Category Archives: Research points

R4 – Research, tondo painting and the domestic interior

Michaelangelo’s Doni Tondo is a portrayal in a round composition of the Holy Family, and it demonstrates how this circular format seems to create a sense of intimacy, unity and harmony.  The subject, the family, stand out as almost the only content of the painting.  They take up most of the surface area; around them,  the background is reduced to a monochrome frieze of figures, and the foreground is a dull, tonal area of nondescript grass.  The family themselves by contrast are brightly coloured and sharply in focus.  Similar in composition is a tondo by Ford Maddox-Brown which I saw in the Fitzwilliam Museum, The Last of England, a portrait of a couple looking back from the deck of their passenger ship as they start a new life. The focus is all on the couple, but there is plenty of nautical activity and rolling seas going on in the background in a very toned down way.

I saw Philip Guston’s tondo, Bombardment at the recent RA exhibition, ‘America After the Fall’.  It depicts the aerial bombardment of a civilian population.  Using a tondo format, associated with the Renaissance, Guston has made his painting into a general commentary,  creating a universal rather than a specific image.  The painting seems to me to resemble Michaelangelo’s work in the way the figures are painted flying through the air, as in the Sistine Chapel, their limbs dramatically foreshortened, and in the colours and the way in which the drapery is painted.

I looked at Mark Fairnington‘s work in Part 1.  His series of animal eyes are extremely finely painted but the detail is secondary to the overall effect.  Viewing them again I feel an empathy with each animal.  Each one seems alive, delicate.  The eye is the most vulnerable, sensitive part of any creature, the only organ unprotected.  There seems to be sympathy from the artist for the animal equivalent of the ‘human condition’ .  The small (35cm) tondo format seems to concentrate the viewer’s focus on the central subject, the eye.  Such intense concentration on one element of a painting  is perhaps particularly suited to the tondo format.  I don’t feel I could aspire to such painstaking work, which surely must necessitate physically demanding hours on end poring over each canvas.

Contrast his work with the eyes of Marc Quinn.  They are painted photo realistically in oil, each one depicting an enlarged 1.5m diameter) human İris, with its black central pupil.  But like Fairnington’s eyes, there is a lot more conveyed by the artist than in a photograph; we find a world of depth and richness in these stunningly beautiful irises,  “a kind of microscopic map of an individual’s identity” (  In some of the works, for example Map of Where You Can’t See the Stars’, a world map is superimposed on the iris.

Both artists are painting hyper-realistically; Fairnington describes the eye of his subjects in closely studied detail, and in doing so portrays the spirit of the animal; Quinn takes description in a different direction, superimposing his artificial concept of the eye as identity, as mirror of the soul etc, and its connection to and impact on the world.


I didn’t find any tondi by Roxy Walsh, but I enjoyed looking at her series Lady Watercolourist at Home and Lady Watercolourist Abroad.  These are watercolour on paper (A4-A5) and the immediate thing that I notice is the intensity of pigment. These are no wishy-washy watercolours.  But she retains translucence, presumably by limiting the mixing of too many layers and pigments.  Contrast to these the series Felix Culpa, watercolour on linen, which have very beautiful stain like tints with accents of sharp, bright pigment.

Iain Andrews says his paintings begin with a folk tale or an image from art history, which he then plays with, retelling and embellishing.  In the past he would work from photocopies of an image, cutting, rearranging into a collage to form the starting point for a new painting.  This is a technique I may try in my Part 4. More recently, he pours paint thickly and allows it to dry into wrinkled, crusty surfaces, then teases out forms by adding shadows, until the painting just begins to suggest some thing – becoming both abstract and figurative at the same time.  I like the possibilities of using similar techniques in my own practise.

Henny Acloque – her web site helpfully reveals the development of her work since 2010.  In her 2011 oval format paintings the artist superimposes flat abstract areas of colour onto landscapes after Breughel, Durer and Cranach.  Later, 2013, these develop form, described by contours painted in bright harlequin shapes.  The forms suggest strange other-worldly animals.  The harlequin forms break up and  develop into fairy-story spear-throwers and flying monsters.  Then more recently the paintings are cut into strips and rearranged until all appears fragmented.  Her web site talks about layers of paint and reflective varnish; they would have to be seen to be fully appreciated.

There is a cartoon quality in the harlequin forms – they can be seen as representing the irrational in a realistic setting.


Virginia Verran – the tondo features quite prolifically in her work.  She combines drawing and painting, using watercolour with pen and pencil to make strong marks and recurring motifs expressing her inner world.  Drawings such as Bonner-space (repetition), 2013 and PLINY, 2011-12 convey explosion, bullets, chaos, the hardware of war, as well as more organic motifs.



Other examples of tondo painting:

Pierre Bonnard, Bathers in a Park, 1908.  Oil on canvas 28 inches.

