Monday, 31 January 2011

Surrealism, Painting based on a Dream

PAINTING 2: Exploring Concepts
Part 1 – Painting in Detail

Project: Surrealism

Exercise 1: A painting based on a dream

I have spent a lot of time reading Surrealism published by Dempsey Parr, The World of Marcel Duchamp, 1887 published by Rehtt Austell and Modern Art published by Thames and Hudson.  I felt this was essential to my learning experience because I had tended to ignore Surrealism in the past, apart from work by de Chirico and Salvador Dali.  However it has been an extremely interesting and enlightening process, and for me an essential part of learning to relax my style and think about humour and threat in painting, and has filled in the missing link between Impressionism and Contemporary art.  It has been interesting to see how de Chirico’s style progressed through the movement to Tanguy, Dali and Magritte in particular, as well as other Artists such as Max Ernst, Paul Delvaux and to a lesser extent Francis Bacon.

I think Dali’s work presents some of the greatest detail which make his transformations achieved through what he termed ‘paranoiac critical activity’, convincing and fascinating.  Freud’s psychotherapeutic methods were exploiting similar double meanings and are closely allied to Dali’s thinking. Dreams, and association of ideas being explored by both in an exploratory way.

I have looked at advertisements which I have included in my sketchbook together with ideas of how these might be used in paintings.

The Surrealist banner is carried today by Jacques Resch, amongst others and it is interesting to see how is “Les maisons qui volent” has been re-worked in TV advertising.

Compare and Contrast Salvador Dali and Jacques Resch

The work of Jacques Resch is virtually a photographic quality portrayal of objects, so much so that one might think it is air brush work.  I enjoy his work not only because of the amazing detail but because of the issues he takes up, for example ‘Le Poisson Disloque’ addresses the issue of fish dying because of the detritus being dumped in the sea.

Comparing his work with Dali and indeed Bosch, one can see the common threads.  I am not sure the degree to which inner dreams features in Resch work, I suspect ideas are conceived externally and developed from there, using imagination and possibly images dreams to express the ideas.  Dali’s work was an exploration into the subconscious whereas Resch though undoubtedly using subconscious images is concerned with matters of moral, political and social conscience.  Whereas Dali on the other hand was effectively illustrating his sub-conscious thoughts as indeed Freud agreed during a meeting they both had, saying rather than being laid bare, he would prefer that the subconscious could be discovered. The concept and technique used by Dali, however, remain extant today, as exemplified in Resch’s paintings.

When I attempted  my first Surrealistic painting for this exercise I ended up with a Surrealistic Pop Art piece of work; which, although it had the dream quality elements was not, I thought, in the required style.  (see below and on )

I therefore decided to produce something with the same elements in the style of Dali/Tanguy.  It was less complex but allowed me to transfigure some of the objects and the shadow can be read on the side of the lorry as an old crone carrying a knife.  The three blind mice appeared in the foreground and were equally transformed into the cow’s skull.  I think I dreamed of the rose heads after reading about a flower-headed woman who, at Dali’s suggestion was used in Trafalgar Square in 1936 to advertise the London Surrealist Exhibition. I think the windowless lorry driving on railway tracks was a recollection of driving on railway tracks in New Zealand back in 1995.  As for the traffic lights, I had only recently mentioned on the OCA Forum about the iconic nature of them, but perhaps I shouldn’t be telling you all this and like, Freud, leave you to discover for yourself!

Surrealism Check and Log

§         How did you decide what to include in your images?
Using the recollections of a dream, I wanted to include the main elements, though I have refined these to include transfigurations.

§         How has your style adapted to this subject matter?
I have moved away from the purely representational and introduced humour and a little threat, aspects I would not usually explore. The whole process has loosened up my thoughts and hopefully my work too.

