Paintings out and home again

Two of my paintings got a bit of fresh air and exercise last week, going into a group exhibition. This one is run every couple of years as a fund raiser for the fistula clinic in Ethiopia, a very worthy cause, with all the commission going to support the work done there repairing women’s lives. One painting was sold, ‘Fecundity’, the first one shown below.

I read a post recently about the difficulty of choosing titles for artworks – they need to sum up what you feel about the work without necessarily influencing the thought processes of the viewer – I feel there has to be some room for them to add their own sense to the work. Some titles can be off-putting, you can realise the artist saw the work very differently from you. Jokey ones have their place (occasionally) but can demean the work, and long ones are just a nuisance, as I discovered years ago when I called a print ‘A Very Large Sunflower in Front of a Very Small Window’. Try putting that in the space allowed on an entry form! So now I favour very short, ideally one word titles, that try to sum up my feelings. There are times when I have changed the title of a work between one exhibition and another because the new one seemed more appropriate. The second painting below was originally called ‘Flamenco Heart’ but is now ‘The Bullfighter’. It just seemed more suitable.

Both are oil on canvas, 45 x 45 cm.

Fecundity_web bullfighter_web



A friend of mine loves to find imagery in other things – in clouds, in marks on the footpath, in people’s artwork. This is something I resist – I can cope with seeing a bird in the clouds, or a face, but I generally actively avoid it, especially in artwork. I prefer to find more intangible sensations, a feeling or impression, an emotion, rather than an object. So I have been trying to work out why I feel such resistance, when so many people love to do it. The answer seems to be that to me an unintended object is an intrusion – if the painting is a still life, to find an old man with one long leg and a feather on his head somewhere within in it, the feeling is of a painting spoilt rather than enhanced, and forever after I will only see that old man. Today I did an experiment and looked at some of my own paintings, deliberately looking for other objects, and to my horror I could see faces in nearly all my flowers. I had to stop! So, when my friend (who is an inspiring artist and teacher, I have received endless invaluable support and encouragement from her over many years) gave me a stick to draw because she could see a dragon in it from one side and a rhinoceros from another, I was a little dubious. But I loved all the nobbles and cracks and the interesting texture of the surface, so accepted the challenge. And here it is – it doesn’t really look like a stick any more (I have to exaggerate forms that appear), but nor is it a dragon or rhino. I can see distinct animal forms, which I thought were obvious, but the people I have shown it to have found eyes and legs in places that I didn’t know were there! So, one thing I have learned from this – nearly everyone will find creatures in a stick, but they are all different ones.

(It is drawn with several grades of pencil, on hot pressed paper, 30 x 42 cm)


Low hanging fruit

A different approach to my oil painting, this work is done on primed mdf board. (What does mdf stand for – I have no idea, but it is a smooth surfaced composite board.) A friend gave me a recipe for a base coat to use instead of gesso – this is a mix of whiting (no idea exactly what that is either, but it is an inexpensive white powder bought from hardware stores, I think you can whiten your tennis shoes with it) and neutral toned acrylic paint. A few coats of this, well sanded between applications gives a lovely working surface, not as intrusive as working on white gesso. The original inspiration for the image came from a tiny scrap from a gardening magazine, which has taken on its own life. So, another don’t know, this time what the fruit may be, but I don’t think it really matters. It is 30 x 30 cm.