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.

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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.

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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.

Mandala No.15: Focus

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Mandala No.15: Focus by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

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.

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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.

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Mandala No.16: Intersect

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Mandala No.16: Intersect by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

I wanted to play with those Reuleaux triangles again, and this mandala started out as an experiment to see how they fitted into the square of the canvas. There are four of them, one with a point in the middle of each side. It gave an intruiging result, with the appearance of layers of almost squares. I added lines that complemented the edges of the triangles and the painting evolved into an exploration of intersections.

Intersections are about choices: Do you follow the path you are on? Do you choose another one? Which one will you choose?

It’s a messy picture, full of energy with the lines on the outside moving busily around the picture, containing the outward energy in the centre. For me it echos the busyness of living in the city where one moves along set paths, but with constant intersections which invite you to take another path, to explore something new. I find as I look at the painting that my eyes follow the lines up to an intersection and then swoop off in another direction.

Mandala No.16: Intersect is painted in acrylic paint and finished in gloss acrylic varnish on a 50 cm x 50 cm gallery-wrapped canvas. The painting continues around the edge of the canvas as shown below. This mandala is signed on the back and could be hung in any direction.

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For those of you who noticed that Mandala No.15 is missing, well spotted! It’s called Focus, and so is a bit more intense and taking longer to finish.

Mandala No.14: Relax

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Mandala No.14: Relax by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

After working on Fear, I needed an antidote, so here is Relax, a comfortable composition reminiscent of the manicured grass, flowers, and water features of a well-run holiday resort. It’s deliberately clichéd because the familiar allows one to relax; nothing threatening here.

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In the middle of the mandala, a floppy sunhat might hide me, sitting on a candy-striped beach towel. This mandala uses cool, relaxing shades of blue and green, with happy yellow and orange.

Surrounding me is a pool of blue water. The traditional four doors of the mandala have become four stepping-stones across the water. The pool sits on a lawn of green mowed in traditional stripes. Then there is a tangle of yellow and orange flowers that add some irregularity to the otherwise very structured elements.

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Mandala No.14: Relax is painted in acrylic paint and finished in gloss acrylic varnish on a 50 cm x 50 cm gallery-wrapped canvas. The painting continues around the edge of the canvas as shown below. This mandala is signed on the back and could be hung in any direction.

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Mandala No.13: Fear

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Mandala No.13: Fear by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

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.

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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.

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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.

Mandala No.12: Content

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Mandala No.12: Content by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

Content is a state of not wanting, of being satisfied with what you have, of feeling that the world is right, just as it is. For me, these feelings of not wanting are most common at home, so Content is about homeliness: simple white flowers, a red and white checked table cloth, four chairs set out for friends or family. These are the simple pleasures that make life feel right. The tiled circular dias frames and contains. Whole.

The centre of this mandala is a round bowl of white flowers, surrounded by the red and white checks of the tablecloth. I like the simplicity of red complementing green, set off against white. The georgeous tiles on the dias echo the red and green in muddier shades. Beyond is bright green grass with dancing vines and more white flowers to add some movement.

I love the symmetries of the central composition, vertical, horizontal and rotational, with only the flowers being out of line. Compare these two views of Content, showing contrasting directions of the squares. Yes, you could hang it diagonally, if you wanted to.

Content is painted in acrylic paint on a 50cm x 50cm gallery-wrapped canvas and finished in matt acrylic varnish. The delicate vines spill over the edge of the canvas.

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Content is signed on the back and is ready to hang.