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. 

1 comment:

Marian Hall said...

This looks a fabulous course - wish I’d been on it. I look forward to seeing where you go next with this.