John Virtue

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I was looking through some old work when I came across these images of my First Year studio. This was probably the one and only time my choice of topic deviated from Body Art and instead focused on the natural landscape. I think I surprised even myself in this shift as there was no real explanation for it apart from my discovery of oil paint. I think I felt that abstract landscapes were a better means of exploring this medium, as opposed to again working with the female body which I was already so familiar with. This shift was also due to the fact I discovered the work of John Virtue (see below).

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‘Landscape No. 707’, 2003-4, image sourced from The National Gallery website.

I fell in love with his whimsical monochrome depictions; how they were abstract yet figurative simultaneously. How he combined nature with industry. The blend of such intense darkness against the stark white also lends a satisfying balance to his work I found. This equilibrium allows the eye to shift peacefully across the page, taking the time to absorb intricate aspects such as texture which are so imbued with the studio aesthetic.

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What I found particularly interesting about Virtue’s work was his ritualistic aspect of his art making. Every day without fail he would walk to the same location to sketch. This of course resulted in an excess of drawings, but the dedication this required fascinated me. So for a while I chose to copy this method of working and walked to a park everyday. It was quite out of my way and in some cases an inconvenience to all of the other daily necessities occuring in my life. However, having this task and this escape also gave me the best kind of zehn I could have wished for. I had an excuse to leave behind the rush and pace of daily life to focus fully on ritual-based art making. 

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I also tried to employ Virtue’s use of the monochrome palette by removing colour from my work. Depicting landscapes and working with oil paint was a time where I was using really vibrant and sunset-based hues, so this removal was a real challenge for me. It forced me to think a lot more critically about texture, shape, scale and all of the other elements that could compensate for lack of colour. I poked needle-thin holes through paper, I worked with impasto and modelling paste, I used charcoal and inks to create that messy studio look. I tried everything and had great fun experimenting, but of course I gradually began bringing colour back into my work. I also sadly had to stop my daily excursions to the park given all my other commitments, but I may some day start that again for a brief period at least. Employing the working methods of another artist was a really interesting and liberating experience for me, as I was giving up all sense of control that I had over my work and instead completely yielding myself to working in a certain way. It was an incredibly enjoyable experiment and is something I think I’ll definitely go back to at some point!

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In Time

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It’s always funny looking back at old artwork. This is because I look at it with all of the feelings and emotions I was applying at the time of its creation, yet I’m also looking at it with my more current artistic views. So there ends up being this two-way reading of a work. What I felt then and what I feel now. Which can either be quite paralleled, but more often then not is more of a “what the hell was I doing?!” kind of reaction. It’s sometimes quite amusing to see the difference in the two thought processes. One of the reasons I am so grateful that I’ve made art throughout my life, is that all my works are essentially a document and narrative to my growth and development. Or at least, to my development as an artistic practitioner. It is me expressing myself during a given time period and over the years my drawings have taken on all sorts of forms. These include Beatrix Potter-like creations of animals in clothes, fashion illustrations, running inky portraits, landscapes, sketched copies from the work of Egon Schiele and Michalengelo, life drawing, the list goes on. The above image is from my experimental phase with Indian and batik ink. I love the fluidity and seeping of colours, as I never know how a piece is going to turn out, which for me is incredibly exciting. This way of working led onto a whole bunch of ink-based experimentation and essentially changed the way I paint forever, as I still apply dripping and watered-down techniques today. Funny how one thing can lead to another and you never look back!