§         What aspects of the surreal approach can you bring to the rest of your work?
I would like to think the absurd may feature and a more original way of thinking by exploring subconscious ideas.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Logic Busting Image Decoder & Visualiser

(Influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass)

The known nutritional properties of beans are incomparable to their mind enhancing capabilities and it is the latter which are exploited in this revolutionary process.  The beans provide the “wind of change” which in turn has a astonishing affect, bringing about a mind altering state after being filtered through white coral (now dead) representing the cerebral four core processor running at 10,000 Mhz with a capacity of approximately 500 Terabites.

The mollusc (of Divine Proportions) which lies beneath is sited next to the unseen “Pits” or Pituitary Gland (to give it is correct term), which like many glands occasionally “weeps” or “swells” depending on the ambient air temperature.  The position of the mollusc is therefore somewhat unstable as a consequence but due to its delicate nature cannot be affixed to the Cerebellem (white coral) due to the metallic third harmonic thrige resonances  and resistances of the crown wheel and pinion appended to it.

A fly wheel mechanism obviates any major dislocations but no device has yet been introduced to prevent shells from dropping.  Passers by are therefore recommended to wear protective clothing as the blast capabilities may well surpass the design parameters specified for the “wind of change” for which the mollusc was intended.

This briefly outlines the initial Logic Busting Mechanism, which, as can be seen ensures that any prevaricating logic or skeptisim about obscure and difficult images is easily irradicated by its employment. The viewer is immediately transported by the fly wheel into a different world of engagement.

The process is not without hazard, as already mentioned above, and one can see that the fly wheel itself is a precarious travel process who’s only recovery modes (in the event of accident) are the’ Identified Floating Saucers’ and’ Box Under the Sea’ (IFs and BUTs) which shadow its progress. By their very nature these are not secure Thought Recovery Vehicles, so caution is advised before reading the above.

PS The fly wheel is occasionally “honeyed” by a bee to keep it sweet (as seen in the eye of the beholder).

Further details of the Image Decoder and Visualizer will appear later, this resumé merely outlines the Logic Buster.





Government Health Warning applies

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Surrealist Painters From Bosch to present day

From Bosch to present day

Hieronymus Bosch (c1450-1516) depicted gruesome scenes of humans being tortured and caught up in poverty and toil, even his scenes depicting pleasure and earthly delight are bizarre. The subject usually relates to religion and was a view into the horrors awaiting the unbeliever.  Despite the surreal nature of images they were rendered realistically, which is a tenet carried throughout the Surrealist movement to the present day.

It is interesting that the plight of men at that time were grim as most of Europe was recovering from the Black Death, which, in 1347-1351 destroyed nearly a third of the population.  So it seems probable that the climate experienced is relevant to the work produced. 

Apart from Goya in the 17th Century and Blake in the 18th Century, very little work was produced in a similar vein, although landscapes were produced which when turned sideways appeared as a head.  Blake’s work is often overlooked, I think, possibly because at the time he was considered mad.  He was an early forerunner following the principal of later Surrealism in that he rejected traditional modes of working, preferring not subscribe to academic training and instead drew upon his sub-conscious ‘visions’. ]

With the terrible conflicts that existed in the 20th Century, namely two major world wars, the destruction, horror of bloodshed and mutilated bodies took a great toll on civilisation at the time. Born out of the apocalyptic nightmare of the First World War, the Dada movement was born, in Switzerland, started by André Breton, a poet, together with other poets (Tzara, Gide) and avante garde artists.  Various well-known names were connected with the movement even though some may have been on the fringes: Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Francis Picabia, Andre Masson, Kurt Schwitters, Jean Arp. 

Breton always wanted Picasso to join but his art moved along an individual path. The Dadaists proclaimed art by being anti-art and indeed anti-establishment.  Kurt Schwitters invented the word ‘Merz’ – “freedom from all fetters, for the sake of creation” .

Their bitterness and pessimism died with the movement which only lasted for six years, but it became a stepping off point for art, a freeing from tradition, that is as relevant today as then.  Many artists went on to become involved in Surrealism where the unconscious and automatism became new ways of approaching subject matter.

