Moving Towards Assignment 2

Background & Context

I am moving towards Assignment 2 but I need to work through a lot of thinking before I can finalise my subject matter and materials.

Recently I have returned from a week in Madrid where I was overwhelmed by the work in the 3 main galleries which we visited;  The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza. There is so much to think about but initially I thought that I would concentrate on those painters and paintings which I feel at this time have most relevance to the next assignment.

To back track slightly I was (see Assignment 1) very affected by the paintings of Cotan and drawings by Redon whom I continue to be mesmerised by.   The format of the drawing which I submitted for Assignment 1 was based on my thinking in relation to these artists as well as the format of early medieval imagery.

Before leaving I started to read Goya by Robert Hughes (2006) which hugely enhanced by understanding when I saw the selections of Goya’s paintings, etching/aquatints and murals (transferred to canvas).

Of course I also spent time with Velasquez: Les Meninas (1656) but not enough to really take in all its genius.

Finally Picasso’s – Guernica (1937) had an enormous impact on my understanding of composition.  More later.

The only way I believe I can rationalise – or maybe not- my interests, understanding, emotional response is to summarise my responses to the particular artists mentioned.

Juan Sanchez Cotan

I had done my research before the visit and was looking forward to seeing the 1 Cotan in The Prado – but it was not on show – great disappointment.


Still life with lemons – 1602

What fascinates me about the still lives of this period is the way that the everyday objects are given a reverence by putting them in a setting which could be a kind of altar.   In a time when people were still attached to the source of their food as well as their connection with the religious thinking and growing philosophical theories about life and death.

(The theme of life and death or more specifically the story of life and death seems to run through my interest in all the artists mentioned.)

As I have charted previously for Assignment 1 the still life tradition became more and more elaborate and more and more opulent as the decades progressed and then regressed via the Impressionists and Cubists to everyday themes and content.

The super-reality and the dark darkness also pertains to available daylight and the possible use of camera lucida. Containment is an issue within these compositions which was something that I found useful when working towards finding deep tones and shadows.

I  must admit that my notes to myself after seeing all the epic art in Madrid were:-


Francisco de Goya

Robert Hughes’s Goya (2006) was an exceptional accompaniment to my visit to Madrid.   From an artist I knew absolutely nothing about to becoming fascinated by the different phases, materials, content and context of his lifeworks.

For the purposes of the relevance to my choices and interests in putting together my Assignment 2 composition I would like to highlight the following pieces or phases of his work.

The “Black Paintings” –  frescos/murals which he painted onto the walls of his home


Pilgrimage of San Isidoro


These murals/paintings which Goya undertook between 1817-1823 on the walls of his house following his first and then subsequent severe illnesses are the artist’s personal depictions painted in what Hughes cites as “very strange times, both for Goya and for Spain” (p376).   That they were painted directly onto the walls of his home without the requisite preparation of the surface (which Goya had the skills to render as he did in other settings).   That they are very emotional, dark, even horrific renderings of different themes places them completely outside of his former works:- playful bright cartoons for royal tapestries, formal court portraits and different series of prints marks them out as a distinct personal series of works not destined for public eyes.   They were eventually taken from the walls and transferred to canvases is the only reason they were preserved.

“He had no audience in mind.  He was talking to himself. He never imagined that the Black Paintings would be seen anywhere except where he was.” (Hughes p 379)

Furthermore Hughes calls them a “freakish, vivid precursors of modernity”, (p 379 and that is how they struck me.   They emanate a very visceral, deep, dark world.  Figures are often grotesque, contorted, screaming and reminded me of some of Francis Bacon’s work. In a working life where nearly all of his work was subject to wealthy patronage these stand out as something very out of the ordinary.

The subject matter includes ordinary people often in dire circumstances battling against themselves, the elements, life and the fates are what Hughes calls “populacho, or pig-ignorant mob”. (p382) Also the physicality of how they were rendered adds to the aggressive, brutal depiction of Goya’s personal state and the state of Spain at this time.

Without going into details I wanted to note that Hughes also makes the connection with Picasso’s Guernica 1937 (on which I will comment further) (p383) as well as Salvador Dali’s Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) 1936 both artistic responses to the Spanish Civil war.

For me these pieces show an artist working beyond his own era in ways that did not become common practice until some 200 years later.   They convey an honest outpouring of Goya’s personal experience rendered with a bravura that I find truly astonishing.

