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'The Riddle of the Sands'    40x280cms  Penny Watts

 

There was a fascinating and varied response to the novel from the artists on the recent 2-day Freedom in Painting workshop at Creek Creative, Faversham.  Narrative, incident, characters, location, timelines, were all explored alongside colours and emotions sourced in the text. The theme of the novel was particularly challenging with nothing physical and 'real' to respond to but words provoke image and stir the imagination and the painters' skill makes those images and ideas visual and concrete. 

We did not have a set novel. The choice was down to the artists, who were asked, in advance of the workshop, to read and re-read their chosen work and find the essence and bring ideas and studies to the workshop to transform into painting. Some of chosen novels (or poems) were recently read but most were long-term favourites connecting to the artists' personal journeys and interests. The chosen works were:

'The Riddle of the Sands', 'The English Patient', 'Housekeeping', 'Moby Dick', 'On Chesil Beach', Journey into Nature', 'The Day before Happiness', 'A Sleepwalk on the Severn', 'Wide Sargasso Sea', Remarkable Creatures' & 'Swallowing Mercury'.  Many of the novels contained dark themes which came across strongly in the paintings. 

The wording of the title of the workshop - 'BOOK - Painting the Novel' was deliberately ambiguous, allowing room for the artists to include the physical presence of their book in their painting(s). 

 

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The relationship between books/text/words and painting is long and distinguished, from illustrations of the Bible and Greco-Roman mythology to Anselm Keifer's responses to the Kabbalah and Paul Celan's heart-wrenching poem 'Death Fugue' in the Margeurite and Shulamith paintings. However, during my research I was surprised to find how rare the novel is/was as a subject for serious painting. 

As always, the workshop began with an introductory talk, referencing paintings inspired by 'Don Quixote', Edgar Allen Poe, Kafka, Lewis Caroll,  Grimms Fairy Tales, 'Lord of the Flies', Albert Camus and inevitably 'The New York Trilogy'.  We also looked at illustration and at the magical trinity of calligraphy, poetry and painting in Chinese art. Ideas and methods were discussed and exchanged before the artists began their personal translation of those ideas into painting. An almost impossible task in 2 days but this commited & hard-working group of artists certainly delivered. 

 

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ARTIST'S COMMENTS

 

'Very exciting and challenging workshop.Loved the lecture with photographs at the start'  GRISELDA MUSSETTS

'The workshop brought the painter in me awake...it opened the soul - made liquid the heart'  KATHLEEN ALBERTER

'I learned a great deal and now feel I am beginning to understand abstract painting. Ashley is a very inspirational teacher and always has a way forward out of a difficult situation'  ANITA BONE

'The workshop opened me up to trying something I haven't done before - very exciting.'  TEDDY KEMPSTER

 

 

 

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An eye infection stops this painting moving forward but in this blurry world my vision for the painting is getting clearer...see/sea

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The first session - a big old storm....

 

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Scarlet against grey was always intended and is fundamental to the novel. Colour as sensation and symbolic. Intense concentration with the pouring and shaping of a mark that must not be still, that must 'appear' flowing and liquid. Risk: the mark is controllable only to a certain degree, by the liquidity of the paint-mix, the position of the body and canvas and the action, but the results are unpredictable. It is exhilarating to make a mark that can never be made again. We are now getting close to that tension between the subject-matter and the physicality of the paint that underpins the best of my work.  

It's a beautiful shape, curves like petals...I have found my 'unexpected'.

 

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With the intensity of red and its' fading out, and with the circle and symbol, my intention is for the viewer to read the painting from right to left - I hope I have succeeded. Only minor changes today : a sharpening of the rectangle and a new clarity and zip in the top right corner and a touch of soft pink around the canvas. We might be done. 

What a job the tilted red rectangle does. It is a specific shape/location from the novel, but it's the instinctive placement, colour, scale, purity and difference that makes it work for the painting,  A counter-movement with the circle and the lilac-shape that cuts across the red.

 

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 'Book 1' & 'Book 2' together. Exciting...onto 'Book 3' - a new novel and a new continent...I'm thinking blue...

 

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Enjoyed painting the curve and finding the colour- Phthalo Green and Rose Madder. The twisting-curve sits well on the canvas and brings spatial complexity and movement. The painting moves forward....I have to wait a few days for the paint to settle and be touch-dry before the next moves. I'll start 'Book 3' while I wait.

 


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Establishing the grey (significant) shape (significant).

 

 

 

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All I can say is that we are on a different continent to 'Book 1'...

 

PROCESS:

Read, select, brush, scrub, knife, pour, tilt, skim, cut, smear, photograph, Photoshop, write, pour (glass of wine), reflect, back to the novel...

 

 

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'A great painting is like ice on the stove. It is a shape riding on its own melting into matter and space; it never stops moving backwards and forwards'  

 

Another fabulous 2-day Freedom in Painting workshop in Aylesbury, working with the model and responding to the ideas, work and process of Frank Auerbach. In these workshops, I seem to be working through my artistic heroes: Peter Lanyon, Diebenkorn and now Auerbach, perhaps all leading up to Matisse next year....

An introductory talk on Thursday morning, reviewing Auerbach's career and the roots of his extreme methodology, was followed by an intense 2hr drawing session, including exercises where positive-destruction was encouraged and integral to force the elusive 'unexpected'. 

 

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This process of investigation continued into painting, working from a single natural lying-pose, sleeping, not staged, which of course presented particular difficulties and opportunities for the artists at each end of the bed.

On the workshop, the ten artists were not aiming for a pastiche of Auerbach but working towards the ambition of the development of a personal language and the freedom that comes from taking risks and discovery and doing whatever it takes to move the painting forwards. Over the next day and half there were major changes in all the paintings, some artists building up the paint like early Auerbach, others scraping back and starting again, none of the artists holding back in their search for truth.

