12 August 2007

more studies

Winsor & Newton HP 300 gsm 14" x 10". 20 min. +5 hours.

this is the third and last life portrait of margaret, in graphite, and again amplified from the photo reference.

the previous background seemed too intense, so i've subdued the mixture with a bit of blue and purple. the flesh tone is the same in all three paintings -- cadmium yellow deep, venetian red, cobalt violet, a touch of phthalo green -- so that i can see the effect of the background and hair color on the complexion.

i don't usualy spend five hours on a color study, but in her case the image asked for the investment. i put more effort into the hair, because the hot pressed paper holds the detail, and added the gemstone, which seemed to be amber on a textile cord.

her hair is intricate. plaits layer over plaits, strands loosen and hang free, the braid twists are sometimes tight and sometimes relaxed. there is a delightful spray of ends and tufts from the back ... "complexity is the basis of simplification." it flows, intertwines, jets and mists like water. my simplification is just summary. i've made planes of it in the image, but this reminded me of leonardo's drawings of water -- the ones that look like grass in the wind.

at this beginning stage i've met the model and worked with her briefly, i have photos and sketches, and i am working out the color studies. i don't know what impressions the model gets from the session, and i usually don't know how to do what i want to do. as in a psychotherapy session, trust is the gist on both sides.

the studies are a preliminary survey process. i make them workshop style, on watercolor blocks. i paint one until it is too wet to continue, then set it to the left and paint the next the same, and then the third; and by then the first is dry enough to continue with ... and so it goes, like a carousel assembly. as i go i make different choices in light of what i've done in the previous paintings, so each painting takes on its own variations and proceeds down its own path.

the work is continuous, and there is a feeling space that comes with it, when method, memories of the poses, rumination, a kind of dream cinema, all go on at the same time. this series of three, including the 50 minutes of poses, took about 15 hours.

i admire thomas eakins's exaltation of the model; his serene, reverent painting of william morris helping his model down from her pose. the academic rant about the model's planes and negative spaces is intolerable bullshit. to me every model is a swarm of opportunities and clues. the artist has to keep his balance both in relation to the work and in relation to the clues and forces of the model.

this double uncertainty is why a power dynamic often weeds up between artist and model, disguised behind the jabbering "artistic" intentions of both people. but it is still a human negotiation between two personalities.

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