Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Proposal and Evaluation



I am so enthusiastic about the Mixed Media course at the moment that it is difficult to decide on the elements I want to use in the two paintings of my choice.

My tutor, Richard Liley, kindly suggested two alternatives, Visual/physical texture and Coupage/Decoupage.  I am particularly taken with the first of these suggestions and will produce something that uses texture influenced by  artists like Rauschenberg, Tàpies, and Anselm Kiefer. 

Rauschenberg introduced so many different ideas into his work including screen printing which I would like to do but may use block printing instead.  His use of fabric as well as found objects takes the work so much closer to a sculpted item with very heavy texture and this I find very interesting and attempting to work something to that degree would be extremely rewarding.

Tàpies work is less colourful and much more poignant, and to achieve this would be extremely hard with abstracted forms and symbolism, but I like his use of material and the muted colours.

Anselm Kiefer is so much darker and heavier than the other two artists but his impasto is dense and sculptural almost visceral and again I am excited by such overt texture.

As to the second picture, I have been influenced by Klein’s monochromes and want to do something in an almost monochrome if not fully monochrome style which incorporates some ideas from the work of Jasper Johns, particularly his Periscope (Hart Crane) 1963 painting.  I like the way he has incorporated letters in the background with lots of drips and runs, and the way he has divided the canvas.  I also think I will want to include some collage and possibly some images taken from my pc printed for use in collage, as well as magazine pieces, if I can source the right colours and images.

In both cases I will work on un-primed hardboard and am looking forward to seeing if my outcomes will be different from my initial ideas


At various times there have been programmes on TV regarding the sacrificial remains of victims in Puru.  The images are grotesque, not quite skeletons, their flesh and expressions of fear and pain are clear to see.  Munch used  the images of similar skeletons to produce his Scream paintings.  I had always thought I might produce something in mixed media to hint at the texture of these images, but hadn't at that time thought how I might approach the painting.  My learning with the OCA has given me the tools with which to attack the subject.

I have used unprimed hardboard with artex, sacking, cheesecloth, plastic film, plaster bandage, shredded cardboard, string, lollypop sticks, and so on in this piece.  I couldn't quite capture the look of fear, but did I think capture the hopelessness, pain and sadness. The heaviness of Anselm Keifer's work and the darkness is exemplified in this piece, but is achieved through added texture rather than paint.

For my second painting, I was influenced by Tàpies and Keifer's monochromes as well as Picasso in terms of the subject matter, if not style. I have also been influenced by Rauschenburg with his use of collage and paint.  My painting incorporates some collage, lettering, and various more subtle textures than the previous piece.  I was taken by Jasper John's Periscope, which uses text in the background. My painting is based on the Bull which is my birth-sign, and includes images for the bull, including photocopied pieces from Picasso's Bull in the Guernica painting.  The hardboard has been slashed to give texture and to hint at the sword in bull-fighting. Some of the collage hints at the visceral.  The strength of the bull is hinted at and the monochrome (more or less) red is the colour of the Spanish earth, the cape, blood, death, passion and man's inhumanity not only to man but to animals. Motor-racing has been part of my life so I couldn't resist the Red Bull logo, it is about speed and strength. There's a lot to read in the painting, the "i bull" and the bull's eye. As well as different interpretations of the text and numbers. I didn't include as much collage as I had thought in my proposal because I couldn't find the right images and I didn't want to make it entirely a collage. Having looked recently at Keith Haring work, I might have included his Bull image, I could have printed it in red and white and included it as additional collage, but I felt my painting has sufficient images included.


I can understand why Matisse with failing health chose this method to produce exciting pieces of artwork.  The ease with which one can cut shapes accurately to produce straight lines for example can be seen in my picture of wind turbines.

It is also possible to incorporate other medium for example the use of stencils with decoupage to produce a clean cut image. More expansive ideas using paint, pasel, or indeed any other medium could be incorporated.

One of the interesting learning processes with decoupage is the ability to a) keep it simple, and playful.   b) think in terms of rhythm and balance, by placing the cut outs on the support first, it is possible to play with these ideas before committing. If you have over-egged it, then it is possible to rescue it too, see below.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

EC Dissertation - Lucian Freud

LUCIAN FREUD  (1922 – 2011)


Lucian Freud was born in Germany in 1922 and moved to England in 1933 with his parents who wanted to escape the tyranny of Nazism, which was about to impact the whole of Europe and beyond.  