I found this oval painting in The Artist and the Camera, p244.  The oval format is used to contain a very intimate scene of the artist’s family children bathing.  It is a clever composition – an outer oval of dark foliage further encompasses and protects the bathers.  I like how the figures are lit by a warm light from above, and this light is reflected in the pool.  It was interesting in the book to see alongside the painting a collection of photos of the same subject.  In the photos adults are in evidence supervising the play; by omitting them from the painting Bonnard has given the scene an entirely different appeal.

Geraldine Swayne – Fake Ancestor # 5. 8cm diameter, enamel on copper portrait  

Nalini Malani tondi in Vitamin P2, are reverse painted on acrylic sheet, in acrylic, ink and enamel.  I looked up reverse painting and it means applying paint to a transparent substrate ( eg glass, acrylic sheet), reversing the usual sequence of backdrop followed my middle ground and finally detail, so that you paint the detail first and the backdrop last; then viewing the painting from the reverse side.  Apparently the technique dates back to Byzantine times.   Malani’s paintings here have a warm and dreamy quality.  Traditional folk arts like glass painting, shadow play and kaleidoscope influence her work.  Her themes encompass oppression, war, violence and fundamentalism.

The domestic interior

As painted by Charlie Day the domestic interior is seen as a series of single objects painted in isolation, which taken together add up to a picture of his domestic world.  I can see the influence of Richard Diebenkorn who chose single objects in a field of interlocking colours as subject, and painted in an expressive, impasto style.  I had a look at Wayne Thiebaud‘s paintings of collections of everyday objects, arranged them in serried ranks.  His subjects are colourful, sweet and sugary.  Day and Thiebaud may have been influenced by Philip Guston’s late cartoon style work, and his rendering of personal objects.

Tori Day says her work “concerns the overlooked and mundane; things that might otherwise not be celebrated but which carry with them the marks of people’s lives”.  I can see this quite poignantly in her current series ‘Work’, a series of paintings of old carpentry tools painted on reclaimed Georgian floorboards.  She paints them in strong light, against a backdrop which she also includes in her composition, complete with masking tape and bulldog clips. The objects themselves are beautifully rendered with all the traces of their long history.  The strong cast shadows the lighting creates add importance and solidity to the humble objects,  Her palette is subtly colorful, restrained and elegant, which I admire and envy, with my tendency towards bright childish colour.

Tori Day also paints in watercolor;  her ‘CDs’ series, as the name suggests, portray cd cases, mimicking their designs in watercolor, each carefully placed centrally on a vellum surface.  Also on Day’s web site is a collection of watercolours again of everyday, mundane objects painted in isolation apart from their own cast shadows.

Jacquie Utley paints pastel coloured interiors peopled by elegant women in a recent series.   There are also rather pretty flower still lifes.  Despite the surface eye-appeal Utley depicts an intriguing, mysterious atmosphere in her work which Id like to achieve too.

The tondo painting project in Part 4 is concerned with the domestic interior, and my research has shown me that subjects need not be ornamental to be worth painting.  Tori Day in particular seemed to me to depict mundane objects in an extremely engaging way; maybe by looking so intensely almost any subject when painted can be endowed with an importance and can communicate the painter’s response and feelings about it.


Vitamin P2 Pub Phaidon 2011

The Artist and the Camera by Dorothy Kosinski, pub Yale University Press, 1999


R3 – loose paint and monotype

We understand and read faces from the background of our own culture and experience, and that is why it is confusing looking at the faces of people from different cultures – we see strangers, whose faces and identities we struggle to recall in any detail.  I believe this phenomena is also intimately connected with the disruption in communication which occurs between two people, one of whom understands the basics but not the subtleties of the others’ language; we lose the intimate link between face, expression, and the spoken word, that helps us define and learn individual identity.  Yuko Masu expresses this breakdown of understanding in her paintings with a sense of despair and frustration, obliterating, smearing and blurring the heads she cannot read or assimilate the details of.  It’s particularly telling that she exagerrates the differences between western and eastern features – western eyes become as big and round as saucers, the sockets exposed.  Henry Tonks’ portraits are different altogether; they were realistic detailed studies of faces actually disfigured by battle wounds.  I can see there are some superficial resemblances with the distortion of features; but Masu’s faces are disfigured by her inability to comprehend the person in front of her, Tonks’ by unflinching observation of the incomprehensible.


I was interested in Eleanor Moreton‘s watercolour ‘Sisters’ shown in FAD Magazine here (there are other similar ones in the artist’s own web site). The painting has a photographic quality, possibly due to its source, but also because of the monochrome treatment.  I love her metaphor for the process of painting as a ‘dance’ –  intuitive when it’s going well. She describes how she likes painting on a smooth surface, and how at the time she was using brown cardboard as a support for her thinly painted oils.  The series referred to in the course manual, Absent Friends, was of portraits of female writers and singers the artist admired, painted in oil and pastel on birch panels, seen here In all of them you can easily see the smeared brushwork in the thin oil paint, not done to obliterate as Nasu does, but simply as a way of applying the paint..

