Assignment 1 – response to tutor feedback

Thanks to my tutor for my first UPM feedback report. I felt it was thorough, specific, constructive and encouraging.  A lot of care had been put into reading and commenting on my blog.  There is much food for thought and many pointers to follow-up research.


Exercise 1.1 – combining paintings – ‘to engineer new or additional meanings’.  Try turning paintings on their side. Look at the possibility of diptychs.

Using an iPad app, ‘Pic Jointer’ I combined these three based on palette and feel.  The app allows cropping to fit different formats.

I looked at Maria Theresa Keown’s work.  I was impressed by the richness of her paintings in terms of content and references, and also by their design and colour palettes.  One painting, Sickert/Collings/Éruption puts three paintings of  similar palette side by side, echoing my arrangement above.  In 2008 she staged an exhibition of 22 paintings, all in diptych format.  Two of these are shown in an article by Slavka Sverokova in Circa Magazine.  She pairs a copy of a photo or painting to a subtly nuanced colour field, of equal or lesser size, of a hue which matches a detail in the painting.  The figurative images are turned through 90 degrees, which initially made me anxious to twist my head so I could view the image the right way up; until (with difficulty) I forced myself to ignore the narrative and concentrate on the painted surface. Thus the diptych becomes a ‘temporary assembly ‘ (1) of the older art with abstract space.  The Fra Angelico diptych is suggested in the article to represent iconophile and iconoclast attitudes; the Constable, the concept of ‘nature and the narrative power of significant detail’ (1) ; the Hockney, a commentary on photography and the ‘end of painting’ (1) .

I had a go with my paintings from Ex 1.1.  This looks possible – a painting of a classical stone relief turned through 90 degrees and paired with an abstract painting which contains a similar gold colour.  I like the look of the assembly, which contrasts the ancient, permanent stone carving to the contemporary, transience of a painted wooden shack.

 (1) Slavka Sverokova in Circa Magazine

Big impact small paintings

This was one of those opinions received from a teacher in impressionable early days…that big paintings are a mark of the true professional!  I needed to reconsider, so first I looked at Elsheimer’s Flight into Egypt.  What an incredibly beautiful rendering of the night sky.  A copper ground has been used to marvellous effect in the depiction of the moon, the fire, reflected light and reflections of light.  It’s 30×40 cm, small, but not as little as a postcard!

Next I viewed Vermeer’s paintings.  The smallest I found (on a very informative website, were Girl With a Red Hat and Girl With a Flute, 9×7″ and 8×7″ respectively.  Both were done on a hard wood panel. Paint flows more smoothly on a hard, perfectly smooth surface, allowing ‘a calligraphic touch’ for the highest degree of detail.  The textures in both paintings are beautifully described; the sheen of satin, softness of feathers, dampness of lips in Red Hat; the fur and velvet of Flute.

Like Vermeer, Melita Denaro paints her postcard size works on wood panel.   The light in both artists’ work gives their paintings an intense, jewel-like quality.   She paints the atmosphere, weather, tides and changing light from one spot in the landscape.   Some with thunderous passages pierced with brilliance, others bright and joyful.

Clearly the paintings I’ve described all have stand-alone quality!  They are brilliant, detailed, full of texture and light. On reflection, I agree with my tutor that small can definitely be brilliant.  I still wonder whether small paintings done quickly can stand alone individually –  I guess that depends on the skill of the artist.  Quick work is most likely going to have less detailed content, my abstract small paintings being a case in point – there’s just not enough to look at in these individually.

This leads me to the Assignment pieces:

I had never looked at Paula Rego’s work before, and found the discussions here interesting, because each work is explained in terms of a possible narrative attributed to it by the viewer.  My Polka Dot Dress woman like Rego’s women is tough, strong and looks as though she could be ruthless in her passion; and there is a sinister ambiguity in the relationship between dancer and musicians which I hadn’t considered until I looked some of Rego’s ambiguous narratives; is my dancer dancing to the tune of the players; or is she playing them…are they following her lead?


