I have just returned home after 9 days in hospital, major abdominal surgery to reconnect my bowel after the surgery a while back to remove a large benign tumor. I wrote about it here . All went extremely well, however I will still need surgery again in 3 months time to finally put all this behind me and be 100% back to normal.
Meanwhile, as I recuperate over the next month, apart from managing the pain I'll have a lot of time to lay about and think. I wont be able to paint for some weeks, but I can sit at the computer for short sessions timed against when the painkillers are most effective.
Going Home, 2010, oil on linen, 122 x 167 cm
Since I cannot paint anything new for a while, I might as well go through the process here of how one of the last paintings before going into hospital was created. Going Home, 2010, was the final painting painted for my exhibition at Charles Nodrum Gallery last year. I was supposed to go to the opening, instead became ill and not only couldn't make it to Melbourne to see my exhibition, but also the operation had to be rescheduled from early December to February this year.
The 122 x 167 cm oil primed linen canvas is given an all over ground usually a mix of browns & blues etc. A reasonable amount of painting medium is used and applied thinly with a brush. Then I use absorbent paper towel to rub off the oil paint until there is barely much more than a stained canvas remaining. The use of a high level of medium in the oil paint to start with is because 90% of it is removed leaving a super thin oil paint finish that also helps to seal the oil primed linen.
Because this is to be a dark painting with a fairly straight horizon line, I have decided to give it a second oil ground stain on the area that is to become the sky.
The next part of this abstract looking painting is the dark section at the bottom that is the landscape. A near black is mixed from about 7 colours and brushed on thin & even with a size 12 Mongoose brush leaving a solid even layer of oil paint.
At this point I could stop and have a relatively seductive and beautiful abstract painting. If I was a prolific artist prone to working in large series of slightly different paintings it would be an interesting exercise to paint a dozen of these to this level, each slightly different horizon line or rubbed ground colour and hang them about the studio and invite friends over for drinks, just to look at the expression on their faces and to hear what they had to say about my new minimalist phase?
However, instead of being the end, this is the point where it becomes complex, the start of painting the sky. The problem is a simple one, I need to make up most of the sky, blending several photos adding and subtracting bits, mixing colours that are different gradations from several photos to create a unified looking painting. Adjusting the painting's composition as I work my way from top to bottom, hoping that I'll get the gradations right and somehow get it all to work?
The important thing is to get the painting right and use the photos merely as influence. It would be so much easier if I had the perfect photo to work with, but life wasn't meant to be easy. Every
part of the sky now has to be painted wet on wet until completely finished, one go at it, either it'll work, or I'll have to trash the painting
I normally like to work out everything in advance & even go through the whole painting process/sequence in my mind before even dreaming of starting. However this time, I am working with too little information, only small bits of photos are being used & even then, they are of different times & have different colour ranges.
Even more difficult is to disregard the hue & chroma of the original photos because the colours are too intense/bright and the contrast too great. I wanted the resulting sky to feel as if it was slightly later on in the day than when I photographed it. So I have to rely on making things up as I go.
At this point I am relying on intuition to make decisions. Intuition is just learned experience to the level where the subconscious takes over, as in driving home as if on auto pilot.
Even so it's scary, you get one chance at getting it right, so you have to get yourself into a state of mind that is both totally in concentration and simultaneously also in a trance to paint. Good music helps, ambient music that allows you to drift away.
Here is a photo of my palette taken at the time I was at this stage. I use colour somewhat differently to some, for me finding pigments that intermix well with one another is of utmost importance. Also I like to have all the colours available when I'm working, it allows for more complex colour mixes simply because if it's easy to reach, then you are more likely to use it.
A this point the sky is pretty much completed & it's time to put on the ambient music to chill out whilst starting the next phase. The city lights made up of thousands of dots, each made of a base colour and then one or several highlights.
......many, many hours later
Finally when I think it's completed, a test hang in the studio to see if anything needs adjusting. If nothing needs to be changed the painting is left to dry, then varnished and framed in a hand finished dark wide frame.