Coming back to painting after a gap in time
As my husband was dying I realized I needed a fresh start, a new way to look at painting. I turned away from oils and realism, away from techniques and rules I was familiar with. One thing I knew was that I wanted to work with the mediums available in acrylics, which produced such vibrant and translucent effects. I was looking for direction when I found two strong influences. Firstly, I was blown away when I saw the spontaneous drawings made by my granddaughter Violet ((age 4-6 at the time) — her sense of proportion and choice of colour. (Yes, I’m aware that it took Picasso 50 years to draw like a child.) Secondly, I was drawn to the work of Jack Whitten, the American painter. As it happened, when I discovered him, I had just found, through my own trial and error, how paint is in fact a layer of skin, and as such, could be separated, manipulated and, ultimately, carved into. My very first exploratory painting was an adult interpretation of a child’s sketch while thinking of each colour section as a layer of skin.
I have progressed since then. With each painting I am learning something new and am finding my own rules as to how to make a painting. My focus is to explore and expand the way acrylic mediums lend themselves to manipulation and reveal unpredictable potential. Increasingly I am finding other mediums from our environment that can be incorporated into the canvas, including scraps and residue from previous work. I am interested in establishing my own vocabulary of textures and effects, ranging from tile-like or glassy surfaces, to soft velvety, or muscular, stone-rough ones. Some techniques lead to almost jewel-like effects, and there are a few paintings I think of as jewellery for walls. There are no rules, except for the requirements of balance, a consistency of quality, and, of course, beauty. I aim to distribute weight and colour in a way that there is no one focal point: there is pleasure to be found when the eye wanders, looking for a place to rest. It rests only when it sees the painting as a whole.
I think my work is strong and it’s innovative, but I no longer think in terms of meaning, as I did when painting with oils. I’m not sure what my purpose is other than to produce something of quality. I’ve been happy thinking of John Cage’s statement about his music: "I have nothing to say and I’m saying it!” But of course he WAS saying something— like breaking from the crowd, questioning meaning and it’s importance, standing your ground, the liberty to explore…. Come to think of it, some of that applies to me as well. I am deliberately staying away from ”meaningful” events and issues of the day. That’s not because of laziness, but rather the opposite…I’ve lived a long life and seen a lot and am tired of the same social and political issues coming up but in different dress. I was born into WWII, lived in refugee camps, emigrated twice and ….. the point being, how long do I want to prolong and express my personal political outrage, especially when other artists are doing it so well? Anyway, I have deliberately turned away from all that and have decided to explore what happens when I’m no longer engaged with “meaning”, but interested in beauty, harmony and what makes a painting work.
Nevertheless, meaning keeps inserting itself. That’s how our brains work, like it or not. A painting may begin with a few exploratory lines or blobs of colour, and then the internal dialogue begins, and goes on and on while the work progresses. In truth, each painting could have a dozen titles based on internal urgencies and feelings as things take shape. There’s a wonderful energy in manipulating mediums which keeps the artist alert and engaged. As the paint flows, I find shades of old heroes—a bit of Paul Klee, a bit of Hundertwasser, Matisse or Klimt… and sometimes colours pull me in the direction of old fairy tales from childhood. When patches of “skin” are scattered about in the studio I’m reminded of my mother’s worktable when she was a dressmaker, a bodice here, a sleeve there. Sometimes I simply give in to the urge to give a recognizable shape to the work. Meaning comes not only from the superficial final image, but from the struggle to find coherence and beauty.