Polka Dot Dress


My Portrait and Words painting: the words in the painting are, for the most part, about painful emotional relationships.  In the case of flamenco, feelings are vented through song to an unseen audience, or no audience at all, rather than beng communicated in letter-writing to the object of the emotions.  My outcome is reminiscent of Mona Hatoum’s video, Measures of Distance, both visually, and in the way several means of expression are layered; music, dance, words all contributing to the art form of flamenco.


Portrait and Words


Arrangement of the work – was done hastily in my submission, and my background was distracting.  The idea of gaps in my grid arrangement stemmed from the arrangement of the recent OCA collaborative drawing project but also from a work by Stephen Chambers, The Big Country, here, which I saw a couple of years ago.  The Big Country is a series of vignettes of pioneering days in NE America.  It’s not a narrative to be read from left to right, there’s no correct order in which to read the images; they’re arranged to look almost like a crossword grid,  with gaps showing the colour of the wall behind.

Here’s an iPad arrangement of my assignment pieces without gaps, inserting the abstract paintings at regular intervals, as a buffer between the representational ones.  I think it works well, giving a rythm to the display that hints at musical intervals.  It might be more powerful without borders between paintings.

Here’s another group, of the females only, without gaps or even borders, looking like a patchwork.  This arrangement has a vibrant, intensity of colour, bringing out the energy of the subject very well; I will do a physical wall arrangement and post an update here.


I looked up Juliette Blightman’s Come Inside bitte arrangement, and thought the contrast between many small and one very large painting, and also the view of the large painting repeated through a doorway grounded the display and added a 3D quality.  Coil in Craig Donald’s drawing installation arrangements here also inspired me to envisage a future project in which different sized paintings are hung together, some cropped, for example like the first combination in this post (above) and like this (below):

Abstract versus representational

In exercise one of part two I have made some paintings which combine elements of both.  For me, this is a good way to go.  I don’t want to lose my connection to and feeling for the ‘reality’ of my subject in my work, but at the same time I want to find new ways of expressing my feelings and responses.  At times during part one I felt I was merely copying images – although I know this was far from the case really.  My abstract paintings for the assignment 1 series were simplistic, done quickly, to clear my head, at times during the whole process when I felt bogged down, slow, too focussed on detail.  So I do agree they are well suited to providing similar punctuation points for the viewer between the representational paintings in my final arrangements.

My tutor mentioned cropping as a way of showing ‘actuality’ in a representational painting.  In my series Portrait, Dancer’s Head depicts movement quite well, through severe cropping, but also through using a pose which could not possibly be held, which essentially is movement captured in a split second


Portrait, Dancer’s Head


Another approach to depicting movement stems from Edward Muybridge’s Human And Animal Locomotion series of photographs.  Marcel Duchamp was influenced by Muybridge’s work as well as that of others in his Nude Descending a Staircase.  Idris Khan has taken this further in his Rising series by rephotographing and digitally layering images of the human figure in motion, producing ghostly images viewed as if through a sheet of ice” (”) .  Francis Bacon talks here about how he drew on Muybridge’s series, integrating some of the images to help him depict human presence in his paintings. Paralytic Child is one such; it’s a distortion rather than a ‘realistic’ representation, but it achieves a feeling of animation.

Other possibilities of synthesis I can imagine and develop:  I’ve talked about layering, distortion, freezing action (imbalance), cropping to express human presence.  Blurring and fading the edges or fast-moving parts of a painting, as in photography may be another. I will add to this as I think of others.

Prompted by a student forum discussion I looked later at the work of photographer Francesca Woodman and Robert Capa; she uses slow shutter speed together with active poses to capture subjects in motion.  So her subject can be both blurred, and captured in a pose that could not be held.  Capa’s blurred backgrounds to his subjects emphasis their motion.


Techniques of the Great Masters of Art.  Pub Chartwell Books, 1989


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