Researching artists recommended by my tutor I was interested to read about Castellas. One critic described his work as ‘abstract with figurative allusions or the other way around’. The constant debate to align with a genre or style of painting is something I have found difficult to embrace. Having been steeped in figurative ideology for most of my artistic life, my BA and now my MA courses are moving me towards more abstract approaches. Abandoning the figurative is part of my journey to find my own voice. But it’s not the answer. How many times have I been told to ‘do my own thing’ yet still I persist in trying to conform, please, second-guess my tutors. My latest series of work is yet another attempt to discover my own visual language. Kate has become my muse, lately and I’m trying to capture the essence of her and not just her physiological likeness. I still felt I should start with a good figurative likeness and move out from there into more expressive/abstract waters. I really wanted to paint at this stage but she can’t sit still long enough! So regrettably I resorted to a charcoal drawing and working from photos which I feel is far too sterile. To reconcile this method, a proper observational drawing seemed to placate my dislike of photo references. This is it. Although I’ve drawn her before many times, of course.
Having looked at Castellas, Elizabeth Paton and Krebber at the behest of my tutor I was drawn towards oil-paint for a this project and began a portrait of Kate. It didn’t work and in desperation I began to cover the surface of the loosely figurative painting, mixing the colours I was using into a blue/grey sludge.Then something began to happen. I realised that her hands were, in fact, her essence. When she dances (ballet) she moves her hands so expressively and as she sat reluctantly for her charcoal portrait, her hands fell into beautiful lyrical positions which I then emphasised through the grey sludge and it suddenly became Kate.
A second portrait where I tried again to represent her fairly realistically also failed. Photographs can do this so much more easily unless one is prepared to spend hours on a painting. I probably could do that but it’s not in my nature. I’m so impatient and find it hard to put in the time required. And besides, it’s no longer what I’m trying to achieve in a painting. This time I had got further with the image so was reluctant to completely obliterate my efforts. So I painted watery lines across her, thinking it would take on the appearance of water or maybe a veil of fabric. Now it began to look rather gimmicky. So as I was using oil-paint I was able to wipe this layer off, strategically leaving some areas more distinct than others. This seemed to be working and with the addition of a ghostly hand image it felt almost finished.
Still not sure this is it, but will wait and see how it looks tomorrow. But what I have learnt through these experiments is that the process or style has to be tempered to express and say what you want the viewer to see in the image. It isn’t about abstraction or figuration but the totality of the image and what it can convey.