Saturday, March 24, 2012

Birds Quarrelling

'Falling through the air quarrellling' from a mid-sixteenth century book by Kao Sung

Recently I was talking to Sarah from the Russell Gallery in London, as I am in the process of sending over some paintings for the Chelsea Art Fair in April.  We were talking about one of my bird paintings “Birds Quarrelling” and why that title.  The inspiration for this painting came from what I thought was a very popular  Chinese woodcut of the same title but when I tried to source the image from the internet I found nothing.  After searching through my book shelves I came across the book Heaven and Earth (woodcuts from a Ming Encyclopedia) selected by John Goodall, Lund Humphries 1979, and there it was a little woodcut of two birds “Falling through the air quarrelling”.  So that was where the idea had originated from, though I couldn’t quite remember until now, and the full title is so good on reflection that I wish I had given my version the same one.  Maybe next time I feel inspired to paint quarrelling birds I will.

"Birds Quarrelling' 54x46cm oil on board

I painted the above painting this time last year, for the Rococo exhibition that has just been and gone.  Over the last few months my garden has been full of blackbirds, quarrelling and jostling for position on the lawn, in the hedgerows and for prime position in the stone trough that serves for a great bird bath.  So it seemed right to pit them against a cerulean blue sky, with  blossom from a lovely flowering virburnum fragans which I have growing close by the house and which smells divinely of jasmine; the stage is set the players cast. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Terre Verte

Madonna and Child  Segna di bonaventura

I feel inspired to write a piece on Terre Verte, which means Green Earth, and it is one of the pigments from the earth colour family of Iron oxides, along with yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt umber among  many others . I have a special relationship with this thin translucent olive- blue- green paint colour , and I use it a lot in my work to paint faces, arms, legs and I see it as a very natural way to represent flesh.  Maybe it would be good at this point, to bring you in to my world and explain myself. To me, it feels totally natural and traditional  to use this colour when painting flesh and I consider it as the base of all flesh tones.  It was used predominately from the medieval times onwards for painting people; its role was as underpainting  to the more warmer flesh tones, that would have been painted over the top of the terre verte. What had a profound impact on me visually when I was a student, was noting that some of these ancient paintings had all the top flesh tones worn off, leaving completely green faces. This fascinated me, and somehow symbolized a face a lot more coherently than all those polished alabaster like masks.   To me those ancient green portraits  are like living modern images, as real or as inspirational to me, as is a Matisse or a Bonnard painting. 
I know I have taken the role terre verte has in the history of painting flesh and run away with it.  I want to celebrate it, push its barriers and possibilities, in an unapologetic and painterly way. I have used terre verte for many years now, so much so that it is now very much part of my personal painting language.  I suppose this is what is so important to me as a modernist painter; to continually rehash and relive centuries of painting history, so that there is no time divide.  I feel I am exploring a rich world of painting language that’s all around me and now more than ever, so easily accessible. I like to  extract the bits that mean something to me personally and feel ‘right’.  I feel it’s the only way to paint, its like a continuum in the history of the visual arts, that just goes around and around in rich endless different versions of itself. Its what I call living art. 

Secret Garden  122x152cm oil on canvas

Girl with flowers in her hair  61x54cm oil on board

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spotlight on Summer Hat

Summer Hat 71x71cm oil on canvas
I have painted quite a few women in hats now and the Summer Hat which is currently showing at the Battersea Affordable Art Fair is one such painting.

Stella in Flowered Hat   Kees van Dongen NGI

I first conceived the idea for  this composition, when I was in the National Gallery of Ireland looking at the painting Stella by Kees van Dongen which is exhibited alongside  a Bonnard and my favorite favourite painting, Girl with ribbon by Gabriele Munter.   Stella is a sensuous painting with loose expressionistic marks resembling the work of Matisse.  It is highly charged and utterly arresting, with such a dramatic division of the picture plane, top third hat, middle section face, bottom third neck and shoulders.  She reminded me of a vase of flowers, and so inspired, I  painted my first two versions of  girls in hats, one of them was for my Pastoral Collection 2009.

Rococo Rhododendrums 122x92cm oil on canvas

    This time I was inspired by my daughter Becky, who is a manic blogger and had put up a post with herself in this floppy 1970’s inspired straw hat.   The girl’s dress is based on a Chinese vase, to further play on the similarities to one of my flower paintings, the background is a group of silver birch trees that grow near to my house.  I love all the shadows and greens that hats do to faces, it just makes complete sense to me, not that I need any excuse to paint a face green!! But a bit of logic always makes me feel less alone in my eccentricities.

A walk in Avondale 71x71cm oil on canvas and below Walking in Avondale from my Pastoral Collection 2009 71x71cm oil on canvas