Saturday, 29 December 2007

Bits and Pieces: ... and to take from it...

Joan Eardely, Catterline in Winter, 1963
Oil on board, 120x131cm
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Before the year's up, here is - as promised - a bit of personal reflection along the lines of look, observe, live and learn from Eardley's exhibition and the workshop that was running alongside it. [For previous posts on Eardley, see here]

I've grouped my comments along a number of themes. With a bit of difficulty of deciding where to start, I am settling on a bit of personal chronology along the lines of my own observations and markers as I picked them up.

They are losely grouped along colour - composition - markmaking - work process

As a starting point, then, there are the colours of Catterline in Winter - the first of Eardley's paintings that I came across. Part of my having started with pastels and their ready made colours was a real struggle to mix colour other than bright oranges, lime greens and purples. Here, the muted yet incredibly rich neutrals of the painting were a real eye opener to the power of grey and the variety therein. What I find really striking in all of Eardley's paintings is the sheer variety of neutral colours she uses, and there is very little repetition within.

The neutrals for Eardley act very much as the backdrop, balance - or indeed, even: frame - for splashes of bright hues: pinks, carmine, blues which structure, lift, offset and integrate the whole composition - and again: so little repitition of hue and value. This is most obvious in her series of interior scenes from the early-1950s: The Table, A Glasgow Tenement and also the male Nude. While I was first struck by the sombre ambience of these paintings, the variation of neutrals, interspersed with some bright colours actually works extremely well to provide a much lighter scene if you keep looking.

From Catterline's colours, the next theme emerges: composition.

Sketch of Joan Eardley's Catterline,
Graphite in Moleskine

During one of my visits I had begun to sketch quickly some of her landscapes - as an attempt to get more of a sense of composition and markmaking. And the simplicity of compositions - be it landscapes, seascapes or indeed the street scenes is remarkable. Strong compositions of horizon lines, a few diagonals, sun or moon in the sky and more linear marks through tracks, grasses in the fields etc. provide all that is needed. Sometimes, these are complemented by some strong diagonals in the foreground also.

More sketches of Eardley's landscapes, Graphite in Moleskine

My rough and ready sketches also tried to capture some of her markmaking - so noticable and strong. Many of the marks are spontaneous and seem almost incidental. Here, her ability to paint faces and figures out of what looks, close up, just as an accidental assemblage of dots, splashes and other marks, just made my jaw drop repeatedly. Again, without repitition, marks are made with various implements, reworked - but not generically - until they indeed make up children's figures, prams, laughter or wind through the high grasses.

More sketches of Eardley's landscapes, Graphite in Moleskine

Finally, onto some insights into her work process - and it is for these insights that I found the Bits and Pieces workshop really useful for ... over a number of sessions, more and more emerged and settled - not unlike a piece of collage itself.

For one, there is the process of sketching from life, from photos and then taking the sketches to work from them for paintings - a common work process for many artists. But of course, in doing so, more and more of the artist's response to - intellectually and emotionally - to the subject is becoming part of the artwork. The workshop broke up different steps in the process very deliberately - even rather simplistically - but afterwards I found that very helpful to unpick some of my own responses to life scenes.

As for sketching and painting, a number of pointers emerged:
  • often dark outlines are visible;
  • figures are based on shapes rather than anatomical form;
  • highlights and lowlights are used to emphasise shape and not form - figures and scenes are flattened in this way.
  • small detail, such as buttons, hairbands, laples or fabric patterns are highlights and emphasised
  • the use of different media - charcoal, pastel and gouache in some of the studies and smaller pieces emphasised the above even further.

Collage is a working practice which takes the process of breaking down the work process further still: tearing out shapes and figures on the basis of one's sketches, even more forces one to remove the piece from a literal representation and to let it soak up own expressions and impressions - along with some technical (in)abilities.

Layering - paintings and collage - means going back to it, adding more - over time more and more is being worked into the painting. Evidence for this can be found in many of Eardley's seascapes, landscapes and street scenes.

Joan Eardley, Three Children at a Tenement Window, 1961
Gouache on paper, 46x37cm
The Eardley Family

Eardley painted the children on Glasgow's streets with arms linked, hands held, standing close together, looking the onlooker straight into the eyes, they are playful, in movement and curious. And while her paintings relied on so little repitition of colours and marks, these recurrent themes of children together make a good deal of the strength of her paintings and the responses they evoke. And, of course: the stormy and wild sea.



vivien said...

another great write up :) I really enjoyed reading this and your insights

I think her work has a great affinity with Kurt Jackson's paintings and sketches - I don't know if you think so? the freedom of marks, the use of colour and the spontaneity and sense of place? and painting subjects that are unusual like the children in the tenements

Lindsay said...

Thanks so much for a rich post. I love her work and your writing is lovely. Great intro for a new artist for me.

Gesa said...

Many thanks, Vivien and Lindsay! It's funny but I find writing about art - and in particular other people's art - a bit intimidating, so your comments are really appreciated :)
Vivien, I hadn't come across Kurt Jackson, but now that I googled him, I realised that Lindsay had written about him a while back. I'll take a closer look at his work - but from a quick scan, his paintings look fascinating, and I see that he'll be having an exhibition in Edinburgh in Spring... where's my diary...

Lindsay said...

I've gone back and read all of your Earland posts. I'm completely smitten. She works with 2 subjects I'm very interested in: people and my portrait project and landscapes. Your introduction to her is VERY meaningful. I can't thank you enough. I feel so excited to be seeing your work and hers, Kurt Jackson, Vivien's ect. Blogging is wonderful when I can meet such great people as you.

Lindsay said...

oops. I meant to say Eardlay!

daviddrawsandpaints said...

Excellent analysis Gesa. You really have taken the time to study Eardley's work and make intelligent observations.