Kaye Donachie‘s atmospheric portraits of historical female figures appear as if veiled with other layers of light and shade and outline, dissolving into other forms.

I also like very much Laura Lancaster‘s messy portraits, usually whole or three quarter length groups of figures, which seem to have photographic sources as reference.

Kim Edwards‘ monotypes of the Suffolk coast ( )make no concessions to the beauty of that landscape.  Without being picturesque, I would want to express a very different experience from my days of living and sailing there.  Such unrelenting deep, forbidding grey is very rare.  Technically, it’s interesting that the course book says she uses thick oil for monotypes, as I had the impression so far that the paint will need to be quite thin to get a good print.


Annie Kevans‘ series of dictators as children show their sweet faces with a few delicate transparent washes of thinned oil on paper, and a very light touch.  They appear at first glance as monochrome sepia on old, yellowed paper, but looking more closely there are thin tints of pink, green, yellow, and of course black eyes on each one.  The series is provocative in its subject matter, and Kevans admits she made up some of the faces – it doesn’t really matter!  The works are portraits only in a loose sense, really being a composite of existing images, her research and her imagination.

42 more of Kevans’ portraits shown in – mainly female subjects – are similarly painted in thin sepia, but with colourful touches of bright blue and red her and there (I guess added later), like coloured photos.

She has created many more series, all with thought provoking concepts.


Kim Baker makes colourfully decorative, loose swirls of bright paint which seem abstract until you spot the shape of a bird amongst the brushmarks; in her latest (2017) series, Bird in Forest, they are composed in the shape of an oval, on a black background.  We can then interpret the swirls as leaves other forest.  They look as though made in a single brushstroke with a wide brush, loaded with several colours side by side (see also Manet below).  Alli Sharma uses dark backgrounds too, particularly in a series of cartoon-like animal portraits.  These cute furry animals have been made to show a grim and threatening persona by Sharma’s treatment; there is an air of menace which comes through in the human portraits too.


Looking at David Bomberg‘s work I found Circus (Abstract Composition) appealing for its light use of paint, ‘outlines and colour…creating a simple abract composition’ –

In this self portrait: oil paint is used by Bomberg’s in a very sketchy way to describe the subject.  I like the use of startling blue pigment among the gloomy tones to give the painting light, and differentiate the subject from its background.


I looked up Velazquez‘ techniques in the course-suggested book “Techniques of the Great Masters of Art”, p52.  It notes that his earlier paintings show attention to realistic detail, and talks about the care and detail with which many of his paintings were done, about his ‘smooth blended brushwork’ and how he ‘frequently made minor alterations’.  But then it notes that in the 1630s his handling of paint became somewhat freer and cites the light and sketchy gloved hand in the portrait of Phillip IV as an example.  This sort of brushwork was what impressed and influenced Manet.

In the same book, Manet‘s early work is said to have been made using slurred brushstrokes and a wet in wet technique, with colours mixed on the canvas.  In Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863 the figures are painted in thick oils, but the background by contrast was made sketchily, with thin, flat paint added later, around the figures (this approach does draw attention to the figures, which I will remember when I want to achieve that effect in my work).  Zooming into details, I can see the confident brushwork, which looks expressive of form in places, in others speedily executed with simple hatching.

The figures in Concert in the Tuileries, 1862 are also painted speedily, wet in wet, with rich, concise blocks of contrasting tone, and the background is done with thin greens, helping us again to separate background and foreground.

Much looser and unfocused is Manet’s handling of paint in Roadmenders in the Rue de Berne, 1878, in which you can see foreground details using distinct, vigorous brushstrokes, several colours to each stroke, and in the distance thin, opaque hazy blues and greens. According to the writer, ‘…loosely and broadly handled colour creates a sense of immediacy’ (p207).



This web page is about the history of mono printing and recounts various artists’ (Castiglione, Blake, Degas, Gaugin) practises

Many of Degas‘ pastels were done on top of his ghost monoprints.  Moma has some interesting insights into monotypes in general, and particularly compares those of Degas with Maurice Prendergast, Milton Avery and Elizabeth Peyton, here here

According to the book ‘The Artist and the Camera’, page Degas made use of monotypes to depict dramatic tonal contrasts, often mixing his materials.  He had a passion for keepsake photographs of friends and family as well as self portraits.


Gaugin made delicately coloured watercolour monotypes; there is an example in ‘The Artist and the Camera’, page 121.  : see  for an explanation of his process: placing damp paper over the watercolour or gouache design and pressing with the back of a spoon would loosen the water based medium, transferring the design in reverse on to the paper. See also

Gaugin was also a pioneer in the creation of traced monotype – see ‘The Artist and the Camera’, page 121, in which the lines are blurred and textures appear where the artist has applied pressure on the back of the paper.  I watched this video explaining trace monotype process, and demonstrating the addition of watercolour and pastel


I looked at the following contemporary artists who he monoprint techniques in their practice.

