Manchester 1994 to Now
The first painting 1994 - A New Beginning
I had tried on and off in the intervening years to do a painting, to do some sketching, but it seemed pointless and empty. I prepared the odd board for painting and made a half hearted effort to paint then put down my brushes.
It was September 1994. I wanted to paint a picture. I had hundreds of photos of people of all ages and colours. Was that what I wanted to paint, a picture of a person? In the intervening years I had taken up photography. People were central to my photography. I travelled widely around the world and had many opportunities to photograph people in all walks of life. A good photograph is as hard to take as is the painting of a good picture. I was a keen and very self critical student.
Yes it would be a person. Abstract or figurative? Not for nothing had I been studying shadow and light for the past umpteen years. It would be impressionist figurative. See what comes off the brush.
I set out my paints, rather the paints which I had bought for my daughter. They were acrylics. I had decided many years before that if I painted again it would be in acrylics. My brushes were safe and I knew exactly where they were. I mounted them in glass jars from the kitchen. My old palette was dusted down and my pallet knives for mixing were made ready.
I began and it was as if I had never stopped. The brushes were familiar. The colours sprang to life, but I had never forsaken colour as I worked with it in furnishing fabric design and it was my daily bread.
I knew what I had to do. I chose a photo of my Niece. She was smiling gregariously, she has a wide smile. This is a good picture. I want to paint people enjoying life, or suffering as the case may be, but not, no never, not sitting stiffly posing for the artist with mouth firmly shut as if something might escape from it - like a smile. That is not what we are about.
It was a beginning and I finished it! I stepped back. It was wild. She is a bit wild. Perhaps she won't like it. I shan't show her and have not. But like it or not, it was a beginning and I knew the way forward and it was nothing like the past.
Now I could combine colour in all its glory with realism. Show the real person or event but twist it with colour to express an extra dimension. So the person might turn out pink, green, red or yellow depending on the mood they might be expressing at the time. True skin colour is incidental. A black person might come out purple if that expresses the mood prevailing and so on.
The first 7 paintings were exploratory and were something of a mish mash of colour.
No 8 was a niece's daughter, a baby. I was quite pleased with the soft baby colours. Then I painted Maxine another niece. The colours began to talk in earnest. It is a blue painting. She had been depressed. It was sensitive, the shapes were good. It was definitely Maxine and she had clearly been suffering.
I was pleased with this work. I had learned a number of things. I could no longer dash of a painting or two in a day. I had to work from photographs. I would blow them up in a colour photo copier to A3 or even bigger. I wanted to capture moods and posing models is too limiting. You get a stiff fixed pose. You must capture people in typical mood or acting out life. Photos freeze action. This is the only way to capture real life.
Initially I painted directly from the photographs. I scale up hugely. I found great difficulty in scaling up visually so I took numerous measurements and used them as reference points on my board. It was very time consuming. A painting took 2 or 3 weeks. Even a quick one was taking a week.
The last straw was when I painted no 2.21, Malcolm Rifkind and two body guards. It took ages to sketch out the outlines and the painting took six weeks to complete. At that rate of output, I would never be able to build up a credible portfolio.
Why not use every device that modern technology can offer. I sought ways of cutting down on time to give me an outline image.
The projector. Why not do an acetate copy of the image and project it onto the board. Then draw an outline and all the key elements including perspective are sorted out in one go. I tried it. It worked. I could produce an outline in one or two sessions. Then I started scanning pictures into my computer. From there it is possible to print out onto acetate and by means of an overhead projector get the image onto a painting board.
The importance of using computer graphics came home to me when I wanted to combine characters from different images as in 2.23, Gambian Musicians. I needed a character in the foreground. I had the ideal candidate, a street drummer who I photographed in New York. His ancestors must have come from the same area as his features fitted comfortably with those of the Gambians. To combine the images, I had to photocopy, cut and paste painstakingly to get a good fit and good perspective. Then I spent days sketching in the detail. By this time I was convinced that computer manipulation of the subjects would greatly increase my ability to express myself. Projection of the final image onto my board would bridge the gap from photo to board and save me days of sketching time.
Then I stopped painting for 9 months. We had to move out of our house which was being partially demolished and extended. The dust was everywhere and it was impossible to paint.
Meanwhile I could develop my computer technique and get some proposed paintings onto acetate. On 28-12-96, I completed Son Of War. A horse and minder picture. I was pleased with this work and it got through the first stage of the R.A. selection process but was finally rejected.
Now that I could do more elaborate work and my technique was improving, instead of churning out more work, I took on greater challenges.
My work scaled up further, I added far more detail and the images became more complex so my output did not go up. One painting a month is all I have been achieving. I also found that my work has been growing more and more realistic. What is happening to the spontaneous Doug of old. Actually the challenge of perfecting realism is no bad thing. Getting a good likeness with all of the discipline which that involves is exceedingly challenging and time consuming. It is also very satisfying when achieved.
Some subjects demand a totally realistic treatment. Others beg for an impressionist or abstract treatment. Yet others can be attacked more than one way. I was getting fed up of the endless time consuming effort in producing a realistic work. Although it is very satisfying, I have got paintings queueing up in my head and they have got to get out. A Good Deal Done was the last straw. It took ages to do. so I started painting inspirational works in abstract and semi abstract in between doing the monumental works. You will see this change from picture numbers 2.33 onwards. The figurative/narative pictures are scattered amongst the abstract and impressionist works. They are in fact on the go all the while but get done in short bursts between other paintings.
I shall be doing more of this type of work which is a throw back to my late London work but much more polished. I might go back to some of my earlier subjects and reinterpret them this way. I find that an interesting subject can be painted in full realism and abstract and impression. So I do all three or even four versions like the Madagascan Nude.
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