Sunday, 31 May 2009

Layering across space

Elqui 2, oil on canvas, 50x50cm

... from Elqui Valle to the Scottish West Coast?

I had posted a number of work in progress updates of the three oil paintings I've been working on over the past months (e.g., here at: art? anyone?). They are finished now.

In the process a number of intriguing things took place.

(a) I lost the hill tops and managed to continue on Elqui 1 as an abstract piece at the first attempt. This was where I wanted to get to with the oil paintings but, on the basis of previous iterations required to move from representation to abstraction had not thought it would happen so quickly. But, Elqui 1 is for the next post.

Today, I want to talk about the Elqui 2 and Elqui 3. Well, they were meant to be larger - 80x70cm like Elqui 1 but somehow I very successfully have (still) mislaid my framing tools and so while I have stretchers I cannot for the life of me find the stapler nor the canvas I bought ages ago.

So, the two pieces are only 50x50cm - one on a bought deep canvas, the other one on a handstreched rough(ish) cotton canvas. One was too slick in surface, the other one far too rough.

(b) The task? Undo layer 1. The challenge: How? The palette, though very limited, is strong with the two cadmium yellows. I stuck with turpsy paint right throughout, for each layer work first with brush, then a bit with palette knives; often softening the knife marks again afterwards with brushes or rags.

Undoing - initially it was going to disappear under a white layer. But I didn't dare too... as you can see. I kept the original composition for the most part and discovered the fabulous greys in that palette. So, on went a succession of grey layers interspersed with keeping local colours and the main composition.

Elqui 3, Detail, oil on canvas, 50x50cm

Here, the rough and poorly primed canvas of Elqui 3 proved a fascinating ground for experiment. Suddenly, I ended up with a whole new series of edges, lines and half disappearing vistas. Even more bizarrely, the piece - solely designed to explore hue and markmaking was taking on some landscape element. Well, despite the name it wasn't never going to be a landscape. Even more strangely: it wasn't the arid valley of the Chilean Cordillera that was appearing but some West Coast of Scotland seascapes.

I kept working on it - something I am very pleased about. With oil paintings I have in the past closed them off far too quickly. Quickly I would no longer be able to see what to do next. Not so with these ones. Somehow I managed to keep them open for much longer, adding more layers in the process described above.

Elqui 3, oil on canvas, 50x50cm

And, what did I learn?

1. painting with oils is fabulous (well: I knew that before, but now I do with even more resolve)

2. the palette of cobalt blue, cadmium yellows and burnt siena so easily creates landscape associations, regardless what you do

3. layerings with grey build up distance (possibly also sense of time? - need to explore that further); wiping these and reworking at various stages of drying can strengthen that illusion further

4. I now know how to keep open a painting for longer

Towards the end of the painting process I deliberately played with 2. and 3. - to have a little flirt with the landscape elements in the paintings, to bring them out, muddle them up again, displace them and so on. VERY enjoyable. It was also interesting to get people commenting while I was painting. How much they enjoyed being able to see a landscape - something - emerge and how sure they were that that was what they saw. Interesting... let's think more about that...


Anonymous said...

You know what Gesa ... the land, water etc in these is just *so* clear for me. Clearer, possibly, than when people ty to make the landscape explicit. Perhaps I am happies when I fill in details out of my own memories? I think these are glorious - mysterious, moody and full of depth.

Gesa said...

:) thank you :)

- i think i'm similar about filling in gaps. but at the same time i'm always struck just how landscapey people's memories work. 'mysterious, moody and full of depth' ... i'll keep that for the future. thanks, again!

Anonymous said...

Gesa, I've just been to see the Turner and Italy exhibition at the National Gallery, and your experiments here are decidedly Turneresque. I mean that as a compliment---you seem to be on a similar track to his late paintings, in which he was pushing his medium to the utmost, just to see what it was capable of. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Cate in Dundee

Gesa said...

Cate, hello again and thanks for your comment. Very interesting you mentioning Turner, someone else who'd just seen the exhibition last weekend said the same. Hm... I need to have a closer look and perhaps disappear for half day to the capital... Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I agree oils! and once again, lovly work here

Anonymous said...

Gesa, hurry if you want to see the Turners---the show closes on the June 7.