“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about and with worms crawling through the damp earth and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.”
Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 6th Edn. (from the final paragraph).
This is a famous quote, and I came across it again a couple of weeks ago in a book about the concept of the sublime in art, as it happens. I started to think about doing a drawing based on my own neck of the woods in sub-tropical South-East Queensland, with the plants and animals that are so familiar to me. It took a lot of work to plan and many, many hours dotting away with very fine point pens, but I’m happy with the result. I have submitted the work for a major drawing prize, and have got my fingers crossed for a spot in the finals. In this drawing I have tried to depict a dense web of interconnected life, rich with pattern and detail, through which the eye has to wander slowly to pick out all the animals (29 of them) and various types of plants (more than 15). The style of the drawing is intended to evoke the feel of 19th century hatural history engravings and also has been influenced by the complex fantasies of Arthur Rackham.
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?
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.
This was my entry for the recent Border Art Prize. Didn’t win, didn’t sell, situation normal. It’s a departure from my usual style. The painting started with a background of rust paint – you paint it on, black and gluggy, and then put on an oxidizer, that makes the surface, well, rust. When its rusted enough, you can seal it off. It makes a very interesting coloured and textured matt surface. Then I used some net fabric as a stencil to apply modelling paste, palette knife ditto, and a lot of dribbling, flicking and dotting. I was trying to get the impression of a group of rather graceful looking trees clinging onto a cliff face and swaying in the breeze. I think I got something of it there. The original photo reference, which bears little resemblance to the painting, was taken at the Minyon Falls lookout, Northern NSW.
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.
I recently had the task of painting twenty small sketches of “my place” for the Fine Arts painting unit I was then doing. These are some of the paintings that resulted. The exercise focused my thoughts on what I find so special in the place where I live. Many of the paintings were of Mudgeeraba Creek, an unassuming little water-way that wends its way through sub-tropical rainforest, often very shallow, rippling over polished river stones.
I started this painting some time ago and have only just got around to finishing it off. If it is finished, that is. It often seems to me that the painting finishes with me, rather than I with it, if that makes any sense at all. Anyway, this was painted from a photo I took on a little holiday jaunt with my good friend, Janine. The lake is the out-flow of an underground river that flows through the Jenolan caves system. The suspended limestone material that it carries gives the water an incredible opalescent jade colour.