When you wake up to find you’ve told Alexa to remind you about ‘painting spreadsheets’, normally, you’d ask yourself what cheese you’d been eating last night. This time it was nothing so alimentary; it had dawned on me, connecting with something a tutor had said a while back about everything being ‘rather flat’, that I’ve been making very complex and detailed but essentially one dimensional paintings lately. No perspective, nothing round or shaped, just linear tracts of paint that wouldn’t be 3D unless you cut them out and danced them in front of the canvas like they did with the seas in puppet shows.
I have a piece on the back of something else that I stuck collaged vehicles onto, using mirror foil, tracing paper, and the paper that came off the back of the mirror foil. It’s a spreadsheet. So now I’m inventing ways to give it some substance and, after sloshing burnt sienna all over it, some of it sinking into the primer and some running off the collaged areas, I can see rows of tents in the desert.
Admittedly, this may just be influenced a tad by Dune which I watched a few days ago and really really want them to make the second half of the book immediately please. Not a voice out of place; not an action too swaggering or loud; no fighting for fighting’s sake; this is the writing visualised.
And so here I am with rows of putative tents needing dark shadows in the entrances and dull sand fabric in their substance. The air burns in this place, sweat and urine are caught in Stillsuits to make drinking water, and there are worms the size of skyscrapers under the surface that respond to rhythmic sounds.
Since I’ve settled (for now) on a desert theme, I’ve found some reference photos and, with Dune still in mind, begun working shapes and shadows into what were cut out cartoon cars.
I should add that we’re two days into a heatwave and, at 32C outside and not much less in the studio, I am very much in the zone! We’re a long way from Stillsuits but the shower water is flushing the loo and the washing up water is watering the garden.
The string of ambulances at the bottom has become a new string of tents. Looking at the photos, and also the painting from a distance, helps bring to my attention shapes and shadows I don’t see close up, so time and space are important parts of the process.
A few charcoal lines last thing before bed, just picking out the shapes that make tents and the ones that make dunes will provide the basis for paint makes to consolidate in daylight.
14th August. I’m not happy with that horizontal horizon. It’s an artefact of the underlying collage that I’d capitalised on and now wish I hadn’t.
Ha – I made that horizon into a wall with graffiti and it’s become a whole town! The message in the graffiti isn’t funny though; calling on images of the Calais refugee camp with its pocket-sized nations living side by side in squalor with as much dignity as they could muster in their flight from circumstance, this twins London with Arrakis as climate change drives everyone further and further north. I think I’ll keep the city, it’s a terrifying image.
I’ve elaborated the city with more paint and used oil pastels to bring out the underlying textures. The Arrakis graffiti is gone, there being no wall to paint it on, but it’s given me the title. The ‘circus tent’ at the front has emerged but may not stay if it doesn’t justify itself. At present it’s illustrating the circus that is the denial so many governments and businesses seem to be maintaining as we roll ever closer to exterminating ourselves, although it could also represent the fact that people will use whatever comes to hand in a crisis. Cheery little number, isn’t it, and a long way from lines of cartoon cars; although, well, emissions?
There is still mirror foil under these layers and a bit of judicious scrubbing may reveal it.
I’ve taken several photos of this piece but my phone camera is continually bringing out highlights that don’t quite exist and brightening the dark areas. Some adjustments help to approximate the reality (to my eyes, obviously) but the shiny outlines in places where there are no shiny outlines persist. Still, videos, eh?
Dune – part 1 (2021 Dir. Denis Villeneuve) is based on Frank Herbert’s epic 1965 saga. It’s a universe away from David Lynch’s 1984 version which was almost comedic in its interpretation. This version is quiet, controlled, its scale shown not told, its horrors similarly handled. I read the book, this film does it justice.