Therese Oulton makes monoprints combined with oil paint on paper. and

I like the jokey, cartoon-like work of Sam Messer. Although it looks unpolished and scrawly, there is very deep observation, as well as a lot of fun in his images.  I couldn’t find any of his work directly referred to as monotype, but many of his paintings feel as though they may have started life that way.  I added one of his works to my Pinterest board ‘Monotype’ – this painting was sent to me by a supplier when I was looking for Japanese paper.

Charles Amoldi makes abstract monotypes .  In the one I’ve saved on Pinterest here he seems to have carved out abstract shapes from a black background, then maybe added paint and texture in the spaces created.

Kathy Muehlemann makes monotypes depicting natural scenes.  some are here and another in my Monotype Pinterest board.  She achieves dark, mysterious textures, the landscape seeming to evolve out of the process.

I found this an excellent student blog for giving me insights and ideas for monoprinting techniques


The Artist and The Camera, Dorothy Kosinski, pub Yale University Press 1999

Techniques of the Great Masters of Art, pub Chartwell Books Inc, 1989.

Painting on metal

Contemporary artists working with metal

Clare Woods

I recently saw a painting of hers in enamel on aluminium at Hepworth Wakefield.  On further research I found she uses this combination of media and support a lot, often painting on a very large scale (e.g. 8 metres long).  Her subjects include the landscape and the human form, often painted in a rich palette with an overall sombre feel.  Brushmarks ar very much in evidence, adding to the sculptural feel of her work, which is often an abstraction from photographic source material.

Timothy Spillane

He discusses painting on copper.  Describes how he juxtaposes cool colours against the warmth of the bare copper in the finished work.  The exposed copper areas change as light travels across.  He paints landscape and abstract works in oil.  He incorporates verdigris, which he creates using a chemical process

Janet Cunniffe-Chieffo  paints on copper in a classical style.  She uses thinned oils, painting an imprimatur and then adding colour.  She leaves the copper showing through the thin paint, especially at the edges, integrating the painting with the surface.

Michael Craig Martin “Full Life”  This painting incorporates metal sculptural elements.

Gary Hume paints with gloss and enamel paint on aluminium panel, on a large scale, for example Bird Point III , one of the contextual references for my assignment piece

Geraldine Swayne 

Swayne paints mostly small enamels on copper and aluminium – include portraits, pornography, 1×1.5 inches up to A6 – miniatures, mémento mori, harking back to the 16th century, when copper was used as a support for (often) miniature portraits.  Her enamels have a luminous, jewel-like quality, and although her style can be characterised as ‘messy’, she achieves a great deal of expressive detail, rendering the characters of her sitters with huge insight.  Looking at her rendition of character and expression has made me want to explore the portrait more in my own practise, and to experiment with enamel on metal.

Geniève Figgis

Figgis loves to paint figures in pourings, drips and swirls, in a way that is ‘at the intersection between abstraction and portraiture, horror and humour….life and death’ (  She will often paint her own take on famous paintings of aristocrats and gentility from history, distorting and reinterpreting them (The Swing, after Fragonard), pointing out the absurd and macabre in her subjects.

In the following article she discusses her practise and influences:  

Nathan Holden Vit P2 p138  2 paintings in acrylic on aluminium: one a background of thin veil like colour-field layers, the other, precise, diagonal straight black lines on a flat pale green opaque ground.


Copper and other metals give a smooth, lustrous, satiny finish, and enhance colours, giving a luminosity as the light reflects through the painting from the metal beneath.  Great detail can be achieved more easily than on other supports because of the smooth surface.


Oil and water based paints (including watercolour, although this will reactivated with a subsequent layer, so to be avoided), graphite and coloured pencils, apply and adhere well to aluminium.  Oil is better than acrylic.  It provides a hard, smooth surface.  It’s long lasting and doesn’t warp.  Enamel paint can be applied directly to the raw aluminium (a slippery surface)  otherwise it should be etch primed for tooth, or anodised.  Or wash it with detergent & alcohol or meths ; sand (use a sanding block and either aluminium oxide white grit or silicon carbide wet or dry 100,400,1000 grades paper); acid wash – 1:1 vinegar & water;  prime with thin layer of self-etching primer (optional for oil painting); sand again with high grit number; add a coat of clear gesso if using acrylics.


Same, but Don’t use water based paints unless surface is primed and gessoed.

Nail polish for small areas / writing?  Try enamel paint too.


If the plate is thin and bendable first glue it to a solid substrate e.g. mdf cut to just under the size of the plate (or wrap a piece of plywood with the copper and nail it! – see  To glue, first roughen the back of the copper and clean it (alcohol).  See  Sand and clean the front side, etch with garlic juice.  Primer is optional.  Experiment – make hammer marks; piece the copper together on the substrate and incorporate the ridges; let the edges of the substrate show and be incorporated into the painting.   If areas of the copper are left uncovered seal with a final layer of varnish.


