Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mars, The Bringer of War

This painting was undoubtably the most difficult for me to complete.

The conceptual and development studies all took place during the Autumn of 2009 but I could never get to a definitive solution until Spring 2010. In some respects, therefore, all the experimentation and perseverance helped me develop the semi-abstract language I was looking for in each of the other planets, if not entirely in this one.

The planet itself is known as The Red Planet due to it's high iron oxide content:

Mars the Planet
This high-resolution photograph was taken by the Hubble telescope in 2001 and shows clearly the reddish appearance of the planet with it's polar ice-caps.
The planet has two irregular-shaped moons called Phobos and Deimos which are the mythological sons of Ares, the Greek god of war. The Romans called him Mars:

Mars the Statue
This statue stands in the grounds of the Villa Hadriana at Tivoli near Roma where the emperor Hadrian preferred to reside while in Rome. It shows him as a fit young warrior with helmet and shield. I originally thought his shield could double for the planets disc but as I developed the concept for a more contemporary representation of him this idea was soon discarded.

My modern concept arose from the thought of Ares going into battle with his two sons, Phobos (meaning panic/fear), and Deimos (meaning terror/dead), as a present-day street gang-leader with baseball cap pulled down over his face, and his two hooded pals:

Mars, Bringers of Street War: Study
Acrylics on card, 40x30cm.

This was developed into a larger painting in oils:

Mars, Painting 1
Oils on canvas, 61x42cm.
Mars' two cohorts have now been given logo's on their t-shirts representing their Roman names, Timor (terror) and Fuga (fear) with the red planet disc hovering above in a field of black.

While I like this image very much it is more like my usual expressionist painting than semi-abstract which made me try again by simplifying the figures and the red and black shapes:

Mars Abstraction Study 1
Acrylics on board, 61x42cm.
Here I also experimented with the idea of bright orange/red running down the picture like running blood.

And while I really like this image very much again it wasn't what I thought I wanted. So I set off on a further round of studies to try to find that elusive semi-abstract form I was looking for:

Mars Abstraction Study 2
Watercolour on paper, ?
In order to break through the circle I was revolving in I literally turned it around into landscape format and began to think of Mars in close-up, lower face covered with a red scarf, and one of his gang raising one arm in Nazi salute to the planet disc and the other holding a baseball bat.

This has great possibilities but at the time I decided that, with all my other paintings in portrait format, I wanted to keep that principal going.

Keeping with the same design concept I returned to working in charcoal and Neocolours to develop a series of portrait format studies:

Mars Abstraction Study 3
Neocolours on paper, A2.
This is more like it! With this study I am excited again by this Mars project. A lot of work still to do especially when I try to turn it into a painting:

Mars Painting Attempt
Acrylics on canvas, 61x42cm.
This is one of many attempts made using acrylics on canvas that quickly ran aground due to dis-satisfactions with the medium more than anything. I also had become dis-satisfied by my attempts at including lettering on the image - it began to feel more like illustration rather than painting.

At this point in this attempt at this painting I stopped. I needed time to digest where I had got to, not just in this painting, but in the whole project.

For two weeks I ruminated on what was going on until I turned my attention away to another planet, Venus, which after all this work on Mars came together more easily. The others followed in quick succession - Artemis, Apollo, Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury.

Only then did I return to Mars to apply what I had been able to do with the others, working over the previous (failed) acrylics painting I laid down this final painting in oils:

Mars, The Bringer of War
Oils on canvas, 61x42cm.
It retains many of the elements from previous attempts but I have ditched the t-shirt lettering and have included the running, splattered blood!

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