Creativity in Painting a personal view – updated 15/10/17

July 1993 – Photo of myself in Moscow

The South Eastern Australian bush where I grew up, as you stand in amongst it has a synthesis of grey to which on close inspection small pockets of beautiful intense colour is revealed. Tiny bush flowers that precariously lay on the ground, colours of crimson, yellow and violet seem to be related in proportion to the small colourful wrens and robins that inhabit low lying shrub.

When you look up into the trees and see in amongst the full leafy branches a single red rosella parrot, your eye latches onto it. It’s something else to be confronted with surprise and this part of the Australian bush is like that.

The backdrop with hidden nuances of colour, doesn’t shout out to tell you, but with slow careful looking, you become aware of more. This desire to keep looking and finding is a big part of how we live out our lives and has had an influence on my work as a painter.

The type of painting I wanted to do in meaning, style and medium had to be as wide in what it could offer, and also be progressive. What I painted 10 years ago in someway would be different to what I painted today. But it would not be different just to be different.

All of it had to be within a framework that was being built up as part of the aesthetic process. Coming from subjective personal evaluation. Was it attractive? Balanced? Interesting? Did I like it?

Young girl looking sad

1992 – Girl 14 x 51cm ‘

Those questions, are exceedingly more difficult to answer when you are inventing. Putting odd shapes together and selecting colour from feeling rather than what’s in front of you demands an awareness that concerns elements of the composition. Decisions of how thick a line or how much colour in what area you put on are being answered throughout the process.

If the painting isn’t working, it would be altered until something happened to it that felt right.  And it was working towards these value judgment of having the right feeling in depth, the right proportions of shape, the right colour selection, the right type of line, the right type of texture and so on.

The concept of searching, exploring and discovering had invention that was prescribed to subjective personal taste and it was what creativity meant to me.

Nude with still life

1989 – Suzette 110 x 70cm

Instead of replicating the image as it was, you altered it. What I didn’t want was to be pinned down to one type of style,  subject, or theme but to use all of what the history of painting had given us.

Techniques from wash, to impasto, broken brush strokes to the flat palette knife nudges and anything else would be there to use as and when.

Being restricted to a single theory or technique didn’t suit who I was and seemed like walking around a small backyard rather than walking around the world with all it’s diversity.

Detail from ‘Fractured’

The beginning of art was schematic, it then developed progressing it’s perspective, it’s social meaning. As time went on, painting opened up an became a complicated art form.  New colours were invented, new ways of packaging paint took painting into the landscape, new spaces, new perspectives were created, rather than what was there.

The best historical art movement that was an example of going beyond boundaries in composition and in meaning were the post impressionist and within that movement the best painters were those that had a life full of change.

After the post impressionists, painting became tabled into restrictive zones. Instead of expressing something personal, the painter painted about a thing, it became impersonal. Such as a circular spirally line, a large flat broad square, or the repetition of long drips.

Detail from Suzette

Although I appreciated these movements in offering more ways of seeing, painting solely about one objective abstract shape over and over again and compositions devoid of any drawing, the fluid touch of a brush would be an impossible pursuit.

2010-2013 150 x 110 cm Aggression and To Notice Such Things. Two landscapes inventing different spaces.

So the answer of how I would paint would be to cross all art boundaries in it’s technical expression, but be interpreted how I felt it should be.  Decisions on when to put what colour where and how, it’s tone, it’s shape and texture were going to reflect a personal invention according to subjectivity.

Unknowingly, I started painting by replicating a tradition of learning by looking at past painters and how they painted.  The selection was from work that was intriguing how did they paint that, and it is something to understand their methods, all there for you to unlock and share.  With the vast amount of painting out there, what was chosen to observe were often paintings that had depth and atmosphere. That had layers as with a bush setting looking through the trees and seeing something afar.

 

1996 – Tranquil World – Digitally programmed

Depth in colourful setting

Main Painting is called Depth 1996, 150 x 90 cm

1995 Merging Layers 38 x 70 cm

Lino Print 1998 – Take from Robert Hughes chapter in ‘The Fatal Shore’ and concerns the extinction of a type of Mutton Bird specific to Norfolk Island during the convict settlement of Australia in 1790. This theme is reinforced over time with the extinction of other animal life. All but two penguin chicks from an Antarctic colony of 36,000 birds died during a catastrophic breeding season because krill could not be found in an area near to their breeding ground.
Such that is read doesn’t immediately rally a painting of protest, but rather it is absorbed with other emotions and something eventually is created.

 

1996 Windmills 36 x 110cm

1993 De Roemer 70 x 110cm

1995 Underneath 42 x 130cm

1995 In the Distance 42 x 68 cm

Subjective decision making is difficult because of our day to day change in mood. You can ride high and paint out a picture within a few hours as though your brain had been programmed, other times it just doesn’t work and can take longer.  When you go to the canvas your ideas about the composition are competing with other ideas about what will sit behind it in its theme.

What I would paint could be anything within the framework of those themes that have developed. Motivated from something viewed, read or heard; experiences then but tapped into later on. The reason as to why is not always known.  But you finish the work and invariably it has a reference to an earlier work, so you are building up a collection of work that identifies with something that is personally important.  Painting for commercial selling here is thus not the motivation.  As you mature and look back on the work produced, there is a realisation that there are themes that keep recurring and so stand out.  And this reflects who you are, what you listen to, what you read, what you choose to ignore.

