Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Kingdom of His Own - Constable; and my landscapes

I stumbled across the biography "John Constable - A Kingdom of His Own" by Anthony Bailey at the local library. It was somewhat of a coincidence as Bailey wrote the little monograph on Vermeer that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

What attracted me to this book was the subtitle "A Kingdom of His Own" because it indicated to me Constable's familiarity (at the least) or obsession  with one patch of landscape, the area where he grew up, lived most of his life and immortalised in his paintings. It is something I have come to realise I am trying to do in my own work. My new show will be called "Paradise Found - Close to Home". So I thought looking at Constable in this way would have some resonance with my current concerns. I always manage to glean some thought-provoking insight from such books which relates to my work.

Years ago I read of Edgar Degas that when faced with a painterly problem he would go to the art of the past to solve it. I have tried to do this also, steeped as I am in the achievements of the old master painters.
Constable had a different view.

He says in 1802 -

" For these two years past I have been running after pictures and seeking the truth at second hand..."

Despite his admiration for Claude and Rubens, he had resolved to avoid imitation of and even exposure to other artists, and he stayed put in England. He seems to have had none of the restlessness that causes artists to pack their bags and seek other lands.

Here is the book with my favourite bookmark, gestured to by my spelter boy "Mozart" 
and the shapely leg of Degas' Dancer.

Constable was what Bailey calls a "stay-at-home artist". Deep down Constable knew he was doing something for posterity but he was very unpopular while doing it. The "taste" came from pictures from the past but Constable wanted to go to the source, to nature itself for his inspiration.

Constable set those artists who only had eyes for what others had accomplished against those who went to the primitive source, Nature, and added to Art qualities unknown to it before. The latter thus formed a style which was original. The first type merely repeated the work of others and their work was therefore easily comprehended and welcomed. But the second type would always struggle for recognition. This is so true of Australian art today. The People's Choice prizes always going to a work in a "style" the public is familiar with and can relate to easily.

Bailey makes the further point that Constable believed -

"The Dutch painters were a stay-at-home people - hence their originality."
Apparently Boucher told Sir Joshua Reynolds that "he never painted from the life... for nature put him out."

Constable describes Mannerists as those who "fill the intervals between the appearances of the great artists. They are the productions of men who have lost sight of nature." I think this a valid point, but the dilemma is that if painting is really firstly about PAINT then it is a juggling act between nature and art.

I will quote Constable in full here.

"Manner is always seductive. It is more or less an imitation of what has already been done - therefore always plausible. It promises the short road, the near cut to present fame and emolument by availing ourselves of the labours of others. It leads to almost immediate reputation, because it is the wonder of the ignorant world. It is always accompanied by certain blandishments, showy and plausible, and which catch the eye...   As manner comes by degrees...   all painters who would be really great should be perpetually on their guard against it."

Well said! I guess this means working to a formula, which is the death of creativity.

So at this point I insert a sneak peek at my unfinished urban landscapes from my little piece of earth. It is not Nature but is my nature and my little domain.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Male Portrait

Here is the next of my Friday morning portraits. It took about two hours of painting in a three hour session with lots of breaks for tea and cake.

We had an older male model for a change. As there are about eight people working in a group situation you don't really get to chose your position. It is more of case of everyone arrives and sets up in a semi-circle and then the model sits. You could sit either side to get a profile view but usually you just have to paint what is in front of you with little room to manoeuvre for a more fetching angle.

Our model Max had a great nose and I had almost a profile view of it with just a hint of the furthest eye. The portrait was all about the nose from the start against the dark background. There is a good connection colour-wise and design-wise with the ear. Ah, give me a good ear and I can paint it all morning!
I seem to have a habit of having to make the head bigger and bigger as I start. This meant that the back of Max's head got closer and closer to the edge. (Alas I didn't start with the dreaded thumbnail sketch!) I decided to turn this potential problem into an asset and used the head touching the edge to anchor the head slightly and give me the freedom to "open out" the front of the face and direct all attention there, at least initially.

Things seem to work better for me if I get stuck in quickly with what excites me and in this case it was the nose. The model even joked "Don't make my nose too big" and of course if this was a paid commission one might be slightly influenced by this expressed wish. I do so love working from a paid model with no pressure to please the client!

I worked from a seated position on a donkey easel and yes I did buy tubes of acrylic to take along instead of my big pots of colour. I had fun with the beard, - lots of blue and mauve hues and skin tone showing through. I can't remember the last time I painted a beard but I do remember it was also a white one and easily the lightest tone on the face apart from the highlights.

I did post this picture on facebook yesterday and two people immediately recognised the model and made comments, so I quickly removed it. I am fine about the painting being out there, but not sure what the model would think about all the comments and the ease with which anyone can make them. He would probably be fine but I will have to check.