Giorgio de Chirico started to paint canvases which had a melancholic threatening atmosphere.  They often featured trains in the background.  His father was an engineer helping to build a railway when in Greece, but when his father died the family moved to Florence where he started to explore his own childhood memories and subconscious feelings of threat from his mother, hence the tall arches, and loneliness.  His paintings are evocative of these feelings. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was of course exploring these feelings of abandonment through psychoanalysis. 

Later artists such as Salvador Dali (1904-1989) and Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) were influenced by his work.  Tanguy saw a painting by de Chirico in a gallery, and apparently immediately decided to become a Surrealist. Rene Magritte is influenced by de Chirico, and Andre Masson, almost becomes Abstractionist.

De Chirico’s work was not appreciated that much at the time, and indeed he virtually rejected his own work, preferring to paint metaphysical paintings after a period of ill health, and many of the Surrealists implored him to go back to his original style. Rene Magritte’s (1898-1967) work continues to fascinate with its obscure logic. Francis Bacon (1909-1992), for whom the mouth became an important feature in his work continued to abhor the general public.
The idea of exploring unconscious thought was not new, Odilon Redon (1840-1916) explored similar themes as a result of his early childhood, choosing to draw his ‘noirs’ (which were his black ghosts)  in charcoal of monstrous spiders, eyes, balloons, cacti with faces, etc.  These were cathartic, introspective drawings that eventually freed him from his days living at Peyrlerbade in Bordeaux  with an aunt because of his epilepsy which was a social stigma and required him to be “hidden”.  He achieved infinite depth with his charcoal. When Peyrelebade was eventually sold, at age 58 he started painting  in colour. I find that amazing, and rather sad.
The Surrealism banner is carried today by Jacques Resch, clearly influenced by Dali and Bosch. His “Les maisons qui volent” re-worked in TV advertisements.  Another modern surrealist, Frido Kahlo with her meeting eyebrows has become iconic.  Martine Rhyner does an even slicker surrealist take in her paintings. is a good place to view modern surrealists, who don’t seem to appear on Bridgeman.


My reactions to Surrealism

In the past I have all but ignored the Surrealists, effectively averting my gaze, for me there was enough tragedy and pain in the world without re-creating it.  

The only artists that appealed to me were Georgio de Chirico and Salvador Dali.  De Chirico’s work was haunting enough to be captivating and Dali’s interesting transformation of things was fascinating.  However, I now see that my objections have caused me to miss out on a number of creative and interesting artists, and the movement effectively fills in the missing link for me.  I had often wondered how we moved from Impressionism to Constructivism and Conceptual Art, and now I know.  I even like some of Duchamp’s work now, which is huge intellectual progress for me.  He was not the commercially minded spirit I thought he was, and the Dadaist thought that life was more important than art appeared to ring true with him, as he took so many years to complete ‘The Glass’.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter what the artist is like as a person, it is the art that should speak, but for me it is important understand where the artist is coming from.  At least two artists I have read in detail about, had sad childhoods and I think this influenced their work immensely; I am sure there are more but I haven’t read all the biogs., and certainly not recently. I now feel ready to do my first Surrealist painting, and am looking forward to it.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Longer Still Life Painting

PAINTING 2: Exploring Concepts
Part 1 – Painting in Detail

Project: Still Life

Exercise: Longer Still Life Painting

This picture will eventually relate to the Winter theme in Part 6, it does not therefore relate to the subject matter in Exercise 1.

I used a limited palette of Aureolin, Ultramarine and Opera Pink (Shin Han) watercolours on Bockingford Rough paper. Influences: Duchamp, Liz Seward, Joan Heston.