Apart from his portraits and life paintings, and indeed early still life compositions, Freud produced many etchings, which he continued to do throughout his career, but it is his oil portraits and nudes for which he is renowned, and, by many, he is regarded as the leading figurative artist of the 20th century.  Nonetheless, his work has not always been favourably received.  His portrait of the Queen is a case in point.  It was said to make her majesty look unhappy and old.  Bearing in mind his modus operandi it would be surprising if he had painted a flattering picture because one of his bon mot was a  wish to paint a searching picture not like the person before him, but a painting of them.

During the 1940s, after undertaking his initial artistic training at the Central School of Art in London, Freud is said to have spent some time at Benton End (a house now in private ownership) near Hadleigh, Suffolk, which was the home of Sir Cedric Morris and Lett-Haines, founders of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing.  An interesting portrait by Sir Cedric Morris of Freud when he was a young student of 19 years of age may give an indication of the influence Morris might have had on Freud’s work.  It is a portrait that scrutinizes the sitter, a feature that was to become a significant element in Freud’s own portrait and life paintings.  The portrait is full-face three quarter length and is arranged simplistically without a sophisticated background or props, relying on the gaze of the sitter to draw us into the portrait.
Lucien Freud by Sir Cedric Morris,

Freud was later a student at Goldsmith College and after that he formed a group with other figurative painters which included Francis Bacon, Ronald Kitaj, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Robert Colquhoun, Michael Andrews, Robert MacBryde and Reginald Gray, which became known as the School of London.  These painters were effectively going against the flow, in terms of movements, as Expressionism and later Abstract Expressionism were taking off, certainly in America at that time. Most of these artists painted in a representational style, contrasting only in each individual artist’s method of seeking to pursue a deeper more convincing truth.  I wonder about the cross-fertilization of ideas learned from each other, surely one of the joys of working in close proximity to other artists.   I am thinking of the extensive and heavy impasto employed by Frank Auerbach in much of his work almost obliterating the subject, Francis Bacon’s visceral painting techniques, and maybe Robert Colquhoun’s palette. It is likely that even sub-consciously, some techniques and methods would have been taken up by each and every artist.  We see throughout the history of art that ideas spark from one artist to the other so that, through innovative modulations and departures, a new style evolves and flourishes.  Cubism is a case in point having started with the work of Cezanne, and subsequently revealed through Braque, Picasso and Gris.

 Singer-by-low-larger, Robert Colquhoun
Self Portrait, Robert Colquhoun (
Lucian Freud was the grandson of Sigmund Freud and it is interesting that perhaps this heritage enabled him to explore personality through form rather than tapping into the psychology of his sitters through visual expression, i.e. as Rembrandt did, but ultimately the scrutiny of character is palpable. 

During interviews on BBC Television with his numerous daughters and family members I gained an insight into this rather aloof father and grand-father.  Like Picasso, Freud had many liaisons and some 14 children as a result.  He was married twice, first to Kathleen Garman, daughter of the sculptor, Jacob Epstein. The marriage produced two daughters, then after a divorce he later married Lady Caroline Blackwood in 1953, an heiress of the Guinness Beer fortunes.  They subsequently divorced in 1959, after which he was said to have become almost suicidal, according to his friend Francis Bacon.  Freud was drinking heavily and becoming involved in brawls.  His second wife was said to have been the only woman who broke his heart.

The media pundits had not always acclaimed his work, some criticised it as indicative of misogyny because of the overt exploration of flesh and non-flattering paintings of women.  He was far from that in my view, I see his work as crushingly honest in his attempt to explore the quintessential structure of the human body - flesh and bones and form laid bare. From the ‘50s onwards he concentrated on painting, nudes and portraits.  His early work was representational with fine brushwork, whereby he cleaned his brush after every stroke to maintain the purity of the skin tones. The style at that time is in an almost Surrealist manner, for example Girl with the White Dog. Those detractors who see his later work as uncomfortably stark can see that his style has developed through a highly trained eye capable of sensitive, searching and candid refinement of detail.

