My final group
I’m pleased overall with the paintings, and how they look as a group. The standard varies widely though – some I’d have preferred to leave out, so maybe I should have aimed to paint more than 20 and eliminate some of them.
I did find it hard to be expressive on this miniature scale, feeling rather hunched over detail at times. I wanted to respond to the music, in expansive gestures, but there wasn’t a great deal of room on the 15x15cm support.
I find it hard to paint quickly, but got better at it as my series proceeded. If I do a very quick painting I almost feel I’ve cheated, though these can be some of my most effective work! The series took me an age and I did became despondent at times. At times none of the paintings seemed satisfactory. I felt I needed to find a way somehow to simplify.
As I approached the final few paintings things started to look better. I was painting more quickly, and more effectively, fussing less over detail. The quickest figurative painting was the last, and I think it’s one of the best.
To speed things up, or when I felt my approach was becoming too laborious, I changed tempo a few times, attempting some ‘abstract’ paintings, responding to the movement of the dance and the sound of the music. In the final analysis the abstract paintings in general appeal to me more than the figurative ones. It’s not necessarily that they’re ‘better’, but I feel this mode of expression opens up more possibilities for expressing my feelings and responses to a subject, and I think this point comes across to my viewer too. I don’t want to lose my subjective approach entirely and so I may be searching for a way to marry the two in my work – rather than my work having to be one or the other.
After giving it lots of thought I made a decision to base my 20 paintings on a common theme, rather than picking images at random or mixing 2 or 3 ideas. I wanted my eventual group to look cohesive. The figure, facial expression, colour and pattern motivate me, so I settled on the idea of using found images from a DVD I like – ‘Flamenco’. The Spanish guitar has been a lifelong love of mine, and dance lifts my heart. In the DVD there’s a variety of characters, dance, costume, music and singing, lighting, stage set and viewpoint so it was quite a task to distill out of it a selection of screen captures to base my 20 small paintings on.
The idea of using captured film screens was partly influenced by Cathy Lomax’s Film Diary series. I like her hand-written titles and if I mounted my paintings each would have a hand-written caption underneath with its film subtitle – the words of the songs being an important part of the whole. Instead, I gathered together some phrases and incorporated them in one of the paintings, Portrait and Words
Sickert’s tonal colours and use of light to describe form influenced the way I interpreted some of my images, many of which were bathed in low, artificial and coloured, reflected light. Degas influenced some of my composition choices, with cropping, unusuHere is my final group al viewpoints, use of extreme perspective between foreground and middle/background. Both painters were keen on dance, music hall and theatre scenes.
A small square format is unusual and made me look hard for good compositions, playing with cropping on my iPad to look at different possibilities. I wanted to depict the full range of the flamenco culture, so I zoomed in and cropped hard to find striking designs which best expressed the passionate art. The swirl of a skirt, strings of a guitar, feet stomping, hands clapping, faces contorted with song and emotion. I made some sketches as I worked, and studies of figures and faces.
To make a start I painted 20 backgrounds as in previous exercises, using ink, acrylic, watercolour and gouache ; some plain (light and dark), some splodged and spattered, taking inspiration from the DVD. In making the paintings I tried to link my interpretation of the subject with an appropriate background and painting media, and in some I experimented with media and technique (eg ink blot, gold leaf, bleach, incorporation of text) to add to the feeling I was trying to express. The individual paintings and how I did them are shown further down the page.
The paintings are arranged in a grid to form one large image. I assumed my viewer will first get an impression from the whole group, then read the paintings as a story, starting top left.
I laid them out quickly in a 6×4 landscape format grid (with gaps, to allow for pause and breathing space)) on a white sheet, swapping a few around to distribute genre (abstract, portrait, figures) and colour – 3 of the paintings are startlingly bright and I didn’t want them clustered together. Perhaps they could be viewed as punctuation marks between phrases in a narrative. Or as in a musical piece, the phrases could have different moods – light and dark, gentle and passionate.
There are six abstract or semi-abstract paintings where I tried to respond to the music together with the visual impact of the dance.
The last three above are more successful than the others because they better depict a the energy and emotion of Flamenco. Dance Movement actually looks rather static! The other two are weaker, not conveying any particular emotion.
The six portraits depict singers and dancers close up showing their rapt expressions.
The first three are the most successful. Fat Lady Sings leaves the viewer in no doubt she is really belting out a song; Woman with Red Earring is in a dark dream world as she sings; and to my surprise my rework of Portrait with Red Blouse has made this painting one of the most expressive. On the other hand the character in Portrait, Dancer’s Head is a bit undeveloped as is Portrait and Words (I like the concept of the latter though, and would like to return to the use of text as background in future). The structure of the lower face in Portrait, Man Singing is unconvincing, and the execution of the painting tight by comparison with others.
The group or figure paintings below –
The last three are weaker than the others. The male dancer paintings seem to me a bit illustrative, while the background lets Guitarist down – the pink blob isn’t helpful either!
Here are some descriptive notes I made as I worked.
Green dancer – a quick expression of the energy of the dance. At first glance it’s not obvious what’s going on but then you can decipher the hand and arm powering a whirl, which is described by the dress flying round. The leg (deliberately) is contorted, to describe the stomping which is part of the dance.
Portrait, man singing – I got a good sense of light describing form, and the face, not totally lined up, is expressive of inward concentrated emotion.
