Face No.5: Vulnerable

Since closing down Better, I have finally found time to go back to my Faces series. To see the start of the series, click here for Face 1, Face 2, Face 3 and Face 4. This series explores men’s faces using colour to sculpt the contours and reflect emotion.

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This painting turned out looking vulnerable, some combination perhaps of the exaggeratedly large eyes, the relaxed mouth or the neutral expression. The young man is quietly self-possessed, but open; not defensive.

This painting combines my favourite colours – yellow, pink and gold (not so visible in the photo) – grounded with sienna shades.

Face No.5: Vulnerable is painted in acrylic paint on a 50cm x 50cm stretched canvas and finished in gloss acrylic canvas. It is not framed.

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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.

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.18: Satisfied

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Mandala No.18: Satisfied by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

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.

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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 clich├ęd 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.