This is the progress I’ve made on my painting this week. I think I’ve managed to resolve some of the conflicts that were causing problems. The face of the man in the foreground was really off-putting – I worked it too much and it threw me off, so a tutor suggested that I start again. Now that this is sort of ‘fixed’ I’m finding it a lot easier to focus on the painting as a cohesive ‘thing’, looking at colour and composition. I can sort of see an end in sight now, but am a little bit daunted as I’m not dead set on what I’m going to continue with next. The single work has taken up a lot of time, so maybe in the future I’ll try to develop multiple things at the same time to keep things fresh/moving forward.
I’ve thought about trying to restrict myself with rules – I’m quite interested in working from collage. One of the reasons I struggled with the painting was finding the balance between representing the image accurately/realistically and not directly copying. I think a possible way to combat this would be to edit an image beforehand. I like the idea of altering reality a bit too, so taking figures from a real/mundane scenario and placing them somewhere else. Another thing I thought about was limited colour palette – one thing I found difficult working on this painting was trying to pick out colours from the original image and exaggerate, but it proved ineffective at first because the colours became very muddy. Subject matter itself is also something I’m concerned with – so far most of my photos have been found or incidental but with time as a factor I can’t wait for something to fall into my lap, so might have to consider staging photographs. Before, when I’ve done this, the results haven’t always been that good – but then maybe with my renewed research focus on the tableau this might actually be relevant.
Another element that I need to consider is the research report. I want to attempt the 10,000 word attempted essay because I feel quite confident with writing but obviously time management will be key. Currently I’m in the research and planning stages, but it all seems to be flowing well – I think setting targets and specific times to work on the report will be helpful, as I don’t want to be in a position where my practice takes precedence or vice versa.
I’ve resumed my painting this week, I’m struggling at the moment to create something that visually ‘works’ and that I’m happy with while also representing the original image and the eeriness I find in it.
This was the stage I was at at the start of the week, I quite liked the contrast between colours at this point, and the unfinished nature of the ground I think works well with the areas of solid colour. I was struggling quite a lot with the face of the man in the foreground, it becomes really difficult to pick out any sort of structure with the bright flash in the photo.
In my tutorial with Mark last week he mentioned RB Kitaj, and how his works often feature areas that look unfinished, which was quite reassuring because part of the problem I have is in making something substantial but not overworked.
I then made a mistake in trying to darken the background, which then became way too dark, and very brown – although I was trying to replicate the original image I think it looks very drab and the characters sort of sink into the wall.
I’m going to try and lighten these areas again – and after a chat with a tutor, I want to maybe restart the main figures face, just because it’s not working with the rest of the work and is a bit caricature-like. I’m still also a bit unsure as to what this painting is leading to. I definitely like working in this scale, but maybe try to set myself a time limit so I don’t fall into the trap of working too much into it.
In terms of new subject matter, I sort of want to take more photos, but then on the other hand I want to avoid staging images or having models pose, so it’s sort of a case of waiting for the right time and place, or maybe exploring more appropriated media. In my research I’ve been looking at ‘the gaze’ or ‘the look’ in relation to a subject, and have come across a lot about fetishism and scopophilia – its not something I’ve thought about before, but definitely something to consider. I have also been thinking a bit about the absence of a figure – I think there’s also something really fascinating about an empty room, and how even unoccupied you can feel an intruder in a space that is not yours. I don’t know where this is going as of yet or if it will link in with my current work but I can sort of sense that it might have some relevance.
Back into the studios this week – I felt that this summer had been a bit unproductive really because of work and family commitments, but I did manage to squeeze in a couple of exhibitions at the IMMA in Dublin and the Mostyn in Llandudno Wales.
My focus practice -has stayed pretty much the same – I want to continue exploring the relationship between the viewer and subject, looking largely at the Tableau and ‘the gaze’ more generally, thinking about scale within my painting and varying my subject matter.
