Painting the sky is a huge challenge, I have discovered. This is the final work for my most recently completed uni unit. I was trying to capture some really difficult aspects of the sky, such as its luminosity, its changeability, its vast size, power and mystery. In the end I discovered that painting on aluminium composite panels gave me the best results for smooth, luminous colour. There are still some technical problems to overcome, which I am currently working on.
My main interest here is in the sea and the sky; in the way these elements dominate the landscape and make humankind’s efforts at control look insubstantial. The sky, on this rainy day, set a sombre tone that was reflected in the waters of the Channel. The scene evoked thoughts about the transience and insignificance of my life compared to the sublime power of the natural world, and the verses from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam included in the work give expression to these thoughts. It’s probably not possible to read the verses from this image, so here they are:
Into this Universe and Why not Knowing
nor whence, like water willy-nilly flowing;
and out of it, as wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.
When You and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
As the Sea’s self should heed a pebble-cast.
And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help–for It
As impotently moves as you or I.
A number of different processes and materials were used in this work. Silver leaf was laid down over some areas of the sky and a verdigris preparation was used as underpainting on the land and areas of the sea. The scene was then painted in acrylic paint. Some collage elements are included in the sky and for the text. The work was then coated in encaustic medium to give depth to the colours and to enhance the surface texture of the work. Details of the sea were added with oil paint and stylized cloud shapes were stenciled into some areas of the sky with the intent of contradicting a straightforward naturalistic reading of the work.
Just at present I am investigating paintings of the sky for the current study unit of the Fine Arts degree course I am struggling with. Although the thrust of the educational program is unremittingly “contemporary” (with all the overtones that word seems to have picked up when applied to art), I still could not go past Albert Beirstadt as a mentor and guide. Beirstadt was a German born painter who revealed and romanticised the American West in the 1850-1870s. Dramatic skies always play an important role in his paintings.
In this work I have tried to get into his headspace a little. Unfortunately, working from low resolution reproductions found on the internet, I have not been able to really see the details of his brushwork or get an accurate fix on his colours. I’ve tried to be pretty faithful to the original, but I do note that his oak tree seems to have morphed into an Australian gum tree. And his cow seems to have turned into a horse. It’s pretty rough and ready, having been painted in two sessions, and needing some time to be spent on refinement.
Painting copies of master works is a time honored tradition in art studies, and I can appreciate why this is so. As you paint you have time to appreciate how the artist has solved many problems of composition, value and colour.
Below is the original Bierstadt work. Beautiful, isn’t it?
It’s so good to be back into painting after the allarums and excursions of this year. Last year I made numerous visits to Tallebudgera inlet at different times of day as part of research for one of my Visual Art units. It is very beautiful at any time of day, but dawn in particular. This little beach is nestled at the bottom of Burleigh Heads National park and the sea eagles that live there wheel about over your head. When I was looking for a subject to paint for the local art society’s theme – Gold Coast landscape – this scene came to mind.
The rivulet flows
gentle as the touch of silk
yet cuts its channel.
Always Emptying; Always Full – oil on canvas, 30 x 122 cms
This is a painting of my local creek. I’m going to be doing a series of paintings of this creek in the course of my university studies over the coming year. With this one I created a panorama of photos taken while standing on a rock in the middle of the stream. My aim was to make the viewer feel surrounded by the scene – not just looking at it as though through a window. I painted with very thinned down oil paint on an absorbent canvas surface, trying for the fresh look of transparent watercolour. The title comes from a line in the Tao te Ching – “the universe, like a bellows, is always emptying, always full.” The creek is my little metaphor for the universe.
I see that the year is fast running out. I must get on and post more paintings that are sitting around my studio. I’m pretty sure I’ve made my goal of 100.
It was about this time last year that I visited the Blue Mountains for the spring Garden Festival at Leura. I got some wonderful reference shots of the canyon walls, including the one I painted this picture from, taken from the top of Wentworth Falls. This painting is built on a textured base of torn strips of thick hand-made paper to suggest the feel of the rock strata. I’ve used unblended rectangular strokes of strong colour to bring out the colour variations in the cliff face. Sadly this year parts of the Blue Mountains have already been damaged by fire and many homes lost. Fire is a constant danger in this region and I fear this summer is going to be a bad one.
I guess this would be called a quadtych – but that sounds strange. After painting my twenty small paintings for uni (see my post – ‘What a beautiful place to live’ ), I’ve been experimenting with doing groups of small paintings mounted together on coloured backgrounds. I’ve used small canvas panels for the paintings and have mounted them together on studio wrap 38mm deep canvas. The scene is a small part of a glorious sunrise I saw on my last visit to Port Macquarie, but it really could be anywhere along the coast. I’m putting this one in a show at Lismore in a couple of weeks time.
These are three paintings I developed from the small paintings I put up in the previous post. They are all scenes from Mudgeeraba Creek, a few kilometres down the road, right up in the headwaters of it, where it is very shallow. There is a fantastic quality of light there in the early morning, when the sun is lighting up the tops of the trees but the under-canopy is in shadow. The colours of reflections this makes is amazing – like liquid gold and green satin. The work is currently on display at Monet’s Art Garden Gallery, Metro Centre, Hollywell Road, Labrador. The mosaic table-top in the foreground is also my work, if anyone is wondering.