I am really loving this weekly exercise in portraiture. I am still working hard every other day on my show for March 2015. These pieces are not ready to be revealed as yet.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Friday Portrait, - Notes on Turner

I am really getting into the swing of the Friday morning portraits. I have plans though to buy tubes to take with me, as the pots of acrylic I lug along are getting too heavy!

Here is yesterday's effort.

It is the same model as last week. You do get to know someone's features better the second time even though the angle is probably completely different. Second week doesn't guarantee a more successful painting though.

As I set about working yesterday, the model said to me.
"I really loved the painting you did of me last week. Actually I took a photo and am now using it as my facebook profile!"

I was a bit taken aback. I asked firstly if she had acknowledged me and of course she hadn't. I said I was very flattered that she and all her 98 "likers" had "liked" it but that there was a question of copyright. I was happy for her to use it as long as my name was there. Then it is win win.

This week's effort had a more traditional approach. The model was costumed-up in a colourful dress, faux fur and flowers in her hair. She was seated and so was I on about the same level. I worked quickly as usual blocking in the lights which always strike me first. I guess the traditional method would be darks first, but I am at last finding a way that is truly mine.

This week my art reading was "Turner" by Peter Ackroyd (Chatto and Windus 2005). I haven't ever been much of an avid Turner fan as I have never had the opportunity to see many of them in the flesh. I am sure this would make a lot of difference. I do appreciate his sublime landscapes and the drama of his clouds and waves but it is long way from my own experience.

I did enjoy reading about his inveterate travelling and daily sketching habits and also his work methods of having six works on the go and just moving from one to the other. There are some amusing anecdotes in the book particularly about his teaching. His answer to student's questions  - "Suppose you LOOK!"

I enjoyed this juxtaposition of two pages with Ruskin on the left and Turner on the right. One of the most interesting relationships between artist and critic and unparalleled in its advantage to the artist. All artists need a Ruskin in their lives.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A View of Delft - "Perfection of the life or or of the work?"

I was attracted to the book "A View of Delft - Vermeer then and now" by Anthony Bailey (Chatto& Windus 2001) at the local library because of the amazing painting of that name by Vermeer and the fact that I too am painting views of my local area. I had never read about Vermeer's life in such detail before.

The first unanticipated fact that I read was about the gunpowder explosion of 1654 in Delft in which Carel Fabritius lost his life. Earlier this year I read Donna Tartt's novel The Goldfinch about Fabritius's painting by that name. In the novel the painting survives a 20th century terrorist bomb explosion in an art museum in New York and in the Vermeer book I discover the real painting of the goldfinch did in fact survive an explosion in Delft in 1654. Maybe Tartt makes this link in her book, maybe it was her starting point, but if so I glossed over it at the time.

The Anthony Bailey book I read with a much larger Vermeer monograph of the complete paintings by Norbert Schneider beside me so I could peer closely at the details he described.

I would like to quote a passage from Bailey page 104.

"With an eventual eleven living children, Vermeer may well have pondered how to divide his energies; his slow production of paintings meant he completed only some three pictures for every child. The poet Yeats later put the dilemma as which to choose, perfection of the life or of the work? A ruthless genius may plump for the latter. A more difficult task faces the home-loving artist who tries for both."

I believe at different stages of our lives we oscillate between these two. Certainly for me at the moment the art comes before the life. It is the most important thing, but would it even exist without the life? And if so in what diminished form?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Friday Portraits

I am establishing a painting routine that is working well for me. Most of the week I work on my own in my studio and Friday mornings I go to Royal Queensland Art Society to work from the model. One week it is a nude figure the next it is a clothed figure suitable for portrait work. It is always just the one three-hour pose for the entire morning.

This is my painting from yesterday's session.

The model was nude and I was given the opportunity to "set" her pose so I chose a standing pose up on the plinth with her body facing towards me and her head angled away looking up. I was seated on a donkey easel with a lower viewpoint.

During the week I saw the amazing movie "In Search of Chopin"  and I was reminded of Delacroix's portrait of Chopin.

It is obviously just a quick head study not even progressing past the tonal block-in stage but the angle of the head really appeals. It has a lean not only sideways but also away from the viewer as if he is listening to music and concentrating. It is a fully Romantic image fitting in well with the feeling of that whole era of artists. painters, composers, musicians, and writers (George Sand) all being great mates and bouncing ideas off each other. Mutual respect was the order of the day. I have visited George Sand's house in Paris and it felt like a pilgrimage to the shrine of Romanticism. There is a great movie called "Impromptu" starring Hugh Grant as Chopin and Judy Davis as George Sand that I saw years ago that has stayed with me. In fact I used to dress in a men's style black suit  with tie there for a while in my youth!

