In the previous post I showed some watercolours derived from the family photos. I have recently been doing a few days printmaking, during which I translated the watercolour portraits into solar plate etchings. A transition from one medium to another – drawing to painting, painting to collage, paint medium to print – often suggests new ideas and directions. These are three of the etchings, they are small, just A6 size – the reproduction here is over lifesize, but shows the textures very well (ink wash and graphite pencil). There are six portraits altogether and I have also printed them as a single block image, which will be posted soon.
Still working on things I posted previously, but I also started a drawing in the Family Photos series which has led to another idea. This is the first time I’ve done close focus on a family photo that includes my own generation, so there isn’t that historical element of completely different fashions – types of clothes and hair, for example – that locate the image well in the past. Also, it is a colour photo, whereas all of those I’ve studied previously were necessarily black and white, though I usually chose to introduce colour into the paintings and drawings.
I wanted to use pencil for this – no colour, which made the drawing a slower and more disciplined process than usual. This gave me the opportunity to think ahead on the project and I am planning a sculptural approach to the next phase.
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.
The family photo used as the basis for the images I’m posting here was first shown on the blog in April last year (Family photos: starting points). As with other recent work, I’m producing a lot of smallish pictures – usually A4, all on watercolour paper. Using the railway station photo, these are versions 1 and 3 of the latest images and, with the original gouache and pastel, I now have four versions. So it’s probably time to tackle something on a much larger scale to enable a greater shift in the reinterpretation of the image.
This is a really odd photo, giving rise to some equally odd paintings and collage. A friend looking at the recent work asked, ‘what is it you are trying to say about it?’ – ‘it’ being the fact that the people in my paintings are almost always dead – older relatives, ancestors, mummies. I’m giving this some thought, meantime questioning whether it is necessary that a visual art piece does have something to say?
Incidentally, there’s a non-dead person in there – on the right is my mum, currently still with us at 92. The others are my father and a friend (centre) and my uncle (left). I have three recent paintings based on this photo. I think I prefer the third, for its ambiguity.
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.