Friday, January 27, 2012

Buddleia Globosa

buddleia globosa 92x76cm oil on canvas
Buddleia Globosa oil on canvas  92x76cm now showing in my new solo exhibition Rococo at The Doorway Gallery, Dublin from 3rd February to the 1st March.

It was many years ago, while I was walking in Avondale gardens (Wicklow), which is Charles Steward Parnell’s old demesne, now owned and managed by Coilte that I came across this rather unusual flowering shrub, Buddleia Globosa.  You could say that this 500 acre estate is a testament to one man’s vision, as around 150 years ago Parnell completely changed this part of Wicklow’s landscape by planting and creating a haven of intricate woodland walks mainly pine trees of every shape and form; from huge multi-trunked Cyprus trees, to towering redwoods.  Even the common leylandii is given a place of its own here, in which it can be seen in all its surprising beauty.
Adjacent and opposite to the house itself there is a park- like swathe of grass,  where shrubs and rhododendrons have been planted at the edges of towering stands of eucalyptus trees.  Nearer the approach of the house, the shrubs become more low- forming and delicate, and it was here that the rather medieval- looking buddleia globosa grew.  Why I say medieval, is that is has that old antique look about it, the colours are all based around yellow ochre like a complex gilded and embroidered Tudor tunic.  The leaves are almost brassica like with lots of lichen olive green undulations, and mysterious soft pale undersides. The flowers are round and form in pairs or in threes, like berries.   Globes of ochre green that slowly change to a warm delicious yellow orange, little residual leaves near the flowering brackets curl back on themselves and look so intricate and decorative against the cerulean blue of a clear sunny June day.
Like all Buddleias they seem to strike well from cuttings and somehow one little broken branch found itself transported back to my home and within a year was planted out and growing fast. Looking out now from my kitchen window I am looking at one of these selfsame shrubs, nothing much to look at now, I must confess, and it has to be dramatically cut back every 2nd year or otherwise it becomes ungainly with unsightly woody bare branches. However, come April- May, I will be thinking to myself, maybe it’s time for another Buddleia Globosa painting.  And I always seem to paint them with a strong Indian Yellow background that threatens to swamp and dominate any subtle painting that I might have achieved in the flower- clusters of the tiny sunny florets that make up the characteristic round head.  But I can’t help myself, I think they are just the embodiment of happiness; to me they represent the sun, and I use them to celebrate the colour yellow, particularly that Indian yellow that has more than a hint of red about it.

Buddleia Globosa  oil on board 2006

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rococo Sisters

Rococo Sisters  oil on canvas 152x152cm, is  the largest painting in my new solo exhibition “Rococo”.  The show is about to open on the 3rd February and runs throughout February into March at The Doorway Gallery, 24 South Frederick Street Dublin 2.
Image source: Traditional Indian Textiles by John Gillow and Nicholas Barnard
The idea for this painting came about many years ago when I first came across this photograph, of 3 women sat together, in my Traditional  Indian Textile book, that I often refer to  for inspiration.  I always  thought of these Bengali women as sisters, they are so enigmatic and beautiful, with all of their finery merging together as a single unit.  For many years I have tried to paint a composition with 3 seated figures connected, yet in context with their surroundings, and Rococo gave me such an opportunity.  When I was collecting research material for Rococo,  I came across this film still of the Marie Antionette cast on set, and immediately my Indian ladies were recalled to mind.

I have included some working drawings from my sketch book, that show how I worked out this composition, the actual specific details and actual colour combinations  would have been worked out on the finished painting, a  scary thought I know!   A bit like diving head first into  cold water, except in this case, its preferable to keep the eyes open!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dream or Sleep that is the question!

Here are some pages taken from my working sketch book, just to give you an idea of how I go about conceiving the idea of a painting and how that manifests itself into the finished article.
I adore Picasso’s’ The Dream’, his patterning in this painting, is so jazzy and energetic, in opposition to the passivity of the sleeping figure. This suggests to me that all that latent energy behind that sleeping face, has found expression in the decorative elements of the composition. A clever visual device to illustrate something so complex as a dream.
From my sketches  you can see that I was trying to compose my own’ Dream’ composition, with a format  similar to Picasso’s.  But I couldn’t quite work out how I was going to make the background dominate  the figure in the chair, that would suggest  a more Dream-like element. So it kept feeling like a ‘Sleep’ theme which to me is very different and not what I was setting out to achieve.    Then I was talking to a friend who was telling me about her planned day’s vacation after months of exhausting work, that had left her very frayed at the edges.  She was planning to book into a hotel for a day (on her own of course) and  spend the day in bed with all her favorite books around her; tea and meals to be eaten in bed and no one to disturb her; just the pure luxury of’ time out’ for one day. Once this vision got into my head it took over my original idea for formatting my composition, and instead, it evolved into a bird’s eye view of a figure on a bed with her chosen objects around her.   I drew and painted a  full size sketch for the finished painting which I forgot to photograph and has since been over-painted with a new idea for a new painting, but this would have looked very much like the painting itself.
I hope this to goes someway to help understand how I go about energizing and motivating myself into the painting process.   I think it goes to show that this process is sometimes only just that; just a means to an end; rather than an essential part of the finished product.
Now my only problem left, is what to call this finished painting, as I want to call it 'Dream' but somehow it's still suggesting 'Sleep' to me!! 
122x122cm oil on canvas

