Quite a lot of my recent work has been about faces, from simplified prints to a recent series of watercolours. So then I thought it was appropriate to review work I did several years ago, which was based on newspaper photos, chosen fairly randomly on the basis of visual interest. At that time, the paper I regularly read had a sort of design ‘tic’, where all the people mentioned in a feature would be shown in a block grid of close up portraits. I was interested both in the detail and texture of the faces, and in the degree of repetition, created by the presentation.This is an acrylic painting on board, approximately 3ft (Im) square. It sold quite soon after it was done, and I haven’t seen it since. It lives quite vividly in my memory. The subjects were all managers of football teams, at the time quite well known but relatively unremarkable people, faces you wouldn’t necessarily pick out in a crowd. It was the juxtaposition that intrigued me.
The watercolours I’m doing currently are derived from the family photos that have already been the subjects of other paintings. In this case the visualisation involves extracting each face from the photo as a detail, sometimes small and difficult to decipher. I’ve made several studies and the two shown here are to me the most successful, because I’m looking for an abstract quality to the interpretation – they are not portraits as such, although the people are or have been significant in my life. Both are on A4 size watercolour paper.
For most of this year I had the sense of floundering somewhat to find the purpose of my work and connections between different pieces. Now I feel like I have a bit more of a clue. Strangely it’s associated with the evenings getting darker, since I Ilve in a seaside town, it’s hard not to be distracted by a long sunny summer. Currently there is more impulse to work and the confidence to work randomly if necessary, especially when the venture into 3D work uses up a lot of time. For example, the cardboard/fabric figures in the last post are still taking shape quite slowly, overcoming (trying to overcome) some technical problems.
Meanwhile, another idea occurred about the strange photo of my dad in the car. The most recent version is cardboard cutouts painted in gouache, two pieces. They could be displayed as low relief, or as hanging sections
And I’ve been obsessing with faces. There is a sheet of watercolour faces, but apparently my scanner can’t read the whole thing, so this row is representative.And a sheet of potato cuts. Some artist friends recently reminded me of this simple technique, which as it turns out is not so simple. Doing this experimental set has explained how to take them forward.
Usually, when I’m exploring a subject, I do a number of small and medium sized versions and typically end on a larger scale, at which point I will most likely feel I’ve gone as far as I can go. The painting I’m showing here came out of a desire just to work large, which I hadn’t done for a while, so some of the exploration that I do in the smaller scale work, which includes trying different techniques and mixing media, took place on this single piece of paper, which is approximately 4ft (1.2m) square. The photo shows some distortion as I just snapped this with my phone, and it’s hanging from clips on the studio wall, so you can see a distinct curve.
The theme is, broadly speaking, remembrance, and it draws together various motifs and images from earlier work, also from newspaper clippings and the cemetery photos I took in August last year (see blog posts for July and August 2013). It’s a complex and, I think, somewhat unsatisfactory piece. It evolved rather randomly and as it developed there were awkward spaces and a lack of colour coherence. Frankly, it was a struggle. But these shortcomings rather recommend it to me, as I can’t be coasting on something I know too well where this is concerned. I am working on a smaller watercolour painting based on this (the large one is acrylic and collage), and I’m looking forward to more work aimed at solving some of the problems this presented.
This blog contains some new images in the Family Photos series, and I expect that each of these photos will generate more paintings. The versions shown here represent initial investigations of the subject. There is a period of getting to know the photos, and then getting beyond them, which in this case hasn’t yet happened. All of these images are relatively small, which is typical of the early stages of the work: 1) Railway station acrylic and pastel 2) Lunch in Switzerland , both in gouache and pastel 8x11in (20×27.5cm). (3) Denis in the car watercolour and watercolour crayon 7x5in (17.5×12.5cm).
The Family Photos series has been going on for a few years, using photos from both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family. Sometimes I’m working on these images exclusively for a while, then maybe I’ll come back to them after doing something else, and if I find new ones, that can stimulate additional work. Usually, each series begins with a fairly straightforward drawing or painting of the subject, then progresses through a number of different versions, changing the scale, the media and the approach to the picture. Primarily, they have been photos of the immediately preceding generations, my parents and grandparents. The aura of old-fashionedness enables me to find an objective distance from the images, though there is obviously an emotional link as well that gives them a subjective element. I choose them for visual qualities, not for sentimental reasons. Sometimes those things are happily combined, as in Deckchair (below): the couple are my maternal grandparents. Occasionally I have no idea who the people are, I think there is a tiny view of my father in Entertaining the Dog (behind the main figure), but the other people are a mystery. It’s just a great, and slightly strange, photograph. My father and his brothers are three of the boys on donkeys,so I lost the fourth figure in the translation of photo to painting.These paintings are from early in the series. There will be newer ones in a subsequent post.
Deckchair acrylic and fabric collage
- Entertaining the Dog acrylic and paper collage
Donkey riding acrylic and paper collage
I have a huge archive of found photos, collected for purely visual interest or for my interest in the content, and also for teaching purposes, so there is reference material on any subject students might choose. The majority are clippings and tear sheets from newspapers and magazines, but there are also photos taken by me, friends or family members, and a range of postcards – views, artwork and old pictures.
The brown paper drawings are what I call thinking out loud – that is, thinking on to paper. Initially I chose favourite images from my collection, with written comments and associations; gradually themes began to emerge. The drawings are charcoal, acrylic wash and chalk on brown paper, each approx. 22x28in (56x71cm).
The power of strange things
Not one day of peace
Brown paper drawing 1 Untitled