Thursday, 23 January 2014

The History of My Art, Part 1: Triumph and Disaster, Mostly Disaster...

Recently I brought a number of old paintings down from the attic to save them from the risk of damp. It posed the dilemma of what to do with them. It also got me thinking about my progression over the years.

I have been painting for nearly 20 years now, which is a shocking thought. My mother used to be a painter, and I purloined some of her old oil paints when I was 14 or 15 years old. My first effort was a little view of Brixham, a town in Devon where we had a couple of family holidays, and for which I developed an attachment. There was a good gallery, the Strand Art Gallery, there where a group of artists specialised in works mainly with a nautical theme. I always had an interest in siling ships, anyway, and before I started painting I used to make model ships, either in kit form or from scratch out of carbdoard. (In fact I once made a replica of Brixham including all the boats in the harbour). Unfortunately most of my cardboard creations were stuck together with sellotape, which lost its stick, and few of them survive.

My father (who has just retired) had a background in engineering, and but was working in agriculture during my early childhood. He was good at making things, including a wooden ATAT, for my starwars men to ride in, a papermache and wire landscape for my little dinosaurs and a landing craft for my soldiers. Sadly I didn't inherit engineering or mathematical abilities to any extent, nor any aptitude for farming, soldiering, or the Merchant Marine. We can't design ourselves and I would have designed my physicality (and mentality) differently, since I was short, big-headed, weedy-limbed and prone to colds. I didn't have a great time in schools, hating maths and PE particularly, but I did well in art and history, and relatively well in English. My dad was also a history buff and both my parents could be poetic. My younger sister also inherited gifts for visual creativity, and also went into the design world, but she was always better at maths.

My second oil effort, and my first that survives, was a sailing ship. It turned out very well and was a false dawn. I didn't yet know about thinning paints with turpse, so the thickly daubed paint produced a nice rich effect. I started off painting on the smooth side of hardboard, not yet knowing about such things as primer or the need for porous surfaces. Hence my early efforts took ages to dry. The painting as seen above, is basically as done, although the masts and sails were tidied up a bit during a later reworking.

I didn't have any great belief in my artistic worth, as an early teenager, and thought I might have to settle for some office job, doing admin or something, hence I did a Business Studies GNVQ at sixth form, alongside a History A Level. (Fancying a certain girl was the main reason for staying on at at Sixth Form, although nothing came of that. At this point I was still far too nice, not to mention shy.)

 Serendipitously, though, there was an adult education class going on doing an art A-level, in a building attached to the school, and a teacher who recognised my real leanings before I did got me a place therein, although it meant joining the course half way through and only doing the last of two years. Still I got a 'B' somehow.

One of my early works, at this time, was the above monstrosity, supposed to be Admiral Nelson. I had an interest in Nelson and his era, going back to an early holiday in Portsmouth and HMS Victory. I can't see much going for this painting now, although I've seen worse on pub signs.

I benefited, during my this time from studying historical artists, at that time, namely Hopper, Gainsborough and Munch.

Munch Madonna by dashinvaine
Copy of Munch's 'Madonna'.

The sci-fi film Star Trek: First Contact also made an impression on me at that time, and I contrived a justification for including a painting of some gruesome Borg characters in the course of one project.

The Borg intrigued me, perhaps because they seem like updated vampires,  and I also had a taste for ghoulish and gothic things. As a child I also made models of Egyptian tombs, complete with sarcophagi and mummies. My historical interests alternated between Ancient Egypt, the European Middle Ages, the Napoleonic era and the 19th century.

The art course, which would have been around the year 1996, also introduced me to fantasy art, featured in some of the art books that were around. In particular I liked the mermaids of David Delamare, having previously suffered a jeuvenile crush on Ariel. I did a mermaid painting during the course of the A-Level, which had a nice moonlit colour scheme, with the moon in the background casting a long relection, inspired by moons in Edvard Munch paintings. However the proportions of the body and face were so distorted (including enormous eyes) that I subsequently destroyed it. The above Borg painting represents strides forward in terms of realism, even though it is still naive in many ways.

The above painting 'Library Girl' was probably done after the A-level finished but before I moved on to college. It incorporates fabrics and elements of collage. The overall effect is not entirely disastrous. Unfortunately the painting was done on the rough side of a sheet of hardboard, and the effect is not pleasing close-to. I have thought about plastering in these areas and painting over them, so they seem smoother, but it is so old now it is not worth tinkering with.

I might revisit the mixed-media approach in the future, I always meant to, but never got around to it. Another pre-college mixed media offering was this painting of the Titanic, again foolishly painted on the rough side of hardboard. The rigging is bits of string, stuck on.

Titanic - cs by dashinvaine

This was done in about 1997, when Titanic was still a ship, and not a movie. The dive to the wreck of the Titanic was something that had caught my imagination.

This piece, 'Tess', is another painting from around this this time, also showing a subsequent digital reworking.

Tess before and after by dashinvaine

Think I prefer the original, after all. This shows the perils of reworking older paintings (not that the original of this one was touched) since changes reflecting technical improvement can still rob a piece of certain character and charm. The change is not always for the better, in every way. Hence an artist should be reticent about reworking old pieces except to correct obvious mistakes. Changing the character or mood of a piece is not advisable. It is better to start over and to make a completely new picture.

This painting, I believe pre-Worcester, was a similar to an earlier one of a vampire lady on a stairway, but a great improvement on it. It was also one of the first paintings that I sold.

Vampire Lady cs by dashinvaine

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