‘Elasticity’ Umberto Boccioini
Museo del Novecento
‘Elasticity’ Umberto Boccioini
Museo del Novecento

It would be a minor miracle to achieve a small percentage of Umberto Boccioni’s creative output in 66 years…. well 67 years to be precise.

“We shall sing the great masses shaken with work, pleasure, or rebellion; we shall sing the multicoloured and polyphonic tidal waves of revolution in the modern metropolis.” The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism. Marinetti

The influence of Cubism on the Futurist painter Boccioni is apparent in this detail from the painting ‘Elasticity’ (below) and the watercolour study (above). For me, the art world has not moved significantly beyond Cubism in the last 100 years. Cubism established the dissolution of space and time, Futurism added a dynamic context focusing on kinetics.

Once you have decided that the world is multi-faceted and in constant motion, the notion of a fixed viewpoint collapses under the weight of reason and quantum physics. Time waits for no man. Experimental artists, painters, photographers and filmmakers continue to ‘push’ against a wide-open door. The horse has long since bolted.

The Cubists penetrated the illusionistic space of the canvas, and from that moment on, the only way back was a harmless preoccupation with design and a modicum of self-delusion. But why worry, it has kept us all therapeutically occupied ever since.

Here is something a little out of the ordinary, definitely not my usual offering, but I thought I might share this with you. I created this video with my daughter, it was recorded two years ago on a handheld mobile phone; so all credit to her directorial and editing skills. I put down the audio track in the house because here in the Fenlands it is always windy and you wouldn’t have heard a single note. Did I hear someone say that would have been a wiser option? 🙂

For those who are interested, this is a Gretsch open back banjo, which I have now replaced with a Deering model. Recently, I have focused all of my energies on playing acoustic guitar and learning the Travis finger picking style. I have to say that the rhythmic style of frailing or clawhammer style banjo really helped with the finger picking. Sadly, I haven’t picked up the banjo for a year… the rest of the family are just quietly delighted.

This is an acrylic painting on a 100 x 100 x 4 cm canvas. I based it on the landscape of Roswell Pits, an 8-hectare nature reserve near the city of Ely in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands. It may surprise you to see me working with acrylics as I normally use a range of media including oil paints and cold wax, which I find more expressive. The inherent ‘flatness’ of acrylic paint can be an obstacle to more creative explorations of the natural landscape, but the medium has definitely improved dramatically in terms of versatility and range.

I have applied the paint here with a variety of hog hair brushes in an impressionistic style with many quick strokes of translucent colour. Some of you may feel that it is closer to pointillism in technique. I made the layering and depth of colour possible with the addition of various Liquitex acrylic gels, both gloss and matt. Slow drying additives were also used to ensure the soft blending and subtle gradations of tone achieved in the lower part of the painting.

To unify the surface and protect the painting from dust, UV rays and yellowing, a last layer of acrylic varnish was applied with a large flat brush.

The dominant feature of the work is the reflection on the lake and how the trees and sky have been transformed by the breeze blowing intermittently across the surface.

Roswell Pit: 100 x 100 cm on canvas
Detail from Roswell Pit, acrylic landscape painting
Detail from Roswell Pit, acrylic landscape painting

What do I mean by reverse archaeology? That archaeology may have something to offer painting is less complicated than you might imagine. The painting that you see here is really 3 paintings in one, except that you can only see the last layer, or the current layer, to be more accurate.

This work started out as a monochrome image using a bitumen ground with a white chalk paint applied in alternate layers. The chalk layer acted as a kind of sgraffito surface that could reveal the darker tones below. At this stage, with the paint still wet, it was also possible to drag the surface with a wide squeegee, a technique used by the German artist Gerhard Richter to create unexpected marks and gradations of tone.

I guess I could have stopped at this point. The painting had already gained a rugged tactile quality with a richly textured surface. I had also used horizontal bands or sections to echo the characteristics of the Fenland landscape and aerial perspective. I reworked the painting a few days later. To be honest, I know the precise reason I made the next set of changes. I had seen a contemporary textile piece in a local gallery that comprised sections of worn, multi-coloured cloth, stitched together in vertical strips. The effect was mesmerising. The artist explained that the old clothing belonged to her husband, a farmer, and she wanted to embed and embody his work in the textile landscape.

I introduced several opaque layers of cold wax medium to the surface. These were stained with light ochre and I waited a few days for them to dry. I then scored regular horizontal lines through the surface to the bitumen. The painting at this stage was monochrome. It had a definite presence with a minimalist abstract quality. I had successfully avoided the trap of becoming overly decorative and too narrowly focused on detail. However, I didn’t stop at that point, hence the reference to reverse archaeology. Archaeology is a process of extraction and excavation, revealing the events of time. My paintings are a process of accretion and sedimentation, which disguise the origins of the work.

I became dissatisfied with the absence of colour in the work and I wanted to introduce a range of warmer, differentiated tones to the gridlike structure. I switched to acrylic paints and some metallic effects, which I applied selectively. As you know, acrylic and oil don’t mix particularly well, but this can be an advantage if you are striving to achieve an uneven, variegated colour. The last part of the process involved the application of heat with a heat gun. The intense heat allowed the bitumen to burn through the wax, reinstating the fine lines and increasing the textural qualities in the paint which momentarily bubbled and then resettled.

This is where I have arrived, and maybe this is where I should remain. Maybe the painting becomes less convincing each time I make a significant intervention. Maybe the earlier foundations and cumulative changes conjure a depth and a weight that may have lifted the work beyond the pedestrian. At this moment, the jury is out.

Let me know your thoughts, it’s always good to hear other viewpoints and opinions.

This is a painting about music, rhythm and the rich aural textures and the timbre of sound. The chords and colours of the painting reflect my interest in the acoustic guitar, its tonal range and versatility. The curved and straight lines found in the shape and structure of the instrument are used to provide contrast and compositional harmony. Elements of Cubism are evident in the multi-faceted viewpoints and the intersection of foreground and background spaces.

‘Counterpoint’ 75 x 52 x 4 cm on Canvas
Detail
Detail