Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Poussin and Reflections on Being an Artist


Renaissance Magic


look at Poussin, one of a hundred or so magical artists from the renaissance. This guy was painting exquisite, large scale ,hyper-real paintings before electricity was discovered, before the steam engine, hell before even gas lighting. If you look at the Pre-Raphaelites you could probably make a case for why they were the best technical painters from history, the best at depicting myth and symbolic story, but most of those guys were super privileged playboys of a modern world of invention and pioneering technology. What makes the renaissance, a Poussin or a Da Vinci absolute magic is that they come from a period of time where the majority of mankind was steeped utterly in myth and witchcraft. If you could read and write back then you were considered to be some kind of wizard. Can you imagine the affect these paintings must have had on the minds of the people at that time? This was the beginning of the enlightenment, before Baudelaire’s ‘Modernity.  Before Mankind was fully aware of his situation in time and space. Copernicus and Galileo had just sussed out that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe and we were just becoming truly sceptically aware with Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” and it would be another three hundred years before we discovered Nietzsche’s “God is dead”.

So when people saw Greek gods,  ancient stories, depictions of the holy trinity, the last super and the flagellation of Christ It wasn’t a novel use of the imagination, it was real, the real representation of supernatural events that people believed 100%. This wasn’t myth and symbolism this was divine revelation on the canvas. These paintings were like magical portholes into another realm of being, they would have induced awe and reverence, even more so than they do today. Two point perspective and realistic light and shade were amazing new drawing technologies as impressive to renaissance people as virtual reality or 3d high definition TV ts to us.

Getting Back To Drawing


I have recently gone back to looking at these old masters. I have been studying the Venetian style of painting and wanted to go back and try and get my drawing skills up to scratch before attempting a painting. Especially because in the old Venetian style you basically draw the image in black and white and then layer colour on top of it, so the painting is entirely dependent on your drawing skills.

I chose a Poussin, a complex swirling flow of figures "The victory of Neptune". I made 6 or 7 small sketches to try and figure out different elements of the composition. I then made a full tonal drawing at A3 size. It was so tedious for me! I must admit I really didn't enjoy making it. The finished tonal drawing is OK, but for the amount of effort I put in it wasn't up to Renaissance standard!
To be successful at this kind of thing you have to do it fulltime. If I didn’t teach and could do it every day I would get better and quicker. But even if I did have all of that time I'm not sure I would want to take this route.




I started by just trying to draw the basic shapes of the figures in the composition.


Then I worked out the angle of each figure. 


Then I tried to start working out the light and dark, major tonal differences.


Then I started to get the exact shapes of the figures and their outlines.


I then began working out the tones of the individual figures.


More studies of figures focusing on the figure in the foreground.


Here I have the final outlines and a study of the female figure in the foreground.


And this is the finished full tonal sketch. The next step would be to draw this out again on canvas, having figured it all out. I would then follow a set of stages that layer the paint one on top of the other in the ventetian style. Please Check back for my progress on that.

Personel Reflections on Being an Artist


I know in all honesty that I am nowhere near finding my voice as an artist. I have been doing this since I was 15 but I still can’t say that any of my paintings are strong. To be successful you need at least one of a few different things, 1) a recognisable style, 2) an interesting subject matter, 3) amazing skill, and 4) unique or ingenious manipulation of paint or other mediums, if you have any one of these, I believe, you can become successful. I don't mean financialy successful, that’s a whole other issue. I mean satisfied and maybe recognised by other artists.

If I look at a few other artists working today I can see that they have got one or all of these elements in their work. Take  Patrick V Mcgrath for me his work ticks all of the boxes, you can recognise a McGrath, he has a signature style, his subject matter is engrossing,  his skill as a painter is utterly excellent and he also uses very clever elements in his work, creating interesting and dynamic juxtapositions of colour and light in an ingenious way.



Or look at Katie Young’s work. She has instantly recognisable, ingenious compositions; clever manipulation of paint and subject matter and an outstanding technical ability.

Again look at Gung Ampawa , he is technically brilliant, inventive with his mediums, creates amazing compositions that enthusiastically reflect the subject matter and also has his own recognisable approach.


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1 comment:

  1. Very Nice Stephen!. Love the work of Poussin. thanks for sharing my work, keep up the interesting articles.

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