Habits

I’m scaling up again. This time I worked from this very small painting made back in June (below) …

girlonbeach_july2016

1606mm Girl on Beach (2016) oil on canvas 17.8 x 23.2cm

… and made this painting (below), which is almost four times the size.

161205small

161205 (2016) oil on canvas 61 x 91cm

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.

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9 thoughts on “Habits

  1. your conclusion is the right one. So you are reviewing your technique – and that’s fascinating to read. But more, you are critiquing your choices about the composition. I don’t think your imperative to keep going is necessarily laziness. There could be a deeper instinctive drive asserting itself. I guess you might bear in mind your feeling that it is a lazy practice – and coerce yourself into remaking bits of the painting at times and see how this works.

    What is new for me to see is that you had difficulties deploying all the images in the way you want – very much pointing to figuring your compositions – assuming as I did that the larger canvas would solve such issues. But I wonder whether you have thrown the baby out with the bathwater? Your intent is one thing. But your territory has moved – at some point you will back yourself one method or the other. And be content, or not.

    Untrained eyes – mine – love the white highlight device. Indiscriminately. So I will be looking for your self crit on such things as you move along.

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    • Thank you Phil, as always you are a wonderful sounding board and this blog would be a very lonesome place without you. I don’t think my imperative to keep going is so much lazy, more like panicky. I just have to finish the picture and get it over with. Maybe I just need to relax a bit more into painting.

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      • Forge that panic into something like “urgent” or “compulsion” and go with it. Paint big boys pictures now. Your technique and mastery may catch up with you, if they can haha. They will Liam 🙂

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      • It’s funny that you say “paint big boy paintings”, which I’m taking to mean paintings that are not simply “exercises” or “experiments” (although that’s pretty difficult to determine). Last night I was thinking about how anxious I feel these days, and I’m sure many people the same, and how Robert Crumb expressed that so well in his drawings and writing, and I thought about making paintings about those feelings. It made me think about how I could use what technique I already have, in a very different way. So perhaps that’s the stirrings of content driven work to come.

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      • You read me right. And it seems you are tipping towards giving full rein to your “stirrings”. The content need not be explicit, even to you. Your readiness for putting your foot to the floor won’t be announced in The Times (that’s for things like when I got engaged hehe). It’s not even a point based on arriving at a certain technical and literate level. That’s why I say your technique can catch up with you, if it can.

        I am anxious too, more than my level headed self allows – both narcissistically and existentially I think. Ride that stream in you Liam – without indulging it of course. You will have your heart in your mouth a lot and as there are no KRIs available, you’ll be shitting yourself, having constant doubts. That’s your territory.

        Suck it all up and offer up sacrifices for your good fortune. I know nothing of your circumstances but I sincerely wish you are able to choose to go meaningfully here and continue despite any hurdles or fears. You won’t like yourself all the time because you’ll be wrestling with the partly unknowable. And you won’t like what you have done necessarily. You’re used to that, you detached comments show this.

        Throw nothing away.

        I see have meandered into the sentimental and metaphoUr. That’s never a good sign. 🙂

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      • God, I love your meandering. Everything you say rings true, thank you thank you thank you for your contributions. Been painting again today after almost a week off and enjoying it. Posting more shortly…

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      • your words are a fucking nice Christmas present Liam. Because I was about to tell you to truthfully tell me you didn’t need my pomposity. Not that I thought you’d be rude. But I have a feeling that my offerings are sometimes empty, or craven. Some of it comes from a lack of confidence, given my almost nil formal education in art. More worrying is that it is in some way intrusive. But perhaps we might have happened on a process – I’m quite happy if you ignore anything I write. And would be even happier if you said if you thought it was crap, and why. Now that would be a gift. You have an American politeness. An an American way of expressing yourself. I think. And that IS a compliment – their erudition astounds me all the time, yet they wear it so lightly, effortlessly. You’ve got that.

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      • I saw Robert Crumb’s response to Charlie Hebdo but hadn’t realised that he wrote. A friend of mine years ago was mad about his Weirdo. I didn’t ever really respond much to his work. I wonder why.

        trying to restrain my motor mouth and write short messages

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  2. Pingback: Subconscious repetition: Scooter Woman | dailydaub

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