These paintings for me show an artist laying out his deepest fears and responses to a world in turmoil, his own inner world and that of his country.  I want to use the word “heroic” but in some ways this relates, historically to a different tradition and these paintings are not in anyone’s tradition but his own.  The human condition being grappled with via epic themes and painted in emotionally bold gestures.

The Caprichos


“What Rembrandt did for line etching, Goya and his colleagues did for aquatint, and they did it with one astonishing burst of creativity: a series of eight prints that Goya entitled Los Caprichos.” (Hughes p 179)

Again these were not created with patronage but at his own cost and in large numbers, 300 sets.   They are fantastically rendered satirical comments on the society in which Goya lived covering the church, society, the inquisition, moral themes, scatological content, witches and witchcraft, marriage, wealth etc. The use of the aquatint and newly discovered addition to the printers art allowed him to create depth and tone in a much more subtle and successful way than in the past.

It is believed he had seen in the collection of his friend when he was recovered from his first illness prints by some of the English and French satirical artists including Rowlandson and  Hogarth.   Spain was due to its historical position in Europe and the work of the Inquisition cut off from the wider artistic developments.   There was hardly any access to works from beyond its borders and Goya was little travelled (only once to Italy at this point).

There are so many of these prints I respond to not only because of the diversity of his subject matter,  his “black” humour and the outpouring of creativity they are a testament to.

Desastres – Later war related etchings/aquatints (1810 –


The war with Napoleon saw Goya’s response in a large number of aquatints as strong, emotional and acerbic comment on the experience of Spain at the hands of France.

“At the end, the Desastres de la Guerra open outward, beyond mere human stupidity and detestable cruelty into a pessimism so vast and desolating that it can fairly be called Shakespearean”. (Hughes p 302) Goya did not print this series.  They were not published in his lifetime and did not appear until 1863.

Odilon Redon – The Noir


I am only bringing the work of Odilon Redon (Assignment 1) back into this context in order to point out my growing awareness, having seen the Goya’s, of the tradition out of which Redon’s work is drawn.

Noir, the Romance of Black in 19th Century French Drawings & Prints , Lee Hendrix (2016) is the next book which I am going to read in order to further understand these connections.


Picasso – Guernica


As epic as it is seeing the real painting of Guernica what really caught my attention were the photographs taken by Dora Maar as the work progressed.   I don’t know whether it had occurred to me before but this series of images show how the composition of the painting shifted and changed over time as Picasso created the work. Alongside these are other works which reference the figures, crying woman, bulls, fallen hero etc.

When I was struggling with putting my own composition together I am trying to be less anxious about how this happens and the time it takes.

What’s the Story? – Content & Context

Even a week on from finishing the Assignment 2 drawing I am not clear yet how all this is referenced by what I have seen in Madrid and my recent reading and thinking.

There are themes however that I am starting to recognise:-

  • There is a story behind the drawing or painting.   Though I am as yet not clear what mine may be I am now aware the more I understand the stories of other painters the more possible it is for me to articulate one of my own
  • I am drawn to the darker more introspective aspects of pieces of artwork
  • I also go for humour and a did at the status quo
  • I like the idea of metaphors but do not yet feel confident about using them myself
  • I appreciate both the detailed and larger gestural aspects of the artists
  • I still struggle with what a composition might be

Part 2 – Project 3 – Exercise 3 – Material Difference


I became a bit confused between Exercise 2 and 3 of this project in deciding how to go about developing a composition.

These first two sketches are from my sitting room where there is much more light and variety of objects of differing values and colours.


As I mentioned I had been reading about Bonnard and was particularly struck by one of the compositions which was longer and looking down on the subject.


Although not in itself containing particularly interesting objects this is one of the most intimate  views.   Therefore worked on cutting down and looking from above so that I could isolate the subject more specifically. I was surprised how difficult I find this process from different points of view.   We are used to taking in a scene and scanning it not concentrating on particular points of view and therefore it is a challenge to cut out all the extraneous “stuff” when looking.


I came down to the view above slicing through the view and taking in my neighbour’s sunflowers outside the window.   This says particular time – early autumn and place to me.


How I Worked the Drawing

I have never attempted such a large interior – this is an A1 sheet and my first challenge was getting used to the scale and thinking about what materials I wanted to use.

Somehow I was daunted by the white sheet of paper and covered the drawing area with an ochre ink wash.  I realise that I have never actively thought about working on different grounds so this was a first for me.