Aluminium Painting Panels

Shopping list

Metal self etching primer

Metal spray paint

Clear gesso

Enamel paint

Polyurethane glue

Mdf, plywood


Trials on prepared aluminium substrate

Orange Pastel pencil – left marks but no colour

Graphite pencil – applied & adhered very well

Charcoal (pencils, fire, willow) all good

Coloured pencil – good, although colour slightly dull compared to same colour on a paper substrate

Watercolour (phthalocyanine green, Naples yellow)) – applied well.  When dry, resistant to gentle rubbing but not to scratching with plastic.  As research suggested, very easily reactivated by brushing on water – so quite fragile as a painting, and would be impossible to layer.

Gouache (red, purple, white) – same properties as watercolour with respect to fragility of dry painted surface

Acrylic (indigo, white) – dries much harder – scratch resistant.  Still reactivated with water until properly dried and hardened, and then is secure.

Household enamel (process blue, dark green, bright red, white) – beautifully glossy, touch-dry within 24 hours.  

Oil paint – (ultramarine, burnt umber, with liquin) – after 24 hours not even tacky, still wet.



San Diego Museum of Art


R2 – Collections

Julian Walker – I couldn’t find much about his work online, but I do note he’s a collector of words as well as artefacts.  He’s written a number of books on usage of language in various eras and situations.

There’s an interesting article here on his collection of carved  pills, called Acts of Faith, in Wellcome’s Medicine Now gallery. I like the connection made between faith, superstition, votive offerings and prayers for health, and modern otc drugs that people believe in and use to make themselves feel better – the role of faith in medicine.

This article from Tate explains the origins and and meaning of curiosity cabinets, collections and museums.

Fred Wilson is a political activist, his subject social justice.  He created a series of mock museums, collecting and presenting objects that address how museums reinforce racial bias.  Mining the Museum was an exhibition he created in 1992.  He reshuffled the existing museum’s collection, which focussed on prominent white men and under-represented oppressed people.  The result was a whole new historical viewpoint.  For example ornate silverware was displayed with slave shackles; antique chairs were gathered round a whipping post.  Visitors are encouraged to interpret the exhibits, think critically and acquire a new perspective.  The idea works for me because it’s suggestive rather than moralising.  It is the opposite to the usual view of history, as described in Benjamin’s thesis number 7, here.

Lisa Milroy – the example given is large scale painting of (life-size) shoes in a grid on canvas.  I’ve recently seen a similar idea in photography, of a grid of children’s feet, dressed in patterned shoes and socks.  Obviously you can’t collect the feet but you can collect photos of them – viz my collection of paintings of hands in part 1!

She often arranges the objects in a neat grid or a pattern, lit from the left.  Occasionally she will paint a more random arrangement.  The objects are displayed on a flat plane, from a perpendicular viewpoint, with a neutral background and no other context.

I like her Fruit and Vegetables because the objects are painted realistically and skilfully, while still being very painterly;  lush rich colours and brush strokes.  It reminds me of a famous ancient mosaic, The Unswept Floor which, although made in a cruder medium, is finer and more delicate than Milroy’s paintings.

Paul Westcombe – makes paintings of fantasy scenes on coffee cups.  So this is a collection of painted coffee cups, rather than painting of a collection of objects.  He uses coffee to paint, as I did in part 1 in sketchbook work; I’ve also used coffee in part 2 exercises, to paint portraits of ancestors on paper, and to make a tondo of a collection on fabric.  He also makes composte drawings, using several sheets of A4 coloured paper which are then displayed together to produce one large drawing.  Other surfaces are paper till receipts and travel cards.  His explanation for the various surfaces chosen is that he’s doing these paintings and drawings covertly, while at which retails, doing a job that bores him.  The drawings and paintings themselves are obsessive Viz cartoon like scenarios.

Lee Edwards – glues a tiny oil painting – often a highly detailed and realistic miniature portrait – on paper on to small natural objects (a conker, a small piece of wood).  Juxtaposing a fine oil painting with a rough natural object gives the painting an air of the ephemeral;  similarly  Alison Moritsugu makes fine classical landscape paintings on the cut surface of logs, then displays them in groups which themselves form larger, fractured landscapes.  Edwards’ miniatures inspired me to make realistic paintings of my collections with a very fine brush on matches, buttons and matchboxes.

David Dipré – impasto portrait on a 3D surface – e.g. Broken roof tile.  I don’t like the slimy, indecipherable nature of his work, but I like the scribbled drawn parts.  One piece that interested me was a painting done on 5 or 6 pieces of what looked like broken tiles.  The individual pieces are mounted together higgledy piggledy fashion.  They reminded me of shards of ancient pottery that someone has tried to piece together unsuccessfully.  His work connected in my mind to my work on broken shards of ice for exercise 2.1, in which my paintings go through several subtractive (melting) and additive (more media) representing the changes to landscape after fire.

Cathy Lomax, Alli Sharma – painting of women on handbags.  In 2013 Transition Gallery commissioned six artists, including Lomax and Ali Sharma, to produce paintings on handbags.  The reclaimed bags were used as a ground on which to paint their own works, bearing in mind the iconic status of the handbag as a cultural signifier of femininity. I was a bit underwhelmed by the results.

