Double Exposure – drawing new narratives

In these past few weeks I have been continuing my “Double Exposure” project; using white paint markers of varying thicknesses as well as standard black fine-liners in lieu of embroidery.  With this relatively limited palette, I wish to add a second layer on the pages from David Hamilton’s Souvenirs and replicate in drawing what it feels to be distracted by negative information about an author when viewing a piece of art.

The first time I remember being in a situation where learning unsavoury details about an artist stopped me fully enjoying their work was in secondary school.  Like any budding painter, around the age of 13 or 14, I idolised Picasso.  Sure, I thought the Guernica was great, but what I was really obsessed about was his blue period.  Learning about his chauvinism and the questionable treatment of the women in his life, made me both angry and embarrassed.  How his behaviour was tolerated if not fully expected from a successful male painter was beyond me.  I replaced him in my heart with the drinking-with-the-boys Frida Kahlo.  How much did that really change the expectation my teenage-self had about painters is open to interpretation.

With age and a bit of experience I have learned to accept that idolising as well as detesting a stereotype of a person is not productive.  By ignoring the whole production of Picasso, for the sake of argument, because he was a royal self-obsessed arse, would not do you any favours.  On the flip side, sweeping any problem under a rug hardly makes it disappear.  Perhaps we ought to be more mindful about past prejudices and negative attitudes embedded in creative work, have it be visual art, music, drama or literature… and strive to do better in the future?  Besides, by choosing to appreciate artwork only from the “Greatest Hits” shelf of art history leaves you missing out on not just great art, but great stories of artists less know than Picasso or Kahlo.

To return to “Double Exposure”, pretending the sexual abuse allegations against David Hamilton do not affect the way his work is perceived would be an understatement.  This is partly explained by the subject matter itself – what was seen acceptable in the 1970’s is more widely condemned and disapproved today, even when suggestively posed pre-pubescent children are not involved.  What intrigues me is how difficult it is to separate the art from the person who created it.  Like a window that gets dirtier and harder to peer through with the passage of time, it is difficult observe Hamilton’s photography in earnest without the cloud of accusations obstructing the view.  Following this line of reasoning, I begun to draw with a view of obscuring, but not entirely covering the pages of Souvenirs – to physically replicate this effect on paper.

These drawing attached in today’s blog are just a few examples of my progress so far.  With over a hundred photographs to choose from, my biggest challenge will be selecting the most successful pieces and curating them into a coherent work of art.

Until then,

Tiina x

Two Brides – on photography and figurative painting

I have a longstanding habit of painting double portraits.  There is something calming about a balanced pair, in both concept and composition.  Spaced out harmoniously on canvas, two individual subjects depicted as a complimentary coupling – if there ever was a trope in painting that gets repeated over and over again, this one is mine.  My latest canvas, Two Brides, is a perfect example of my obsession with twinned subject matter, special only as it features people rather than static objects.

The other reason Two Brides stands out from my previous double portraiture is its basis in photography.  Generally, I would prefer to paint physical objects and still lives.  This is my comfort zone, if you will.  Unlike traditional portraiture with a sitter or an artist’s model, I am free to focus only on the surface of the subject being painted, without the need to acknowledge the feelings and needs of another sentient person.  An object does not move, nor does it complain about the lack of loo breaks.  The benefit of painting from photographs is in their fixed nature.  An image is the perfect model, unmoving and always perfectly composed, but the benefits of photography are far wider:  Simply by possessing the right snap, a painter is transported to a carnival in Venice, depths of the seven seas… even space – all in the comfort of the artist’s studio.  On the flip side, however, why take the effort in painting a photograph when you already have access to an image, in essence, a finished piece of art?

Photorealist movement aside, using photographs as a visual aid when it comes to figurative painting is a highly contested matter.  I know painters who openly look down on others who paint with the aid of photos and I too have reservations on work that relies solely on copying another image without any further curatorial input.  Especially as a student, the prevalence of these types of attitudes kept me from considering photography as a tool, even when it would have aided my research beyond regular drawing or sketching.  The only times I felt painting from a photograph was appropriate, for me, were cases when I had no access to the types of objects I wished to depict.  My Volvo-pieces from 2011-2012 are a great example of this type of work – the cars in question have long rolled into the big car park in the sky and only exist in my memory… as well as selection of snaps in my family album.  It took years and a bit of confidence to admit how I research my paintings does not need to reflect someone else’s view on what good painting should be.

