Monday, April 13, 2009

Abstract Paintings #15 and #16

After a short break, I returned to my studio and made this next abstract on a larger board:

Abstract Painting #15, acrylics on plywood, 61x40cm.
This is probably the largest abstract I have done to date. Working spontaneously, lifting large amounts of acrylic paint as the colours came to me I laid them on in bold gestural movements, trying all the time not to design it.

Fianally, with the session now at an end and all that squeezed-out paint lying there on my palette crying out to not be left to harden, I finished with this more muted painting to use up all the remains:

Abstract Painting #16. acrylics on cardboard, 29x 38.5cm.

Phew!...another week over and plenty to show for it.

But is any of it any good?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Abstract Paintings #9, #11, #12, #13, and #14

While I can convince myself that my 'subconscious musings' are a valid way of generating absract images I was beginning to feel that something was lacking in them - they were becoming too formal and formulistic? They were, to my mind, good images but I began to think that while the initial "doodle" was produced from my subconscious it was what I did with it later that was troubling me. I had begun to impose considered design and thought onto them. Now, even though I carried out that part of the process as spontaneously as I could, I knew choices were being made - shape definition, colour, texture - which were all fully conscious (well as much as I can muster at the best of times!).

Before I rushed off into my studio to fling paint up the walls, I chose to do some research first, starting with someone I believed worked directly from his subconscious: Franz Kline.

What I found, however, was quite different from what I thought. It turns out that Kline had been engaged in exactly the same process as I have been describing, above. He also started his picture-making by creating bold, so called "spontaneous", designs from his subconscious using black ink or paint on the pages of old telephone directories. Most of these are very graphic, but apparently he then developed them into small studies (as I have been doing) and then very carefully recreated his designs as full-sized paintings while maintaining their apparent spontaneity. Can this still be considered "pure" abstract?

Shaking off that thought, and with a determination to get right down to the nitty-gritty of creating abstracts without any design development, I went out to my studio.

What transpired was an extended afternoon session where I painted six-in-a-row using acrylics, four on paper and two on cardboard:

Abstract #9, acrylics on paper, 26.5x35cm.

#10 is missing here because I think I was trying too hard and it just looked a mess.

Abstract #11, acrylics on paper, 23x25.5cm.

Abstract #12, acrylics on paper, 27x36cm.

Abstract #13, acrylics on board, 40x30cm.

Abstract #14, acrylics on board, 40x30cm.

A very pleasing and satisfactory afternoon's work. I stopped exhausted but happy that I had actually been able to create paintings in this way.

The question is: Can I do it again?

We shall see.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Abstract Paintings #6, #7, and #8

More Sub-conscious Musings translated into larger paintings:

Started the day by doing some research for my Theoretical Study. Read right through a small book on the English artist "Patrick Heron", by Michael McNay, skimming past much of the background biographical detail (which I kind of know already) but focusing on anything related to Heron's thought's on abstract art and how he went about it.

What particularly interested me was how, in later years, he created these fantastic large canvases of free-floating shapes from what looks to me like a series of "doodles" that remind me very much of my own subconscious musings. My friend and fellow architect, Ian [now sadly gone], often said that "there was nothing new under the sun" and now I find Heron has been there before me using this method of creating his images. So I'm in good company!

So it was out to the studio in the afternoon to continue where I had left off yesterday, buoyed up by the thought that there was after all some validity in this method:

Abstract #6, acrylics on primed hardboard, 40.7x61cm.
Now, I don't consider this painting to be quite finished yet as there is a lot more I feel I can still do with it, but as another step along the way I am pleased with the design and colour scheme.

While I was waiting for the first coat of paint to dry sufficiently to take second coats I kept going with another in the same vein:

Abstract #7, acrylics on primed hardboard, 40.7x61cm.
Took this one a bit further with applications of further coats of paint which I worked into with scratched-in markings.

Finally, with Heron very much in mind I dug out one of my 'musings' from a few years ago and developed it up into this:

Abstract #8, acrylics on primed hardboard, 40.7x61cm.
Not as brilliant as I hoped!

All the while I was painting these three, questions were arising in my mind. The internal debate was raging around the idea that this type of painting has become far too formalised and more like illustration than painting. Not such a bad thing, but not what I am searching for. I like them as images, but feel that they each lack the spontaneity of "free" abstract painting.

Something needs to change...and it will.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Abstract Paintings #3, #4, and #5

Moving swiftly on from previous posting, these three abstracts came in quick succession:

Abstract painting #3
acrylics on primed hardboard, 47.7x61cm.

All three were developed from what I call "sub-conscious musings", where I let my pen wander freely within a small aperture, and later draw out the image as it appears to me, applying colours as they come to me.

This one (above) undoubtably came after researching the work of the English painter, Roger Hilton, concluding with his "March 1956" painting in blues and white.

And I followed on with these two next ones, almost simultaneously thereafter:

Abstract painting #4
acrylics on primed hardboard, 46x67.5cm.

Abstract painting #5
acrylics on primed hardboard, 46x67.5cm.

Both of these were painted on already prepared hardboard primed with household emulsion. But they must have been two different types of emulsion for the first (a pale lilac blue) was slightly chalky, and the second (a darker mid-blue) was smoother as though it was actually oil-based (that will go well with the subsequent layer of acrylics I'm sure!).