Tabitha Moses – makes collections and groups of objects, makes connections, tells a story.  There’s a huge range of materials and techniques in the works displayed on her web site.  I particularly like ‘Slaughterhouse Workers of Lahore’, a collection of hand embroidered portraits, which start off as straightforward depictions in coloured line, progressing to portraits reminiscent of the paintings and drawings of Giacometti, with expressive, jagged lines layered on.

As well as embroidery Moses uses light boxes with pricked black card; portraits gleaned from collected packaging materials; human hair; paper bags.  A collection of dolls, wrapped up as mummies and displayed as in a museum case is intriguing; and then X-rays taken of the same dolls; also embroidery on shirt cuffs using human hair, done in sampler style.


Other painters working with unusual materials OR painting collections:

Chris Ofili works with unusual materials.  His paintings, such as The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996, include acrylic, oil, resin, collage, glitter, map pins and elephant dung.  The result is a stylised, colourful, fine and decorative representation of the subject. (Art & Today, p266).  Robert Rauschenberg one of the Abstract Expressionists, produced a series of ‘combine paintings’, such as ‘First Landing Jump’ incorporating a miscellany of paraphernalia such as cloth, light bulb, car tyre, metal spiral, license plate (p504, Techniques of the Great Masters of Art).

Gerhardt Richter works on a monumental project, Atlas, in which he collects found and personal photos, clippings, sketches, historical images, pornographic images, source material for anything he has been working on since 1963.  The archive now provides a collection representing the period.  So far there are over 5000 images  (Art & Today, p119)

I looked at Mark Fairnington in Part 1 research.

Annabelle Dover paints delicate watercolours and coloured pencil drawings of collected small objects all of which have important connotations for her – she is ‘drawn to objects and the invisible stories that surround them’.   There’s are also cyanotypes.  I particularly like these of personal items of clothing associated with cherished memories.


I read the following essays, which  “talk about collections and how collections tell a personal story that might not otherwise be told”

Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940)

Benjamin proposes that the document of any civilisation is the story of the victors, and its artefacts become cultural treasures.  I’ve written my understanding of the Theses here

Sigmund Freud, Family Romances (1909)

According to the course manual this essay “considers creating your own reality through a re-telling of your own personal history”.  I’ve delved deep into the closed book of my personal history recently, trying to make sense of it, and the essay does throw a certain light on it.  I’ve written a private re-telling of it, and thought about how painting collections might help tell this story.  Old family photos might be included in my collection but what else?  I have no memorabilia, but could search online for images of things which were significant to me at the time.

Photos of My collections

MY photographed collections are shown in the galleries below.  I started off sceptically (never having been a collector) but gradually warmed to my task.  Eventually I started to select objects which spoke more to me.

Scissors, specs, buttons and cotton reels, light bulbs, arranged like museum displays produce interesting patterns and simple meaning.

Colourful sweet wrappers, embroidery threads, pens and cotton reels on dark backgrounds could make a cohesive series.

Utensils, cutlery, white kitchenware and plates of food could go together for a kitchen theme.

Swimming costumes, socks, hats, specs, perfume and jewellery are collections of personal items.

Scissors and cables and light bulbs, practical items of domesticity.

I also collected images of my family and ancestors

References  Accessed 27 October 2016. Accessed 27 October 2016

Art & Today, by Eleanor Heartney, pub Phaidon Press, 2008

Techniques of the Great Masters of Art, pub Chartwell Books, 1985


Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

I read the following essay, which talks “about collections and how collections tell a personal story that might not otherwise be told”.  I found I had to read it several times, gradually reaching an understanding.  I’ve tried below, to help me improve my understanding, to put some of it into my own words, with a few thoughts of my own.  Over time, with more re-reading and wider reading, i hope I’ll reach a better appreciation of the essay, and be able to connect it to my own experience.

Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940)

Benjamin proposes that the document of any civilisation is the story of the victors, and its artefacts become cultural treasures.

He writes on the differences between historicism and historical materialism.

What we call history presents a number of singular events, told without relation to the past or future or each other.  Each of these events becomes a cultural treasure, and the pain and suffering in the making of it is untold.  History makes the victors’ story the history of the era.

Historical materialism views events as not isolated, recognises the pain and suffering that go hand in hand with creating cultural treasures.  It doesn’t view the past from a set position.  Both the present and the future inform the past.  

In an effort to understand the Theses proposed, I précis/ summarise what I understand to be the salient points:

1. The image of the hunchback crouched under a table guiding a puppet moving chess pieces to win every game conjures up an absurd version of history.  Who is the hunchback who writes his own version of history and wins every time?

2. We feel fear and apprehension for the future and those coming after us.  We deride the past (would you want to go back to that?) and feel pity for those who didn’t have our advantages.  This is an anomaly.  If today is so great, why are we so anxious, and why are we compliant in organising our lives in a way that can’t possibly be sustained in our children’s future?  I have been discovering photos of my Victorian and later ancestors,  feeling their hardships all led to me, a fortunate and blest individual.  I think of my nieces and nephews and their children to come…they will live in a depleted, dangerous world.