Blue guitarist – using the indigo, yellow ochre and white palette of Picasso’s blue period. I tried to express the lament of the guitar and the musician totally engrossed in his baleful music.
Portrait, dancer’s head – the head is zoomed right in to the foreground, with another dancer depicted on a much smaller scale in the background. The context of this unusual, photographic composition (and also the subject) is Degas’ ballerina paintings. There’s a sense of whirling movement, and golden light.
Woman singing – the hand-clapping members of her troupe recede quite effectively because of their lack of detail and dark, neutral tones. The focus is therefore on the singer as her brightly lit face and hands show she’s throwing herself into her song. The splash of red in her dress draws the eye… Sickert sometimes used these vibrant splashes of pure red among his tonal colours.
Dance movement – at this stage I changed pace and made a quick painting using the process in exercise 1.3 ‘Quick and focussed’, flicking quickly through several images of a green-dressed dancer, describing each with a few flowing white lines. The dance was controlled, smooth and elegant. The context for this method was some paintings by Gary Hume which I’d looked at as part of the research point and made visual response to in my sketchbook. Afterwards I filled in some of the shapes with green, remembering a Jackson Pollock painting I’d studied and partly copied in my Painting 1 course.
Dancing man – the abstract background is a development of my abstract striped paintings in exercise 1.1 which I compared at the time to Ian Davenport’s poured paintings. But this is more controlled, forms an asymmetrical frame (reminds me of Mondrian) for a single man dancing out of the scene. I don’t feel I quite captured his arrogant stance in the pose – on this scale micro-millimetres completely alter an expression or a gesture.
Silhouette dancer – is the same dancer but in this simple painting I’ve captured the energy of the dance better, by concentrating on depicting small details in the outline, as well as the overall gesture of the figure.
Guitarist – this is another unusual composition, in the context of looking at Degas. A singer, taking up at least a third of the foreground and with his back to us, locks eyes with the guitarist as they respond to each other’s music. The focus is on the guitarist, his intent stare, and the flick of his right hand rolling through the strings.
Dance abstract 1 – again by now feeling I wanted to work more quickly, more experimentally, I made three abstract paintings responding to the sound of the music and the visual impact of the dance. This one was made listening to a lyrical, romantic piece, the dance was soft, feminine and flowing. I used gold leaf (developing from my earlier sketchbook trials) collaged on a dark background, with acrylic flowing lines.
Dance abstract 2 – I wanted to express the anger of lovers in the dance. Daniel Richter paintings depict the anger and violence of guerilla warfare. I looked at his palette – garish clashing colours and deep blacks. I used an acid yellow background, scattered with blood red, dark green and indigo inks. Pouring on puddles of dark ink I shook the paper violently, and left the painting flat to dry. The result, accidental but quite successful. I can read a dancer on the right whirling with arms outstretched, and a pursuing character on the left . Pigments in the ink settled out as it dried forming shadowy forms and partly revealing the spatters underneath.
Dance abstract 3 – a composition in which I tried to suggest a whirl of several dancers moving in free form but loosely together around the floor. Again using clashing blood red and orange, juxtaposed with black.
Dancer surrounded by troupe – the back-lighting interested me in this. I used a dark ground, coaxing out the figures with touches of acrylic colour, and bright highlights describing the outlines of figures in the darkness (Sickert, Victor Lecourt. Degas, Diego Martnelli). In the image the central dancer rather disappears as her dress is dark; to pull her out of the dark background I changed it for a brighter, warmer colour. The floor glows with the same golden colour I used to highlight details of the troupe members.
Profile with red blouse – I tried here to make a loose watercolour of two or three pure washes, but started adding, tidying up etc until it was overworked. Not a successful painting. Later came back to it; I worked on bringing the face into better focus, and with gouache mixed with watercolour was able to bring her expression more alive.
Portrait and words – An important element of flamenco is the improvised words of the song. They can be dramatic or prosaic, or a mixture, but always tell a story. I picked out at random some phrases from the film subtitles and wrote them in lines with two colours of waterproof brush-pen all over my background. Then I applied bleach and rubbed until they started to fade. I painted a portrait quickly and simply with layered watercolour washes in deep red and burnt umber, then the shoulder and arm in thin cadmium red. A guitarist mourns in the background! I like the effect of the text, faded, behind the thinly painted subject, and the lack of over-work in the subject.
Woman with red earring – made on a dark grey ground with acrylic paint. The image appealed to me because of her proud bearing. The gloss in the black hair, details and colour of shawl, blouse, earring. I enjoy working dark grounds and creating touches of tonal colour, like Sickert’s beautiful touches if gold, red and other colours in the gloom of Dieppe.
Dance Abstract 4 – again inspired by Daniel Richter’s palette and trying to treat the subject in a similarly suggestive, abstract / fantastic way.the heads of three dancers are readable as simple oval shapes, from which the viewer can read or fill in for themselves the gesture of arms and interpret positive and negative shapes created by their movements. Painted with ink sticks then brushed with water
Polka Dot Dress – back to realism, I’m attracted by the older dancers..they’re loaded with character, skill and depth of feeling. I like that the blotchy runs in the background have integrated with the subject, forming tree-like shadows.
Fat Lady Sings – I tried to capture the sheer muscular effort of the singer as she belts out and controls her voice.
Green Dancer 2 – my last painting is a very different interpretation of the first. The vague background works well to pull the dancer forward.