The subject was about “key” medication for the winter and is a pun on the keys featured, perhaps influenced by my recent reading Duchamp. I decided to use a multi-light source because of the interesting shadows it created.  Instead of relying on the horizon line CVP, I wanted to get a central flow from the bottom of the bottle on the right-hand side.  The composition is ‘accessed’ via the thrust of the keys on the bottom left pointing to the bottle which acts as a sort of sign post to the eye.  The strongest lines take to the to the right and the glass, the top curve of which returns the eye to the centre of the painting but higher up where it can explore the top of the bottle, the box on the left then down to the keys again, where the hooked key holder takes the eye to a place of rest in front of the glass, or it can follow the blister packs up and around the central object again.   The lines of shadows are integral to the overall design and introduce a soft texture compared to the more solid objects.  Transparency and brittleness of the glass is aided by the use of dark lines against light . There is a subtle highlight at the bottom left of the bottle.

§         Was it possible to see as much detail in the group as the single object?

It was possible, but the mind concentrates on one object, and in order to show perspective the objects closer to the eye are more detailed than distant objects, whether one chose to do that is answered in the next question.

§         How did you decide which object or parts of objects to bring into focus?

Using perspective with the box on the left being out of focus compared to the bottle, but because the lines of the boxes formed part of the linear composition they are sharper than they would be using perspective.

§         How did the restricted palette and concentration on line, form and tone affect your work?

It was difficult to obtain a really dark dark, but in a sense the composition didn’t really call for too much of that so I was able to intensify the Ultramarine blue modified with a little of the other two colours occasionally.  The line became crucial to the composition to create a rhythm to the whole painting, which ended up being fairly “high key” as a consequence.

§         Were you looking from the side, above or below? How did this effect what you painted?

I was looking slightly above the objects so that I could incorporate the shapes of the various shadows as part of the composition, and also to see the keys splayed out.

§         Were you aware of light source and the difference between natural light and artificial light?

The light sources were critical to the composition, being artificial lights some distance from the objects it did not produce the hard lines sometimes seen when using a lamp, for example to light a subject.  Being artificial the light was therefore less blue and more yellow.  Pictorially, and with the limited range of colours this made for an interesting picture, with reflected light and translucent shadows and reflections bouncing around.

Marcel Duchamps

The book, Marcel Duchamp 1887 by Calvin Tomkins published by Rehtt  Austell 1966, has been very enlightening, it is not the usual critic writing full of jargon but an interesting read about Duchamp's life and work.  It has changed my view of his work, although I still have difficulty with readymades.  I had thought he was without humour, but I was wrong.  I do however, think "Etant Donné" goes a bit too far.  The thought and work that went into "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even" is quite remarkable, and even after an accident which splintered the glass into many pieces, Duchamp repaired it.  Unfortunately, Bridgeman do not have a copy but that do have his Green Book (although it looks brown here) which included all of his sketches and writing on the painting.

I think it is a pity he did not continue painting, he felt he could have been seduced by beauty and he wanted to move away from representational art altogether, although before he did he painted in the Cubist style, "Nude descending a Staircase" which caused a stir when it was exhibited.

He did a freer flowing version of this subject which can be viewed at

One of his rare representational paintings is "Chess Game, 1910" which he went on to develop into a Cubist painting.  He also did a remarkable painting of his father, but it is not in the Bridgeman Library. He also did a Cubist version entitled Chess Players

He moved through Art to Anti-art influencing and influenced by, Dada. The opportunity this group gave to the art world was the chance to anhilate art and therefore create it, albeit in a new and, to many,  puzzling way.

Reference and Source material:
The World of Marcel Duchamps, Calvin Tomkins et al, Time Life1966

Monday, 17 January 2011

Assignment 1 Still Life - Small Object in Detail

PAINTING 2: Exploring Concepts
Part 1 – Painting in Detail

Project: Still Life

Exercise: Small Object in Detail

Having spent a little while on Forums and looking at fellow student Blogs I thought it was about time I started actually doing some work now that I have connected with my Tutor. I decided to take advantage of the last Bramley apple slowly rotting away on my work surface, it may eventually feature in the Autumn painting which is why I thought I ought to work on the study now.  My first attempt did not limit the palette sufficiently and I ended up with a realistic apple in full colour.  I realized my mistake and limited the palette (watercolour) to Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue.  I selected these because they mix to reasonable dark and because they provide cold and warm colours, and the transparency of the Ultramarine is useful for glazing.  I used Bockingford rough.  I did not draw an outline, preferring to paint direct.