4. We (the non-rulers, the non-victors) constantly reassess the past and rewrite history in the light of the present conditions…we can do this because we aren’t the ‘elite’, so we don’t have an overriding stake in the status quo.  So an example is the modern view of the British Empire (and slavery) as criminal compared to the historical and conformist view of it as glorious.

5.  I think it’s impossible to imagine the past as our forebears experienced it. When I try to visualise the ‘true picture’ of the past it never even flits by for an instant.  We have different concerns by which we judge what’s important.  We live in a different world.

6. Traditions, he says, are always under threat of being taken over as a tool of the ruling class, so that they then become a means of imposing conformity. 

7. History empathises with (i.e. is written by)  the victor.  Rulers are the conquerors and their heirs.  So, if we try to imagine a historical moment by disregarding everything that followed, we are empathising with the victors, and thus benefitting the rulers..  The spoils of victory (“cultural treasures” ) are created by great minds, but also by the toil and suffering of their contemporaries.  “There is no document of civilisation that is not at the same time a document of barbarism”.   We should question historical documents in the light of what came after, not accept the version of the victors.  This reminds me of the work of artist Fred Wilson which I have talked about here.  He presents the defeated’s view of history in his work.

8.  The state of emergency in which we live isn’t the exception but the norm.  How true this feels to me, in my lifetime, when crisis after crisis rolls through the world.

9. A well known and loved thesis which I first came across in an exhibition in Eastbourne showing the work of Ori Gersht, one of the exhibits being a video, Evaders, of Benjamin’s fleeing from the Nazi regime, Över the Pyrenees.  Benjamin creates a vivid picture of what he calls ‘the storm of progress’, propelling the ‘angel of history’ backwards into the future, while the pile of wreckage created by past events grows skyward.  We see a chain of historical events and think it represents progress; in reality there is but one single catastrophe.

10. and 11.  This thesis addresses the politicians response, or lack of it, to the growth of fascism, and the next how the working classes too are duped into conformity, despite the fact that they weren’t able to partake of the benefits of all their hard work.  The fascist concept of labour is technocratic, it is about the exploitation of nature.

12. The oppressed and enslaved classes are at their strongest as the avengers of their enslaved ancestors; only to be a redeemer of future generations takes away their greatest strength.

13 – 18. Progress isn’t boundless or irresistible.  It exists within homogeneous empty time.  History is written as a progress of events punctuated by revolutions  


R1 – painting style

Reminder – points to consider when looking at other artists’ work (extract from course intro):
  • How does it make you feel
  • Do you like the work
  • What does it remind you of
  • Composition
  • Style
  • Colour palette
  • Subject
  • Significance of title
  • Date
  • Medium
  • Support
  • Where exhibited

Slick, flat paint

Gary Hume – I like his work for the apparent  simplicity; originality and versatility of colour palette and interpretation of subjects, often portraits or parts of figures; .  They remind me of Patrick Caulfield and Alex Katz paintings.  I attempted sketchbook copies of three of his works, trying to match colours and effects, draw lines just peeking at my paper, making notes on how mine compare to his.

Sarah Morris – abstract geometric compositions.  Colourfully designed and calculated precision, like Bridget Riley.  Although I enjoy pattern and colour I prefer more organically developed painting that evokes an emotional response.

Ian Davenport‘s completely abstract poured lines are gorgeous colours, and interesting where they spill into amorphous shapes at the bottom of the works.  I enjoyed pouring paint in POP Part 5, but in a more emotional way, responding to ideas, thoughts, music.  Although pouring looks simple, the techniques required to achieve the effect wanted are quite demanding.

Inka Essenhigh – dream, fantasy, pop surrealism, references animation – the paintings seem pretty empty in terms of having any meaning or message – purely decorative, for a science fiction or comic book illustration, or a child’s bedroom wall.  I don’t really like her work; the highly blended, imaginary organic shapes seem slick, and the palette is sickly colours.  There’s something about her imaginary world that makes me uncomfortable.

Jane Callister her works on paper (acrylic or oil) are ambiguous, interesting to look at.  I like her use of colour, Mark making, and use of paint dripping.

Brian Alfred – forlorn cityscapes rooted in observation make me feel the loneliness of city life.  I’m not a city person, but I think his paintings of the city are very affecting.   I also like his portraits – they also remind me of Alex Katz paintings. Some gems to study and think how I might adopt some of his ideas – see

Black and white

Raymond Pettibon – like comic strip illustrations, lots of text,  dramatic images, not painting but drawing.  I like the drama of black and white and use of text, although  left feeling ignorant of the subject matter

José Toirac – a Cuban, he made highly political paintings, to the extent that some of his works couldn’t be shown publicly.  like his use of gold leaf and acrylic; like his grid of 65 portraits in pencil and red wine.

