Saturday, 18 October 2008

For the sea.... a limited palette and some concerns over landscapes

I've been toying with ideas for the next paintings. I've known for a while that they will be seascapes - based on the sketches from Eigg. [see the Flickr set here]

But I've also known that I don't want them to be pretty or fluffy. And I think I now am getting a sense how that can be avoided:

  • focus on lines and markings not fields/shapes of colour. I want to try and build up fields/shapes much more strongly through lines and textures: layer them more strongly and busily

  • don't do landscapes, i.e. to enframe them as beautifully constructed views.

The making of landscape in culture takes me right back to Geography (yes, academic discipline and thus capital G). I just had a little look on my computer, as I was sure I would find some writing done on a critique of the construction of landscape in Victorian England. But instead, I found something on something not so different, and for the moment, that should be sufficient:

The British Marxist historian and literary critic Raymond Williams wrote succinctly on the construction of rural communities in Victorian novels as visible, or as he calls it as knowable.
Williams finds that most novels operate with the concept of a community that is knowable, meaning that people, and their relationships can be easily communicated to the readership. More importantly, however, is that the knowable community is highly socially selective, as, for instance in relation to Jane Austen’s novels:

It is outstanding face-to-face; its crises, physically and spiritually, are in just these terms: a look, a gesture, a stare, a confrontation; and behind these, all the time the novelist is watching, observing, physically recording and reflecting. That is the whole stance – the grammar of her [Jane Austen’s] morality. Yet while it is a community wholly known, within the essential terms of the novel, it is an actual community very precisely selective. Neighbours in Jane Austen are not the people actually living nearby; they are the people living a little less nearby who, in social recognition, can be visited. (Williams 1975 203)

In contradistinction, the city in English literature became the place where such knowable communities were hidden from view and easy visibility – but had, as in Dickens’s work, to revealed and teased out. So similarly to Austen's seemingly 'simply there' rural communities, 'landscapes' are also made: produced, conveying particular views of what is contained within a vista, what isn't - and it's usually the stuff that doesn't fit that is hidden.

Good... so, there's my essential ambiguity with landscape painting. Doesn't stop me from doing them, though.

Now, one way I try to address that (and surely won't resolve it) is by foregoing the distance.

Foreground, middleground, finish. No background to enframe. It's a concept that keeps fascinating me, but also one where my intuition on reasonably good composition so quickly leaves me. Where is the horizon line to orientate? To know, to see where you stand?

Troon shoreline, Oil sketch in Moleskine 24x21cm

Now, this sketch does look pretty dumb as photo, it doesn't do that badly IRL, but yes: middlegrounds confuse the heck out of me, generally, and need some more attention. Well, I better just call that sketch 'sketch' rather than shoreline, so that there is no confusion ;)

Well, the past couple of weeks, I've been spending saturday mornings at some mixed media experiments with this.... VEEERY variable success. [But yes, the Eldon Group is back in full swing, and very nicely so).

But, at least today I took out the oils, gave Irene the challenge to pick three colours for me, and I chose a fourth and so the palette for the series of paintings is going to be:

  • Naples Yellow Light
  • Raw Sienna (yes, again)
  • Prussian Blue
  • Cobalt Green

And this is where they get me to colourwise:

Well, there's a start, I need to make sure I've got at least two canvasses ready for next Saturday and then it'll be all good (at some point along the line)...


Yellow said...

I am following you so far. I hope you keep the dialog going with your thought processes as you progress. I love reading about how you get from A to B, and then onto C. I'm doing some studies of compositions I like which other painters have used, and have come across a few landscapes with no sky or far-distance. They, for me, have been some of the most sucessful landscapes I've looked at recently. Funny that you should be using that format at the moment, and I'm surprised there's not more artists who work that way. I'm looking forward to this project of yours.

Gesa said...

Cheers, Steph - I'm not too sure I'm following myself on this pretty half-cooked post. But, I'll be trying again with another instalment.

There's something about the viewpoint of the painter in it that is difficult - and it uses various 'framing' devices to construct a good composition - and with a canvas that is actually done literally;

Then there are issues about subject matter and what is being left outside: nature/people; peoplenature, nature people

Lastly, something much more technical: about perspective, horizons, planes etc.... I've been looking at that yesterday: to construct viewpoints (again) which disorientate, don't provide an easy entry into the painting.

Now: the question: is this merely going to produce paintings that are poorly constructed? Probably an empirical question: I need to try it out :)