The fact of the matter remains that photography is widely used as an aid when creating visual art, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly.  Painting does not exist in a vacuum and should not be confined to early 19th century sketching methods for the sake of purity that never existed in the first place.  From Vermeer and his usage of camera obscura to the angst ridden art student I used to be, photography is a valuable tool that allows us to capture fleeting situations and moods like no other creative medium.  I would personally argue the usage of photographs has made figurative painting more inclusive and easier to approach.  Not every aspiring painter can access live-model classes and galleries packed full of classical plasters waiting to be studied – this being the way you should be learning figuration in the minds of absolute traditionalists.  Photography, in short, offers many their first contact in drawing a likeness and should not be dismissed due to its availability to all demographics.  Copying the works of the old masters is a long established tradition in art education and replicating a photograph in paint can be just as enlightening when it comes to learning colour-matching and composition.

Peter-Doig-Lapeyrose-Wall-010
Lapeyrose Wall by Peter Doig, 2014, (private collection) via the Guardian

Figurative artists who prefer photography over sketching create work just as creative and painterly as those who do not.  I am choosing to illustrate this point further, not with my own work or that of my friends, but by encouraging you to study the works of Peter Doig, a Scottish painter who utilises photography in his creative process.  I visited his retrospect in the National Gallery in Edinburgh more than five times in 2014 and the show had a profound impact in my view of figurative painting and colouration at the time.  I felt tight of breath standing in front of those wall-sized canvasses, bewildered by the wonder of Doigs brushstrokes.  Few would argue his work is anything but engaging, original and impactful simply because his research includes photography alongside drawing.

I hesitated for a moment before choosing to add snaps of my own research material for this particular blog.  Two Brides is directly based on a set of wedding photographs from the early 1930’s.  There is no way around that.  I made a sketch or two from these images, but the final composition was simply crudely photoshopped together to act as my guide when painting.  Combining elements from two photographs into a single double portrait is not difficult by hand, but utilising a bit of tech in this case made the process a lot faster.  Does this make me less creative or worse off as an artist?  In my own mind, the answer is irrelevant as long as the painting I am creating can be viewed as more than a collage of images taken long ago.

All I can say is that I cannot wait for this one to be finished.

Ta, Tiina x

Double Exposure

Almost two years ago now I was given a book of photography from the 70’s called Souvenirs.

My dad of all people had found it in the loft where he grew up, clearing away his dead mothers things alongside his siblings.  The mood was sombre and not very much was kept, but he did save this book for me.  Not as a reminder of my beloved mummu, but as something a visual artist could surely use.  “It is one of those artist things, you know… ehem… artistic stuff.” he said.  I thanked him and took this book, curious of its contents.  Upon first inspection it seemed to have a few female nudes, some overly sentimental images of the countryside, birds flying high in the sky and sandy beaches somewhere warm… the usual stuff.

Souvenirs book

I must confess, dear reader, that I was underwhelmed.

On the closer look, the book stand out from your standard kitsch and sentimental garbage.  The women in these images seemed unfeasibly young; lean and barely pubescent, depicted in various sexually suggestive poses and scenarios.  Some compositions were mimicking classical art (the reason my dad thought the book might be useful for a painter) where as others had a snap shot like feel to them, appearing sinister and almost voyeuristic.

I was not aware of it at the time but the esteemed photographer whose work I was studying with growing distain had just taken his own life following accusations of sexual abuse and rape from women he photographed, some as young as 13 when the abuse was alleged to have happened.  What I saw was enough for me to bury this book at the bottom of my wardrobe in disgust.  It took me some time to put a name in the face, but once I was aware who had taken these seedy snaps, I was further convinced this was not something I would like to look up to for inspiration regarding aesthetics, photography or anything.

The name of this photographic artist is of no importance, although I am sure many of you know who I am talking about.  We spend way too much time focussed on (alleged) perpetrators in our society and not nearly enough time emphasising with the victims.  Following the #metoo campaign and other high profile sexual misconduct cases recently, an idea was brewing.  I was just getting back to work after a long medical leave following a stint of working with other projects and  I needed something to sink my teeth into.

And this is how I found myself reaching for the book that had been sitting at the bottom of my wardrobe for nearly two years.

To put it simply, I felt like engaging, politically.  To hang my colours to the mast, if you will.  My usual studio work is not overtly politically motivated – I see myself as a collector or a curator of visual information more than anything else, but Souvenirs and the way this book made me feel, had just made tipped me in the realm of feminist art.

I chose the medium of embroidery as it seemed suitably quaint and harmless – like some of the imagery found in the book; a bevy of swans or a sleepy village.  Not a context one would expect to find a vagina of a child.  Referring to a wider use of female nudity in visual art, historically a woman’s body on canvas is an invitation to look and a testament of the painters skill; an object.  It remains so in my work – I paint portrait of objects and this includes a large collection of auto portraits and portraits of other women, subjected to the same clinical gaze as a vase of flowers might.  Double Exposure is different.  I want it to invite you in and encourage you, dear reader, to question the motives of the artist, my motives, in creating this work.

My journey crafting this body of work is only beginning, but I know I must take care with it.  I need to get this one right.

The time is up.