The portraits in red wine, displayed in a grid layout,  are here

I made a quick sketchbook copy of one, using instant coffee dissolved in water, and burnt umber acrylic.


Thse gilded paintings:

Those are small, but Toirac also made door-size ones.

I made one on paper painted background with solid burnt umber, then pasted torn fake gold leaf on with acrylic medium, leaving gaps and ragged edges.  Then painted burnt umber lines which reminded me of a family running. Then tint of ultramarine for light tones.

Alli Sharma – b&w portraits of women’s faces, from 50s-70s, sensitively drawn

Gia Edzgveradze – scribbles and doodles – I like this


Loose thin paint

Mimei Thompson – good commentary here  The brushstrokes are highly visible, all looks plastic, reality turned into other-worldly forms.  Flat muted pink backgrounds.  Bin bag, dead fly, tomatoes, weeds.  Background paint thinned with liquin.  Image is paint mixed with alkyd resin for max retention of brushstrokes

Annie Kevans – series of portraits – dictators as boys – muses of Gaultier – forgotten women artists – presidential mistresses.  not necessarily likenesses.  Thinned oil on canvas paper, vague and dreamy faces.  I like the concept of portraits in series portraying an idea.

Cathy Lomax – prolific, painting all the things that make up her life, interests and influences.  I like her ongoing ‘Film Diaries’  on the whole I find her choice of subjects mundane, which is ok if like Brian Alfred’s cityscapes something more intangible is added – but they feel simply like humdrum copies.

Eleanor Moreton – paints a dreamland of her past.  Large scale, thin paint.  Narrative paintings.  I liked the compositions



Chuck Close – best known for hyper-realistic, massive scale portraits and self-portraits from photos.  Uses inventive techniques (fingerpainting, felt stamps,  small pieces of pulp paper, monochrome jacquard tapestry) to piece together his gridded paintings.  I like Shirley, 2007 – each ‘pixel’ has interesting shapes within.  Oil, acrylic, watercolour are all used.  Techniques in Wikipedia  paintings here

Mark Fairnington – plays with the concept of reality, presenting us with hyper realistically – trompe l’oeile – depicted subjects but in fantastic or incongruous or unlikely settings and combinations.  Hyper-realistic people, insects, animals (sometimes packaged, boxed and labelled). An explanation of his work here  I like it as its more than photo-realism.  By collecting, selecting, collating many images something more is added.  Series of animal eyes in tondo..the detail more finely depicted than the unaided human eye could achieve.  His compositions of flowers are hyper realistic but he’s playing with reality, combining different flowers on one stalk, adding birds and insects but playing with scale etc.  I love looking at his work, but imagine it’s painstaking, slow, physically demanding work.

Robert Priseman – macabre subjects.  Interiors of execution chambers.  Portraits of mass murderers  etc  difficult to look at.

Tim Gardner – photorealistic watercolours. Realistic in a completely different sense to Fairnington..not trompe l’oeile. But like painterly replicas of snapshot photos, capturing a feeling.  ‘Photographic’ use of watercolour.  Figures in landscapes, based on poor quality photos, gritty realism.  Eg Bald Guy Looking at Lake Louise, 2007.  Pastel portraits.  I like Couple by a Lake,3,12&view=0  this article is an illuminating discussion  of the artist and his work

Excellent description of his work here

Colour and pattern

Peter Doig – I like his use of colour and tone, producing mysterious, disorientating landscapes.  I looked at his work for Painting 1, and adopted some of his practises in my own paintings.

Édouard Vuillard – pattern, and flat shapes, colour used as tone.

Tal R – carnivalesque, naive drawings and paintings. Unconventional, bright Fauvist colours, dark content evoking history.  I like the series Walk Towards Hare Hill here


Daniel Richter – large scale paintings inspired by mass media and popular culture.  What I like is the colour.  The subjects are macabre.  But the colour and compositions intrigue me.



Denis Castellas – ambiguous subjects, partly obscured by smearing or whiting out, almost incomplete data looking.  Combination of figurative and abstract.  Translucent layers, scrubbing, drips  Also

Cecily Brown – flesh pink , jumbles of colour, shape and mark.  Often nude figures, sometimes loads of them.  Thin oil paint.  Twisted, mysterious fragments of figures.  Sexual innuendo.  You can look at her paintings for a long time discovering new subjects and interpretations

Carole Benzaken – look at  Big colourful figurative canvases playing with reality, distorting scale, changes of scale, juxtaposition, some blurred some well defined, near and far.  Fragmented landscapes, night cityscapes.

Elizabeth Peyton  intimate small scale portraits of celebrities, the young and beautiful, contemporary heroes, figures from history  see  I like her portraits, although some are over-pretty, mostly they’re honest and open.

Chantal Joffe – portraits of mainly women and girls, mainly in oil, also pastel.  Loose, gestural, spontaneous.  Honest – not pretty

Jasper Joffe

Harry Pye