, I was thinking of Dana Schutz in paintings where her paint handling is reminiscent of early 80s Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger. The Oehlen painting I was specifically thinking of is Four Travel Bags (below).

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Albert Oehlen Four Travel Bags (1981) latex on canvas 66.5 x 90cm

Four Travel Bags is such a dynamic gestural painting compared to my more hesitant fiddly rendering of the IED. My painting has come out a little more like Kippenberger’s Bitte Nicht Nach Hause Schicken which was also copied from a photograph using rudimentary technique (both below).

My paint handling in 161228b Bomb also reminds me of the way Liu Xiaodong used to paint from photographs, which to me always felt too close to the source image, again like I was looking through a “paint” filter at a photograph, which made the painting seem redundant and uninventive (although this is not a big criticism, since I’ve never given his painting much thought beyond that).

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Liu Xiaodong The House Where I Grew Up (2010) oil on canvas 150 x 400cm

I actually quite like this Xiaodong painting (above), and I used to enjoy similar paint handling by Karen Kilimnik, like this one (below), although actually I usually find her brushstrokes more varied and interesting than Xiaodong’s. For my own work going forward, I don’t want to make a habit of copying entire photographs corner-to-corner, but only using them (if at all) as one part of the process of making a painting.

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Karen Kilimnik Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Home – The Dining Hall (2014) water soluble oil colour on canvas 41.3 x 51.4cm

Schiele’s Landscape with Ravens

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Egon Schiele Rabenlandschaft [Landscape with Ravens] (1911) oil on canvas 95.8 x 89cm

I love Egon Schiele’s paintings, and I was surprised to recently find an amazing one online that seems to be well known but that I hadn’t seen before. It also looks quite different to the landscapes I know by Schiele. I was scrolling through a blog and when I saw this, Landscape with Ravens (above), I first thought it was an Oehlen painting from the early 1980s. Some of my favourite Oehlen paintings were made between 1980 and 1986, including Rotes Haus (below), which I wrote about before here.

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Albert Oehlen Rotes Haus (1985) oil, lacquer and mirror on canvas

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Albert Oehlen Untitled (1982) oil on canvas

Schiele’s Landscape with Ravens also reminds me of Guston’s Tormentors, and of the vaulting perspective in some of Jules de Balincourt’s paintings.

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Philip Guston The Tormentors (1947-48) oil on canvas 103.8 x 153.7cm

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Jules de Balincourt City Dwellers and Star Seekers (2010) oil and acrylic on panel 40 x 47cm

Christmas day doodles

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161225a (2016) pencil on paper 12 x 14cm

These were doodled during a game of Trivial Pursuit. Composition is still a mystery to me, and fascinating for that reason. Something to explore more in 2017. Especially “bad” compositions, because I often find something exciting about the wrongness of a bad composition, the way it draws attention to itself, undermining the effect of whatever other good techniques the painting has going for it (colour, paint handling, etc.), sending the eye in awkward disjointed journeys around the picture. I’ve not even started to understand how to make compositional choices work for me, but that’s what I was thinking about when doodling these.

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161225b (2016) pencil on paper 18 x 10.5cm

Daily

When I called this blog “daily daub” I thought I might actually post whatever I painted each day. It hasn’t worked out that way, but if that was the case then today’s painting would be this telephone.

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161226a Phone (2016) oil on canvas 14 x 19cm

Before painting I sketched an outline onto the canvas using a soft pencil. The graphite still shows through the black paint on the cord. I would avoid that in future. I think also that the smaller brush strokes would look better if I’d done them faster, with more of a swiping action. The whole thing could have been painted with faster messier brushstrokes and I’d probably prefer it, like this section of an older painting (below) that I’m currently using for my Twitter header. But mostly I’m okay with how the phone looks. If it was part of a larger composition, it would be fine with me.

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Detail from 161201 (2016) oil on canvas 109 x 65cm

Black outlines

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Ansel Krut Head With Bottles (2008) oil on canvas 76 x 61cm

In my review of the Painters’ Painters exhibition, I mentioned the amount of black outlines in the exhibition, including in the work of Ansel Krut (above). I got a little tired of them in that exhibition, but I do like high-contrast modelling of form, including black or very dark edges. This year I’ve been particularly enjoying them in paintings by Philip Guston and Neo Rauch.

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Philip Guston Alfie in a Small Town (1979) oil on canvas

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Neo Rauch Kalimuna (2010) oil on canvas 300 x 500cm

Sometimes I experiment with black shadows and outlines. Here are some examples (below). (I need to dig some of these out of my archives to get full dates and dimensions, will update here soon)

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160909 (2016) oil on canvas 56 x 42cm

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16???? (2016) oil on canvas

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16???? (2016) oil on paper

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161115a (2016) oil on canvas 28 x 26.5cm

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16???? (2016) oil on canvas

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161115b (2016) oil on canvas 26.5 x 32.5cm

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16???? (2016) oil on canvas

Working from photographs

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161222c Cake with Candles (2016) oil on canvas 16 x 18cm

I hadn’t painted for a few days and chose to paint a birthday cake because it gave me an opportunity to use a variety of brush sizes (wide brush for the side of the cake, narrower brush for the candles). I used the photo as source material, but didn’t trace or project the form directly. I wanted to see if I could work from any photograph, so I chose the first photograph that came up in a Google image search for “birthday cake”. Here’s that photograph.

