Wednesday, 05 September 2007

Making creative use of old paintings.


Many artists say that the thing that most scares them is a blank, white canvas. I agree, it is certainly intimidating wondering how you're going to extract a great work of art out of such a flat surface. Well - why not try this - take an old painting that you couldn't resolve, or didn't sell. read my article, opening colours and begin!
In my case it is cadmium orange. I squeeze a generous amount of it onto the canvas, spread the paint around like butter on toast and simply let rip. sometimes, figures or animals emerge out of the mess. I just let things happen, not imposing my will on the work, just relaxing and letting it happen. I call this way of working, "consciously unconscious"- it is a sort of instinctive approach and this is when I feel that I am "truly in the moment" as it were. In this state I am sometimes completely unaware of time passing, how hungry I am. It is a glorious state to be in. I sometimes need a bit of help from my musical muses, Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi - generally the Baroque composers work well to create this alpha brain wave state that is best fitted for focus and concentration. Gradually I begin to see definite shapes and forms emerging from the paint.
I have found that in my case the same forms will begin to reveal themselves - they are usually winged creatures- angels, Pegasus-type horses. I am always pleased and a little surprised - like being visited by old friends. if they appear I know that the painting is going to go well. These angelic forms do not last to the end of the painting - they beg to be painted out quite early on in the proceedings as if they don't want to claim credit. So I oblige and with a somewhat crude stroke of the brush they are simply rendered invisible- just like that- swish - gone! I am often sad to see them go but I realise their task is done- they have come as guides, nothing more, nothing less - they are often replaced by animal symbols and images which are nonetheless powerful. It is always the same creatures that grace the canvas at this point - buck, horses, giraffes, the occasional elephant. I seldom see lions or small rodents. Less often there will be cats or dogs, but most often it is wildlife - I see these as signs or archetypal imagery which will lead me to the eventual core-meaning of the painting. At this point it is a bit like what I imagine an archeologist's work to involve - digging for truth. What to discard and what to keep are crucial decisions.
it is at this point in the painting that I may reach a difficult time- I sometimes become despondent, feelings of inadequacy assail me - I think I have no talent, I can't express what I feel inside - all these things. Here is where I have a great support in my family - my husband and two boys cheer me up with silly jokes . I present them with the painting and ask them what they see in it. We often end up rolling on the floor with the ridiculous answers they give and the absolutely crazy imagery they make up. Now I have the courage to clarify the imagery, have a look at the ideas they have come up with and work with some of them.

At one time I was working on a painting which I eventually called, "The Wedding". (see picture inserted) The initial inspiration for this painting came from the news that a dear friend of mine was getting married for the first time at the age of 46. I immediately began a painting in her honour.
I painted the happy couple sliding down a "foefie slide" over a river. While I was painting I saw in an unresolved area in the middle of the painting a pair of giraffes with their necks intertwined. At the time I was listening to the radio. There was a discussion going on about how Louis Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris had gotten his inspiration. Believe it or not, it was from the form of a giraffe he had seen while on a tour to Africa! That was it! I painted in the giraffes, one blue, one classic African - turned their legs into the struts of the Eiffel tower and resolved the problem. They became a symbol of the love between my friend and her fiancee. I realised that I had inadvertently painted the man a darker shade than the woman. In South Africa they would be termed a "mixed couple" - I emphasised this, letting it be a symbol of unity between dark and light, black and white, European and African. In Africa especially North Africa there is a lot of French influence - I thought it was apt that I reflect that in my painting - the marriage between the European and the African..
Various other images appeared to place the painting in its context - Table Mountain in the background. A small city began to take shape at the foot of the Tower- even a Bergie appeared beneath the bridge with an empty wine bottle next to him! A wheatfield appeared - a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The radio announcer was talking about the parlous state of western Province Politics - the infighting amongst the political parties - I painted a circus in the wheatfield with the animals looking on in perplexed amazement.
I found I had a lot of trouble with the foreground - it was a vast blue area. Now I began to work a little more consciously - realising that to maintain a degree of interest I would have to create a strong contrast with the wheatfield. I painted the area a deep purple, then adding some cool ultramarine blue. I realised that it could be the sea, so I worked more with that idea, adding fishes and a dolphin- like shape.
This painting was great fun to create - giving me as much pleasure as I hoped the viewer would get. I entered it into the South African Society of Artist's annual exhibition where it was accepted. My greatest compliment came from a ninety-year old lady who told me it was the best painting she had seen on show and she had gotten great joy from looking at it.
The next year it was sold to a German lady in Munich. I hope she is enjoying it to this day!

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