I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my painting practice and why I paint in the way that I do. Multiple viewpoints of a place often appear in my work, either by design or sometimes they creep in without me noticing. Many of my paintings are about doorways and stairs. So coupled with my, wholly intentional, inclusion of ‘pathways’ through my paintings, there often appears to be a choice for the viewer, as to how the eye should travel through the painting.
I re-visited some of my earlier research of David Hockney’s thoughts on perspective. He famously created Pearblossom Highway, by taking 600 or more photographs along a road in Mexico (?) from different positions (including up a ladder) and he collaged the photographs to create an entirely believable location, which doesn’t actually exist in that form.
The detail in the picture allows you to see the road sign (stop ahead) as clearly as the crushed Pepsi can on the ground, as if you have tilted your head downwards – because tilting downwards is what Hockney did with his camera.
He has long pursued an enquiry about why paintings became more ‘realistic’ or more like a photograph after approximately 1420. It was thought that the use of lenses was the answer, although no actual lenses were found from early enough to explain it. Hockney explains in an instructive (if self serving!) BBC programme how a much simpler piece of equipment, a piece of glass or mirror and a darkroom can create an inverted image, good enough to trace from. This was therefore be the foundation of a detailed and accurate painting, without the need for drawn grids, which we normally associate with perspective drawing and painting. The drawn grids were a later invention, widely attributed to Brunelleschi, who realised the size restriction of the use of a mirror (a standard 30cm for all images). By extending lines from the drawing (tracing) of the reflected image, he was able to make a larger image than the camera obscura allows. (Khanacademy has made a short film on Brunelleschi’s experiment with perspective.)
Hockney also explains how painters such as Van Eyck obtained sharp detail from the use of a single eye (camera lucida), good enough for him to represent the rear of the couple in the Arnolfini Portrait. Images from lenses are different because they have one eye and we have two and we move around, so the absolute detail of images seen through lenses are ‘too good to be true’.
This research has led me on to a closer look at Vermeer, who many think used the camera obscura because of his competency in handling perspective, and the design of his studio. Some think that his use of the device was more for compositional planning than for direct tracing. The softness of Vermeer’s images and his diffused highlights are reminiscent of the ‘out of focus’ area of the image seen through a camera obscura. A film called Tim’s Vermeer, was made of Tim Jenison’s reconstruction of Vermeer’s studio and how he may have worked.
To go back to how this relates to my own work, I think that, because we are surrounded by photographic images today, we have become blind to them. The painter can offer something different. We are dealing with the materiality of paint and the hand skills of applying it. We can juxtapose one colour against another, we can soften edges, wipe back paint, pour it and splash it. Making a painting is a very physical experience. I want my paintings to invite the viewer to look around the canvas, not to walk past, as I often do with a painted ‘photographic’ representation. That tells me nothing about the painter. This is why I build in a pathway (or two or three) to guide you through the painting. I also resist the sharpness of lines, reminiscent of photographic images, which saturate our culture. In my more abstract work, the collisions of colour grab your attention first, before the soft drifting of colour guides you through additional areas of the canvas.
My paintings are currently ‘under wraps’ until the degree show, but here is another snippet from a painting, which I have been working on:
There is a mauvey-grey, which is part of one of my ‘pathways’ and links to the same colour elsewhere in the painting.
Also, Check out my photograph of the camera obscura, which I made using two shoe boxes! It actually works! Forgive my excitement, but I went to an all girls’ school in 19**, so science was rather basic for us.
Inside the shoe box you can see the upside-down image of my herb garden, projected onto the tracing paper, which I taped to the inner shoe box (the one which slides so that you can focus the image).
Come to the degree show at artOne from 9 September to 15 September to see more of my work and that of 11 other excellent artists.