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.
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.
The centre is embraced by the chocolatey-brown roots of the four trees.
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.
There is nothing quite so satisfying as glorious, rampant symmetry. The repetition and pattern are just so good. Here is a pure indulgence in pretty symmetry.
The pattern consists of 16 segments of circles, all meeting in the middle. It creates a large yellow flower with 16 petals at the outer level, but the intersections reveal a series of similar flowers, getting smaller and smaller towards the centre.
Following the pattern from the outside in, the colours shift from the lightest yellow through orange and red to the deepest almost-black violet in the centre. The petals are emphasised with gold, adding to the exuberant excess.
Satisfied is painted in acrylic on a 50cm x 50cm gallery-wrapped canvas and finished in gloss acrylic varnish. The image continues over the edge as shown below. It is signed on the back and can be hung in any direction.
Focus is about aligning your thoughts, actions and energy. You start out wide, but narrow down, getting closer and closer to a single point. So Focus is based on a spiral, moving inwards towards that focal point in the centre.
The alignment is represented by fish; first milling about aimlessly, but gradually turning until they all head in the same direction. Even in the background, the flowers align on the grass in sympathy.
I tried hanging Focus in different ways. Hung square, the beautiful sweep of the spiral is clearer, but the dominance of the pink area makes the painting look unbalanced to me. So I tried hanging it diagonally and rather liked the result.
Focus is painted in acrylic paint on a 50cm x 50cm gallery-wrapped canvas and is finished with matt acrylic varnish. The image continues over the edge as shown below. It is signed on the back and ready to hang.
Grief feels like having a hole punched through your chest, about where your heart used to be. It’s about emptyness, lack, someone missing.
My father died on the 4th of October and I am still trying to figure out how such a small man could have taken up so much space in the world, to leave such a big hole. Everywhere, there is this gap where he used to be. Nothing.
I stopped painting for a few weeks and when I started again this image of a life-buoy on a swirling sea came to mind. Those first few weeks felt like I was just clinging on, trying to keep my head above the dark water of depression that threatened to engulf me. Friends and random kind words, were that life-buoy.
There is something about those red stripes on the buoy that echo the violence of being separated, for ever.
But as I worked on this picture I struggled to depict the devastating nothingness, the hole that he has left. Until one morning, I woke up and cut an actual hole in the canvas. The lack of paint, the lack even of canvas, is the only way that I can convey absence.
Mandala No.17: Grief is painted in acrylic paint and finished in matt acrylic varnish on a 50 cm x 50 cm canvas. This mandala is signed on the back and could be hung in any orientation. I plan to frame it in such a way as to hold the canvas just off the wall, but I want the surface it is hung against to show through.
Fear makes you small. So this mandala has shrunk down to occupy a small space at the centre of the canvas. Most of the canvas is background, the scary “other” that dominates.
Fear is an ugly picture, it feels uncomfortable, disturbing, something to look away from.
In the centre of this mandala are huddled four creatures, back-to-back. Each faces one of the traditional mandala doors, and the doors are just an arrow-slit opening. When you are afraid you have to be constantly on guard. You can never relax. Between the four of them, is a red space, representing their collective sense of danger.
Beyond is a wide open space, kept barren to ensure that any approach can be seen. It’s a sickly yellowish green, the colour of fear.
Outside that there is a solid wall topped by what South Africans will recognise as the ubiquitous electric fence, the ultimate symbol of fear. Electric fencing is sold as “security” and yet it makes no-one feel secure. Instead it leaves people trapped in a spider’s web of their own fear.
The threat is a high-energy mixture of oranges, reds, browns, purples and blues, all pointing in towards the fear-filled centre. It’s alarming, aggressive. But up close the colours are rich and vibrant. This threatening background provides the only beauty in an otherwise ugly painting.
Incidentally, I am not superstitious. That this painting is number 13 was just a coincidence.
Mandala No.13: Fear is painted in acrylic paint on a gallery-wrapped 50cm x 50cm canvas and is finished with a gloss acrylic varnish. The edges of the canvas are painted in a plain dark brown.