I found a photo on my dad’s hard-drive that I found really interesting, in a folder just marked ‘2001’. It pictures a lot of his friends, some who I recognise, some who I don’t, at a party. The nature of the photograph is confusing – taken from a high angle like its documenting the scene rather than focusing on a person/action. All the people in the room are looking away, unaware of the bright flash, but one guy looks directly into the lens, about to pop 2 party poppers. I don’t really know why but I just find it a really fascinating image, maybe because I feel a bit removed from it personally. I think in the context of the tableau and the gaze its a bit relevant too, the scene is very real and closed off, but then the direct eye contact sort of invites you in and creates a very direct confrontation with the viewer. I think really I might be reading a bit much into it, but to document this scene in a painting is something that I feel might bring forward other questions in my developing practice.
I chose to go quite large scale, (120x140cm) but limiting myself a bit because I haven’t worked in this size before and have no idea how long it will take me to complete. Over the course of this week the painting has taken shape, however I’m not quite sure I’m happy with it in its current stage. I’m trying to find a balance between realism and abstraction, on one hand I want the viewer to feel it is a real scene and that the people are actually distinguishable, but on the other I think on its own the picture is bland because of the dark colours.
Again this week I’ve mainly been handling work for submission and organising my essay. I’ve found the digital submission format quite challenging, I find that I prefer to keep a physical document of my work, including written work. For me it just feels more permanent like this, and more finalised. I find it easier to spot errors when documenting like this too, I’m a little bit concerned about submitting something digitally and having it get corrupted or not display like I want it to. Hopefully working in this way will improve my digital skill, and when it comes to handling proposals etc I will be more confident.
Also this week I helped one of my friends make an alginate head cast. The process took around an hour, and I was responsible for being moral support as well as making sure her airways/nostril holes remained clear.
I actually found the process quite intimidating, it was really surreal – because she could not talk, move her face, see etc, she became virtually inanimate. It’s impossible to tell whether or not she is comfortable; whether although she is still, she is mentally really claustrophobic. When she’d initially asked if I’d help her out I didn’t think much of it, but there was something really strange about talking to essentially a mask , I wasn’t expecting to feel so uncomfortable – I think most of it stemmed from lack of facial expression, you don’t realise how important a part of communication it is until it is removed.
Although I have virtually no experience in sculpture I was very interested with the process – as a painter of portraits I try to capture the essence of a person, whereas this is making an exact replica. It’s interesting to see the face, it does look like her but in some ways, doesn’t. It sort of draws your attention to the importance of colour and expression, it still looks an object, not a person.
This week I’ve been focusing on organising documentation for submission and completing my 1000 word research report proposal. I feel that this unit, although hasn’t been extremely productive in terms of physical work I’ve made individually, has directed my focus and made me more aware of the possibilities and challenges that come with collaborating.
In terms of my own studio practice, through researching and writing my proposal I’ve discovered points of interest that will allow my practice to develop beyond experimentation. Fried’s idea of the tableau has been particularly interesting – looking at how figures in a scene can interact with a viewer. There are different types of interaction, what Fried describes as absorption, where the artist creates a closed off scene where the subjects are not aware of the viewer. This creates an image that is more real, more true to life, and because of that the viewer feels as though they can relate and is engaged with the scene. In the late 1800s impression/realism bought a new dimension to this, where the artist deliberately faced subjects outward – essentially breaking the invisible wall between people in the painting and the person looking at them. Although at the time this was seen as pretty sacrilegious and painters like Manet were criticised for it, in my work I think it’s relevant to address the audience; I’m torn between thinking about candidness/possible connotations of voyeurism or having the subjects be quite confrontational. I’d like to address this more directly, making the viewer aware of the screen between them and the painting. While some of my work has sort of touched on it before, having done a bit of research I’m exited to explore the ideas more extensively.
One thing that has become obvious to me is the importance of scale in such works in creating a direct relationship between subject and viewer. I’m excited to work large scale on maybe some figurative painting next year when I’ve got a bit more studio space to work with. I think opportunities to exhibit will also be greater – bigger works make having a solo show in quite a large space possible.
