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  • Writer's pictureAnna Curston

Weeks 6&7: 8th November to 19th November

Hello friends. The last two weeks have been excellent for me in terms of painting. I hit a wall which I pushed past with a sudden realisation I had lying in bed one night and this was soon followed by a very happy turning point. I think that is where I will begin today’s blog, so let’s get right into it!

After a tutorial the week before, I started to look at Wassily Kandinsky. Almost instantly, I remembered looking at him about a year earlier, he was the catalyst to my geometric journey. It seems fitting to me that he again should be the push I needed to find myself again in my paint. It began with using black lines on a (granted still not very inspiring) painting to resolve it. I always stayed away from using black lines, but after looking at Kandinsky using them, and after a little colour theory research, I knew they were necessary to ‘tidying up’ my painting – the black lines separated the areas of colour and stopped them interacting. It resolved the painting well enough that I felt I could move on.

At this current point in my painting journey, my real focus and struggle is colour. Up until the beginning of last week however, I was trying to resolutely push myself back into my focus from last term and this was holding me back. The geometric forms and compositions weren’t my subject anymore, they had become just my language; a tool I used to express myself in paint. I want to make people feel things. I want to invoke an emotional response, and colour is the way to do that. My subject is abstraction. My subject is colour. My subject is the marks my brush makes with the paint on my boards. I want to increase my understanding of colour theory so I can more intuitively (and effectively) use it in my paintings. I am fascinated by the juxtapositions I can create in my paint: gestural verses smooth and structured, thin paint verses thick, opaque verses transparent. My paintings must be an investigation to keep my passion and to ensure my work is unrepetitive and of quality. I have admitted that my previous line of enquiry is closed, so now I can fully commit to this new one.

I’ve looked a variety of artists over the past fortnight, not just Kandinsky (although I have looked at him a lot), I’ve looked a variety of past and contemporary artists. I’ve look at Simon Kenny – if you do not know him then I recommend you look him up, I would love to own a Kenny painting. He investigates a similar theme to me and has an aim for his audience that very much aligns with my own; he intentionally paints no specific locations so the colours alone can carry people on their own personal journey through the memories and emotions the colours in the painting invoke. When thinking about painterly marks, I always come back to Diebenkorn. He had such a wonderful way of applying paint to canvas. With my love of space rekindling, I had to look at an all-time favourite space painter: Catarin Machin. When researching her process, I discovered she always starts her paintings with a black ground which has inspired me and helped push my astronomy theme further with a new idea to experiment with. I briefly looked at Katie Paterson as she’s a contemporary artist with themes relating to my own. I also looked at both Mondrian and Kandinsky’s progression from figurative to abstract painting – it was a gradual process for them both and interesting to see how they got there. Last but definitely not least however, I looked at Fiona Rae! An artist I discovered a while ago but did not study properly until the last week, I will talk more about her later.

Over these last two weeks I have completed four works (finally) of note: Winter, Look Up, Play Time and Kingdom of the Gods. Winter was the first to reach completion and I used tonal thumbnails on two occasions to help finish it. I like to do this so I can figure out the tonal aspect without the distraction of colour. When it then comes to the applying of the colour, I can relax in the knowledge that the image works tonally and just focus on playing with colours and getting that component to work too. These thumbnails are less of a plan and more of a suggestion so the final image will usually differ from the thumbnail to a greater or lesser extent. Look Up and Play Time were completed around the same time as each other I was working on them simultaneously. They both started with the same composition and then went their separate ways as the colour schemes I chose for them dictated. It was interesting to see how just the colour choice drove the two in such different directions. (See below)

Last to reach the finish line was Kingdom of the Gods, but in fairness to him he was also started later than the rest and actually took me very little time to create. This painting was an experiment with a black background and a larger board. I very much enjoyed applying the various marks (especially the white ones) over the black and I think it came out rather striking. As a result I am now working on three more black ground paintings.

As part of improving my colour knowledge, I have been working on some more colour experiments. One of the most interesting of these was the colour mixing one: I took a pure colour and mixed it with each of it’s complementary colour, white (to make a tint) and either raw umber or raw umber mixed with ultramarine depending on if the colour was warm or cool. This is very useful as now I know how to darken the value of a colour without its temperature being altered too much. The other experiment of note was on triadic colour schemes. I especially enjoy the primary triad (red, yellow and blue) but it was very eye opening to realise why certain colours I’d observed being used by other artists and that went especially well together, were actually triadic. (A triad is just three colours from the colour wheel that are equal points apart from each other.)

Earlier in this post I mentioned creating juxtapositions in my paint. With this in mind, I started work on two 50 x 50 cm black boards. Not only am I focusing on colour on these boards, but also on the marks I am making. I am experimenting with using acrylic thickening medium to get a real contrast in my thick and thin paint; experimenting with creating a non-flat surface. It’s interesting once you start seeing an abstract painting as not only an expression of something (an idea, and experience, the world) but also as an object in its own right.

That brings me to my next point. What are my paintings? Well, not cubist. My work may have had some parallels with cubism in the past but, especially now, it is not cubist. Someone asked me the other day if my work was cubism and I automatically said yes. This made me completely reconsider everything. For a while now I have been describing my work as cubist, but only because other said it. They made me see parallels to it, so I assumed it must be. But that is where, for me, this issue lies. I assumed. I didn’t think. I just went along with this idea because it made life easier. If it was cubist, everyone understood. In the same way that non artist people I know lean heavily towards Kingdom of the Gods as their favourite piece because the space imagery is recognisable to them. The imagery is obvious so they don’t have to think to understand. My work is not cubist because I do not abstract the world. I find the abstract in the world. As humans, we like structure and logic and we like to make sense of our surroundings. We find the order in the chaos. When I find my compositional inspiration, I am finding the abstract structures that are already in the world and simply making sense of them in a different way. Our eyes and brain decipher the world for us, mathematics also does this, I am simply using paint to do this instead. Through my painting process I am constantly finding structures and losing them again, over and over. It is the human battle of trying to make sense of things as the universe naturally pushes everything back towards chaos, and I try and find an equilibrium for this in my paintings.

It’s finally time to talk more about Fiona Rae. I’ve been a fan of Fiona Rae for a while now, she’s just so different to pretty much every painter I’ve come across, especially with her use of colour. Her use of ‘unconventional’ colour is really inspiring to me. Her paintings are not just interesting in texture, they are visually beautiful. For me personally they speak to me of childlike joy and wonder. Her mark making is also fascinating and researching her process has inspired me to use photoshop to help me come up with colour ideas – much like the tonal thumbnails I do, these are more like suggestions that a solid roadmap. I love her attitude to her painting’s audience: “I wouldn’t want to prescribe what people think about them.” I love how free she leaves them to interpretation for the audience. They are unique yet so accessible. Fiona Rae is one of those painters that makes me feel like I’m allowed to do stuff. Her paintings give me permission to be myself.

It’s been a productive and busy two weeks, but as I’m currently in the middle of week 8 now as this blog post got pushed back by me being unwell, I think I’ll leave this post on that final note about Fiona Rae. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and I’ll see you in the next one!


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