Lucian Freud, Girl with the white dog (

 Lucian Freud, Benefits Supervisor
Lucian Freud, Detail, Benefits Supervisor

 I was lucky enough to go to the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of Freud’s Retrospective in February 2011, and remember when I first saw the vast canvas of Sue Tilley, the ‘Benefits Supervisor’,  a canvas almost 60inches by just over 86 inches

My initial reaction was one of awe, tinged with a disturbing element of disgust, I suppose because of the penetrating monumentality of the work. However, because I passed the painting several times whilst viewing other paintings I became more familiar and eventually thought it quite beautiful, sensual and alive with the sofa echoing her curves.  It exudes a feeling of indolent corporeality.  Freud loved to use Cremnitz White and apparently purchased practically the entire stock that was available at the time.  Because the paint is lead based it was difficult to source, and still is today, for safety reasons.  The paint has a yellowish tinge and is quite thick and buttery, it probably contributes uniquely to the distinctive flesh colour that Freud achieves. He obviously felt it was important to use it and I think this was probably mixed with the Umbers, Siennas, Ochre, Naples Yellow, so-called earth colours, all of which contribute to the creamy warmth of live flesh. I think I also see Viridian for shadows in Head of a Woman (Hartlepool Museum), and possibly Indian Yellow, although some of the modelling shadows look grey, though I don’t doubt there are subtle hints of purple too.  The impasto texture, which is varied throughout his work from smooth, dragged, layered, stippled, to built-up patches, is dynamic in its exploration of the skin’s small imperfections that help to render the flesh so convincingly. It is this technique that provides a gritty almost tactile quality in Freud’s work, which is a feast for the eye.
Lucian Freud - Portrait Leigh Bowery
Another of Freud’s exhibited works which I enjoyed was the paintings of Sue Tilley’s friend, Leigh Bowery, whose form is depicted with equal depth and realism, it has the same visceral quality that enables us to almost smell human scent.  Freud said he wanted his paintings to be “of” the person not “like” them.  It is a subtle distinction but goes straight to the heart of his work ethic.  Lucian Freud Quote "I get my ideas for pictures from watching people I want to work from moving about naked. I want to allow the nature of my model to affect the atmosphere and to some degree the composition. I have watched behaviour change human forms".  It is evident from this quotation that Freud sees the person as a real person interacting with the environment not a person posed in a static almost unnatural position.  He wants to glean as much as possible from his sitter’s presence in the room, allowing them to relax into a natural state rather than a pose.  It is possible to see this with most of his life studies.  Freud was a stickler for demanding commitment from his subjects who were required to sit for maybe several hours at a stretch.  It appeared to be a requirement before undertaking the painting. Often his subjects were friends and family so he was able to observe at close hand, their whole being.  It is interesting that sitters are sometimes portrayed as being asleep, bearing in mind the hours they have been in situ, it is not surprising.

 It is possible to see Freud’s penetrating gaze in photographs, I also sense a timidity, almost a vulnerability together with a steady determination. 

In his self-portraits it is possible to detect the darker side of his character.  There also seems to be a limit to what he permits the viewer to see, ‘this far and no further’ which appears to mask a degree of shyness.  The works are rigorous, muscular and without flattery yet captivating in their search for truth. The second portrait is resolute and the gaze is intense.  His charm is not portrayed but we know he had that element in his nature, particularly in view of the number of mistresses he is said to have had.  Interestingly, the background is the same colour as the Colquhoun self-portrait. After Freud’s death, Sir Nicholas Serota, in a BBC Radio 4 interview said that Freud “had a searching gaze and was methodical” and this appears to be evidenced by the portraits.

Throughout his life, Freud was on the edge of society, a lifestyle, similar to the that he may have experienced with Sir Cedric Morris and Lett Haines whose social lives were what might have been considered at the time in the realms of the dark side.  Certainly Freud seemed to frequent the slightly seedier areas, and was I think drawn to the people who frequented those parts because they were probably larger than life characters.  But there was a dichotomy.  He compartmentalized life, and he was known to have joined the Princess Margaret set occasionally.   It is apparent from the interiors and props in his studio, particularly the old couch in the painting of the Benefits Supervisor, that he lived to paint rather than painting to live. Having said that I believe he enjoyed good food, and Sue Tilley mentioned in a BBC interview that they would sometimes go to a restaurant for an expensive meal.

House-plants and animals were frequently included in some of Freud’s earlier paintings, especially in the ‘60s. Later his work depicts roofs through the windows of his studio, but these were secondary to the main thrust of his composition, which was the portrait or nude, the surroundings remind one of Art Povera.

