Here is my final painting for this assignment
Pentaptych – Acrylic on aluminium, 50 x 130 cm
The individual panels of aluminium can be viewed in finer detail by clicking on the individual images in the gallery below
Some close-up details showing brushwork and texture can be seen by clicking on individual circles below.
Reflection on the outcome
How successful is it and why? If you were to develop this work, how would you do it? Which artists have influenced you and how? Reflect on the ways you’d like to develop your work and the essence of what you hope to communicate.
I’ve achieved some aspects of my original vision (fragmentation of my objects, abstract composition, zooming in and out, glowing colours). There is some great brushwork and involvement in the medium and in colour. I feel I did sacrifice some imagination and creativity in the execution for more ‘accomplished’ rendering, forgetting slightly about the panache, magic and imagination of Klee and Gorky (and of some of the work that I made in the exercises) that I’d intended to impart. This may have happened as I concentrated on the new experience of painting on metal, on five separate but connected panels, and the technical novelties and challenges of this.
If I were to develop this work I might do it by zooming in even further, relying more on imagination and a little less on ‘realistic’ representation, using my sketchbook to find new compositions based on the shapes of the subject, and playing more with mark-making. The fifth and last panel may point the way here. The contour of the spout is repeated by brush marks (reminding me of Munch’s Madonna variations, the outline of her head and shoulders repeated in a similar way), and other interesting marks start to populate my background.
The format was experimental, influenced by my part one work with grid arrangements, also by Gary Hume’s Bird Point, and by some research I did in response to my tutor’s feedback into the installations of Craig Donald and Juliette Blightman, who both hang works of varying sizes together. I think it successfully draws the viewer in, as, reading the five panels from left to right we zoom further and further in, until we feel we are there in the picture. As I am in fact…you may spot a self portrait of my head and shoulders in the teaspoon, and of my red-trousered legs in the teapot!
I’d like to develop my use of metal as a support, in particular with oils and enamels as media. I’m thinking I may have the opportunity to do this with monoprinting in part 3 – though I don’t know how or whether that might be done yet. In general, I want to express my personal response to the subjects I paint – the ‘spirit’ I see in them, whether animate or inanimate – and the connections between them.
I love painting subjects that have a personal meaning for me, and paint better if inspired by them. Also I draw and paint with more character and expression from observation than purely from photos.
My subject for this assignment is a collection of small silver objects. I’ve taken them for granted up till now, but they are part of our intimate family life, having been on display in every home we’ve had, lovingly cleaned and polished (by my husband!) over the years, and reflecting the warmth of home and passing years
I experimented with setting and backdrop, and finally set them on the dark-green, rough canvas apron I use when painting, with a fine, dark, gorgeously-patterned scarf as backdrop, in a black box with an open front, with two angled lamps through the left side to create dramatic lighting, then took several photos. The scarf is a beautiful silk one given to me by my husband as a gift from a trip to Edinburgh some thirty years ago.
The paintings of Arshile Gorky have been a recurrent theme in my contextual research in part 2, and particularly influenced my large scale line painting and my scissors piece in the Painting on a Painted Surface exercise. Gorky’s pieces such as Garden In Sachi Motif and Dark Green Painting also came to mind when considering this assignment. Firstly they are on dark backgrounds, which is how we are asked to arrange our collection; secondly, they seem to me to be composed of a collection of (heavily disguised) objects, presented to the viewer in Gorky’s own special language.
The works of Paul Klee also seemed to point me in a certain direction. His paintings on very dark backgrounds, Bird Garden and Fish Magic shine like jewels; there is little chiaroscuro in the forms, they glow like randomly arranged treasures, and they have a beautifully imaginary presence for me.
I am strongly drawn to all three works; the Klee has the charm of an imaginary world; the forms and composition of the Gorky pieces are heavy with meaning and attachment. The palette in all of them, dark green, black and bright reds and yellows).
I can also see (retrospectively, having recently visited Hepworth Wakefield) some similarities between my work and that of the artist Clare Woods, who paints in enamel on aluminium. Her paintings are made in a rich, sombre palette, and express her subject in abstract terms. She is said to be ‘concerned with sculpting an image in paint, and expressing the strangeness of an object’ , ‘twisting foreground and background to create nuanced and surreal imagery’ (http://sculpture.uk.com/artists/clare-woods/), which were also my concerns in my assignment piece.
Choice of media and support
To try and achieve glowing, gem-like colours against a very dark ground, I decided to make my collection painting on metal, having bought some pieces of aluminium, stainless steel and copper from an industrial metal work shop earlier in part 2. I chose aluminium; as it is lighter than steel, so easier to post; and not so easily damaged as the copper leaf, which would need mounting on board, and therefore also be heavy to send.
My tryouts here, had shown me that watercolour, gouache and ink brush on well but lift very easily with subsequent layers. Oils and oil based enamels take weeks to cure thoroughly, although I love the smooth, high-gloss of enamel and would like to try it at a later date. Acrylics dry quickly, to a hard, sound coating, and aren’t lifted with subsequent wet layers. It’s also a medium I like, so i chose acrylics for the assignment painting (addendum – i subsequently discovered acrylic enamel paints, and am ordering some to try).
Format and composition ideas
I experimented with zooming in and creating multiples. I like the extreme zooming, leaving just the curve of a silver handle, part of an ellipse, forms and lines that identify the loved features of the objects.
