Monday, February 13, 2017

Leafing through the Archive 3

Inspiring Innovation in Composition

A response to the requests for the earlier classes in composition of leaf paintings

Much of the work in the Kew classes and the Masterclasses at the Cipriani in Venice and the USA were focused upon bringing in the use of innovative compositions that were suitable for various plant elements. 

These were first shown in earlier versions of this blog in 2005.

The studies of leaves, broadly painted in watercolour, were a case in point and were painted to encourage the students to free up their working process and think more laterally about how a leaf could be displayed as a solitary icon in a composition. 

The light of each leaf also enters from beyond the edge of the paper and this was indicative of the way this element could be seen as emerging from another place and space.

The bringing of a leaf into the composition from the outer edge of the paper was the most popular modus operandi and students delighted in what could be achieved with this simple approach using both light and composition.

The use of this method can be found in art history, and is distinctive as a pictorial element growing inwards from the edge of the paper. 

This is separate and different from the creation of an element that is growing outward from the composition, and beyond the edge of the paper. 

The students were asked to fine tune their understanding, and for many this was a moment of realisation in how light is used in composition, as part of the composition.

This had never been pointed out to them before. I have often been asked since why I would give it away so freely. I leave you all dear readers, to answer this for yourselves.

Importantly, the leaf has been displayed not to appear as being cut by the edge, but as moving into the composition and towards the observer. 

The students were asked to think about this as an idea, seeing it in light of their own awareness of how they wanted the viewer to react to the work. 

This way of bringing in elements has perhaps not surprisingly become a major influence on many botanical painters since that time. We used what has been used before in art history, and made it work in a larger format, taking something old and bringing in renewal.

This idea was to foster an approach that looks at the work in a brand new way.

It simply reveals a window of observation to a part of the leaf, without creating a cliche.

Here are a couple of the freely painted and large compositions, done for fun for the students, showing how this could be achieved. 

Vine Leaf in Noon Light 
Study work
watercolour on paper
90 x 60 cm

Water Lily Nymphaea 'Fosita'
Kew Lily Pond 2002

Rapid Study Work 60 x 30 cm

Sketching in the Field  Workshop at Kew 2002

Monstera deliciosa

Shirley Sherwood Collection

This elemental composition using a leaf, can again be seen on the right side of the composition of the Monstera deliciosa commissioned by Shirley Sherwood in 1997.  

It shows the leaf emerging into the composition from the right side, beyond the edge of the paper. The sense it offers is a kind of paradox of awareness, where the viewer is not sure where they themselves are placed. 
This work is on currently on show at the British Artists exhibition at Kew.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Leafing through the Archive 2

Blossom Arc in Outer Dark
Number One 2006

From the Space Like Black Velvet Series 2006-10

Carbon and charcoal over watercolour on paper 
150 x 150 cms
Private Collection

The medium of the above drawing is charcoal over watercolour, which I began developing in 1974. I have used the carbon over washes in both monochrome and colour, and it was for this technique that I won the Chelsea College of Art Drawing Prize in 1975.

This post is a response to the many well meaning emails I have so far received, which have informed me that my large leaf paintings, 
the writing on the ideas of Beauty, and the techniques of using charcoal over watercolour, have been copied. This is a gentle response to you all in appreciation of your concern. And yes, I am aware that art history is peppered with stolen ways of working. 

The purity of my work is probably not affected by attempts to copy, because it originates from an attitude that cannot be stolen. My work has a meditative focus as a part of a reflective way of life. However, I do recognise that this kind of harmless attitude may sometimes cause me to be vulnerable to those artists who may have more predatory notions. I do tend to rise above the problems of being plagarised. 

The botanical aspect of my work and the teaching it has encompassed has always involved an aspect of service. My background in fine art has enabled me to see the plant world in a way that is charmed and imbued with the love of nature in a mystical way that is separate from science. I observe not with a scientific view but with that of a mystic who is in love with the natural world. I have often said how much I enjoy scientific illustration, and I see my works as the balance and a partner to that.

You will all know that I have always wanted my work to speak for itself, and that I have no need to glamorise the process. Photos of me are an occasional interest, and one I hope you enjoy. As a child in the 1960's, I was one of the Kodak Children, who formed a stable of photogenic kids that advertised Kodak film, and the Box Brownie Cameras. This was a spectacularly fun aspect of my childhood and it gave me great insight and ability to observe the pitfalls this can create for anyone in pursuit of 15 minutes of fame. And so, my attitude is very different from the face book generation, as I am focusing ahead of it.

I have also recently been asked why I have no interest in painting decaying or diseased plants. Why would I want to introduce this aspect of plant life to Collectors homes or into a museum? For me beauty is in renewal, and in the force of life that is ever evolving. Decay and disease in plant matter is not the message I want to convey, I'm looking instead toward renewal and evolution. The Imperial War Museum is a sobering and serious place that I recommend anyone interested in depicting death and decay to visit. The War Artists are those who have really seen and depicted death and decay in its most profound moments.

Thank you to all the kind and thoughtful people who sent me the emails.