The next challenge was to pin this down to time of the day.   The light comes directly in during the morning so this is when I decided to place/time the drawing.

I had worked during the earlier part of this part of the course with multi-media materials and as  it is up to us to decide what to use I went for this option.

First big mistake – I had thought about doing the drawing with coloured pencils but when I started to work on a piece this size I thought it would take me far too long to complete the exercise. So I went for oil pastels and coloured pencils.   Unfortunately they do not work as the best of friends if you lay down the oil pastels first – the surface became very slimy and unworkable.

Panic! – Should I start again or do something drastic?   I did something drastic – used some white gouache to block in the main “light” tone areas.   Second big mistake.

Day 2 – Spent quite a lot of time trying to get rid – scraping back both the excess oil pastels and the gouache.   This was possible in some areas but not others.


Spent a lot of time trying to get the tonal values across the whole drawing correct but found this was very elusive.

The area I feel that I couldn’t resolve because of the decisions made on the first day are the curtains on the left of the composition.   In real life they are not textural like in the photograph but just messy.

Using the oil pastels works in some areas and not in others as do the coloured pencils.


I did my now usual thing of cropping the final image – taken out the curtains on the left.  In some ways I think this makes a better composition all round but regret loosing the hint of the table and its warm light.

My Neighbour’s Sunflowers – Conclusions

  • Still not disciplined enough with myself to stop and think about making a plan of action when undertaking a piece of work
  • I like work that is less fussy than the work I produce
  • I need to learn more about the materials that I use and definitely for the next assignments do more tryouts before committing myself to a final piece
  • I really hate the sunflowers – they look too false and formulaic- although in a way they are.
  • I need to learn more about aspects of foreground and background.   It was interesting in reading that it is said that Bonnard was democratic in his compositions – everything was equally important.
  • The coloured ground really works and brings a warmth to the whole piece
  • Finding a composition is a complex task which takes practice – it does not come naturally to me
  • I am still finding it hard to follow the instructions in the exercises – I get carried away and then when I go back to them I often find I have misinterpreted what was wanted
  • Working at larger sized pieces needs different skills that I am not used to and needs to be practised

I thought I would do a final Bonnard action – he worked on pieces of canvas without making decisions about the final size of the work and often worked on more than one image on one piece of canvas.   So I have  cropped again:-


The sunflowers look even worse in this but I like the chair, cushion and reflection on the curtain.


A bit messy – especially hate the left over gouache light shadows on the table. The gate is a bit wonky too!

Part 2 – Project 3 – Exercise 1 & 2 – Interior sketches and studies


Started with quick sketches around the rooms in the house.  Concentrated on line, shape, proportions etc rather than tone. Also was considering along the way what I would like to concentrate on drawing in greater depth.


Made notes as I went along considering the compositional possibilities of the particular view.   In some cases like the one above of part of my studio thought it would be too complex and confusing.


Then moved into the dining room and particularly liked the shapes of the chairs and how the different struts intersected.


Tried different viewpoints but thought this was getting back too much to still life rather than interior.   The view below has lost the interest of the chairs.


In some ways liked this one but too much like still life again.


As I took a longer view there was greater interest in the shadows coming through from the doorway of my studio.  Bit of an interior within an interior as the dining room itself has no natural light source which I thought might be a problem.

Further along I think this would be an interesting subject to tackle with all the different tones and shadows.


As I moved into the bedroom started using a charcoal pencil which I feel gives more definition to the objects and more structure all round.   Thought at one stage that I would like to concentrate on this view for the detailed study but again this room only has limited natural light.

If I went ahead with this I thought it would be better being a rather dark scene – it would have been better with a figure on the bed and full of mood.   In the end felt that it would not really work for showing the use of colour but it might be something I come back to in the future. Has a real feel of the “noir” and Sickert type of scene.


During the process of doing these drawings I was reading the Bonnard book (Metropolitan Museum 2009 – The Late Still Lifes and Interiors).  I thought both the scene above and particularly the one below with the dog on the bed were very evocative of the kind of interior he produced.