I like the idea of creating a series of paintings for display together as one unit; the long vertical format appeals to me too, giving the possibility to incorporate the patterned scarf as an important part of the composition, not just background (Gary Hume’s Bird Point III, 1998, is a model for this format; it’s painted on four long vertical format panels, displayed side by side). I experimented with piecing extracts from my images together (using iPad and Pic Jointer app) :
My next step was to make a sketch of my setup (from direct observation), for which I used black and green inks, and coloured pencils on paper. I selected a composition of objects, flattening the picture plane somewhat and emphasising the shapes, forms and patterns made by the objects and the scarf. As the objects are highly reflective, all sorts of colours can be seen in them, and they also show off the dramatic raking light well, too. I particularly love the freshness and spontanaiety of this sketch, which was drawn in response to the objects themselves rather than photos of the objects. It’s expressed in the angularity of the ellipses, the slight distortion and asymmetry of some of the objects; they seem to be leaning in, having a conversation with the teapot!
Sketch on paper
I can see ways in which my sketch can be zoomed into and broken down into vertical elements: the one below has equal sized components:
Sketch composite 1
The next one’s individual elements reduce in width from right to left.
Sketch composite 2
Sketches on aluminium
Now I wanted to try my hand at a quick painting in acrylics on aluminium to see how it felt and looked in practice, what technical issues arose, and whether and if so how and where I could capitalise on the gleaming metal support in the finished painting, so I prepared two small (15x24cm) pieces of sheet aluminium. I washed them with alcohol before sanding (recommended by Ray Smith in The Artist’s Handbook). Ray Smith also recommends priming the panel before painting. I want the metal surface to shine through my painting, so after etching (with vinegar solution) I left one sheet raw and, for comparison, primed the other with thinned pva, followed by a coat of thinned acrylic medium.
The main difference between the two sheets is that the raw aluminium changes appearance much more than the primed sheet, with changes in the light and viewpoint. The primed sheet with its reduced reflective quality is much more fixed in appearance (in the photos below the raw sheet is on the right; the first photo is in full sun, the second in shadow). So an unprimed sheet might be good if I want the changing appearance of the metal to be part of my painting – as long as the paint is secure.
First I pencilled in a simple composition on the raw sheet. As I painted I noticed how much longer the acrylics remained workable, it felt like painting wet on wet in oils. I had to be very gentle, using the flat of the brush, applying colour on top of wet paint, so as not to lift the first layer completely. It felt quite lovely, and very different, painting on such a smooth, rigid surface.
As regards the outcome of the sketch as preparatory work for my larger painting, one particular concern jumps out at me; the red pattern on the background scarf needs toning down and the edges softening, to ease it back – right now it looks as if the red fruits are tumbling down in front of the silver objects. To address this, from now on I’ll tone them down by painting the scarf patterns on top of the dark background, rather than painting the background around them.
Small sketch on aluminium
My next small sketch was made on the primed aluminium. The new approach to painting the scarf pattern on top of dark paint worked well to tone it down and keep it in the background.
It’s a simpler design, and when I place the two side by side I begin to see what a multiple set might look like. For the assignment piece, it would be a good idea to work on all the components of the set at the same time, keeping each at roughly the same stage, just as I would if I were painting one large image; this strategy should help with cohesion and a good overall composition. I also realised that the panels should vary in complexity – be careful not to make them all busy or all minimal in design. The palette will be common to all; but overall tone will darken from the light source on the left towards the panel furthest from the light.
Small sketch on aluminium diptych
Choosing the composition
I want to zoom in further than I did for these two sketches on aluminium (above), so played around digitally again with my photos and sketches until I had a set I liked (below), which is actually a combination of abstracts from all my sketches, with varying scales and levels of complexity. As a whole, I like the repeating colours and shapes from panel to panel, and the rhythm they set up; the combination of abstract backdrop and figurative foreground; the negative shapes, the tonal contrasts. The progression through the panels from left to right as the images zoom in further, width reduces, the contrast becomes greater, the tone becomes darker, the forms simpler and more abstract, hopefully draw the viewer in closer. There is a cohesion to the whole, though the individual panels don’t ‘join up’ seamlessly.
Sketch composite 3
Making the paintings
I scored and cut out the five aluminium sheets (50cm high and reduce in width from left to right from 30 cm down to 16.5 cm), sanded them with a machine, and pencilled my compositions in. All the backgrounds were painted first, in varying dark tonal colours, the final one being pure black, with some metal showing. I experimented with different textures, using a stiff brush and a rag to lift paint. Then I began painting the silver objects. I found my preparatory work has paid off; with the materials and techniques pre-tested, and the composition and general colour palette tried out, I was enjoying my exploration in paint of the objects and the process of painting.
At the end of the second day’s sessions I’d almost completed my interpretation of the objects; I’ve always been fascinated by reflected coloured light and I’d searched for the reflected light in each object, pulling out and exaggerating the colours. On close viewing some of the colours look improbable, but standing back they coalesce into high shine metal objects. I’m aware the background painting of the scarf patterns is going to make a huge difference to the piece, so my plan is to roughly complete the final silver object, then start adding the background patterns one by one, assessing the effect carefully on the overall composition at each stage.
Day 2 – collection painting on 5 aluminium panels
On day three I painted in the background detail, standing back to assess impact, and modifying tones to keep the pattern in the background.
The Artist’s Handbook by Ray Smith, pub Dorling Kindersley 2003
Arshile Gorky by Matthew Gale, pub Tate Publishing 2010