 

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This was a repeat of the October workshop in Faversham - see here - but with a completely different group of artists and model, with a denser, darker group of paintings emerging. Although familiar with life-drawing, most of the artists hadn't painted the figure before....

A very special thank-you to Hana, our model, and to Antonia and Philip Glynne-Jones for their generous hospitality. 

 

 GALLERY 

 

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'Loved the whole experience! I was taught lots of new ways of making marks and manipulating paint. Also creating dynamic marks in a painting'  Jenny Watts

'The course was very helpful - I feel more enlightened and brave'  Brenda Hurley

'Very stimulating and challenging. Worked extremely hard - a great modelMitzi Delnevo

'Pushed my boundaries'  Jane Crane

 

 

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MONDAY p.m.

So what do we have? Where are we? The first painting in the new series '20 Books = 20 Paintings', a visual response to the crime-novels from around the world that I read incessantly, bringing that part of my life into my artistic life. The source novels will be not be revealed providing, I hope, an additional layer of intrigue for the viewer. If they wish, they have the option to become a detective themselves and follow the visual clues in the painting which lead to the identity of the novel. 

From my point of view - working within the criticality of every element working for the painting - the series provides the new challenge and discipline of what not to include in both the paintings and in my writing. A balance between making the identity of the place and novel too difficult or too easy to discover. In this piece, I held back an image because I didn't want to clutter the painting but also because it may have made recognition of the place too obvious. What I can tell you is that the palette is significant to the place as are the specifics of the grid(s). If you know my work, map-view and image jostle side by side and a colour-reversal is not uncommon....There are different scales in the three sections: the majesty of painting allows this to happen seamlessly. It is hierarchial: what is important in this painting? HINT: the novel is fiction built around a real event and the location of where the victim's body was found a focal-point. Two other important locations are integrated in the piece.

I talk too much about that side of things. This is a painting that works: beautiful colour, heat, ideas, intuition, precision and balance. I'm enjoying the realationship between the cut and painted lines of the 'candelabra' and the canvas-divide and the more subtle verticals on the right-side, almost a faded mirror-image, reflecting the symmetry I was looking for.  I would happily put it alongside 'Lakeshore Ltd' (below). I think Denise has come around - she was very fond of the painting on Friday.

 

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And the mark was purple - to counteract the rigidity that was creeping in.  Central line softened....better: the 'right' weight.

 

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 MONDAY a.m

A new yellow around the 'candelabra', a strengthening of the lines.  Also a re-introduction of the horizontal - perhaps it should be more of a suspicion of a line...glaze over? It's a mark away from being resolved...keep looking.

 

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SUNDAY

 Not sure this works. cutting into the paint has made the surface lumpybumpy. I miss the purity and freedom of the central paint from yesterday. Also tried a painted line, picking up the green - no good. Don't know if the image?/candelabra?/tree? is too weak, too strong, or even in the right place. It has to be in the painting but just doesn't have the presence I'm after.  Impatience: I'm tired, I went in the studio after working this morning. It might look better in daylight. 

 

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SATURDAY 4PM

Now we're painting! Positive destruction, simplification...a frenzy of colour-mixing and pouring/skimming...suggestions of cityscape...now the option to move the candelara off-centre into the flat yellow, precisely drawn in paint, a slightly smaller scale.  Black or cut-back to the green or even to the yellow underneath? When the candelabra was centered below, the dividing line was hidden and the idea of a book was lost and the painting too graphic and flat. 

Looking back on the previous versions, the main horizontal was always too high.The paint needs to settle down but I think we're getting close.

 

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 SATURDAY

There's the contrast...and the crisis. The only positive with these moves the blue rectangle on the right.

 

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 FRIDAY

Only a short session possible today. We have orange and scarlet(t). The painting is opening up now - lots of possibilities. Denise and Faye have been speculating about location and what's in the painting - Faye saw a bottle, Denise a tree - maybe... Denise recognised the palette from 'Lakeshore Ltd (& Jon's Barn')', below, from the 'A m e r i c a s c a p e s'  series. It's always been a favourite with its' startling colour and the confident drawing of of the Great Lakes, appearing vertical. Also the idea of having both the map-view and painting of Chesapeake Bay (propped against the barn) in the same piece. It's good to see this painting again- it shows what a long way to go there is with the new piece which lacks contrast and precision.

 

 

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THURSDAY

Disruptions to the flat picture-plane, the vertical-lines at the top almost a receding-space.  A twist of space.  Adjustments of colour, line & scale...liking the palette and colour proportion. The 'candelabra' will take centre-stage...red-herring?

In comparison to the flatness of the version below which looks like a fragment of something else, like wallpaper, the painting is already starting to feel self-contained, with the large green-shape - silhouette? - framed by yellow, and visual journeys within and around the piece.

 

 

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WEDNESDAY

The new series begins: '20 Books = 20 Paintings'.  (See Blogpost: 'An Announcement'- the next series')

This novel was always on the list.  Scrubbed Indian Yellow, dark yellow jigsaw-shape and lines. Already questions: is yellow significant?  Image or location?...already jostling. Sun? Candelabra? Subversions of scale...symmetry/duality...all clues to the identity of the novel.  Perhaps I have said too much.  This writing already different: what not to say?

Like in a chess game, I can visualise the painting a few moves ahead but not beyond. After all, the idea of a painting, a pre-determined painting, is a fake painting; it doesn't factor in the joy of painting, of discovery & chance, sensations of colour against colour, subtleties, surface, shifts in ideas and design.

Lets see where this goes, with more paint to work with. Green-grey next:colour-hum.