Face No.4: Sullen

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Face No.4: Sullen by Judy Backhouse © 2017

This face was inspired by a picture in Germaine Greer’s wonderful book, The Boy. The Boy is well worth a read, especially for mothers of sons in a world where there is so much focus on daughters. The beautiful illustrations (paintings and photographs) are a wonderful source of inspiration.

I liked the picture for its combination of angelic beauty with a direct challenge. I call the painting Sullen because it is a look I have seen on so many young men at that point where they stake a claim for independence. It seems to say “I am not who you want me to be; I will be my own person.” The refusal to participate comes across as sullen.

This picture combines reds and blues to create the pinky-purple tones with a little yellow and sienna for warmth.

It is painted in acrylic on a gallery wrapped canvas and is finished in a matt acrylic varnish. At 40cm x 40cm it is a little smaller than others in this series. It is ready to hang.

A face emerging

I find the process of painting these faces to be like sculpture. The face emerges as I work on one part of the surface, applying colour to create contours or features.

So I thought you might like to see the process. Here are three pictures of the face emerging from the canvas (left ot right). They were taken about a week apart.

At this stage I am waiting to see if the picture on the right is “finished”. Usually I wait a week or two , just living with him in my studio. Sometimes I notice things that need more work, sometimes I don’t.

When I’m happy that there is no more to do, I’ll varnish the picture and name him.

Face No.3: Kindly

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Face No.3: Kindly by Judy Backhouse © 2017

This painting is based on photographs of Michael Stonebraker published in the Communications of the ACM (June 2015) at the time when he was awarded the ACM Turing Award for his contributions to Computer Science.

I think he has an interesting face. Ageing, not symmetrical, but with the kind of confidence that comes from doing worthwhile work. I have taken liberties with the specifics of shape and proportion, exaggerating the diamond shape of the face. The kindly eyes become the focus.

Small Kindly eyes

The colours include bright crimson, phthalo greens, both deep and light, and a rich magenta that becomes lilac when mixed with white. There is a fair amount of sienna in there too, also lightened with white. I love the way layers of colour sculpt the contours of the face creating the impression of lines, where there are none.

Face No.3: Kindly is painted in acrylic paint on a 50cm x 50cm stretched canvas. It is finished in gloss acrylic varnish.

Face No.2: Mischievous

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Face No.2: Mischievous by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

This portrait is based on a picture of a worker in an Italian monastery, published in an old edition of Du.

I love this man’s pronounced smile lines and there is something open and trusting about his large dark eyes. But at the same time he seems a little apprehensive, with his head bent a little forward and some hesitation about his smile. I called him mischievous because I think he has a naughty streak. Behind the innocent look I can imagine him planning a practical joke.

The original picture was black and white, so I had fun inventing the skin tones using shades of ochre and sienna with touches of a dark phthalo green.

This portrait is painted in acrylics on a 50cm x 50cm stretched canvas. It is finished with gloss acrylic varnish. It would need to be framed for display.

Face No.1: Determined

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Face No.1: Determined

There is something so self-possessed and quiet about this face, it’s almost serene. But there is that glint in the eye and the flare of the nostril reveals a steely determination. He may seem passive, but he is going to get his way, quietly and patiently waiting for the opportunity. This underlying energy is revealed in the background.

This painting is based on a photograph, in a very old copy of Du, of a carved statue. My academic training makes me want to cite the source, but I am resisting. I love that art can be layers of invention and re-invention.

Determined is painted in acrylic paint on a 50cm x 50cm stretched canvas and is finished with a gloss acrylic varnish. It is not framed.

 

I’ve been silent for a while on this blog because I have been launching Better, a physical space for creative makers in Johannesburg. If you are in Johannesburg, come along and visit. If you are a creative sort, looking for a place to create from and a community, join us.

making faces

The new year has been busy. I am in the process of opening Better, a physical place for creative makers to hang out, and that has kept me from this blog. But there is lots to share.

Those of you who talk with me about my art know that I’ve been saying for a while that I want to paint portraits. I think that portraits are about the highest art form there is. To try and animate a human face has to be the ultimate creative challenge.

Last year I played with painting mandalas because I wanted something easy to practice with, but I’ve decided that if I really want to paint portraits, I need to practice on those.

So I have been sketching faces.

It’s interesting how compelling faces can be. I find myself staring at people in the street and tracing the lines of their faces in my mind. When I find an interesting face, I want to draw it over and over.

I’ve been sketching with watercolour too, as this forces me to work more intuitively and to focus less on accuracy.

So far, I’ve discovered that faces are fun to draw, once you get over the terror of how difficult it is. Sketching faces is far more about line and shadows than it is about colour, which is a bit of a new space for me to play in.

I’ve started work on some paintings of faces too and will share those in my next post.

Mandala No.19: Safe

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Mandala No.19: Safe by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

Safe is a mandala that I have been mulling over for some months. My first sketches for it were made in around June. The original idea was to explore using trees in place of the traditional four gates or doors in the mandala. I thought the idea of trees moving through the gates would be interesting.

It was only once I had finished it that the title Safe occurred to me. Those trees just seemed to embrace me in a happy space.

In the centre of Safe is the Yin-Yang symbol, the symbol of dual life forces. Feeling safe is not about living in a world that is all good and no bad. It is about being able to embrace that life has aspects of both. We feel safe only when we can embrace this duality.

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The centre is embraced by the chocolatey-brown roots of the four trees.

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The inner square is a paved area, a human space where nature is tamed and the world is shaped to our human needs. Outside is the grass and beyond the sky. The four corners of Safe represent the four elements Fire, Water, Earth and Wind, acknowledging that our safe human spaces are contained by and depend on the planet. Earth is a safe haven in the wildness of the universe.

Safe is bigger than my other mandalas, at 75cm x 75cm. It’s painted in acrylic paint on a gallery-wrapped canvas, finished with a matt acrylic varnish, and is ready to hang. The painting goes around the sides of the canvas as shown below.

Safe was completed back in November, before my exhibition, but I’m only now finding the time to write about it.