An overview of my journey as an artist, moving though the various styles and techniques I have attempted over the years, in order to come to the place where I belong.
Initially inspired by surrealism, I experimented with surreal imagery, an ‘economy of images’ (after Rene Magritte) and collage techniques (after Max Ernst). These are techniques which I have tried and found useful, and have returned to on several occasions. They are good for providing a ‘shock factor’ and can be used to make a powerful point and convey a message.
Surreal imagery can also simply convey a sense of mystery, which I find refreshing. Something which makes you look again and question our state of being and realise that we don’t know all the answers. There are still unsolved mysteries in the world.
I explored the abstract through an interest in geometry and later, more particularly, in sacred geometry.
I have a love of forms, which are beautiful in their own right (which arose from my search for an ‘economy of images’). By reducing things to their component parts, a perfection of form hanging in space arises. These have a monolithic quality, which, in a similar way to surrealism, makes us question our state and the world we live in.
Why is the object divorced from its surroundings? Why is that significant? This also imbues the object with a sense of mystery and power.
By painting in a hyper-realistic manner, the viewer can be deceived into thinking they see what is not there. That is one definition of Tromp L’oeil painting, which means ‘deceives the eye.’ By creating a scene which is life-like and yet divorced from its surroundings one can create a reality which is encroaching onto our own and in some way breaking through.
My love of mystery and mysteries led me to create portals into other dimensions, night spilling into day and sunlight and thunder co-existing in the sky. My favourite weather is a day of sun, wind and rain, then sun again.
By setting up a scene which is more real than reality, it is possible to question the inherent nature of reality, and ask which is the ‘real’ image. This plays with the idea of reality.
Plato’s idea of all objects having an original template in some higher plane, and Baudrillard’s simulacra are two philosophies which help ground this idea.
Accordingly, paintings are
“imitations… three removes from reality” (Karelis: 1976).
Therefore, the painting is less real that the object, but the object is less real than the idea of the object.
In order to produce highly realistic images, I experimented with perspective, which led me back to geometry and sacred geometry. In fact, I found the perspective lines more beautiful in their own right than some of the images I was trying to paint realistically.
The perspective lines lead the eye in and create a virtual space, which, without removing the lines, sites an object in space more effectively. Instead of hanging in space, the object is grounded within the framework of lines.
The inherent mystery of perspective is in its origin, which occurred during the Renaissance. This allowed the marriage of art and science to take place because it was essentially an analysis of seeing. It became another way to interpret the world around us.
There have been many artists who have attempted to interpret the world around them in ways and through processes not dissimilar to those of scientists. Most notably Leonardo Da Vinci who
“regarded all the physical sciences and arts as integral components in a great continuum” (Kemp 1990)
The study of perspective is also very closely linked with theories of perception, which have taken on a whole new dimension since the discovery of the quantum uncertainty principle. This has provided scientists and artists alike with a new understanding of the ambiguity of perception. And it is this which has turned the prevailing view of perspective, as simply a tool used by artists to imitate nature more closely, into a dynamic, fluid concept by which artists can create space itself in new, open and imaginative ways. This is because perspective drawing and
“visual representation is not properly mimetic but constructive. It rationalises space.” (Iversen 2005)
Science and science fiction
I have always been interested in science fiction and in particular science fiction illustration and space art. In attempting to find convergence between the realms of art and science (which has been a major theme of my art) I revisited some of my favourite space artists such as David Hardy and attempted to emulate some of his moonscape scenes.
The medium I used was encaustic wax.
Now encaustic is a curious medium. By applying coloured blocks of wax to a hot iron then sweeping the colour over a shiny piece of card, the wax sits on the surface of the card and can be wiped off again if the artist is not happy with what they have produced. In this way it is very easy to produce quick and simple landscapes with just a few flourishes of the iron. The colours are vibrant and luminous, so that the end result is very striking.
The reason I chose to paint these moonscapes in encaustic was just because of the quick and easy nature of the medium. I was essentially copying another artist’s work and did not want to linger over what I thought of as something slightly unethical (however, in retrospect I realised that There is Nothing New Under the Sun and all artists copy from time to time).
