Last Thursday I headed off to Creek Creative laden with canvases , paints and brushes , sketchbook of samples and ideas , head full of possibilities, excited by the prospect of how Ashley Hanson would approach the theme of 'Black and White' in 'Freedom in Painting' 2 day class.
It was a fantastic ,thought-provoking couple of days with excellent, insightful tuition from Ashley but also so much to learn from other participants: our work was incredibly diverse.
We'd been asked to think about what black and white meant to us, for instance what was
'Silence' - white wilderness? black hole? Ashley talked about the opposites of black and white , but also unity ( yin/yang), it's association with nostalgia and memory ( I thought of my childhood memories suitcase collection quilt - dayglo colours of 70's but black and white photos )
He showed work from a range of artists who'd used B&W in different ways from Goya and Rembrandt through Matisse , Picasso, Miro to Abstract Expressionist artists such de Kooning, Franz Kline, Ad Reinhart ,quotes from Agnes Martin, and contemporary work by Gillian Carnagie.
As part of his 'City of Glass' series, Ashley is thinking of using black and white and he made a start on a pair of canvases, demonstrating mixing different blacks and applying them in a loose grid as a starting point for working into.
collage to generate ideas for painting but that's with bits from newspapers and magazines - this was more graphic. It was a fascinating half hour, partially inspired by structures of breakwaters ( now there's a surprise!) but also differences in the qualities of the marks made by tearing or cutting and the addition of different blacks (glossy as well as matt) . I was intrigued by sections of both sides but decided the one below had a stronger composition and contrasts
I liked the effect of the brick wall behind it but settled on grey card ( and later , a newspaper cutting) to give a different tone. Ashley had a quick look at the results and liked what I'd done - referencing my original photos and sketches but also introducing new elements with the torn area to suggest waves
After sketching out the outline of the collage on a white canvas, on the black canvas , I drew up a grid and started mixing blacks, whites and greys, sometimes layering /covering over. In some cases I was mixing the blacks on the canvas itself and liked the bits of colour left around the edges ( I've never been a neat painter, even at school I'd colour over the line. The difference now is that I embrace the possibilities rather than thinking I'm not doing it properly). I apologize for the photos - it's difficult to take good shots of blacks, especially when the light wasn't great.
It reminded me a bit of Paul Klee's 'Ancient Sound' ( although nothing like as interesting) and I decided it was a bit too patterned and dominant to act as the background for a painting . Instead I painted the other pair of smaller canvases I'd brought with me in more subtle variations of blacks and whites.
I made a start on my painting from the 'template', blocking in the areas of white and enjoying making strong single-stroke vertical brush marks in a range of different blacks. There's always a tendency to revert to previous behaviours and make the same kind of marks - you can see the similarities to the painting I did last year (below)
It was so exciting and liberating - there's something about a very big mark on a relatively small canvas, a different take on ' scaling up'. A great end to an exhausting but productive day.
Day 2 was much calmer - I came in with a good idea about what I wanted to do next and some additional paints ( the advantage of living locally). I was inspired by this painting by Franz Kline , the hints of yellow at the edges of the black and the bold gestural marks.
I wasn't very happy with how the black curved shape ( above) was indistinguishable from the lower strong horizontal line. Ashley suggested I get rid of it ( he liked the empty space in my original sketch) and also to simplify the the background , make it white with brush stokes and marks of a similar quality to the black. I'm gradually learning to discard source material after a certain point and just respond to the painting itself.
I'm pretty happy with the results ( tho' I think the fainter black marks in the middle need to go ) The white is a much more interesting surface from having the layers of paint underneath.
While I was waiting for Ashley's advice, I worked on the pair of 2 smaller canvases I'd painted with whites and blacks. In the earlier 'Painting the Novel' course with Ashley, I'd enjoyed trying slightly different techniques on 2 canvases but hanging them joined together in a 'book' structure.
So in the middle of night I had a brainwave - I'd paint the negative shapes with whites on the black canvas and the positive black shapes on the white canvas.
On the blacks canvas I used a palette knife with white paint for the gaps and light between the wooden structures of the breakwaters ( I like how you can still see the different blacks in the grid) and on the whites canvas used a transparent black made of ultramarine and burnt umber with gloss medium.
And more from luck than judgement, the horizontals line up when they're side by side! I think the larger white area could be more interesting but overall I'm pleased with the results. .
We finished painting mid-afternoon and then had a critique of everyone's work which was invaluable, particularly the diverse ways people had interpreted their collage 'templates'. It was also interesting to see how often those final touches make such a big difference and how some pieces had changed dramatically over the 2 days and others had made more subtle shifts. The range of colours within black and white were astonishing
I was a bit worried that my work with breakwaters was perhaps getting a bit stale, but encouraged by Ashley to take risks, make dramatic changes, react to the painting itself, make bold and strong marks I can see this series developing further both in paint and textile.