Cruelty, greed, ignorance and self absorption are themes that interest me, hence paintings that may have titles like ‘Silent thoughts’ , ‘Little Creatures’ and ‘Carving up the future’.  What trips the need to paint something like that is strange because it’s not an overt conscious driver.  You don’t wake up at 3am and say I want to paint a painting about greed.  It just happens during the painting process.  Thoughts are crossing other thoughts, you find yourself painting a face with eyes closed, then you put some alizarin crimson as a spidery shape and you see there needs to be another face on a profile and so forth.  What is going on is a two way process, you are painting from abstract thinking of how to make it look right through feel and the other process of how in the end it’s statement will read to the audience.  As such a figure, the skin of the figure, the face of the figure will not display the usual look of a realistim, but would be expressed to relay it’s intent. Painting a portrait or figure in it’s naturalistic form, misses the point of personal creation and so to a still life or landscape.  It’s easy to have someone sit for you and have that person portray a face of sorts. The expression of that face what it is evoking is there insitu and takes away from you your own ability to create that expression.

2013 – 30 x 110 cm Detail – Silent Thoughts. Line plays a prominent as does white and black in meshing together the shapes.

And so a landscape, could be made up of triangles, and not trees, it could have multiple spaces, it could have a mix of tradition with abstract shapes.  It’s all in a painting toolbox, a painting mind that develops over time.

1991 Belgium Model 32 x 64 cm

A still life would have the line of an apple but its space – its construction could be the same of that as the background or foreground or a neighbouring shape.

My eye wanted to see a picture that had contrasts and harmony within its elements. That shape could be apart of another shape, lines could go over different planes and be lyrical as well as static.

2014 – Detail from Silent Thoughts – Also a painting in it’s own right called Little Creatures

Within the painting it could vary in its painterly application and have a variation of texture.

Variation wasn’t soley about colour. An uneven surface next to a smooth transparent varnish, or scumbling creating a rough texture setting that next to a flat area of paint.

There are many contrasts in textures to explore and you pose the question, is it needed to help the painting gain interest or is it too much?

1994 – 67 x 35 cm ‘Vermilion and Viridian’ Restricted palette to emphasize viridian green, a case of less is more.

Seeing depth in overlay, to create sub levels gives complexity to a painting in its composition.

It’s a slower process because you are considering what’s happening underneath together with how it’s bringing the overall picture together.

1995 Detail – Nvesky Prospekt – St Petersburg

A colour under another colour may not be the right one when you see it coming through. So you are not only thinking about the colour that’s next to other colours but you are also thinking about the colour underneath.

1997 – Detail – Into the Fire – 110 x 150cm
After the fire and the loss of animal life in the Australian bush fires. Paw prints, scratching and ash are features

Having that variation in texture identifies other marks, lines, that help build a mood as well as the image and hopefully you are working with the idea that you don’t get it all at once, you get enough to understand and feel something, but there are things there that you may not take in immediately.

1995 – Spatial Relationships – 35 x 52 cm. Using line to create ambiguity with how objects sit and don’t sit.

Detail – Spatial Relationship

Not getting it all at once is what life is about. We can pass through an experience at one time in our lives and not get it, reflect some years later and it means something. Appreciation can work like that.

Depending on who we are, we are subject to change and with that change, what we see and how we interpret it can also change.

The flash of an advertisement has a motive that wants to dictate a message and it’s designed for us to take it in immediately.

Its design is  meant for us to get it all at once and in that sense it is short lived, it is a brand that insists on reminding you what it is there for which is to buy.

1991 – Miles Away – 24 x 30cm. The start of using triangular shapes in a landscape.

A painting for me is the opposite. It is to be considered and that consideration is made by taking the image out of our normal surroundings, and creating a different reality of the subject and presenting it in a different space.

In all art history that’s what painting had set out to achieve. So it’s nothing new in concept. The surrealists had their own inventions as did the analytical cubists, abstract expressionists and the fauvism painters.

They were opposed to the idea of painting reality with it’s one point perspective, it’s naturalistic colour palette. Painters were expected to do more, which was interpret ideas and new ways of seeing.

1989 – 90x140cm – Carving Up The Future.

2010-11 Aggression 110 x 150 cm Depicts vulnerability, the sphere being the odd one out and has no defenses.

So the two paintings above are about the same theme, but painted differently. They are using different spaces, different shapes, different line, different composition and different subject. The colours have a similar tonal value however the later painting in date is utilising a much broader palette and a more ambiguous space. Each painting has 20 years between them.

What has progressed since the mid 80’s has been a colour and textural expansion. Prior to leaving Melbourne for Europe in the early 90’s, my work had a restricted palette and the surface of the paintings were flat without texture. The 4 images below as with Carving Up The Future highlight this. When they were finished regardless of the imagery there was something unsatisfying about them and that was the flat large areas of paint. The works weren’t tactile, they didn’t breath. It should have been immediately obvious but it did take some time before realising what the reason was. The delay in recognition was due to the rather large size of the works being in meters, it some how forced me to just fill these shapes focusing on the overall image without looking at its painterly construction. It was an important lesson which helped build up my aesthetics; that is, what I preferred to see in a painting.

1989 Society 2.6m x 1.5m

1989 Society 2.4m x 1.5m

1989 The Masterpiece – Zola 1.7m x 2.4m

1989 Another Place 70 cm x 128cm

1997 – Tranquility Series 110 x 150 cm and 2013 Little Creatures 40 x 40 cm

And-Then-There-Was-None – Work in progress 2017

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