Tuesday 18 September 2018

Freedom in Painting: Black and White with Ashley Hanson

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. 

 Our first task however before diving into paint was to produce a collage 'template' to work from .  We were given  sheets of  black and white card, glued together on 3 sides,  open on the 4th  , to cut and tear into and  paste  sections onto.  I've  got into using 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 almost the end of the day  when Ashley got round  to see me, I was running out of ideas and energy .  Looking at what I'd  done  and   at my breakwater sketch (above)  he thought what was needed was  some very strong horizontal marks  to hold it together. So  I  quickly mixed a large quantity  of paint ( mainly Paynes Grey with hints of other colours)  and  he gripped the canvas hard  to steady it while I wielded  a very big brush. I couldn't have done it without him.
 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.  

Franz Kline 
 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. 

 So  referring again to the collage 'template' ( to which I'd added some black paper horizontals) , I filled in some of the whites and greys, trying to achieve the effect of the torn edges in paint,  and the bright white shapes between the breakwaters.  It was quite a challenge  to fill in without losing the raw ragged black brush stroke edges .

 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. 

Freedom in Painting: Black and White ( Preparation and Reading )

 I signed up  for 'Freedom in Painting: Black and White'  at  Creek  Creative  immediately after the excellent course  ' Painting the Novel'  earlier in the year, Ashley is such an excellent tutor. 
As usual I overprepared !  I've been meeting up regularly with fellow artists Hazel and Teddy  ( always  so inspiring )  and in between times we've been  sharing  what we've been up to on Instagram. 
I've long been a fan of Terry Frost  and I can still remember the impact  of seeing  one of his 'Through Blacks' paintings ( above) from 1972-3   at the RA exhibition . With it's collaged semi-circles  and subtle variations, it looked very different when viewed  from the side or full-on, one of those pieces that has to be seen in the flesh to appreciate.  In the catalogue he talked of " while making 'through blacks' I got the experience of seeing the blue side of black, the red side of black and the yellow side of black"  The colours on the left hand side were the one he was mixing from.   There's more about the process and his thoughts on colour perception here

Spurred on by the  postcard sized colour mixing exercises that Teddy had done,  I had a go myself  with acrylics on watercolour paper, including  using some of the combinations I love from watercolours . I like to see a hint of the colours that made them when mixing blacks.  

  Above:primaries Azo yellow, Alizarin Crimson and Phalo blue ( with overlayers of white)
Below: Ultramarine with burnt umber/burnt sienna

 One of the bonuses  was that the burnt sienna and ultramarine are transparent ( at least in the Winsor and Newton range I was using) so you get translucent blacks (and a bit of granulation as in watercolours. )

I also had  an extensive trawl through my considerable collection of  art books and catalogues to find  inspiration.  Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham  is one of my favourite artists,  I love  her abstracted  landscapes - you can see the dry stone walls in the painting above. 

Wilhemina Barnes-Graham 

Prunella Clough is another favourite particularly how she renders textures 

Likewise, the textures  and change of scale in Nicolas de Stael ( and love that edge of red )

I could have chosen any painting in the book I have of Anthony Whishaw's work , he uses a lot of black and white , I like the subtle variations in line and mark . 

The subtle, ghost-like layers of paint in work by Ian McKeever ( below) has always appealed ( I used his 'Temple Paintings' as inspiration for my series of Honesty quilts). This time I picked  out pairs of paintings where he'd used black on white and whites on black - get very different effects

 Then I spent a long time looking through the catalogue  from the RA Abstract Expressionism  exhibition -  so many examples to choose from , remembering the huge scale of many of the works : the 'drawings' of Willem de Kooning; the large gestural  brush strokes of Franz Kline; the collage of Conrad Marca-Relli  

Willem de Kooning 

Franz Kline 

Conrad Marca-Relli 

Conrad Marca-Relli 

 On the requirements list  for  the course was  at least 2 canvases and a range of different black  and white paints . As I also needed large quantities of paint  ( including 2 x 500ml of white!) for the David Tress class at Lund Studios    I  put in a  a large  order of supplies! 

We had instructions to paint one of our  canvases  in black paint beforehand. While I was doing  so , I painted some canvas paper I had and experimented  with  transparent mixing white (I've never used it before) . Mixed with  matte or gloss medium it has definate possibilities for glazing rather than using oils. 

  Next - how did the class go!

Sunday 16 September 2018

7th European Quilt Triennial opens in Heidelberg

 Today, I've been wishing I was in Heidelberg for    the opening and award ceremony for the 7th European Quilt Triennial.   But as I'm still recovering from excellent 2 day painting course with Ashley Hanson at Creek Creative ,  and with lots going on in the next few weeks it's probably just as well I decided  not to make the  journey. 

I hope my piece 'Wind Me in the Sea'  looks at home  in  the gallery as it did flapping against my garden fence - I sent very detailed hanging instructions but in the end, it will look different in every location its hung. It was difficult to take decent photos - I look forward to receiving the catalogue.  

 Meanwhile my current 'train stitching' project  is beginning to  take shape. I've been experimenting with  adding more colour and am gaining in confidence trying out new stitches and shapes,  getting excited by how its evolving.  It doesn't yet have a name , perhaps ' wrap me in the shore' ?

Wednesday 12 September 2018