His mother, a German Jew, has featured in his work.  He did a series of paintings spending thousands of hours on them after she had attempted to commit suicide.  Like many of his other paintings his mother was painted reclining in bed. The painting of his mother resting is sensitively painted and is less fierce than his usual style, it depicts a frail old lady dressed in white, gazing into empty space, and one is reminded of holocaust victims in those bare surroundings.  It is said that such paintings illustrating a son’s relationship with his mother had not been seen since Rembrandt.  Strictly speaking I don’t consider that is the case because we have Whistler’s mother, which is a beautiful filial painting, depicting a mother’s piety and bond with her son: An Arrangement in Grey and Black.

Freud then, was an enigmatic private man whose work has revived the credibility of figurative work, which in the 20th Century was rejected by Performance Art and Conceptual Art. For that the art cognoscenti must surely be assured and in some cases pleased, but more importantly it puts Freud in the pantheon of great artists.

Sources: Wickipedia; Your Paintings; Dominic Guerrini Lucien Freud Prints Website (Biography); Artdaily website on National Portrait Gallery Freud Retrospective, – Sir Cedric Morris portrait of Freud,, BBC Radio 4, Wikipaintings



Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Construction - Repeating Lines

Another enjoyable exercise! At first I thought, what else can be done, it's been done before.  But it is easy to think that about most exercises until it becomes clear that the learning process of actually putting something into practice enables new outcomes and influences, other thoughts. In this case, some of the photography (not serious) that I have done came to mind, so I trolled through all my images to see what I could find.  I am going to include them here because this is what the exercise caused me to think about. One of those "starbursts" in the brain; those neural pathways that open other doors!

First, some sketches of various ideas, nothing terribly exciting, but full of potential. Influenced by nature, air-displays (I am a great fan of the Vulcan), architecture and a reminder the horror of war.

Rather more dramatic are the photos.  Followers of my blog will know that I very much feel that the fusion of art and IT is where the future lies in the artworld.  So it is no surprise that I am inspired by the enhanced photographic method.  These could be used as a background to a painting, to be copied on to a canvas (there must be a way), just as Rauschenberg used silk screen printing techniques.  The way forward will then be a new and exciting art that links so much of what we see on our screens today.  Non-authorial? - if you like! No hand has been involved apart from clicking the shutter.  But crucially decisions have been made, which in my book means there is a creative mind at work behind the process.




Sunday, 13 October 2013


The monochrome exercise has been interesting for me I suppose because it incorporates texture to a very large extent, texture other than paint texture, i.e. in small objects and things that do not appear in conventional representational work.  This departure, though only a small step, is a major consideration in my intentions to move away from the frankly pedestrian.  I realize that in light of the transfigurative change of the 60s and 70s this is a minor adaptation on my part, but nonetheless a significant one.

Inevitably Klein Blue has had an influence, because in historical terms the Lapis Lazuli of the Madonna's robes, and the Wilton Diptych, 1395,  in early history painting was a significant, although the Egyptians did know of it, although they did know how to produce blues from copper silicates, or blue vitriol. It is the West's favourite colour far outweighing any other colour, most probably because of its neutrality.

I could not therefore resist a blue monochrome:

It is a mixture of Royal Blue and Ultramarine to get a bit nearer to the vivid blue I wanted to achieve. I have used pipe lagging, sacking, tissue paper and cartridge paper to achieve effects.  Being blue it reminded me of the sea and my early years sailing with my father and sister, the objects relate to marine images.

My next attempt was more geometrical suggesting industrial rather than organic images.  It is achrome, that is to say white, although it doesn't look it here because I have had to increase the contrast to see the texture. I used spray paint to achieve an overall whiteness without any hint of modulation.  Inaterestingly Martin Barré used spray paint in his work but possibly for different reasons as his was a time of non-authorial working and the fact that the spray produced marks without contacting with the canvas it achieved that requirement. For me it is more pragmatic.

I found that I wasn't very good at low relief as the card seemed to buckle.  I guess a stronger card it probably called for.
My third monochrome is based on my lifelong interest in gems and geology.  I have always loved the effects one sees in Malachite, so I couldn't do a green monochrome without having a stab at replicating those wonderful swirls.  I don't think it works because I wasn't working from a particular stone, but then again it wasn't about that it was about monochrome.  It is not overall tone, which I find rather uninteresting but with tonal inflections to suggest the depth and interest of the Malachite. I used low relief here but it didn't work terribly well hence the idea to obscure it  a bit with the mixed tonal qualities, a reminder of those wonderful columns in St Basil's Cathedral in St Petersburg.



