Art, Identity & Place

How wild places, deep time and archaeology inform my contemporary art process


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Selfies about Allegory and Apotheosis

Background

Allegory played a central part in traditional oil painting as it allowed artists to create imagery that was about reflecting their new upwardly mobile status from artisan to professional, after the ending of Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. For example in his Self- Portrait 1500, Durer made an allusion to an almost divine status and solemnly modelled himself on the Vera Icon or true image.

 

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On the other hand Artemisia Gentileschi partly referred to Ripa’s iconography of the personification of the Allegory of painting ( based on the Ancient Greek goddess Athena ) and modelled herself on a revision of this particular representation. Her version showed a figure at work minus the gag that was an accompanying emblem of the allegory of painting figure. It alluded to painting as the silent art in comparison to poetry. The depiction of the head and highlighted brow and eyes referred to the state of vision and the idea of the rational, whereas the hands often referred to the senses and the irrational, as though the mind and body were split in two. Artemisia Gentileschi in this painting titled Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1630 appears to show how both mind and body interact.

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 Explanation

I have been influenced by her revisionist approach to establishment Baroque iconography because although it occurred centuries ago it still cast a long shadow into the 20th and 21st centuries in the ways that women are still  represented and portrayed. I think I will call this series of small oil and mixed media works on paper  The Selfie as an Allegory of Vision : Homage to Artemisia Gentileschi.

I tried to depict aspects of different thought processes about identity, painting and place. For example the “Light is in the Blood” part of four titles refer to the complexity and interactions between sight, memory and action. For me its as though a mental image at the front of my mind flows somehow into my body in different stages that each require a double back into mental reflection, after and from which the flow of blood transports a random and often messy mental image into my hand and fingers.

When I refer to places like “Karijini” and “Lake Mungo”apart from documentation, my depictions are about how I feel on a visceral level, as both part of the landscape and at the same time being mentally dwarfed by the appreciation of my place in time, walking on a living ancient planet. It is as though the landscape watches.

The objects  “mirror” and “window” refer to different ways of looking. We only see a mirror image of ourselves and not as others see us. Which memory of that image or selected aspect of it ends up on the canvas and during the memory transition what else enters this mental space;  how much information from other sources can can I let in?  The use of perspective in painting is sometimes referred to as if we are looking through a window but we are also apart of what it is that we look at.

In the two paintings about the mobile phone I used its shape to resemble an ancient Minoan/Ariadnian column so that I combined references to ancient and modern imagery,  reaching back and then reaching forward simultaneously as a way to avoid constructing stereotypical female imagery.

The topic of self-portraiture is centuries old and representations often in a traditional style. I like to combine bits of ‘realism or naturalism’ with abstracted elements and gestural paint application as I have absorbed aspects of some 20th century “isms” and combine linear drawn mark making with areas of impasto, thin and thick paint layering and visual elements taken from several periods of art history. So much to choose from.

 

References

Garrard, Mary. 1989. Artemisia Gentileschi: the Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art. Princeton : New Jersey

Moxey, Keith. 1994. “Hieronymus Bosch and the “World Upside Down”. In Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey, eds., Visual Culture : Images and Interpretation, 104 – 140. New England : Hanover and London

Carol P. Christ is my source for the term “Ariadnian”.


Artwork underpainting continues

This small mixed media is “finished ” and when it dries very minor tonal gradation may be require in the background.

The underpaintings following need radical alteration notably ‘underpainting 8’ which is about halfway to getting there. The next image also needs more focus and the last one still requires more structure in the composition.

I was sure the “finished” image was going to give me problems but it was the last image thought to be a breeze earlier that now looks tricky.


Artwork underpaintings struggle stage

This is always the push and pull stage: erase, reintroduce line, change the meaning, get a bit precious, attack with turpentine rag and wipe off image. Although these are small studies measuring about 50×35 cm they often challenge me more than larger works.