The realism that a full colour palette affords was missing but I felt this was compensated for by the sense of form, which was easier to portray without having to consider the tonal values of colours themselves. 

The object was viewed from the front with natural light from left and right.  I decided to block the light from the left in order to minimize any confusion with highlights and shadows. Natural light was much softer that artificial light and had a bluer spectrum.  The highlights and shadows are therefore softer than using artificial light.

Reflected light from the surface caused lost lines on the bottom right of the apple and almost had  a similar effect on the left hand shadow side of the object merging with the shadow. The strongest found lines were where the front surface of the apple met the shadow below.

Sunday, 16 January 2011


Am re-reading Essential Surrealists by Tim Martin published by Parragon 1999, which I read several years ago and am reminded again of Giorgio de Chirico 's distorted yet realistic paintings which leave one feeling unsettled, mainly because of their empty depth,  long dark shadows and building facades which are lifeless.  Intrestingly, I was lucky enough to visit the Pushkin Museum in 1993 and saw an achronistic Corot painting entitled "Morning in Venice" which almost echoes that emptiness. 

Marchel Duchamp egocentric assertion that 'everyday objects raised to the dignity of a work of art by the artist's act of choice' seems to me nullified by that assumption;  an act of choice does not, in my view, confer external value other than preference.  Coming from a Dadaist background his work, to me, is not humorous, but bordering on the pornographic and absurd, which was his intention, being a reaction to the horrors of war. Art movements, including Italian Futurism were inevitably products of their day and were influenced by the political and social turmoil that seized Europe at that time.

I can however see that the jibe with the moustached Mona Lisa took a swipe at the "academic Traditionalism" which encompassed some of the elitism that is censured today. Dali's altered Mona Lisa takes the joke further, reflecting his own moustache, face and hands. 

I admire Picasso's Seated Nude, not just for its contribution to Cubism, which he and Braque developed, but because of the breakthrough this signalled into a new way of seeing things, opening the flood-gates to innovation through dynamic images influencing artists and movements to the present day.

Francis Picabia's 'Apollo and his Messengers', is a work that possibly influenced Andre Masson through to Artists like the late  Peter Prendergast. Masson's Antille explores abstraction with rich colours and fluidity not always seen in, for example Kandinsky's Abstract works.  Max Ernst's Men Shall Know Nothing of This reminds me of Odilon Redon's "noirs" which feature eyes and balloons.  He, (Redon) is regarded as a Symbolist but could equally be considered a Surrealist with those works.  It is interesting to see the threads/links from Masson, and Ernst leading to Joan Miro.

Yves Tanguy, René Magritte and Salvador Dali have spacial depth and disturbing qualities similar to de Chirico.

The book has whetted my appetite to again dip into The World of Marcel Duchamp by Calvin Tomkins published by Rhett Austell, 1966.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sketchbook January 2011

Didn't sleep till 3.a.m. last night thinking about all the paperwork, technostuff, and rewardingly Assignment 1 Exploring Concepts.  Thought about how I might tackle it in relation to the final Seasons exercise. Kept visualising and revising in my mind but think I have got some grains of ideas percolating. Am making an entry into my Sketchbook.  I also spent yesterday starting my sketchbook because my grandson is staying with me so it was an ideal opportunity to sketch him.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Getting Set Up

With help from fellow students at OCA have now set up a Flickr account and links to it, together with a link to my website.  Am feeling quite clever at the moment!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

OCA Logged-in

I have spent the day going through the OCA website and updating as much as I can by way of info about myself, reading some Forums, linking my Blog, and uploading some pictures to a folder.  I have even had a reply to my concerned entry regarding contact with a tutor, but hey Sylthane, it is Sunday!
A new student of the OCA, I am looking forward to exchanging ideas and thoughts with fellow members.