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I’ve been resistant to working from photographs in the past because I got tired of seeing so many painters inspired by Richter/Tuymans/Dumas. Jerry Saltz complained about the ubiquity of this tendency in his article The Richter Resolution (2005), and more recently interest seems to have moved much more toward figuration made using free-hand drawing with (apparently) little or no reference to photographic imagery. That’s what dominates the work selected for Phaidon’s new Vitamin P3 book (2016), and there’s also plenty of it at Saatchi’s Painters’ Painters exhibition (Rafi Kalenderian, Martin Maloney, Ansel Krut, Bjarne Melgaard, Ryan Mosley).

However, there are a lot of painters who I don’t think of as being in dialogue with photography, and yet they use photography extensively as source material. Here are some examples I’ve found quickly on line. These all happen to include “illustrational” depictions of the female figure, I’m not sure if that’s deliberate.

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Lisa Yuskavage Half Family (2003) oil on linen 41 x 33cm

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Gil Elvgren A Near Miss (1960) oil on canvas 76.2 x 60.9cm

Eric Fischl sometimes makes photo collages to paint from (see The Gang, below). It’s interesting that in this example he makes no attempt to match the direction of the sunlight in his photo collage, yet somehow the image retains a surprising credibility and coherence despite that.

The process of copying an image is radically different to inventing one without a source, but how important is that when we’re looking at the finished painting? I’m not sure.

In practice, I don’t like to spend a lot of time searching for images online. That process is captured brilliantly in Dana Schutz’ painting Google.

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Dana Schutz Google (2006) oil on canvas 182.9 x 182.9cm

Painting for babies

These are paintings I’ve made for my nephew and niece who are aged three and one. The canvases and easels are tiny. He loves dinosaurs, she loves cats. It was fun to paint something for people who are (a) very subject-matter-oriented, and (b) highly acquisitive.

This photo looks weirdly high-contrast but it’s actually pretty accurate.

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L-R: 161222b Cat (2016) oil on canvas 6 x 6cm; 161222a T-Rex (2016) oil on canvas 6 x 6cm

I enjoyed making these, and was thinking of (believe it or not…) early Albert Oehlen. I just now did a search for his 80s paintings and found these which I haven’t seen before, but they’re the kind of thing I had in mind.

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Albert Oehlen Die Zeit heilte alle Wunden [Time Heals all Wounds] (1981) oil on canvas 50 x 58cm each

PS: I just found a Harry Hill painting with a dinosaur that’s a lot like mine.

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Harry Hill (2011) (anyone have title and details for this painting?)

Exhibition review: Painters’ Painters at Saatchi Gallery

As usual, these are notes on what I: Liked; Wasn’t sure about, and; Didn’t Like. Totally subjective, personal, subject to change, etc.

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Richard Aldrich Wish You Were Here (2007) oil and wax on canvas, tape, wood and velvet on linen 213.3 x 147.3cm

Painters’ Painters at Saatchi Gallery

Liked: seeing the whole gallery devoted to recent painting, each room dedicated to one painter represented by several works – plus free entry is nice. No curatorial theme forced onto the work, just a variety of paintings made over the last twenty years, reflecting Saatchi’s taste. I was surprised to find that my favourite room was Richard Aldrich’s, whose work is in many ways the least similar to my recent favourites (Rauch, Schutz, Condo, etc.). The combination of the works in Aldrich’s room gave me the greatest sense of possibility in what a painting can be and do. I’ve seen his work in reproduction and didn’t get much from it, but in reality I felt it had a lot of presence. The stripped-back-ness was a welcome change in this show of otherwise very full canvases, so I don’t know if I’d feel the same about the work under different circumstances.

Wasn’t sure about: the number of large paintings, many over 2 metres wide. I like large paintings, but with so many of similar scale it started to feel standard (another reason why Aldrich’s variety of canvas sizes and supports was refreshing). I also got fatigued with the preponderance of black outlines in the work of Raffi Kalenderian, Ansel Krut and Bjarne Melgaard, but any one of them in isolation probably wouldn’t have had that effect. I felt that some of the paintings (not all) were rather polite, or comfortable, or safe; either tapping primitivism on a spectacular scale or tastefully blending twentieth-century styles in a way that guarantees to produce something that looks like modern painting without any jolt of unfamiliarity. I think I prefer paintings that are willing to be more difficult or ungainly, that risk being unwanted, or ugly, or just really bad. I really respect the elegance that some of these painters have achieved, but today, for some reason, I didn’t have an appetite for it.

Didn’t like: There was nothing I positively disliked, but

I was initially disappointed on leaving. I assumed that in a whole show of big figurative painterly painting (chosen by showman Saatchi) I would find at least one new thing to excite me, and I didn’t. Except I did in Aldrich, just not in a way that I’m used to, nor that meets the criteria I thought were important to me. Probably that’s a great thing, because it’s opened my mind considerably about what I want from painting, including my own.