The journey from inspiration to creation is always tricky. For instance I’m inspired by the idea that the viewer is not a distant observing  subject capturing an object in paint or any other medium. I try not to produce an aesthetic of possession or of total control. In a way I feel observed by the terrain/land/environment/geology/geomorphology through which I pass and that my creative process mirrors that of the earths’.

Ideas like tectonic plates  slide under and over each other, melt, coalesce into different thought patterns. Images and ideas can well up unexpectedly and fracture safe, formulaic and comfortable assumptions and techniques. For me it is like a mirroring of creativity and the processes can be convoluted, unexpected, annoying and frustrating as “failures” often hold the seeds of new ideas and point the way to new directions and paths for further exploration.

For example the last 2 images have been a source of frustration as I was trying to combine two different pictorial formats, that is, how cupules in rocks produced 50,000 years ago and used as depression into which eyes were painted could relate to our pictorial conventions. Neither the idea, composition or technique has been resolved and it requires attention but I feel it is part of something further down the track.

The source of this rock art eye imagery was included in a lecture by the Kimberley Foundation.


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Artwork and underpainting progress

The under paintings gradually take shape in unexpected directions.

Some minor alterations were required to lighten tones and enhance contrasts. Feeling ambivalent about the sombre colours. I want more vibrant intense colour. And on reflection I prefer some of the underpainting to the ‘finished’ image. Back to the drawing board. I wanted to express some of the reflections of being immersed in the gorges in the Pilbara. Untitled 3 looks more like the sands of Lake Mungo and the feeling often experienced in the desert where wind and sand appear to erase evidence of existence. (In fact fossilised footprints 40,000 years + old were found imprinted into what was originally a bed of clay).


Sketch and Underpainting stage for Untitled Commission

Preliminary studies of Point Roadknight

This commissioned painting in its very early stages started out as a seascape depiction of erosion at Point Roadknight but something in me had become dissatisfied and I felt like a change of subject matter. I turned the canvas on its side into vertical position and imagined how I could retain aspects of the original subject and combine it with an emergent figurative shape that seemed to float as a ghostly indistinct form. The idea figures merging into and out of landforms such as those in Begin with Sand, Silt and Water seems suitable now only instead of those done with the Golden Spike in the Flinders Ranges I would depict aspects of Point Roadknight.

These sketches are the preliminary studies done several months ago before I began this commission where I have been given free rein.

Art titled Contemplating the Golden Spike 1, 2013, 55x75 cm, gouache, charcoal and pastel from Begin with Sand, Silt and Water


Artwork, preparatory sketches and photographs

These sketches and photographs were preliminaries for the body of work titled Begin with Sand, Silt and Water, 2012 – 2013,  and were a part of my process before and during painting, a part of memorising and reconnecting with original feelings on site.

There is a slideshow on my Home Page where you can see how the paintings turned out.


Revisit sketchbook from Kakadu and Nitmiluk continued

From sketchbook to work on paper

My sketchbook images were reference for larger images mainly because I usually capture energy and movement in the initial mark making. Several images done on folded Fabriano print making paper meant that being absorbent the fibers would retain my application of pastel staining. Large pastel stick grated with my Stanley box cutter knife stained and bled into damp paper but also mixed in water like a slurry. Because the paper was tough and absorbent I made lines into which colour accumulated by gouging into the paper with the blunt side of my knife. For example:

Flood plain at Anbangbang Billabong

Sketch in ink pen from Anbangbang Billabong

Sketch in ink pen from Anbangbang Billabong

Two parts of this landscape captured my attention. Firstly the hole in one end of the background rock formation that reminded me of an eye. It felt as though we were being watched from afar. The other part was the dry billabong where triangle-shaped debris made of dry vegetation caught on sticks and branches. Swept into these shapes by a raging torrent in the previous wet season, they scattered across the flood plain . The other element captured was heat haze on the plain with blue sky. The pastel image with jagged lines resembling teeth may have been influenced sub-consciously by warnings to watch out for crocodiles.