For a long time I have been exploring the combination of abstract and symbolic elements with realist imagery. Some of the attempts have proven to be dead ends, but some have resulted in breakthroughs.
In a seminal body of work I call the ‘plaid’ series, I realized that I could invoke the narrative in assembled objects without reference to any realistic setting.
This year has been quite unlike any other. For me, two events coincided to effect radical change to my studio practice: the death of the last surviving aged parent, closely followed by the pandemic shutdown, meant that suddenly I had a lot of free time. I had not realized how much elder care and teaching had occupied my time and split my focus. Although teaching is my only stable source of income, the explosive unleashing of creative exploration I have experienced in these few months has made it well worth the loss.
Over the years I explored various ways of integrating diverse elements in paintings such as The Age of Anxiety, Battle Cry and The Saw Set War.
Le Violon d’Ingres +the Void heralded a progression into the use of pure abstraction, referencing Anish Kapoor’s sculpture The Void combined with a figure in the style of Ingres.
During this pandemic ‘artist’s retreat’ I have been able to build on this concept. Two new bodies of work have emerged from this, both sharing the awareness of interplay between figure and ground, and a strong exploration of colour.
With Cubed Roses, I referenced my favourite abstract painter, Rothko, in the use of a simple square of colour floating on another colour. In my version of colour field abstraction, the geometric ‘object’ is enriched by a lush evocation of feminine imagery in tightly clustered pink roses.
I followed this piece with Torso, yellow roses compressed within the smooth sided abstraction of a human torso. A Splash of Lemon, A Ripple of Tulips and A Ruffle of Cockatoos continued this series of shapes in space.
The other figure and ground series continued the work of Le Violin d’Ingres by combining a figure with a purely abstract ground. Sèvres Blue, Scarlet Lake and Naples Yellow explore the emotive power of colour in support of the expressive gesture of the body.
At the same time, I began to play with making abstract colour choices in otherwise realist figures, resulting in Blue Nude #1, Shades of White and Abstraction in Blue. I have plans to continue this thought in three new monochrome paintings exploring the three primary colours.
Because of the uninterrupted studio time during the pandemic, I think that ideas which have been slowly brewing over time have been able to coalesce. Producing a much greater volume of work has allowed me to see relationships more clearly than when works are made more slowly, interspersed within other explorations. The next step will be to get this work out onto gallery walls. My storage bins are bursting, and there is no end in sight to this geyser of ideas!
In this painting I wanted to revisit the crouching figure from ’ The Woman' which I found so viscerally powerful.
The view of a figure from behind is psychologically significant; this is not the usual interaction between model and viewer, instead the figure appears unaware of observation, the viewer acts either as voyeur on a private moment, or may enter the frame with the figure acting as avatar, seeing what she ‘sees’, accepting her viewpoint as our own.
One of my strongest early influences as a painter was Jean Dominique Ingres. His mastery in representing the look of skin that appears warm and alive captivated me as a young painter. Now, as a mature artist, I am able to also appreciate his ability to render the human form as a monumental, universal symbol.
In a Lucian Freud exhibition in Paris in 2010, I saw a quotation from Freud, something to the effect that he had striven as a young artist to be original, but as he matured, he realized that art is always reactionary. We look at art, and imitate what we like, incorporating elements of other artist’s ideas and imagery, or we make a counter argument to work that we deem to be flawed.
On a recent trip to Munich, Vienna and Prague, I saw many wonderful Egon Schiele paintings and drawings, and I was very inspired by the expressive power of his figures. I have long been a fan of his incredibly alive and expressive use of line, but seeing the work ‘in the flesh’ I was struck by the simplicity of the figure and ground, and especially how he created shapes in space.