Saturday 28 April 2012

Abstract painting - the process

Recently two commissions for abstract paintings led me to explore a couple of different avenues. I returned to look at the American Abstract Expressionists and  Franz Kline in particular.  

Given a superficial glance these paintings look so simple - a couple of dramatic lines dashed across the canvas with a loaded brush and the painting is done - or is it?
Is it really so simple? 

Acrylic study for Grey, Silver Black & Pink

The reality is somewhat removed from that simplistic assumption. Start flashing a brush around and see what happens - usually the canvas turns into an uncontrollable mess. Try flicking just one splash of colour on to a monochromatic painting and disaster lurks. The consistency of the paint is crucial. 

If there’s too much turps in the mix, when it’s splashed over thicker, more oily paint that layer will crack when it dries . If there’s too much oil in the mix, the paint will take forever to dry. While the paint is drying the beautiful spots can turn a into ugly wrinkles. Then one understands exactly why Kline continued to use house paint instead of artists paint which his dealer wanted him to use. The viscosity of industrial paint is perfect for splashes and dribbles. This video gives some insight to his process

I started by doing a number of acrylic studies in my sketchbook.

Acrylic study for Grey, Silver black & pink

Once the right image was decided upon I worked directly on the primed canvas. I started with  shades of grey and white in large areas, applying the paint with brush and palette knife to add surface tension to the canvas. I have added a few detail photos at the end of this post to try to show this.

Once this layer was dry I painted the black lines with fast broad strokes. 

Black lines are added and other areas have been simplified.Then, with fingers crossed, because I’m not really a splashy kind of painter, a few splashes of shocking pink added the colour. The silver leaf was the final touch - and difficult to photograph well as the silver leaf simply looks white.

The initial sketches have a rawness and vitality that is hard to translate to a large canvas. The sheer size tends to make one more careful. However, I am pleased with the way the surface of the canvas has become more complex, adding substance and vitality to what was a casual sketch. 

 Grey, black, silver & pink - oil on canvas 1000mm x 1000mm
Carol Lee Beckx  © 2012 Collection Transform Hair




Sunday 15 April 2012

My heart is in two countries

My heart is in two countries. It’s back in South Africa where I left part of my family, my friends and my comfort zone. My heart is also here in Australia where I am fulfilling a life-long desire to be a full-time artist.

The deadline for The Limited Edition is 30th April 2012 and seemed distant - plenty of time to do the drawings. Then a couple of weeks ago I realised that the little book still remained safely in its envelope - untouched.

As I work best under pressure, I decided to do this quickly. I collected my reference - the ideas had been whirling around in my head for weeks. I designed the layout and order of the pages. I did the rough drafts and started drawing.

The sketchbook explores images and icons from both South Africa and Australia. It’s a nostalgic visual diary. I’ve kept it simple. I’ve allowed the images to speak for themselves. I contemplated adding text, and then I decided against this. Once I started, I wouldn’t know where to stop. Instead some words were added to a few pages. The photographs are printed on a type of textured Japanese paper.

These pages follow on from the previous post The Sketchbook Limited Edition Vol 1

In my Father’s arms and Carol Anne Lee - with special dolls

The drawings are mainly in sepia ink. Some have some coloured pencil added; a few pages have the addition of a watercolour wash. A simple stamp was used to add the page numbers and some words. 

My beautiful Mother - and her crochet work. This drawing of her is from a photograph taken on board ship when she won a prize in a Fancy Dress competition.

Our faithful Airedale Jock and our house in Kokstad. The Standard Bank adjoined the house - there was a passage between the buildings. This would be laughable in today's world of high-tech security.

                                     Ready for school                  My wonderful Father

My two children

                                        Protea                                    Zulu bead work

Hector Pieterson (1964 – 16 June 1976) became the subject of an iconic image of the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa when a news photograph by Sam Nzima of the dying Hector being carried by another student while his sister ran next to them, was published around the world. He was killed at the age of 12 when the police opened fire on protesting students. For years, 16 June stood as a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government. Today, it is designated National Youth Day — when South Africans honour young people and bring attention to their needs.

Mountains on the road to Sunnyside guest farm in the Clarens district.

Trees in Kalinga Park, Brisbane, Australia


Homage to Aboriginal art 

                                   Koala at Lone Pine sanctuary                Kookaburra

            Mother Kangaroo with her Joey

Leaping Kangas with the Australian Flag


Now with a week to go before the postmark deadline it’s complete. 

The last few pages have been scanned. It's hard to stop, but it's time to say -  that’s done - and put it in the post.

Thursday 12 April 2012

The Sketchbook Project Limited Edition Vol.1

A few months ago I saw some sketchbooks done by artist friends. These were part of The Sketchbook Project 2012. I’ve kept sketchbooks as long as I can remember. Mostly, they’ve been travel sketchbooks when I’ve had time to sit and draw. One thing I’ve never done is a sketchbook with a single theme, designed, planned and executed from cover to cover.
The idea intrigued me. I was too late for the 2012 project as entries were fully subscribed and in any case there was insufficient time to complete the project.

