PAINTING 2: Mixed Media
Part 1 – Physical and Visual Texture
The two artists I have chosen to explore in relation to the visual texture of paint are Peter Doig (1959 - ) and Edouard Vuillard (1868-11940)
I would like to start by mentioning the following two quotes, the first from Vuillard and the second from Marcel Proust. Vuillard painted familiar scenes and interiors and Doig painted what he regards as incidents (as opposed to accidents) things he regarded as part of someone else’s experience.
‘Why is it in the familiar places that the mind and the sensibility find the greatest degree of genuine novelty?’ 1
Marcel Proust: ‘As habit [or familiarity] weakens every impression, what a person recalls to us most vividly is precisely what we had forgotten, because it was of no importance and [we] had therefore left [it] in full possession of its strength’ 2
It seems that both painters feel that familiar events and things in life are the most interesting. In painting the ‘familiar’ the artist also taps into the collective sub conscious that Jung talks of, and in doing so their subject matter automatically resonates with the observer because of that ubiquitous familiarity.
In terms of style, however, their styles differ yet in terms of the visual mark making technique, they are similar. Doig uses oil as his medium and his compositional style often includes the triple horizontal division of landscape painting to reveal something considered mystical and sometimes sinister.
The House that Jack Built depicts the central motif, the house as highly textured with coloured bricks, black face like windows and white trees offering a tracery screen which is so familiar in Doig’s work. Above and below are textured elements which form a type of shutter and Doig felt that they look as though they might close and erase the central motif. The colours used are predominantly red which gives the house a sinister look. We are left wondering what happened here, was it a druggy den, the venue for a murder, or a house that ended up as a ruin through adverse financial circumstances? Perhaps alluding to a final unwritten line in the nursery rhyme.
Doig uses overpainting, grattination, what looks like sponging, dripping, smearing, perhaps chalking, but he does not use the texture of the paint, but defines the texture using these techniques. The rhythmic brickwork in the bottom third is worked over smudged and dripped paint. The top third is abstract and is predominantly a mixture of red and black marks, possibly sponged.
Another of Doig’s paintings which illustrates the use of mark making as texture is demonstrated in his painting Swamped, oil on canvas of 1990.
Colour is used to dramatic effect and broken tree stumps cover the swamp. A tracery of white trees on the right overlays a moon. The frequently used canoe motif is painted in smooth white paint to present a ghostly appearance. The rendition of the painting again asks a question, is that a body slumped in the canoe or just some provisions, why is the canoe floating un-tethered? The texture and colour provides the drama and gives us clues. Doig’s paint is frequently thinned down considerably, so there is no impasto employed. Doig uses, tracery, spattering, mottling, sweeps and layering to produce visual texture, which in this painting is only relieved by the canoe itself, which is depicted in plain white paint. Doig often used white paint either in outline or as blobs of paint and has become known as “snow”. He frequently using it as a screen beyond which the subject of the painting appears.
Vuillard, who was painting approximately one hundred years prior to Doig, uses visual texture in similar ways to Doig, and employs lateral and vertical divisions. He was one of the Nabi artists along with people such as Bonnard, Maurice Denis, and Roussel, whose work was very similar, using visual pattern and tone as texture.
Vuillard uses the tracery of tree branches in much the same way as Doig, his patches of sunlight are also just that, patches rendered flat in yellow and green small marks. He also uses tree trunks as a compositional device as Doig does, some of which are textured. The texture of the boys linen shirt on the left is almost criss-crossed in white, his trousers are plain black with no modelling, as are the distant ladies silhouettes. There is also a slight suggestion of the “snow” effect often seen in Doig paintings. He relies on tonal affects to indicate the sunlit patches and shadows.
Where Vuillard differs is in the expression of the subject, it is not sinister, more amusing as the two boys perhaps hide from their nanny. Also Vuillard used a mixture of distemper and glue, or à la colle,3 not oil paint and leaves it unvarnished and therefore matt. Vuillard would scrape this off if it became too thick.
In Dressmaker’s Workshop of 1892 Vuillard treats us to a confection of texture and mark making in the dresses, the wallpaper and the floor, indeed they almost become abstract, just as Doig’s work hovers on the line between abstraction and representation.
The extensive mark making is offset by the occasional plain unmodulated black, as in the bodice of the lady on the left, which is a counter-change against the white door behind. The tone of the colours adds to the interest and contrasts with the patterns on the canvas that is divided vertically giving rhythm to the painting, accentuated by the stripes on the dress second from the right. It is a feast of visual texture. The scene was undoubtedly a familiar one at the time and there is no suggestion of the mysterious, just an everyday scene. The “familiar” subject was something that both artists considered to be an area with the most interest.