Learning Points

  • Initially I was hesitant about drawing interiors which I had not attempted in the past but gained more confidence the more I drew
  • Viewpoint is more important than I had realised and only by doing my own drawings did I start to become a bit discerning about how to tackle an interior
  • I am still very nervous about depicting the nuances of tone and light – I would like to have tackled the interior within the interior view from the dining room but felt it was too complex a composition to take on first time round
  • In some ways I am drawn to the simpler compositions but would like to learn how to make the complex more simple – i.e. how to draw out the essentials in a scene


Project 3 – At Home – Research Point


Pierre Bonnard – The Late Still Lifes & Interiors – Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009

I have spent quite a lot of time looking at and reading about Bonnard’s work and process.  Apart from his daily sketchbooks for which he almost always used pencil where  his references were made up of mark making (which for him implied colour).   Until this research I was not aware that his work was mainly done from memory .  Whereas Cezanne was “finding the right metaphor for his sensations” Bonnard was “finding the right metaphor for his memory of his observed experience.”

As noted previously Cezanne used all kinds of devices to create his still lifes and interiors- manipulating the plains of his objects so as to achieve dynamic compositions.  Bonnard on the other hand was interested particularly in two aspects of his compositions:-

  • light as it affects colour
  • colour as it translates light

I have picked out the image above, La Venus de Cyrene 1930, because of the his particular use of the shape of his final elongated canvas and severe direction of gaze namely from above into what might be considered a very ordinary subject matter.

Whilst I have been coming to conclusions about my own interior drawings I have realised that in order to achieve intimacy the artist needs to think very actively about how she wishes to influence the direction and therefore response of the viewers gaze.

With this recognition I have started to look much more carefully at the choices I am making but am finding this is only adding another layer of complication at the moment.


Another artist I have been looking at is Winifred Nicholson.   A great deal of her work consisted of looking from inside to outside often with plants and flowers in the foreground.   She often named the places like the above Window Sill Logano (1923).  This creates an interesting juxta-positioning between the importance of the both places, inside and outside.


Adding to this Marc Chagall (The White Window 1955) could not it seems often be without his figures – the lovers – and exteriors were a wonderful fantastical world where often neither people or objects were grounded.


Patrick Heron – The Long Table with Fruit 1949 – stripped down it its essentials this view uses line, planes, blocks of colour and no tone or shadow.


Ivon Hitchens – Studio with Open Door 1942 


Another Hitchens – just because I love the fluency of his use of paint.  Without overdoing detail his use of line for suggestion of form or blocks of colour or brush strokes is enough.


Evidently the work of a well known Australian painter, Brett Whitely – My Armchair. So much going on both inside and being drawn to the warmth of the colours he uses to imply the outside landscape.   This is an interesting composition because his choice of colour and line draws the eye around the whole composition whilst the intimacy is achieved from the details brought with different techniques to the individual objects.

Learning points:-

  • Intimacy can be created with a variety of compositional elements and techniques
  • Become more discerning about making decisions in terms of these aspects when building my own work
  • Ask myself questions about what I am trying the achieve, how am I going to select? What do I want the viewer to notice? The whole scene or something in particular?
  • It is as much about what is left in as well as what is left out
  • Is it background or foreground or both?

Some Are Nights Others Stars – Towner Art Gallery – September 2016

Michael Armitage, Ruth Claxton, Tiffany Chung, Siobhan Hapaska, Isaac Julien

Some Are Nights Others Stars brings together a diverse selection of international artists whose works embody the contrasting experiences of displacement, loss and separation with the dynamic possibilities of movement, transformation and remembrance. Presented as an interrelated set of experiences, the exhibition weaves together concerns about land, architecture, progress, utopian dreams, inequality, trauma and resistance that refer as much to imagined futures as to the historical past.

Encompassing film, installation, sculpture, painting and drawing, this major exhibition occupies the unique architecture of Towner’s Ground Floor Gallery. Though the selected artists vary in approach, consistent within all the works is their critical engagement, emotional power and ability to create interweaving narratives that suggest multiple states and histories.

The title of the exhibition alludes to the poem Ashes by Serbian poet Vasco Popa that begins in loss and rallies against destructive forces and dehumanisation until we become the dreamer and the dreamt, ‘both stars and night’.

Some Are Nights Others Stars

Siobhan Hapaska – Intifada (Shaking Off)

Siobhan Hapaska Intifada 1


Intefada 2

Explanatory leaflet in Exhibition Diary.

The part that is not obvious is that each olive tree has some kind of motor around its truck and they are constantly gyrating.   Which means that the whole piece is moving all the time as the leaves are falling the straps that are attached to the trees and to the building are all vibrating. It is also quite noisy – I am not sure if it meant to sound like gunfire or not.

