Last year, I gained an oil painting diploma from Norfolk Painting School under Martin Kinnear. Here are my reflections in a three-part series, Scroll back to read about my early Fine Arts training in South Africa and what I learnt about the tools of the trade.
1.I discovered my artistic training genealogy.
2. I learnt the discipline of time at the easel.
3. I learnt about the properties of oil paints
4. I learnt different ways of using my tools
5. I plumbed new depths in what I can do.
6. My goals changed.
7. My thinking changed.
8. My taste in art changed.
9. I feel as though I am really just at the beginning of this self-discovery.
10. I became an artist again.
6. MY GOALS CHANGED
I started out with one main goal: to produce very saleable work that would still satisfy my integrity.
Somewhere along the line I realised that I wanted something more ambitious – something that would satisfy my soul, and if en-route, I could still ‘produce very saleable work that would still satisfy my integrity’, that would be a bonus.
7. MY THINKING CHANGED
First of all, I needed a genre. I love still life but thought that still life paintings don’t sell as well as landscape paintings. (In retrospect, I think that what sells well in a high street market are well painted realistic landscapes of recognisable places, and this is not what I want to do.)
I recognise that I need to paint from life, rather than paint from my imagination.
I love contemporary or abstracted landscape and I was very drawn to Turner’s late style because there is a strong abstraction although his work is still essentially landscape.
Above is a typical Turneresque painting I did after the first workshop. However, I realised that there are already too many ‘Turners’ around, so I didn’t want to pursue this as a style. I needed to reconsider in order to produce cutting edge contemporary art.
Then there is the other thing which Brian Rutenberg explains so well. (Studio Visit 30) He was referring to Barnett Newman’s work, but it can apply to almost any body of work that an artist decides to imitate.
Rutenberg says: You may look at a painting and say: ‘Oh, I can do that’ and his reply is:
‘No, you couldn’t – in a million years you couldn’t do that.
‘First come up with a concept. Then I’ll take you to my studio to stand in front of 10 blank canvases 4’ x 6’ and I’ll give you a palette with 3 pounds of paint divided into opaques and transparents, some medium and brushes and say: ‘Make a body of work that is clear-headed, that has a concise conceptual framework, that is put into a visual form, that is resonant and rich. And then, do it again, and again and again and build a body of work. ‘No, you couldn’t do that’
Well even if I wanted to use Turner’s conceptual framework, it’s the ‘again and again and again’ and ‘the body of work’ that would defeat me.
When I came back to painting after so many years in graphic design and working with text, I felt like Rip von Winkel who woke up in a new land. I didn’t know where to start. I am still not sure of where I am going, but I do know that it’s hard to sustain a body of work that is rich and resonant and not boringly repetitive. As school and college art teachers, we had to be versatile in medium and style. Versatility and boredom are enemies of a ‘rich and resonant body of work’
8. MY TASTE IN ART CHANGED
A lot of high street gallery work that seemed really ‘nice’ to me lost their appeal, mainly because I started looking properly at master-art again. I saw contemporary and traditional artist’s work that appealed to my soul, not my sense of commercial value. (And there is an equally large amount that doesn’t appeal to me at all).
I re-visited Musée D’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie and Musée Pompidou in Paris in search of Monet and the Fauves. I went to The Scottish National Art Gallery in Edinburgh to see The Scottish Colourists ‘in the flesh’ and a friend and I went behind the scenes to see Joan Eardley’s colour sketches. I read and read and read, and made numerous trips to London galleries. I discovered artists who I like; and discarded some I had liked before – largely because their work seemed so ‘boringly repetitive’.
Martin’s lectures throughout the course were worthy of an auditorium of 400 people. He is articulate and his lectures are pithy and littered with examples of work from every period of art up to present day art. He has many interesting standpoints from his own thinking and his extensive reading. One is to challenge the thought that the history of Western Art is a progression from incompetence to competence. There is equal skill / artistry in a primitive mask to a Titian. We looked at optical colour, (Fauvism), narrative (Hopper), Primitivism (Fedden), and each time we were delving beneath the surface and an initial man-in-the-street response.
