A Circular Painting

For this assignment I was tasked with creating a circular or oval painting of an area in my house, either from life or from a photograph, I also had to refer to the work I completed in previous exercises and artist research carried out. When thinking about what I wanted to produce for my assignment, I was drawn to the unmade bed, as I wanted to create something that would enable me to paint with light, dancing, brush strokes, as I’ve discovered I enjoy this style of painting when creating responses to the works of artist such as Iain Andrews, Genieve Figgis and Cecily Brown. The ripples and undulations of the duvet and fabric offered this ability to create light movement with the painting and brush strokes.

Looking at just the bed alone felt unfinished and lacking so I though about what I could add into the frame to make it more interesting, much like how Allison Katz combines the silhouette portraits with vegetables, it adds something, some interest to the piece. I also started thinking about the works of Iain Andrews and Paula Rego where they use folklore and fairy tales as inspiration, and I immediately thought of…. ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – perhaps the bed was lacking a person?

Sandro Botticelli, “Mars and Venus,” ca. 1483

I also considered artists who have taken inspiration from historical works such as that of Mindy Lee and her paintings on plates “Better out than in Venus’ which led me to research ‘people sleeping in art history’ and I found a whole host of research and literature about this very subject here. For example in how different characters are portrayed as awake or asleep and how this portrays certain narratives, for example ‘Mars and Venus’ by Sandro Botticelli, which at first glance I think looks rather comical, it’s as if Venus has bored Mars to sleep. However upon further research, when we look at the painting in more detail we can see baby satyrs playing with Mars’ (God of War) weaponry, whilst Venus (God of Love) looks on. Kryger argued that “The piece is basically saying, love conquers war,” in The Atlas of Clinical Sleep Medicine, “Sleep in Art and Literature,”. Moreover ‘Sleeping Venus,’ by Giorgione, doesn’t depict vulnerability or weakness as in the case of Mars, here we can see a rather provocative Venus, with her arm raised above her head, and hand rested on her genitals, there is a sense of power and ease in her sleeping state.

Giorgione, “Sleeping Venus,” ca. 1508

I also researched more recent and contemporary artists who have depicted sleep or people sleeping such as that of Henri Matisse’ ‘Portrait of Marguerite’, a painting of Matisse’s own daughter, as well as Ferdinand Hodler’s ‘Night’, depicting seven figures including Hodler, his wife, his mistress, and the ghost of death waking Hodler.

Portrait of Marguerite sleeping, 1920, Henri Matisse

I learned how sleep has been depicted in many different ways throughout history, to symbolise vulnerability, boredom, represent dreams, nightmares, sexuality and seduction. The subject matter is very appealing in that it invites the viewer to draw their own conclusions about the work and relate it to their own feeling towards sleep, is it escapism or does sleep seem to escape them? Is sleep problematic or conjure emotion or is it actually just quite banal and boring…a dull human function?

Night, 1890, Ferdinand Hodler

I didn’t want just a static body in a bed I wanted to move the paint around the canvas and so I wanted movement in the image too. So I decided to take photographs of my bed with me in it, taking multiples at different angles and sleeping positions as if to recreate a night’s sleep of natural movement, then I would digitally manipulate these images to become translucent and layered one on top of the other. This idea of movement has followed me from the previous assignment I completed Monotype Portraits. Below is the original selection of photographs taken.

Once I was happy with these images I then digitally manipulated them by increasing their transparency, it was a little difficult to achieve the right levels of transparency and layering to create a pleasing image but through some trial and error I landed on the final image below, finishing it by cropping it into a circular shape to paint from.

Ground

I researched grounds in general and how they can affect the overall look of a painting. My chosen image is quite white and light and so I wanted to use something that I could use thin layers of white to build upon especially as I had digitally manipulated my images, by changing the transparency levels and layering them, it was important to be able to build the layers in the same way. Through research I learned that raw or burnt Sienna and yellow ochre are commonly used, however this didn’t sit well with the subject matter, neutral greys were also suggested. As well as using a warm tone if painting over with a cool tone. So I decided to mix up a pale grey but then added in some yellow ochre and cadmium yellow to warm it up slightly, I also used some water so it wasn’t a thick ground and some canvas was only lightly painted to create some texture and differentiation on the surface.

Brushes

I used a selection of brushes to create the painting. I used the flat brush to mark out the shape of the bed frame and general contours of the image, and then alternated between the remaining fan and round brushes to create the textures, sometimes using sweeping movements and sometimes just tipping and swirling the paint brush around in my hand. I used the smallest brush to add in some of the details for faces and arms, and some finer shadow and line.

Painting

Below is a glimpse into the process of layering the painting. I decided to paint thinly, to build up the transparent images, using water mainly to thin the acrylic but then also experimenting with the use of an acrylic binder, which had a satin/gloss type finish so this added another element to the translucency of the painting. Towards the end the entire image had quite an overall satin sheen which I wasn’t a huge fan off so I worked back through with some pure white acrylic to re-introduce contrasting matte textures to finish.

Final Painting

Below is the finished painting. I’m starting to understand in my work that I tend to focus on process, I enjoy the different layers or elements in the process that lead up to a final piece. My previous work on Monotype Portraits was much like this, and I am pleased with the outcomes of both the monotypes and this painting, more so that I am of my previous two assignments – A Series of Paintings and Collection Painting, which for me are a little flat and uninteresting.

Much like how Lynette Yiadom Boakye paintings invite the viewer to project their own feelings or interpret the paintings in their own way, I hope my painting also achieves this, for me it feels ethereal, I see one person oscillating in their dream-like state and the swathes of white duvet make it feel serene and comforting. Others may interpret the work completely differently, and see something disturbing, a body tossing and turning in discomfort or turmoil, the hands raised up – not in dream-like surrender but in protest or discomfort. Some may even see the painting as a voyeur, with multiple people in the bed, and form a sexual or erotic connection to the painting. Either way I will be interested to hear the different responses this painting evokes!

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