The whole piece feels monumental and inhabits the large space with great presence.  I was affected by both the ideas behind the piece and its actuality. The trees have literally been pulled up and their roots are in the air – the people are rootless without their land and their produce.


Sussex Open – Towner Gallery – Eastbourne

Annual exhibition selected by judging panel.

A few of the drawings and paintings I particularly liked and responded to.

Anny Evason

A pair of graphite drawings by Anny Evason.  Beautifully drawn showing the full diversity of marks available using just one medium.   As I am presently struggling with my own drawing I was awed by the expertise of these strong and evocative scenes.

“I make drawings as finished work, not just as preparation for something else. I find the process of drawing direct, spontaneous, fluid. The act itself is way of thinking. I aim for that elusive equilibrium between the mark and the iconography.”

Rachel Adams -  Cup of Possibility

Rachel Adams - First They Came


Rachel Adams – Cup of Possibility, First They Come, The Passenger.

I particularly like the use of flat colour and tonal blocks in these paintings. The way the paintings evoke memories, photographic reminiscences of her life.


Sheila Morrow – Hand Embroidery

This is actually deep red stitching taken from a 2 minute sketch.   I like the way the spontaneity of the drawing has stayed true in this hand worked piece.




David Bomberg: A Sense of Place -Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne – September 2016

David Bomberg(1890 – 1857) who I did not know much about has been hailed as “one of the pioneers of early modernism”.  However this exhibition was interesting because it did not cover his early abstract work (pre-WWI) but covered the work of places where he lived and visited, Palestine, Spain, Cyprus, Cornwall and London.

It was noted that he “moved from abstraction post war as a response to the atrocities of the battlefield and war itself”.

The first phase of his foreign tours was in Palestine 1923-27.  Most of this work is rather stiff although he is beginning to develop the palette of colours that would characterise his later more successful pieces – rich reds, oranges, terracotta – he seems to have responded to the heat of his situations.

Jerusalem, Looking to Mount Scopus 1925 by David Bomberg 1890-1957
Jerusalem, Looking to Mount Scopus 1925 David Bomberg 1890-1957 Purchased 1972

As he spent more time in Spain 1929 onward his work begins to loosen up.   In Ronda 1935 he starts to “ignore perspectives and removes all notion of depth and distance.   Reacting to his surrounds, his marks on paper and canvas are bold and immediate.”

David Bomberg

Valley of the Hermida, Asturias, 1935

This painting exhibits very strongly directional marks with a rich dark palette, from deep purple via flesh to reds. Much more affecting painting overall.

He often took a very low viewpoint looking up into towering mountains and cliff faces.   The pieces particularly from Spain are very dramatic, hot and physical.

David Bomberg charcoal

Equally his drawings, mostly in charcoal and quite large scale are dynamic, strong and evocative of their situation.

David Bomberg cornwall

This later phase, Cornwall 1946/7 shows Bomberg very freed up with his technique.

St Paul's and River 1945 by David Bomberg 1890-1957
St Paul’s and River 1945 David Bomberg 1890-1957 Purchased 1975

During WWII as a fire-watcher he used the opportunity to utilise his strong mark making and architectural style to depict the London skyline.

He is quoted:- ” In reaching art towards the immensity of the subject there are moments when, that immensity seems to respond, forming a structure in which vision can emerge…”

Bomberg pioneered an approach free of outmoded ideas of space and time, in which feeling finds its place within the mind. (quoted from exhibition display)

When asked for a definition of painting Bomberg replied that it is “A tone of day or night and the moment to a memorable hour.  It is structure in a texture of colours.”

My Response

I was very moved by Bomberg’s depiction of time and place as he developed his freer style.  Particularly I enjoyed the colour palette that he used in these paintings which strongly evoke the heat and light of their particular settings.

Looking at where he came from stylistically and where he developed onto I respond much more to these located paintings and drawings than much of his other work.

What is interesting, from the evidence of his strong charcoal drawings, is how defined the drawings could be and then how he became abandoned, responsive, emotional in his paintings of place.  The directional strokes, strong flat colours and textural qualities are brought together to produce emotive responses to his subjects.

This selection, I realise, is just part of Bomberg’s work but I was very moved by it and loved his painterly style.  You can identify his influences in those he taught at Borough i.e. Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach.