After neglecting my blog for far too long, this entry will have to be a brief run-down of my work over the last few months. In December I was still preoccupied with my series ‘In Medias Res’, in which I paint sections of longer objects – be they flower spires, ears of wheat, tree-trunks or, appropriately, icicles – almost as chapters of a larger story (from the latin, ‘in the middle of things’). The delphinium was the second in the series, and I struggled to capture the papery delicacy of the petals. However, in the end I was really pleased with the powerful colour balanced, which is so outside my usual, subtle palette. As I painted, it was the richer purples which felt most vivid, but actually on reflection it is the paler, lavender hues which sing most against the golden ground.
The icicles painting was initially conceived as another ‘Medias Res’, and was a joy to paint. The optical effects of undulating ice felt extraordinarily abstract and yet surprisingly realistic at the same time. There are times as an artist when you genuinely see something which you would not have noticed as a mere observer, and this was the case with the bubbles suspended at the centre of the larger icicles. Not only are these a beautiful visual detail, they seem to suggest the freezing of time, as well as water.
My other seasonal work was the microcosm of a brussel sprout. I had been mulling over this ever since I saw James Acaster’s book tour, in which he describes a series of cabbage-based pranks. As with so many of my pictures, what began as a purely visual idea began to take on surprising meanings as I planned the work. From the outside, a sprout looks like a ball of layers, but I became transfixed by the fact that, cut in half, the inside reveals a tree-like structure, with the branches radiating out to support the surface. And so round and round in my head while I drew this microcosm went the carol: ‘The Tree of Life my soul hath seen, laden with fruit and always green’. Though the symbolism made complete sense to me, I thought it would seem mad to anyone else, and so I was delighted that it was snapped up by a herbalist, who saw in the image the power of nature to heal and regenerate.
At the start of the new year, I worked to complete my collection of Tiny Treasures, with the exciting prospect of them going on display at Blossom Street Gallery, in York. My additions were two insects, both edged in gold, and a silver fish cut into ‘two pieces of silver’. With these three I wanted to emphasise the precious, jewel-like quality of these miniatures, with the gold outlines inspired by religious icons. On a practical level, the gold backgrounds made it possible to paint in the fine outline details of hairs and delicate legs, which would have been impossible to cut out. As with my other Tiny Treasures, I loved working in such concentrated detail on these, though it was terrifying when I came to the point of cutting in two the silver fish! It was wonderful to recently see pictures of the collection displayed beautifully by the Blossom Street Gallery in glass cabinets, which perfectly echo the glass and metal frames.
However, the biggest milestone since the new year has been finishing a series of five small canine portraits. It was a wonderful to capture each of these different personalities. Some people might think that portraying a pet is somewhat sentimental, that one retriever looks very much like another. But I hope this collection of characterful boys argues otherwise! To finish the set involved a day of revisiting each portrait to add little details, particularly the hairs around the muzzles, but it’s a stressful task, as you don’t want to overwork and lose any of the virtues of the existing painting. Now dry, this collection should soon be with their owner and for the first time in over a year, I have no canine commissions in hand! So, if anyone has been waiting to commission a pet portrait – now is your chance (it is, after all, the year of the dog).
Bringing us up to the present. While all outside is white, my current work-in-progress is all about black. It is another poem-painting, in the same format as ‘Pied Beauty’, which I painted two years ago. This painting is inspired by a different poet: the start of ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas. This radio-poem-drama begins at night in a small town, as the listener witnesses the dreams of its residents. The evocative opening description involves a number of types of black: ‘bible-black’, ‘sloe-black’, ‘crow-black’, and the black ‘fishing-boat-bobbing sea’. I want to capture the visual connections between these vivid metaphors. I began too hastily with ‘crow-black’, which will need to be revisited. However, progress on the sloes has been very rewarding. Much like the icicles, the patches of turquoise, deep navy, pale lavender and ochre seem to make very little visual sense, and yet they gradually knit together under the brush to create these mini black and blue plums. The shadows are particularly interesting, with light being reflected from one sloe onto another.
So, over the coming weeks I will be working away on this, and on a new Medias Res of apricot foxgloves.