To get back to my work, I had forgotten how much I enjoy working "alla prima". Obviously before the age of photography  everything was done from life (or from memory) but not necessarily as quickly as this sketch seems to have been done. You can't expect a model to hold such an obviously awkward angle for long. That is why I placed myself at the lower viewpoint.

The light was from above and to the left and I started boldly with yellow on the left of the face and purple on the right. I think the nailed the right side pretty early on and have just left it. The eye on the right I had to adjust several times and I do think it was because of model shifts after each break. I still have a plan of working with the "accidental" and the messy mark that is almost so wrong it is right, Almost!

Acrylic on card, big brushes throughout. Lots of the cardboard left to show through.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Portrait - Looking Up to Jan

I apologise to my readers for having neglected this blog for a while.

I have been painting almost everyday and posting many of the images on instagram, also behind the scenes studio images, complete with dogs, cats, and cups of tea.  user name robynbauer

Last year was what I referred to as my "study year" with my anatomy classes, life drawing, sessions with David Paulson, heaps of art reading and attendance at Royal Queensland Art Society portrait group sessions (all untutored).
This year, while I am still letting myself experiment quite a bit, I am consolidating what I have learned with the production of lots of new work on a consistently bigger scale than ever before.

It has always been my goal to "put it all in". A bit daunting and maybe not even possible, but I have an idea of including my portraiture, figure work, botanical things such as the big fig trees and other flora and of course fauna in big landscape compositions of the Paddington area where I live with its timber and tin cottages and leafy gardens.

All this new work is to be included in a solo show in March 2015 at the Petrie Terrace Gallery of the Royal Queensland Art Society. I have a few threads going that I am happy with and lots of other dilemmas to resolve. The main problem is balancing my work  from observation with my work from imagination. The different paintings work in themselves but will not work together so well for a solo show. I am sure the answer will come through "painting it out". I still thankfully have a bit of time up my sleeve.

In the meantime I thought I would post a recent portrait.

I am calling it "Looking Up To Jan".  Jan is a model we sometimes have at RQAS.

She was doing a standing pose up on the model stand and I decided to sit down and work so that I was literally looking up to her. She did look a bit like a diva or opera singer and I went with that idea. It is acrylic on shellac-coated card, unpainted bits showing through.

I am pleased with this painting. It had been quite a tough week and I had made a big decision to leave another group I had been going to as I felt it was becoming toxic for me and bad for my work. I feel as artists we have to nurture ourselves and our ideas. Our work always comes first and if we find ourselves in a group or situation that has stopped working for us we have to absent ourselves.  So having been through this experience I arrived at RQAS on the Friday morning feeling a sense of relief and excitement.  I  don't think I have ever painted so boldly and quickly from the model. The painting was finished in about two hours of the three hour session and I have left it alone since.

Having used every possible art media in my career I am really gravitating towards acrylic paints now. They allow you to work fast without getting muddy. I think a lot of the blending people do with oil paint makes the work look a bit dated and old hat. I like to put the brush mark there and try to leave it. Acrylic dries so fast that it makes this possible. You can layer heaps in the one session no drying time needed. And it is much more practical and economical to work on card than canvas.

This is another one of the same model. Again painted in the same way, alla prima, fast and furious, about two hours. The shadow cast by the hat was what interested me. I did like it better at an earlier stage, when it was as simple and clear as a Sam Fullbrook but I guess I didn't have the confidence to just leave it then!

A couple of pieces of advice I remember from my artist mother Joan Bauer (1933-1995).  She said to put down the mark and just leave it, and she also said "Just keep on producing".

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Painting Paddington - "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

I have been neglecting this blog lately, but I have been busy painting. I am continuing with my project of producing paintings with the feeling of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" set in the suburb I live in, Paddington, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

I think illustrating the story is not the right thing to do, but it is rather the atmosphere and richness of the text which I want to emulate.

Paddington houses, streets, trees, gardens together with portrait heads, animals, and all things botanical are the subject matter. It feels hugely daunting to be attempting this and in some ways I feel I have been heading toward this for years. Trying to put so much in comes with its own set of problems.

I have started about 5 largish canvases and several works on paper just to sort out ideas.

I thought I would post a studio shot to give the general feel.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Trees of Paddington

I have been really loving drawing more of the local Fig Trees around Paddington, Bardon and Milton. In fact it is becoming almost a Zen meditative experience for me while doing them.

This is Fig Tree Drawing No 2. Just drawn in black and white charcoal on a tinted paper.

This is the third in the series. I do feel I am getting better at them.

Annoyingly I framed this one before taking the final photo. So this is just a progress photo and the finished piece is a bit more "finished".

I do see these as real "portraits" of individual trees. In fact just this morning, I had a couple of ladies in my studio who recognised a particular tree. They knew exactly where it was, knew the exact species and told me that is actually a protected heritage tree. Good to know there is such a thing!