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January Spotlight-Persephone Collection

                                                        Day Dreaming 92x76cm oil on canvas
It seems a little perverse to talk about the exhibition I had back in spring 2010, when I am just about to open my new solo show next month, but I think its because of all the obvious contrasts between the two that has made me mindfull of what I was trying to achieve with ‘Persephone’. 
The rather tragic figure of Persephone, who divides her time between the two people who love her most, ie. Hades ruler of the underworld and Demeter goddess of summer, is all ancient history.  But it is a very human and visual way to describe the seasons, and 2009 was a cold year here in Ireland, with lots of snow and ice that transformed the green and browns of my immediate surroundings to inspiring sepias, umbers and the glearing glinting light of snow.  All this, along with the desire, once and for all, to try and nail white as a colour, was my background thinking to this collection of paintings.  I know, I know, white is never described as a colour, we are all taught that white reflects back to us all the colours in the spectrum, but to me, as a colourist painter it is a colour.  Infact white paint is so impactful and dominant when used in a block, that I have never used it as part of my palette, in the same way that I would use say, cadmium red, or cerulean blue, until that is before Persephone.
How I went about this was to use burnt sienna as a ground, which subdues the glaring white canvas down to the effect of an autumnal forest floor.  White seems to love this contrasting bed fellow and coupled with my subject matter of snow sprinkled gardenscapes, bare silver birch trunks, crisp white linen tablecloths and white chrysanthemums I was away, and white is now my new colour.
But it is only now that I feel happy to talk about WHITE.  As anyone knows, living in my part of the world, last year’s winter was even more extreme than 2009, and winter 2010 made most people’s lives here, hard and a little bit miserable.  So I have been slightly thwarted in my new love for white, as until now it has been a tabou subject, white equals snow and ice and we would rather not allude to it thank you very much.  But hey, it’s the new year now and so far we have had nothing what so ever that looks like the S… word, so  we can all breathe a sigh of relief and know that the days are now getting longer, so whatever is thrown at us weather-wise, spring is almost round the corner.
‘Day Dreaming’ really encapsulates all that I wanted to achieve in this collection, as I have here, all the familiar characteristics of what I know makes up a good painting.  It is balanced and timeless, quiet and contemplative. The interactions between the figure and the vase of flowers creates the illusion to space but still pays homage to the frontal picture plane, the outdoor landscape through the window, helps creates the concept of a ‘threshold painting’ ie, a domestic scene that represents expansion and development of the internal space, rather than entrapment and claustrophobia.  The half eaten apple is a nod to the theme of Persephone eating the pomegranate seeds, so sealing her fate to live 4 months of the year with her abductor.  The vintage wallpaper behind her head of birds and pomegranates, represents life and growth, and her internal thoughts of hope and excitement of a change of season.
Still life with yellow chrysanthemums 76x92cm, oil on canvas (now at Wimbledon Fine Arts, London)
Another favourite painting of mine from the Persephone collection is ‘Still life with yellow chrysanthemums’, for me it is very balanced compositionally and it has a strong feeling of ‘right-ness’ when I look at it.  Here white is used as a colour and works as a colour but is so impactful that it also works as an emotion.  It is so reflective that when I look at it, I start to think of strong sunshine, then the strong red earths of the pottery and the warm oranges and yellows transports me to the beautiful still life paintings of the 18th century Spanish painter Melendez. That’s what I love about looking at paintings, is all the visual references that keep art history alive for ever and permanently present; whether it’s an ancient wall painting or a smile on one of Raphael’s Madonnas, visual art is a living and evolving language, and touches all of us.  
File:Luis Melendez, Still Life with Salmon,Lemon and three Vessels,1772 Museo del Prado Madrid.jpg
Luis Melendez  Still life with Salmon, Lemon and Kitchen Utensils 41x62cm