But the way in which I used the wax was completely different and uniquely my own. To create the moons hanging in the sky above a barren landscape I used a cut out mask to cover the rest of the card as I swept silver wax into the corner or the card. I then used sharp tools to scrape away a little wax to create moon surface detail.
My love of encaustic wax was my way into a love of landscapes. I have always loved to walk in nature and enjoyed landscape imagery. However, I did not wish to produce any until I fell in love with encaustic wax.
I found waterfall and lakes emerging under my hands and foliage springing up in profusion of shapes and colours. I took time to create more precise and organised landscapes in different sizes and shapes.
Glorious skies in sunset hues emerge as if by magic. But I have mastered techniques to create smoky skies and mist by wiping off colour and smudging the wax. Similarly, lakes and seas take a little time to get just right. In some pictures I will paint individual waves. But with encaustic it is often enough just to get a sense of ‘wave-ness’ in turbulent blue.
The natural progression of my love for encaustic was to marry it to my love of drawing (particularly in ink) and make encaustic mandalas. Drawing out the base image is both relaxing and meditative. The wax embellishments are just that, surface details to give interest and life to the image.
By drawing the base image and then adding the wax to ‘finish’ it, is a technique I am currently in the process of working through. Rubber stamps can also be used to create silhouettes to paint over. But, by drawing these elements and making them intricate and unique (such as mandalas and later Celtic knotwork), I hope to produce a more sophisticated version of this. Also, the graphic nature of the drawings really makes them pop with the addition of just a little colour.
My own artistic journey has been one of resistance for a long time. I never thought I would mainly paint typical ‘Scottish’ landscapes, I always thought my art would be a bit more edgy. Yet, here I am, enjoying landscape art and exploring my roots in the landscape I love (also something I never thought would have much impact on my art).
I also do not create ‘fine art’ as such. It is much more illustrative, because I have always been drawn more to illustration (no pun intended!) I enjoy that graphic immediacy and economy of image used in illustration, which, from the start I was trying to capture (although I didn’t realise it at the time).
Illustration is precise and, to be honest, more fun to produce, than ‘fine art.’
Throughout my journey I have always been making character drawings, mostly silly sketches of ideas for characters for stories I never got around to writing, or just something that looked cool, alongside my more serious ‘Art.’
These were just a lot of fun to make and, to be honest, are not generally very good. However, in the last few years they have actually improved in style and technique, I believe mainly through my discovering gouache, which is my second favourite medium after encaustic wax. This is also because of the malleable nature of the medium, and its ease of use.
Gouache is a mixture between watercolour and acrylic. It is water-based, in that, when you apply water the paint can be removed from the surface – like watercolour. It is also opaque, like acrylics, and can be applied in thicker layers. It also has a soft chalky texture on the paper when dry.
Another reason for my love of this medium is the range of vibrant colours available. Initially used by designers for that very reason, and known as ‘designer gouache.’
Painting with it is very like sculpting. Characters need to look realistic and 3D. By sculpting the light and colour around the forms, I could achieve this better.
By improving in this area, which was considered to be a fun side-line, I managed to get a commission for some character pictures which I was very pleased about. However, the way forward with this is to create representations (illustrations) of existing characters, before developing my own some more.
So, in a roundabout way, I have come home.
Home to the understanding that my landscape and my roots will always inform my art. And home to the fact that I was always an illustrator at heart. ‘Fine Art’ is fine for some people, but for others it is just a label. I have discarded that label now.
By discovering this, and embracing it, I feel stronger, as an artist, and as a person. Art will always be a journey home, to your roots and to a truer understanding of who you are.
Karelis C. (1976) ‘Plato on Art and Reality’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 315-321
Kemp M. (1990) The Science of Art: Optical themes in western art from Brunelleschi to Seurat Yale University
Iversen M. (2005) ‘The Discourse of Perspective in the 20th Century: Panofsky, Damisch and Lacan’ Oxford Art Journal vol. 28, (No. 2) Pages 191-202 Available from: http://www.jstor.org.eor.uhi.ac.uk/stable/4500016