Another interesting look-in was seeing early works compared to later works of the masters. We saw how a piece of work can move from slick accomplishment to something quite raw and expressive. I have a new response to work that is heart-wrenchingly expressive and difficult to look at. I’d say more an appreciation than a love; but nevertheless, one that challenges my idea of ‘average marketable work’
I now know that I need to think beyond ‘This will look nice in an average sitting room’ and move to thinking along the lines of: ‘This painting is dictating itself to me in how I interpret the landscape’
9. I FEEL AS THOUGH I AM REALLY JUST AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS SELF-DISCOVERY
My standpoint is that I am essentially a ‘decorative artist’ regardless of the subject, rather than an expressive artist and that ‘surface’ is very important to me. I loved the teaching on optics, especially equiluminance and in Lightening Tree, you can see how the ‘old lady mauve’ and army green resonate against each other in the same way that the blue and red do. These colours are from opposite sides of the colour wheel and because they have the same value, they vibrate against each other. This is one of the things that Bridget Riley explored.
Even though I recognise that it is important for some artists to paint activist work in the spirit of Extinction Rebellion, or a raw self-discovery, my integrity is to create visual tension through colour, surface treatment and shape.
One of the exhibitions that really changed my thinking about genre was the work of Helene Sjcherfbeck. I did two studies and in the second study, our class brief was to repaint the second study and add something random to the artwork we had chosen. I chose Sjcherfbeck’s because I liked her simplified flattened forms and the attention to surface with the suggestion of fresco. I had originally discarded portraiture as a genre for me as ‘being limited to needing to please a commissioning client’, thus limiting the artist. And yet, I have begun a mother and child series. This is a personal series, in its infancy, with not much to show…yet.
I have always enjoyed life painting and portraiture is an interesting branch of life painting..
The only representative painting or realistic painting we did as students was life painting. When I am painting the model, suddenly I am at one with the work. This year, I have joined a life painting group once a week to work from the model, without thinking too much about a ‘body of work’ but allowing myself to be intuitive and keeping my eye in. It’s a mix of meditation and ‘piano scales’. It is about process rather than product. It is also a way to relax and be with other artists.
And then there is still life, which in essence is design. The thing is, how does one make the shift from realism to something that is expressive and searching and exciting. The artists I am looking at for inspiration are Henri Matisse, Winifred Nicholson and Mary Fedden. I have a chance to play with pattern, colour, collage, shape. There is no pressure in needing to create a likeness and it is so relaxing! Maybe that can be my ‘fun thing’
For the moment, I’ll continue with my different strands of landscape, portrait, life painting and still life.
2019 was the year of receiving and 2020 is the year of consolidation.
I BECAME AN ARTIST AGAIN I have gained so much from this intensive year of time at the easel, or as Martin Kinnear would say ‘Time on the Brush’
AN ACCOLADE TO MARTIN KINNEAR. Martin Kinnear is an ‘artist to watch’. In the last three years I have seen his work go from strength to strength, with him gaining a silver medal at Societie Nationale des beaux Arts, Paris Salon 2018 and being selected again in 2019. You can view his work and find out more about him at http://makinnear.com/
AN ACCOLADE TO DAVE KERR. Dave has been such a support this year and he has encouraged me all the way. I think the hardest part of it for him is that he is living with an artist who thinks and talks about art all the time. I try not to, but I do!
Now that I am an artist again, where do I start? I have new art friends. I’ve signed up at a life painting group, booked the village hall to teach, re-established my blog, put work into the local gallery (and sold a big one just before Christmas), posted work on Artfinder and continued with Instagram. I am on the committee of Oxford Art Society, and most importantly, I am spending ‘time at the easel’!