I speak of this as though it meant something, and it did for me, because in the first the acrylic paint kind of sank into the surface, while in the second the paint stayed more on the surface. An interesting difference to ponder. Whether either are considered finished or not depends on whether I think there is something more to be added, which I don't see as yet.
And before you ask, both of these are purely imaginative with absolutely no reference to anything objective, like a mountain perhaps, or the sea, or even body-parts :o)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Abstract Painting #2

Alright, bear with me on this one - it's part of a process and is not always as good as you would like it to be!

As I contemplated my "free" abstract created the day before (posted yesterday) I thought about where abstract images came from. Since I am presently searching (or rumaging around so to speak) in the depths of my subconscious for images that express how I am feeling I consider that there are two ways of revealing them: firstly by painting directly onto a board or canvas, without design; and secondly by making a preliminary free-form sketch, as Franz Kline (and also as Patrick Heron) did, on paper first. I will return to both Kline and Heron later, but for the time being, and perhaps taking fright at working spontaneously on a fresh board, or simply feeling the need to document this for the benefit of the OCA, I turned my attention to making small "thumbnail doodles". Using a small cardboard aperture and with closed eyes and brain dis-engaged, I would let the pen wander within it at random. I call these my "sub-conscious musings" and have often made images in this way, some quite successful I may add.

But not always.

What emerged was this image which I decided to work up into a painting:

Abstract Painting #2, acrylics on hardboard, 53.5x36cm.

At the time I was pretty pleased with this thinking that I was once again mining that deep seam of possibility that had already generated some interesting images. As time has passed, however, I knew that I could do much better than this.

Although the painting is not really what I am looking for it did point me in the right direction. It reminded me somewhat of paintings by the English artist Roger Hilton (1911-75) who created some wonderful abstract paintings during the 1950's and 60's.

While I was reading about Gillian Ayers and her "free" abstracts I found that she was great friends (if not to say always friendly!) with Hilton, who you might gather is one of my favourite artists, not because he had a name for being rude you understand, but because his paintings fill me with wonder and awe.

Here are a few snippets from the book "Roger Hilton; The Figured Language of Thought" by Andrew lambirth (publ: Thames & Hudson, 2007) which speak out to me:

"...the world of feeling and in ideas".

"the inner riot".

"his colour...has both a spacial and emotional identity..."

"Hilton ...relies so intently on his nerves and instincts and intuitions".

[my italics in each of them]

This research opened up my imagination in a way I hoped for but could not have forseen.

And that, children is enough for tonight. Next episode tomorrow -IF you are good!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Project 3: Abstract Painting

I've been a very busy boy these last couple of weeks. After my short trip to Milan I found it very difficult to get going again with my head full of Last Suppers and whatnot.

Following my Tutorial the previous week (which I look back on with very mixed feelings) when my Tutor suggested that for this project I start with the Theoretical Study so that I might incorporate some of the things I learn from it instead of leaving it to the end and rushing to complete. Even though I had mis-givings about reading so much about what others have done that I get confused (which you should know by now, I do very easily!) and try to copy their work instead of doing my own thing.
I'm pleased to say, however, that it turned out to be the ideal way to get myself into the course-work again and finding inspiration in my readings. Firstly I read through in it's entirety "Abstract Expressionism" written by Barbara Hess (pub; Taschen) which gives an over-view of the movement and small bite-sized pieces on all the major players.
This led in turn to a book I have had for many years: "Hans Hofmann" by Karen Wilkin (pub; Naples Museum of Art, Florida) and while I understand (I think) what he was achieving with his 'push-pull' abstracts I found myself losing interest. I was already beginning to want to narrow my focus to not only "Abstract" painting as opposed to "Abstraction" but to "free" abstract painting, or "pure" abstract, or simply painting intuitively from the sub-conscious. Quickly I realised that the whole subject of Ab-Ex was far too wide (and already covered extensively in print) and needed limiting to something more specific and of interest to me. Sadly Hans wasn't doing it so I moved on to reading the relevant sections in yet another of my books on the English artist "Gillian Ayers" by Mel Gooding (pub: Lund Humphries, 2001) which I remembered in Chapter 4: 'Seeing What Paint Could Do: Free Abstraction and the Hampstead Mural, 1956 - 1957'.
Two problems arose for me: the first concerning the use of the word 'Abstraction' which I take to mean removal, by degrees, from reality, but which was used frequently at the time to simply mean 'abstract painting'. I have decide to stick with the former as I prefer it's distinction. The latter, to my mind, is more appropriate for non-objective, non-figurative, images from the sub-conscious.
The second problem that consumed me for the best part of two weeks was that as far as i could see all abstract art was wall-size and needed a huge studio to lay the canvases or panels out on the floor to work on them. Happily I now know this is not the case, but more of that later.

In the meantime, with a growing sense of unease that I was reading too much and not actually making any progress I got myself into the studio and made my first "free" abstract:

Abstract Painting #1
Acrylics and collage on hardboard, 36x53cm.

Not large but to my mind very satisfactory, and I was off and running!