Monthly Archives: April 2012

Testing Ground

Long time since I last posted here. I have done various bits of work myself and attended two courses at Leicester Print Workshop (one on Mezzotint ad one on Collagraphs), all of which I ought to have blogged about but simply haven’t got around to it. I will try to do better from now on.

Major workload for the past couple of months has been preparing for the Surface Gallery Volunteers show. Those who volunteer at the gallery get an opportunity to show off their own work during an annual exhibition. The range of talents amongst the volunteers is huge and, as 17 of us are showing work, this ought to be a really great show. Many thanks to Colette Griffin and the Exhibitions team for organising it all.

When I found out about the opportunity, I figured I’d show a few of the prints I’ve produced over the past few months. Then the team suggested a theme for the show: Testing Ground (see the website for more on this). I decided to take up this challenge and work out a mode of painting that suited me. I knew that it would have to be abstract painting: I’m really not into anything figurative.

I began with the idea of exploring my own location — here, in Kegworth, in the East Midlands. I looked at where I live using Google maps satellite images and the surrounding area, translated these into abstract shapes and marked out these shapes using acrylic pens then filled in the shapes using acrylic paint. This was interesting but just too forced. I then used torn and cut pictures from magazines collaged onto the paper, drew around them in pen and then painted over and around these — still too ‘realistic’.

The approach that did seem to produce results I could be satisfied with was to layer and build up the torn and cut out shapes into a sort of abstract collage and then work over them with paint so that the colours and shapes painted would work with and against the underlying shapes. I had moved from following the ‘sense of location’ idea into what I hoped was a pure abstract approach. I expected that I needed to work from the idea in the first place but also needed to abandon it.

Testing Ground series #1 Testing Ground series #2

I was really enjoying the challenge of painting abstracts: it really felt as though this was the way I needed to work (in painting, at least).The above are the first two of the paintings that I produced that I thought worth keeping. #1, on the left (I’m not going to try naming the paintings), was a matter of adding colours and shapes over the collaged pieces, building it all up, until the painting seemed to come together. The same approach with #2 didn’t work. I’d tried a looser approach to the painted shapes and it wasn’t cohering. In the end, I painted over a couple of areas with yellow and scraped parts of that back and over other parts of the painting and, with a couple more scraped shapes, it suddenly made sense (well, it did to me: I have no idea what anyone else will make of any of this stuff).

Testing Ground series #3 Testing Ground series #4

I then came under the influence of some real abstract artists, attending the wonderful The Indiscipline of Painting at Warwick Arts Centre Mead Gallery. I was especially taken by the Karin Davie piece, Symptomania no. 7, 2008. I wanted to try and create something similar. I started from the same type of collaged shapes, geometric ones overpainted in red in #3, on the left, and torn, organic shapes overpainted in green in #4. With #3, I then tried overpainting using brush strokes but could not get the same flow of paint that Davie achieves. Maybe it is acrylic vs oil but more likely it is her years of experience and brilliance. I continued adding layers of different coloured swirls but it really did look rubbish. I then returned to my usual approach of painting colours and shapes over the piece until it came together into something I could stop messing with.

The second attempt at this, #4, on the right above, I tried using card to scrape coloured swirls over the underpainting and shapes. This produced a better looking painting but still not one I was happy with. There was no depth to the painting. In the end I loaded a larger piece of card with multiple colours and scraped this over the painting. I liked the effect this made, especially where the card ran over ridges from the collaged shapes. This produced a texture that I thought worth keeping.

In the end, I wasn’t totally happy with these two paintings; maybe because they were so different from what I intended. I nearly left them out of the exhibition but the two guys at the gallery who helped me hang them actually picked these out as their favourites. Que sera.

Testing Ground series #5 Testing Ground series #6

With the next two paintings, I took a more linear, structured approach. #5, on the left above, was an attempt to play with the approach I’d been taking so far. Instead of collaging shapes onto the paper, I drew them on using acrylic ink pens, having first masked out a grid of rectangles (the grid may hark back to my obsession with the Kandinsky circles; see here and here).

I then brushed over these rectangles with acrylic. I loved the way the different colours interact with the ink. I tried to get a range of brush stroking going along with the different colours used, trying to balance them out. I’m pretty happy with the result. One day, I want to go back to this approach and explore some other combinations of inked shapes, colours and brush strokes but, for this series, I wanted to push on to another approach.

This time, with #6 on the right above, I painted the paper in a lime green, to give a clean starting base. Over this I laid a set of masking lines to create set shapes. I then painted swirls of umber and ochre over it all, and peeled back the masking lines. I then applied a different set of masking lines and used card with several colours on it to drag over the painting. It was okay but still not working as well as I wanted it to.

I’d been making some notes about my working practices and thought processes during this project (not as much as I’d intended from the start – what a surprise). Re-reading these brought back the ‘sense of location’ ideas I’d had at the beginning and I started thinking about how landscapes are appropriated and abused, how people will take areas of virgin land because it is clean and new and then mess it up to conform to their own idea of what a nice piece of land should be. That gave me the idea of how to bring the last painting together: I masked out some simple squares over those parts of the painting that still had ‘virgin’ green underpainting and blanked those parts out with white paint. This made the painting work for me.

Anyway, that is it for my works being shown in the exhibition. The idea of the exhibition is that we should continue to work and add to our pieces during the exhibition. I’m not sure whether I’ll do that as I’d marked April down as my poetry writing month. If I do add to my work, it will probably be in the form of collagraphs, but who knows.

I hope you can get to the Surface Gallery to see the show sometime. The Private View is tomorrow night, 6-8pm; all welcome. I’ll take my camera along with me tomorrow night and post about the show afterwards.