Sunday, 23 August 2009

On art and friends............

It seems obvious that art culture varies considerably from place to place, just as art itself does. In many cities, it is the norm for artists to gather, debate, paint together, toss around ideas and generally take part in a wonderful "creative soup mix", out of which each is enriched and empowered to find their own unique expression. One just has to think of the camaraderie and fierce debates etc that took place between the impressionists, out of which was birthed a pivotal new direction in 20th Century art.

Many artists from overseas have commented on the lack of this in Port Elizabeth. In fact I have heard of leading artists who had intended to settle here, and left for that very reason. Obviously there are small pockets of exceptions, but as a general rule we seem to be a pretty individualistic and self contained bunch!

In time to come, I hope to turn that around by providing the venue and opportunities at our local community gallery for artists to hang out, work, explore etc together. Obviously it is going to be up to the individual artists to decide whether they want to change their lone-ranger approaches and get into the habit of meeting and interacting in this way.

However, I saw just how well it works at first hand this week, when my friend Esme Goosen, an artist whose work I admire enormously, invited me to paint with her in her studio, as she saw I was struggling to make time with all my other commitments, endless phone calls etc. and was battling to get motivated to paint. (thanks Esme, I owe you one!!)

photo by Basil Brady.

I am eternally grateful, it has been a great experience, and not just one sided. We had another friend, Debbie, joining in on some of the sessions, she has never painted before. It was not about formal lessons, just friends doing their thing at their own level, chatting about all sorts of stuff, swapping opinions and advice, bringing a fresh perspective to each other's work, and just the inspiration provided by being in a creatively charged environment.

photo by Basil Brady

No starving ascetics suffering for their art here, the process was accompanied by copious quantities of coffee, carrot cake and other delightful goodies, with the odd salad roll thrown in to create the illusion that we were taking things a bit seriously!

On Friday, Esme invited our friend Basil Brady along to model for us. Again, getting a sitter would probably be harder to arrange on an individual basis, but where a group of artists shares a model's time, it makes it more practical. In this case, Basil is a friend and art lover, who generously agreed to sit, and we had a delightful day tossing ideas and opinions around, while feverishly trying to capture his likeness, (or, in my case, not, more about that just now!)

I thought it might interest you to get a behind the scenes glimpse at the process of life painting from a model, and how differently it can be approached by different artists. Some of these photos are mine, and some were taken by Basil, who, apart from being a seasoned art connoisseur, also happens to be an accomplished photographer.

While all skills can be learned to some degree, and can definitely be honed by practice and good teaching, I really believe that certain people are 'naturals'. Capturing a likeness is a case in point, and Esme is a natural. In fact I was fascinated watching her paint my portrait some time ago, because at times throughout the process, the likeness comes and goes. (Often a subtle flick of the brush or shift in colour or tone is all that is needed to lose or recapture it.) She would call me back to sit, and I would see what had been done in my absence. Her visual memory is so good that often, the likeness captured during work done in my absence was stronger than when she had me in front of her!

here is a side by side view of Basil and her first portrait of the day...

I am one of the more pedestrian types who needs a visual reference to work from, and even then, I struggle to capture a good likeness. I will always keep challenging myself to work on this, but at the same time, I think one needs to make peace with one's limitations... rather than trying to produce a series of poor portraits that look nothing like the subject, I now make a conscious effort to think of each painting as a piece that is anonymous, but expresses a more universal mood or atmosphere.

As you can see, the head and hands are WAY too big, but the picture is taking on a sort of moodiness that will later result in another piece in a series I am busy with called "pensive people." However, i was getting frustrated with this one, and eventually the paint gets to the point where further work will get muddier and muddier, so after another coffee break, I started on number two....

and Basil sat with the other one for a quick photo, so I could have a comparative reference to continue working on it at home.

By the end of the day, Esme was well on her way with a wonderful and sensitive profile view...

photo by Basil Brady

And I had made some progress on a head and shoulders.

Since I got home, I have worked on it further to add more character. It is still not "Basil" but as an anonymous painting, it seems to have a contented expression and some visual interest.
(the one on the left was taken at the end of the day by Basil at Esme's studio, while I took the one on the right at home with different light, so they are not really as different as this... the truth is somewhere in the middle!)

This one needs a lot more work, as you can see all I have done for now is block out the extra large head and hands, from there, once the paint is dry, I will decide where to go with it... watch this space!


Chatters said...

Sounds like you had a great time, I would love to do something like that. You have given me an idea that I could run by somebody.

It's good when you can bounce ideas of each other, I miss that

Chatters said...

Thanks for your lovely comments. I have finally found the confidence to begin trying to find exposure for my work. I have had two exhibitions which went well as in lots of people came to see my work, but as yet no sales. I have another exhibition for a hospice coming up, I will be one of many artists there. I'm glad you liked my grouchy cat (-: