Part 2 Response to tutor feedback

My tutor’s feedback report was again detailed, thoughtful and encouraging, with lots of leads for further thought and research.  Doing the assignment work I was very much caught up in the excitement and enjoyment of exploring metal as a support, and will develop this, but will keep experimenting with other materials too.  The lightness of the pigments in my ice painting was mentioned as possibly leading to an exploration of staining and bleeding paint, and this also connects to my paintings in coffee and in pomegranate juice on fabric.  I’ve picked up on this, looking at the paintings and woodcuts of Helen Frankenthaler (also Mali Morris and and doing some experiments of my own which I plan to incorporate into my work – I’ve written about this in a separate post here.

Response to tutor’s feedback on individual exercises:


2.1 – Unusual media – the paintings with frozen watercolour submitted as part of my looseleaf sketchbook were originally done as experimental paintings in response to exercise briefs, hence had no annotations to describe the process, as you might expect to see in a sketchbook.   I’ll add some handwritten notes to the sketchbook to describe their experimental history.

I looked at Goldsworthy and saw how he is controlling and exacting in his process of making art from nature (leaves); he collects items (stones, leaves, twigs) and lays them out in an orderly pattern, producing some striking pieces.  But less controlling, he also collaborates with nature – e.g. shows how a rain shadow can be made on stone during wet weather. He records his work as it disappears – as I did with my paintings on ice.  I found a wonderful drawing in snow and slate on watercolour paper – made with a snowball here

Oscar Munoz work also harnesses the ephemeral to express ideas – portraits that emerge momentarily as you breathe on a mirror; painting in water on a hot paving slab; drawing with charcoal dust and paper on water, the drawing changing as the water evaporates (this process later made into a video, speeding up the process so the viewer could witness the changes! (Narciso)).  They reflect on memory and mortality.

Textural explorations can be developed.  I visited Tate Britain and saw No Woman No Cry, 1998,  by Chris Ofili, incorporating all sorts of objects including printed paper, glitter, map pins and elephant dung.  This beautiful decorative approach, suggestive of a combination of paintings and embroidery,  has more appeal to me, visually and in a tactile sense than the harsh marble dust I experimented with. 

2.2 – large scale line painting – I like the concept of aligning text, script and pattern deliberately with layers of paint and can see potential for doing this in my next assignment.  I looked up Sian Bowen and was very intrigued by her ideas.  In Fragment No 1, 2005, it looks as though the artist has collaged on the original script, or a facsimile of it  I wonder about reproducing script on paper, tissue and fabric, through printing or burnishing, playing with the colour and tone of the script, laying it over or under thin washes of paint.

Bowen has a great interest in the quality of paper and paper objects, especially things meant to be handled like folding books, albums, maps, cut paper patterns, which recalls an early interest of mine in making origami forms and paper mosaics.

She uses laser cutting and burning to make marks, sprinkles precious metal dust into lacquer on paper, buries paper and incorporates the marks of decay and insect infestation into drawing, retrieves old layers of wallpaper to incorporate in her work.

2.3 painting on a 3d surface – I have read The Hare With Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal, so was aware of netsuke, but my tutor’s reference printed me to look a little closer at these small, intimate objects, and their uses and meanings.  Since my Matchbox painting I’m drawn to making other painted objects that are meant to be handled, objects of many aspects and qualities (tactile, aural as well as visual) which can be explored by the viewer, and I’d like to pursue this in the next assignment.

2.4 painting on a painted surface – I can now see a connection between my painting of a bird, pan and coffee pot, and how I depicted them, and my part 1 paintings of Pacific NW ethnic masks and totem poles.  Indigenous and prehistoric cultures, their lives, art and objects fascinate me.  I wrote about a visit I made to look at the carved sculptures of Tlingit Alaskan Natives here, and my thoughts on their significance in the lives of those people.  

Some of my backgrounds my tutor mentioned, were interesting paintings in their own right.   No 6, a black and white under-painting of a collection of objects was one.  The gouache /ink resist technique I used gave an old, distressed look to the objects, which i can now see have an antique, ghostly feel to them.  The reference to Lascaux caves led me to look more closely at Gerry Davies‘ drawings, especially a couple of series relating to caves.  In Retreat to Caves and Deluges and Floods he plays with scenarios to do with 21st century disaster and his visions of life thereafter, in which modern everyday objects and living environments take on new meanings, and a future other significance (just as my scissors and socks have!).

In this exercise it was pointed out that my strongest backgrounds contributed to my two strongest paintings, so the underpainting is very significant to the outcome.  I like the parallel drawn between this, and Freud and the unconscious informing every aspect of our lives.


Assignment – 

The references to Cubism, Futurism and Orphism suggest different ways I might have considered approaching fragmentation, multiple viewpoints and time based depiction.  Another approach is found in an Ori Gersht series Blowups.  It recreated still life paintings in 3D in a series of photos and video in which the objects are shown in the process of violently exploding, bringing me round to time based considerations once more.  Another work by Gersht which seems relevant in this context is his series of photographs Reflections.  These photographs are of bouquets of artificial flowers arranged to carefully copy Jan Breughel’s 17th century flower paintings, and placed in front of a mirror.  The bouquets are impossibly exotic and perfect.  Gersht then caused the mirror to shatter, and at that precise moment took photos focussed on the mirror’s surface and on the reflection of flowers in it. To me there is a strong message of how memory and time distort and fragment the past.