However, a new project had just opened. The Sketchbook Project Limited Edition Vol.1 is a collaborative series of art books created by 5,000 artists from around the world. I signed up, chose my theme and waited impatiently for the sketchbook to arrive in the post.

The cover pays homage to my Mother - it features an example of her masterful crochet work. I took a direct scan from a tablecloth she made.

The theme I chose was Thread and Surface. The opportunity to explore mixed media in the project excited me. The sketchbook duly arrived. I must confess to a little disappointment initially. I knew what size the book would be but I soon realised that the paper would not stand up to any dramatic media exploration. In fact, even a light watercolour wash was tricky.

So - a change of plan was needed. I know what you are thinking - just replace the paper with something more suitable - thicker more robust paper. Since making hand bound journals is not one of my accomplishments, and because my frugal nature baulked at throwing out the original pages, I decided to work with what I had.

My initial concept was to use the idea of thread as the thread of my life - tracing my life from surface to surface in South Africa and finally from continent to continent as I moved from Africa to Australia. As I view my life here I am often in a contest between the two places. Part of me is here, happy in Brisbane; part of me remains and always will remain in South Africa.

I recently read a book by Rachel Powers called The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood : a divided heart: a split self; the sense that to succeed at one means to fail at the other. 
There's the dilemma faced by an artist when she becomes a mother. There’s the strong maternal pull to bond with your child and there’s the need to separate oneself from the child in order to create. In my case it was a little different; my children are grown up but I was leaving part of my family to live a creative life in another country, so it seemed to be a fitting title for my Sketchbook.

Two Continents

When I drew the maps I was taken back to Geography class many years ago - my favourite part was adding blue sea around the land.

Part  2 to follow:
My heart is in two Countries - I discuss the planning and process

Monday 2 April 2012

Timelines, deadlines and where did time go?

I realised on Saturday morning that it was the date for Facebook to change Pages to the new Timeline. I wanted to include work pre-Facebook on my Timeline then I discovered that much of what I had painted in the past remained undocumented.

Oddly, I have little to show for my years at Art School. I can’t recall my fellow students documenting their work either. Poverty most likely resulted in most works being painted over to save the cost of a new canvas!

One relic from that period is a colour wheel painted with extreme care in Gouache. It’s stood the test of time. The colours remain bright, perhaps because for many years it remained in a folder away from the light. It’s now on the pin board in my studio and used as a reference for my students. 

The most likely reason for the lack of photos was the hassle of print photography. We forget the decisions that had to be made - do you buy 12 or 24 or 36 exposures? How long would it take to be developed? Would the photos be any good?
I would always need to develop a photograph immediately, then waste the unexposed film or take many unnecessary photos to use up the roll. How much easier is the process today? A click and immediately the image is there. No excuse now for undocumented work. 

I have some images of two dominant series. For a number of years I belonged to the Miniature Art Society of South Africa and exhibited with them both in South Africa and in World Miniature Exhibitions. Creating miniature paintings became a passion for a number of years.

Fishing Boats,Western Cape - watercolour on paper 60mm x 70mm
Collection the artist

The Arch, Belgium - watercolour on paper 70mm x 60mm
Collection the artist

As well as working in traditional watercolour , I painted a series of watercolour collages. As a member of the Watercolour Society of South Africa, work was originally restricted to transparent watercolour on paper only. In 2011 the society was renamed  Watercolour Society Africa and an associate society was formed for artists in all media, the Art Society Africa (ASA).

Pink Cannas -  Watercolour collage - Private collection
Size approx 560mm x 760mm

If collage was used, it had to be painted watercolour paper. Today the criteria are much more flexible and allow for mixed media.I became fascinated with the layering of various weights of paper, using fine, delicate papers as well as heavily textured ones. 

Mushrooms - Watercolour collage  760mm x 560mm
Collection the artist

Garden Collage - detail - Watercolour collage
Private collection. Size of complete work: 800mm x 1200mm

Some parts of the paper were glued, others areas were left to stand away from the surface of the background, creating shadows. 

The painting, Garden Collage,(detail shown here) was a large watercolour collage. The flowers and leaves were painted on separate pieces of paper, cut out and then layered and glued on to a large sheet from a roll of watercolour paper - .76metres by 1.2 metres. Different weights of paper were used to create this dramatic work. Two smaller companion paintings were made to accompany this work: White Arums with Japanese Anemones and Lilies with Gladioli part of this album on my Facebook page.

Sometimes I painted the shadows and sometimes the shadows were real. When I look at this body of work I am inspired to re-visit the process, perhaps with a change of medium and incorporate this idea on canvas.