New Painting: a Commission

 

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As a former art teacher, I’ve always been interested in art history but during the last few years I’ve had an opportunity to appreciate works of art in a more considered way. Firstly I looked at Renaissance works when I wrote a manuscript about that period of art and then I examined William Blake’s work as I attempted to write about his illustrations for the Book of Job. A few months ago I formed an art appreciation group with the purpose of visiting galleries and talking about the art there. It is much easier to admire the work of established artists than create your own but perhaps my immersion in world-renowned art works has nudged me in the direction of my own creativity.

Perhaps the foregoing facts started something in my subconscious. However, this painting of mine was not initially my own idea; a friend bought a canvas in a charity shop which was half coloured in a pinky-crimson paint. She wondered if I might like to make a painting of it! I decided to take up the challenge and see if I could incorporate the crimson colour as sky in a landscape. I would not usually choose a palette of reds and pinks but it is good to think outside of your comfort zone in art as well as in life. My friend wanted the painting for her bedroom.

The idea came to me to reference other artists in my painting; particularly to use well known motifs. I chose Cezanne and his Mont Sainte Victoire which he painted many times. The other motif of the house came from Paul Klee’s small painting, Arctic Thaw which is not as well known. Cezanne is often considered the father of modernism and I have always found Klee’s work delightfully whimsical. Apart from this starting point I had no idea how the painting would develop or turn out. It is a mistake to over-plan paintings and so I incorporated accidental shapes and colours as I worked using a large brush to begin with. I started with the Cezanne mountain so that had to be planned in so far as the shape would have to be recognisable to the viewer. The strange Klee house was also painted with the correct proportions. The rest of the painting developed more spontaneously – I’m not sure where the palm tree came from but I like the idea of combining disparate objects – do palm trees grow in mountainous regions? Um, maybe, but mine isn’t a particular species anyway, it is more generic and stylised with its nod to cubism. I added the horse rider to suggest a narrative.

I chose greens and yellows to act as complementary colours to the reds and pinks. I kept the tonal values close to emphasise the pastel mood of the painting. To use a musical analogy the painting is more an adagio than a scherzo. Paintings are often compared to music – the composition, colours, shapes and tones have their equivalents in music. I like to balance positive space with negative space and you will see how the latter relate to the former if you imagine the composition as abstract. If you can invert your screen you can also see the relation of shapes to each other better.

Looking at a paintings can also be compared to listening to music. There should be an indefinable aesthetic feeling of pleasure or an ‘aha’ moment when you take time to really look at a painting. Perhaps the computer screen is not always the best medium for this lingering appreciation.

I’m reasonably happy with the finished painting and enjoyed the process which involved making intuitive decisions about shapes, colours, tones and composition.

The Blind Girl

I wrote this for another poetry website.

John Everett Millais’ The Blind Girl

First of all I sat for the blind girl. It was dreadful suffering, the sun poured in through the window. I had a brown cloth over my forehead which was some relief but several times I was as sick as possible and nearly argued. Another day I sat outside in a hay field, and when the face was done Everett scratched it out; he wasn’t pleased with it and complained about the showers.

Smoke from Everett’s pipe got in my eyes so I had to shut them. He told me to keep them shut. He told me not to see the beggar boy on the toll road; he told me not to see the three crows feeding on a dead rabbit or the adder by his own left boot. I laughed and said I could still see with my eyes shut. I could smell the acrid smoke rising from a factory chimney; I could hear the donkeys coughing in the field; I could hear the boy weeping. He told me to be blind.

The concertina was lent by Mr Pringle who had a daughter who had died. It was hers. He said we could keep it as it would never be played again. I smoothed my orange skirt and rested the concertina on my lap doing my best to be blind. It was difficult to keep my eyes shut on such a beautiful day. Everett said there was a double rainbow so I had to look. Everett wasn’t pleased as he was doing the face again. I stretched out my right hand and touched a wild flower growing in the grass. I knew it was a harebell as my little finger fitted inside just as if it was a thimble.

The next day the weather seeped into our drawing room and the double rainbow arched over the carpet. I had my eyes open and could see a painted lady fluttering at the window pane. I could hear concertina music softly playing.

[Part-found prose poem: Source/ Effie Millais’ journals]