I’ve been focusing a lot this week on organising my worker submission and also on researching and drafting my 1000-word research report proposal. I think I’ve decided that I want to write about Fried’s analysis of the Tableau in modern works, thinking about how a very dated concept is relevant to my practice in particular. I think on a personal level its better for me to look at a very specific topic like this because it allows me to go into a lot of detail – I think my last essay remained quite vague because I chose a very broad topic to write about.
Also this week was a collaborative exhibition at Firstsite in Colchester. I was excited to exhibit my work in a space outside of university, and was planning on taking my 2 large projection paintings as well as my projector to play around with composition in a large space. However because of a communication issue my work was not transported to the site, and I had to start on a new piece in-situ. Initially I was very frustrated because I’d planned to move the works around in the space and have some sort of finalised outcome, but then realised that it was a good opportunity to work in the space and to have the work as semi-performative.
The space itself really helped me out a lot – there were 3 different coloured lights which changed throughout the day and made the projection appear differently on the wall. One problem I did encounter was keeping the light low enough to work on my piece, but also bright enough for others to have their work in the same room without it looking washed out – a nice compromise was having the coloured lights change and blinds be opened and closed as needed. It was quite organic, although I think it would have been good to have at some point come together as a group to discuss not only people’s individual placements of work but the exhibition as a whole. It did feel quite disjointed, and because there was consistently work going on in the rooms, the public were perhaps discouraged from entering the space. It would have been worthwhile not only putting up signs but having some individuals actually approach and encourage the gallery’s visitors, as it was a shame not having anyone actually see my work than people from the university. It sort of counteracted the idea of the work travelling off-site, I think.
As a group we did have some discussions early on about the name of the exhibition (there was a lot of debate!), however we didn’t really sit down and discuss the exhibition as a collaborative exercise. For this reason it felt as though everyone was out for themselves really, it was more about individual works in the space rather than us as a group of collaborators. Perhaps part of the problem was that there wasn’t a lot of direction from staff and I don’t think any of us knew what was going to happen on the day and if it would be more staff-led or independent. I think in future group exhibitions I’ll try to be a bit more vocal, and voice concerns like this before the activity.
Monday to Thursday I was on a study visit to Madrid. It was a really lovely experience, and although we visited quite a few galleries, I think I was influenced as much by the city’s architecture and the culture there. The first day, I visited the Museo del Prado. I particularly liked looking at the later works of Francisco Goya, images that I found to be a lot more disturbing in real life than in images I’d seen online etc. They had a really shocking presence; it reminded me of a lecture I’d had earlier in the year about The Sublime, and how the definition of the sublime relates to a physical, bodily reaction rather than a mental one. I think repulsion, and definitely fear as a reaction is very physical, perhaps more powerful to the viewer than adoration/appreciation of beauty.
I also saw Velázquez’ Las Meninas while at the Prado. It was perhaps a bit underwhelming, to see something that I’ve been researching around in the flesh; I think I thought I’d be moved a bit, or feel more involved than I did. It definitely helped to understand the perspective, and the way in which the viewer becomes a part of the scene.
We also saw a few independent galleries whilst exploring the city. In particular I really liked the work of artist Ester Partegás being shown in a gallery called Nogueras Blanchard. The work was essentially resin that had been poured onto tarpaulin sheets that you might find in a market, trying to show the structure of the material. The resin was hung on scaffolding, making them look like windows. There was definitely a sense of embracing the industrial and the found object, something that I haven’t really thought about in a while. When I started painting onto glass last year I wanted the viewer to be able to react through multiple angles, whether that be in front of, behind or from the side, and the initial idea was to hang them so that a person could become a part of the work by being in another viewer’s line of sight. I feel that these works – The Passerby by Ester Partegás – do this really effectively. It’s something I might start thinking about in my work again if I come across any large sheets of plastic or discarded windows again.