Thursday, March 1, 2012

Getting Going Again: "Vincent's Mutants"

I got off to a slow start this year, but now I'm back to painting after a lengthy break. I was out of the country, first in England for Christmas, then in Mexico, and in neither place did I engage in any art activity, except for taking a few photos. My blog lapsed too, while I waited for the urge to write to come back. As I wrote in December, in "The Tyranny of Tinsel," I've told most of the stories associated with my inventory of paintings, so any blog writing will have more to do with recent and current art activities than with the past. Perhaps this year the title "Easel Talk", which I chose in haste just over a year ago, will be a more accurate descriptor, although my first idea, "Easel Thoughts", which I think was rejected by Google as already taken, might be even better.

Mt. Seymour at Sunset - acrylic - 20" x 20" - 2012

Back in the studio, I first finished off an addition to my "In Praise of November" series called "Mt. Seymour at Sunset." On the day after a heavy fall of snow, the North Shore mountains, as seen from my balcony, were an improbable shade of pink as they caught the setting sun. In contrast, the shadows on the lower slopes appeared startlingly blue.

Next came three small paintings on a theme proposed by my friend and studio mate Eva Wideman for this year's group project for Vancouver Sketch Club members. We settled on the title "Quotes from the Masters." The idea is to refer in some way to a famous painting, without exactly copying it. We thought this would be both fun and a learning experience.

Negative image
The "quoting" could be done in many ways, but I chose to model my work on three of Van Gogh's iconic images, but in their complementary, or reversed, colours. This turned out to be a fascinating and challenging project. First I tackled the famous sunflowers, which Van Gogh painted a number of times. I used a print of the version in the National Gallery in London. To view please go to . My first step was to print out a negative of the print, which gave me the reversed colours. However, I wanted to keep the tonal values as close as possible to the original, not have the lights and darks reversed, so next I made a greyscale print.
Greyscale image

Finally, after a preparatory drawing, I started painting on a 18" x 14" canvas, about half the size of Van Gogh's.

The project turned into a colour exercise more demanding than any I'd encountered since my first year colour course at art school. I also had to use a lot of imagination. I was thinking all the time about colour theory, the colour wheel, complementary colours--the very issues that Van Gogh himself had wrestled with. But one problem that Vincent didn't have was deciding which colour wheel to use. For him the primary colours were red, yellow, blue, and their complementaries, on the opposite side of the wheel, were green, violet and orange. My computer and printer go by a different colour system, in which the primaries are yellow, magenta, cyan, and their complementaries blue, green and red. I tied myself up in knots trying to decide which way to jump, and in the end, inevitably, I went by intuition and used the colours that seemed to work best. Another issue that had not previously occurred to me was the relative "heat" of the hues. Warm colours, the reds and oranges, appear to come forward in a painting, while the cool blues and greens recede. But I didn't want my sunflowers to recede like shrinking violets, so I had to make the blues as vibrant as possible. Of course, I was also working from a little print, which may or may not be an accurate representation of the original colours. And finally--a consideration that didn't occur to me until I'd almost finished the project--I have cataracts that may require surgery later this year, so I actually have no idea whether I'm seeing colours as other people do, and maybe this wasn't the year to be doing this kind of work! Anyway, here is my first "Mutant":
Blue Sunflowers - acrylic - 18"x 14" - 2012
I went on to follow the same procedure with "The Yellow Chair" and "The Sower,"  with these results:
Blue Chair - acrylic - 18" x 14" - 2012
Blue Moon - acrylic - 14" x 18" - 2012

Having completed four paintings and made a good start on two more, I feel really back in harness. Next blog post in about a month!