Thursday, June 9, 2016

In Days of Yore

‘Happy Days’ 12”x12” Casein on Panel
A casein painting of a mounted skeleton. This reminds me strongly of my Foundation days at the long departed Banbury College of Art & Design. Years ago Banbury was the premier Foundation course in Oxfordshire - naturally it had to be closed, as all such traditional institutions are, to make way for a “University” that teaches at a far lower level. Ah well, that’s how it goes - practical monotechnic to multidisciplinary literary blancmange. 

Casein is a water-based paint that uses dairy protein as its binder; having many characteristics in common with both gouache and oils. It can be thinned to washes, or used for thick impasto. However, once it has “cured” for a few weeks it is incredibly tough and water-resistant; there are casein paintings from 9,000 years ago that have survived. Casein used to be very widely used for all sorts of painting, especially as it is so damed tough (my father once spent months blow-torching off 150 year-old casein paint from some window sashes - nothing else worked).

Every time I see a mounted skeleton I think of all the hours we used to spend observing, studying and drawing them back in Foundation college (we drew a heck of a lot of skeletons of all types). It was one of the chief tasks that we undertook, alongside life-drawing & painting, anatomy, and colour theory. We only did a small amount of Art History (perhaps 10% of our time) and no Art Criticism, as it really is’t needed to be an artist - and in many ways makes it actually much harder to be one at all.

Anyway, skeletons bring up happy memories for me. Old fashioned art education based upon observation, traditional skills and practice… and the parties were obscenely wild.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Finished Double Portrait

‘Double Dan’ 30”x38” Oil on canvas
The finished “double portrait” of Dan that I started a while ago. This has been worked up and fleshed-out in what could be called an “indirect alla prima” technique. 

Dan is posing, showing off his images of himself, but the completed painting does actually capture a side of him, I feel - that of his “entrepreneurial” character. He's a "Dude".

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Talented Friends

10”x8” Paper negative photographic print
Not strictly totally a painting made by me this post… although there is one of mine in it.

This photographic image is one of ‘The Paper Portrait Sessions’ taken by the very talented Ross den Otter.

As part of the Vancouver Capture Photography Festival, Ross sent out an open invitation to the public to visit his studio and have a large format portrait made. He took 40 images in just over 4 hours - which is pretty quick going.

Ross built his camera obscura as a box 4 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet, made of 2×2’s, wood screws and a few layers of tar paper... so just a tad smaller than a typical Vancouver condo. He used a a WWII era 14 inch Cooke Aviar type lens bolted to the construction. He actually took the photo standing within the camera itself (which also served as his darkroom in which he processed the large format paper negatives - although there was no running water in it).

The photo Ross took had an 10"×8" paper negative, capturing a portrait of me holding a portrait I painted of Ross. I’ve done a couple of paintings of Ross over the years, as I’ve known for almost a decade - longer than I’ve actually been in Vancouver. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Sitting in The Studio

‘Britt’ 36”x28” Oil on canvas
An oil brunaille portrait "in progress" that I'm currently working on of my girlfriend. This was taken a while ago, as I have already moved quite a way along the path of painting it up in colour.

More than anything this was intended as an exercise in lighting à la many 18th century English portraits - dappled woodland light and/or multiple light sources, that sort of thing. It’ll be interesting anyway.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Out of the Dark - Double Portrait

‘Double Dan’ 30”x38” Oil on canvas
The start of a double portrait of one of the many studio inhabitants that I know from the ACME building. This is again the early stages in the work with just the umber underpainting laid in.

I haven’t quite decided at the moment on the background, so have left it pretty open and flexible. I might put a suggested dark view in or, more likely, simply use a nondescript deep tonal colouration to fill in the area.

The whole image is, at the sitter’s request, slightly mysterious with a slight whiff of “edge” as he potentially might use it as a cover for an album of his recordings. But if not, it's still worth the doing.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The ‘Envoy Extraordinary’ from Persia

'Abu’l Hasan' 35”x27½” Oil on canvas
In 1810 one of London’s most prominent celebrities was Mirza Abu’l Hasan (later given the title “Khan”), the ‘Envoy Extraordinary’, who was dispatched by the Shah of Persia Fath Ali to the Court of King George III. He had arrived in London in 1809 trying to negotiate Britain’s involvement against Russian involvement in the Caucasus. He wasn’t ultimately successful due to shifting politics caused by the ongoing Napoleonic wars, but he cut an exotic and dashing figure in London’s high society.

Sir Thomas Lawrence whipped off this portrait of him in just four two-hour sittings in June 1810. Lawrence had to be especially quick as the painting had immediately to go back to Persia with Mirza Abu’l Hasan.

This small copy might be another glue-size tempera painting - they are fun to do and can easily be executed at home on my kitchen table before I go into town to the studio. However, I might just do it in oil, the main drawback of tempera is the difficulty of overpainting due to its tendency to "lift" - it's only at the drawing stage, so I have options.

Lawrence's original is simply gobsmacking in its painterly virtuosity, I feel one of the greatest English portraits ever made (although of a Persian), and have made a point of  seeing it every time it has been on public display. It simply reeks “Englishness” in painting - a Scotsman, such as Raeburn, nor a Frenchman such as David or Ingres, would not have approached the task in quite the same way. It might be the slight “staginess”, or the understatedly confident poise that Lawrence invokes, but it is undoubtedly “English” in its every sensibility.

'Envoy Extraordinary' 12”x9” Glue tempera on canvas

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fishy Alchemists

‘Paracelsus’ 12”x9” Glue-size tempera on canvas
The finished fish-glue tempera painting of Paracelsus.

Being a glue-size work it does have a different aesthetic to an oil painting. For one thing overpainting is extremely difficult, subsequent applications very easily lift off previous paint.

Because of this, in many ways it behaves rather like fresco secco in the method that the image is most easily built up in "slashes" and "dabs". As a painting medium it also has some similarities to buon fresco in that it can lift off the support as buon fresco can off its wet plaster surface. However, once dry it's pretty sturdy, and with a modern varnish it's permanent.

It's hard to really get across just how famous Paracelsus was in his time, he really was one of the first great "modern" medical doctors that broke away from the previous Medieval concepts of the body. Paracelsus’ Latin motto is "Alterius non sit qui suus esse potest" which means "Let no man belong to another who can belong to himself." However, it's a slightly clumsy rendering and could also be rendered as "A man that knows himself can never be another's slave".