Pieter Bruegel (The Elder) a Flemish Renaissance painter was undoubtedly a visionary artist……..this work on linen was completed in 1568. Astonishing foresight.
This is one of a series of acrylic paintings on hand made 300 gsm paper and I’m enjoying the immediacy of working on this high quality textured surface. The shapes and colours of the painting show exuberance and optimism and a delight in the here and now. The curved and straight lines celebrate visual contrast and compositional balance. There is a flowing movement from left to right across the picture plane, which together with the warm colours begins to explain the choice of title. You will no doubt see elements of both Cubism and Futurism in the multi-faceted viewpoints and the intriguing interplay of foreground and background spaces.
As Winter relentlessly approaches I return to the world of fully saturated colour to reprise the warmth and light of the sun. Colour applied with rollers offers liberation from the tyranny and constraint of a hand/brush-based approach to the manipulation of paint. The speed and flow associated with the use of rollers accelerate execution and thinking, qualities that are often missing from a carefully controlled ‘painterly’ style.
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 large oil painting on a 122cm x 92cm professional quality canvas. It is semi abstract and expressionistic in terms of technique and style. It is however, based on nature and the abundant growth seen in the hedgerows of the fenlands of East Anglia. Trees, brambles and woody shrubs such as hawthorn, blackthorn and field maple make up a mature hedgerow. The material and paint is applied with a variety of tools including brushes and palette knives. The surface is built up in heavy impasto layers and translucent glazes over a period of time. I have been influenced by the contemporary artists Anselm Kiefer and Gerhardt Richter.
…..And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all.
Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.
There are other places
Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
From a poem by T.S. Eloit