References: Blue, The History of Color, Michael Pastoureau, Princeton University Press, 2001

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Conceptual Art

I regard myself as antipathetic when it comes to Conceptual Art, because for me it has moved too far from the creative to the introverted.  It seems to want to be controversial for its own sake.  It is an ideas based creativity originating in philosophical ideas of language, history, mathematics, non-authorial self reflexivity etc., and much of it to my mind is an incredible waste of time. That is not to say that some ideas did come from it, albeit with very little inspiration. (see post Redefining Reality) Darboven's work seeks to explore time passing, by listing dates and mathematical formulae, one page entry for every year of a century.  Time logged as opposed to slipping by.  A 39ft wall of entries.

  That to me is not art so I cannot approach the subject with much relish, but I admire her tenacity. Time is only valuable if it is used wisely or indeed joyously, not by documenting it. It turns her into an automaton, but perhaps that is what she has set out to do, as Adrian Piper attempts to switch off the sensory mode in order to become an "object", but this can only ever be superficial as the brain cannot be switched off only conveyed into a different state of consciousness with drug inducement. It is similar to the selfless act, which can never be. Like many other painters the desire seems to be to destroy art in the hope of creating something, it is a bizarre idealism.  Mondrian did it, Klein did it, the Dadaists started it.  The idea is to excoriate commercialism in art but it is a false and in my view completely unnecessary vision. The galleries and exhibition spaces around the world bring art to the masses, sitting in some studio keeping a record of dates does nothing for anyone, I would venture to say.  I have found it difficult to see any of her paintings but the "untitled" clock in white obviously adopts the monochrome of Klein. 

Nonetheless, I am supposed to be comparing/contrasting another artist like Darboven, and I would think that Douglas Huebler's work in terms of the scale and reach of his work matches that of Darboven. He investigates duration, location and variable pieces together with linguistic exploration. Stated existence of sculptures in an apartment and suggested viewers should call to view. Used maps, photos and descriptions to "install" sculptures too large to fit physically. Snow marks as sculpture. Marked out journeys on maps. Wedges located then moved. 3 photos at 30 secs, 20 secs, 10 secs of children jumping rope all displayed out of sequence. He intends to photograph everyone in the world, at least he should have fun doing it! It is difficult to talk in terms of size and format because there really isn't one, it is only by the concept and extent of work that comparisons can be made.

Likewise Adrian Piper initiallly worked on  table sequences with figures but she is interested in  the self-conscious in terms of space and time she moves through a photo relates to timed or random moments. Tries to become an "object" by closing off sensory mode, in public, a bit like a mime street artist. The move away from support, subject or object into the concept of issues relating to time, the passing of it, and how it is conceived and viewed is what these artist have in common.

Piero Manzoni's work continued in the nihilist approach of Fontana's art, but under the influence of Klein he started to work in monochromes, or more precisely, achromes.  At first he used cotton sheet soaked in kaolin, the clay used in porcelain manufacture, but they were in the mould of a pictorial work, later though still soaked in kaolin they became objects, collages of pebbles, bread rolls.  Later he eliminates kaolin altogether and produces objects for their own sake which are white, fibreglass, styrofoam, a poke at industrialization and toxicity hazards.  But his idea of kitsch, the culture of trash continues to interest him, and produces provocative works such as various Artist's faeces in cans, and other bizarre, actually rather childish pranks or practices.

Alan Ebnother works in monochrome but with texture and ice cream colours, there is no element of collage, but they are in terms of size not wall paintings but easel paintings. They are not achrome i.e. without colour. 

It would of course be possible to use all red objects to create say a red monochrome,  if it is the object itself containing the colour.  I can't find anyone doing this, as most monochromists use paint to select their colour. For me once a minimalist monochrome has been produced I can't see a lot of point in reproducing it.  Manzoni did at least introduce texture and found objects into his work, yet artists like Markus Dobeli and Ellen Gallagher continue to produce fairly minimalist work, though Gallagher does incorporate an element of
abstracted figuration into her work which is not initially obvious.   Toba Khedoori also produces some interesting work which is almost achrome but highly personal she produces large fragile paper sheets with small confined images that evoke solitude and empty space.