Thursday, 23 April 2009

Narcissi, Blossom, Primrose (in progress)

I'm painting these flowers, and the ones in the previous post, for a particular exhibition which is coming up in late summer.

The flowers came from my garden, and the nearby lanes. Bringing them the short distance to my studio I want more than anything to capture their freshness, life and vitality. Time is of the essence.

Not only do the flowers lose some of their initial bloom, but the colours of the painting can become heavy and saturated.

The battle is to convey and retain their freshness on the canvas, even as the flowers begin to imperceptibly droop.

So much of the success of work like this is in the subtlety of the execution. And here I don't mean producing 'prissy flower paintings'.

I'd liken the process to a hard-fought game of chess against a skilled opponent. Every move made has consequences later in the game - and the skill is to anticipate these. Just as a seemingly insignificant move of a pawn can shift the whole balance of the game - a small mark can affect the painting hugely. And it may not be apparent when you make it.

The challenge is that unless I take risks I won't be able to achieve the results I want.

In a sense, I'm taking a risk in spending time painting a subject from life, when there's a chance that the painting won't 'work'. It might be any number of things. I could get called away from the studio, get into a conversation with a visitor - anything - and the delay could mean that on my return the flowers have changed enough to warrant moving all my marks. Basically starting again.

In doing so the freshness that I first set out to capture would be gone.

I know that some artists attempt to solve this difficulty by working from photographs. On the face of it, what could be simpler than seeing a lovely still-life set up, taking a snap, and working from that?

For me such an exercise would be pointless.

When I choose the flowers, pick them, arrange them, smell them - look at them - my painting will hopefully convey something of all of that process. And I hope it will breath some of that life back out of the canvas in the years to come.

If I were to work from a photograph I would be painting nothing but artificial colours on a 2D image. That isn't what I'm about.

Here is a painting by the French artist Odilon Redon, which I feel captures the living essence of his subject over a century later.


PD said...

I came to your blog from your flickr account. It is interesting to hear your thoughts on painting. I like that you work from life and sense the uncertainty that stems from Cezanne and the search for capturing the artists own sensibilities.

I saw on a blog some paintings by an American artist which in some way reminded me of your flower paintings.

your drawing is much better though

Harriet Barber said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your comments and I enjoyed looking at your art society's painting blog.

I love the honesty and struggle that Cezanne's painting have as he gets to grips with painting outside. It fascinates me how his diagonal brush strokes capture the direction and flow of light as it falls on to his subject and forms.

Chris Rudge Renewable Power said...

I can see that 'Live' painting is a challenge that you work with very well.
When people paint off a photo, an image will be formed, but no matter how good, it will have no soul or life .. Just a copy of a photograph ..

Tony Perrotta said...

Always Harriet amazing work.


LuisRamos(paintings) said...

I like your paintings, you are a very good painter.
I would like to have at my home, one of them, but they are a litle expensive for me, so..I go looking at your work in your blog.