Cornelia Parker is another artist using violent transformation of objects in the artistic process.  In Thirty Pieces of Silver she has a steamroller crush over a thousand pieces of silver and arranges them into thirty disc shaped groups, hung on copper wire from the ceiling.  She transforms and destroys the meaning and value of the objects, and gives them new meaning in her work.

I watched the BBC documentary on still life, Apples Pears and Paint, which I feel is closely based on Norman Bryson’s book ‘Overlooked:Four Essays on Still Life Painting.  Here’s a link to my earlier research on still life, for my future reference.  The significance of objects, especially everyday overlooked things, is the subject of still life painting, from the Xenia murals, through 17th century Dutch still life painting, to Cubism and every era in between. Significance is what changes from age to age; objects can carry religious significance, they can signify wealth, transience, decay and death, or simply intimate life and memories.

The Dutch Golden Age is rich in paintings of sumptuous displays of silver, glass and other reflective surfaces.  Willem ClaeszStill Life with Gilt Goblet is a good example, with reflected and refracted light from a window appearing in the green glass and the metal jug.

My thoughts also turn to narrative and significance, and I now refer back to my investigation of the totem pole and the vertical format which is used in Native American culture (in addition to practical purposes as supporting posts) to make the supernatural world visible and relate myths, to memorialise events in the history of an individual, and to draw on images owned by the clan.  They aren’t religious, but they express an underlying shamanic belief in the spiritual nature and interdependence of all living and inert things.  So, with a multi-part vertical format,  I tried to imbue my silver tea pieces with our story, reflections of us, and with a warmth of a reflected kaleidoscope of colour and a living spiritual significance acquired over the years. My intention was for the five pieces to stay together; although I can now see the first two are somewhat different in composition to the others, and could stand alone, I’m reluctant to separate them.


I love the comparison of my sketch on metal to Chardin! I was aware when making my assignment pieces that my approach was developing in a rather representational direction, not necessarily what I had intended, but see below my notes about Chardin’s The Ray.  The making of my pentaptych was done with careful research, planning and execution in that I wanted to make sure the process – painting on metal – which I’d never done before – would work, that the paint would adhere basically.  By doing some more adventurous background experimental work exploring metal and media, I might have learned some unexpected different approaches and effects that could have made my paintings more exciting.  If I have time I’ll have a play as suggested, and  In this connection I looked at the work of Katherine Rush, who paints in oil on aluminium, using dripping, smearing, destroying, gloss, leaving large areas of unpainted metal, creating an aura of mystery and ambiguity, and giving me lots of ideas to get started with.

I’ll definitely try to explore processes in a more experimental, risk-taking spirit in part 3.  I’ll also think more about linking my painting processes (media, support and execution) with my subject matter and the intentions and ideas informing my work; and look at using eastern papers and fabric as part of that.


Research and learning log

I note the thinking about the relative unimportance of distinctions between representational and abstract work.  Perhaps we can envisage a scale with hyper-realism at one end, and non-objectives art at the other.  I feel trying to work at either extreme of this scale can perhaps limit self-expression, the freedom to explore in my work what I think and feel about my subject.  As my tutor noted, making objects ‘strange’ can be a means to express what I think.

Meret Oppenheim‘s fur covered cup goads the viewer into reaction; we are puzzled, thrown out of our certainties, by the sight of this familiar drinking vessel and the disgusting thought of our lips touching the fur lining.  Man Ray’s spiked iron incites less powerfully but works in a similar way, presenting us with an everyday domestic tool deliberately altered and rendered ludicrous.

These are extreme interventions to make objects strange.  Chardin‘s The Ray presents a more subtle approach (brought to mind by Andrew Graham-Dixon’s excellent Art of France yesterday).  His composition is quite unsettling.  There is nothing attractive about the gory ray hanging there with its strange face and it’s glistening, visceral innards on display, in fact it’s quite repulsive.  The cat seems manic, as he pounces on some oysters lying there.  A knife lies half hidden, balanced precariously half off the edge of the shelf, inviting us to grasp the handle and do what with it?  The whole scene is strange, unfamiliar and disturbing, made so by the way the artist has chosen to compose the scene, and how he has painted the objects in it.  



I looked at George Shaw’s work and his use of humbrol enamels on mdf board to make his meticulous, detailed landscapes.  His work is an example of how to make the familiar strange by painting in an ostensibly highly realistic way.  I immediately recognised his landscapes as those of my youth too  – and my reaction to them is one of acute nostalgia tinged with sadness, for those days and the person I was then. And yet they are strange; there are no people in them, they are manufactured from photos, memory and observation to be authentically 1970s scenes with all modern changes stripped away.

I found some paintings on metal (copper and aluminium) by Sean Scully here.  I like how the warmth of the copper shows through between the rough edges of his abstract shapes.  In Christies web site here, Scully talks about the experience of painting on metal; he compares painting on copper to ice skating instead of walking.  I was also taken by the way he talks about his paintings not being abstract, but being ‘associational’ or metaphorical – looking closely at them, the viewer starts to make associations with things she knows (such as water lapping against a wall), even though the artist didn’t necessarily have that association in mind when he made the painting.  Interestingly, despite eschewing abstraction, later in the article he states ‘that’s where abstraction dominates, I think.  It expresses what cannot be described anecdotally’  ( I also learned that Scully has done some paintings on metal to furnish the chapel of Saint Cecilia at Montserrat, Barcelona – must visit!


Finally I’ve bought Hannah Arendt’s Illuminations and am looking forward to reading that, particularly the essays mentioned.

References (Sian Bowen) Claesz


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