I’m scaling up again. This time I worked from this very small painting made back in June (below) …
… and made this painting (below), which is almost four times the size.
The larger size gave me more freedom to vary the mark making, but there’s a contradiction in re-making a painting that was originally improvised: Either I copy the original, so the result will look similar but the copying process is completely different to the original improvisatory process; or I improvise a new picture, which is the same process but likely to produce a different result. On this occasion I tried to find a balance between the two, with mixed results.
I stupidly and unintentionally changed three of the things that I liked best about the original version: the absence of a mouth and nose; the drop-shadow on the ball/breast, which created a dual sense of space; and the overall composition of the elements in the picture. Basically, I threw the baby out with the bath water.
Here are three other mistakes that I made, which are habits of mine that I’d like to change:
- Attention to drawing. The palm trunks and pots are leaning to the left. Not deliberate, I just didn’t pay attention to how I was drawing. Dana Schutz recommends having a rear-view mirror in the studio to check compositions for stuff like this. I need to get one.
- Adjusting and re-painting. One of the great things about painting is you can wipe off any part you don’t like and change it. For some reason, I almost never do this. The picture accumulates bit by bit, and at each stage I try to work with what I’ve already done, even if it means (literally) painting myself into a corner. For example, in this painting I placed the left eye first, then realised that its size and position would mean the face had to be larger and more central than I intended, but went with it anyway (why?!). I wanted to include the breasts in the picture, as in the original, but this new figure was positioned in a way that placed the breasts outside the bottom edge of the picture … so I squeezed them in anyway, by painting the breasts where the shoulders would be and fitting the nipples in at the lower edge. This is a CRAZY inflexible way of composing a picture, massively compromising the content and composition just to avoid any re-painting.
- Illusionistic devices. A white high-light is a quick and easy way of giving the illusion (or indication) of a shiny surface. I used a LOT of them here: on the eyes, the water droplet hanging from the eyebrow, the tip of the nose, the three beads on the left, and on both breasts. The overall effect is a cartoonish glassiness. Habitual use of a single illusionistic device applied to every surface is something I dislike in a lot of illustration and graphic art. It creates a uniform style that looks formulaically executed. Why did I do it myself? Because I’m pulling in two different directions: wanting to improvise content (from imagination), but also wanting illusionistic effects (which would be better derived from observation). Consequently I lean on a small range of illusionistic effects drawn from memory, applying them formulaically and resulting in effects that are not what I want to paint, but what I can remember how to paint. I have to allow more observation into the process, or less illusionism, but either way the choice of content cannot be determined by a few tricks that I’ve memorised. I don’t want that limitation.
All of that said, I’d rather be learning from making ugly clumsy pictures like this, than adopting ready-made fool-proof approaches to “good” composition and content. My conviction in this is based on my feeling about early works by artists that I like, which often look messy to me, but messy with potential.