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How to be in two places at once

Use your head!


I wanted a change of focus when recently preparing for an exhibition. There were to be ten pictures in the show, the most I have shown together since my earliest one person show. I wanted that to look good which meant making scale drawings of the space where they would be shown and working out how they would be hung in relation to one another. Leaving practicalities of layouts, framing, packaging and transport to simmer elsewhere in my mind, I got back to painting.


I wanted a change of focus when recently preparing for an exhibition. There were to be ten pictures in the show, the most I have shown together since my earliest one person show. I wanted that to look good which meant making scale drawings of the space where they would be shown and working out how they would be hung in relation to one another. Leaving practicalities of layouts, framing, packaging and transport to simmer elsewhere in my mind, I got back to painting.


The contemplative tranquility of the cloister of the Beguines in Bruges, Ten Wijngaerde, with its white houses around a tree studded green must be known to every visitor to the city. As a result, there are innumerable photographs that have been taken. I have walked in its grounds since I was a small boy so I felt it was time to revisit my memories and try to define my sense of the place. To eliminate any reference to space I narrowed my focus to a small corner of the whole.


Currently I am trying to eliminate any reference to space and treat all elements with equal pictorial value as zones of colour separated by lines of unpainted canvas. In this picture I have rendered it as a highly abstracted landscape with strongly contrasting elements. There is a vertical division of the cottages and their garden walls into four elements, slashed from lower right to top left by four dark diagonal trees. Stepping up in the opposite direction there are three earth based colours, from pink to orange as you can trace the brick work of the adjoining buildings into the orange of the roof tiles.


On one side the grounds open onto a canal, the Minnewater; never mind the troubadours who may have sung there, when the Beguines settled there, water was the easiest way to travel or move goods. It was the “address”. Looking in that direction I knew would have yielded a very pretty scene, complete with swans. However, the cloister has a ‘service entrance” from the surrounding streets which have a very different, hard paved, well swept, practical character shared with all historic towns and cities in the Low Countries. Bricks and cobbles, not water and grass.


I enjoy the contrast between the built up rear courtyards of the street facing buildings and the softness of the Beguines’ houses and chapel. The soft look of these comes from centuries of whitewash, contrasting with the surrounding buildings in the commonplace brick. I chose to show a bit of this on the left hand side of the picture.


Why the left hand side? I am not sure, but the trees in the cloister have a distinct lean to them as if a prevailing wind had driven them to slant one way. In fact, there is no prevailing wind – it changes with the season. Graphically though, this slant is the defining character of the space. It is accentuated by running the dark tree trunks from the green of the cloister up through to the pink of the surrounding buildings.


This results in four vertical zones crossed by four slanting lines – the trunks of the trees. These are dark in contrast to the white of the buildings and the low wall of the houses’ gardens. The trunks are smooth so I painted them in Van Dyke Brown with a rippling stroke over which I then painted highlights in light ochre and orange. The ochre was added to liven up the pink brick work on the left of the picture and the orange is the same as that used for the roof tiles which show in two of the four vertical stripes.


There are two types of green – the darker green on the well-established back garden trees and the acid green of the grass in the cloister. The houses have a cobbled path that links them and this runs around the perimeter of the grass, which, in consequence is scarcely used. It has a rough non lawn like quality which I expressed as a series of horizontal green stripes textured by making the brush strokes run in roughly equal depth lines sloping in opposite directions with a third line running horizontally. This line was crucial because it allowed me to incorporate a line of “shadows” extending from the base of the trees. These shadows are composed of the blue I had used in the darker parts of of the trees combined with the orange of the tiles.


The final issue was how to render the windows and doors. The actual ones have typical seventeenth century multi pane glass, out of scale with my imagery. So I left them out! with its white houses around a tree studded green must be known to every visitor to the city. As a result, there are innumerable photographs that have been taken. I have walked in its grounds since I was a small boy so I felt it was time to revisit my memories and try to define my sense of the place. To eliminate any reference to space I narrowed my focus to a small corner of the whole.


Currently I am trying to eliminate any reference to space and treat all elements with equal pictorial value as zones of colour separated by lines of unpainted canvas. In this picture I have rendered it as a highly abstracted landscape with strongly contrasting elements. There is a vertical division of the cottages and their garden walls into four elements, slashed from lower right to top left by four dark diagonal trees. Stepping up in the opposite direction there are three earth based colours, from pink to orange as you can trace the brick work of the adjoining buildings into the orange of the roof tiles.


On one side the grounds open onto a canal, the Minnewater; never mind the troubadours who may have sung there, when the Beguines settled there, water was the easiest way to travel or move goods. It was the “address”. Looking in that direction I knew would have yielded a very pretty scene, complete with swans. However, the cloister has a ‘service entrance” from the surrounding streets which have a very different, hard paved, well swept, practical character shared with all historic towns and cities in the Low Countries. Bricks and cobbles, not water and grass.


I enjoy the contrast between the built up rear courtyards of the street facing buildings and the softness of the Beguines’ houses and chapel. The soft look of these comes from centuries of whitewash, contrasting with the surrounding buildings in the commonplace brick. I chose to show a bit of this on the left hand side of the picture.


Why the left hand side? I am not sure, but the trees in the cloister have a distinct lean to them as if a prevailing wind had driven them to slant one way. In fact, there is no prevailing wind – it changes with the season. Graphically though, this slant is the defining character of the space. It is accentuated by running the dark tree trunks from the green of the cloister up through to the pink of the surrounding buildings.


This results in four vertical zones crossed by four slanting lines – the trunks of the trees. These are dark in contrast to the white of the buildings and the low wall of the houses’ gardens. The trunks are smooth so I painted them in Van Dyke Brown with a rippling stroke over which I then painted highlights in light ochre and orange. The ochre was added to liven up the pink brick work on the left of the picture and the orange is the same as that used for the roof tiles which show in two of the four vertical stripes.


There are two types of green – the darker green on the well-established back garden trees and the acid green of the grass in the cloister. The houses have a cobbled path that links them and this runs around the perimeter of the grass, which, in consequence is scarcely used. It has a rough non lawn like quality which I expressed as a series of horizontal green stripes textured by making the brush strokes run in roughly equal depth lines sloping in opposite directions with a third line running horizontally. This line was crucial because it allowed me to incorporate a line of “shadows” extending from the base of the trees. These shadows are composed of the blue I had used in the darker parts of of the trees combined with the orange of the tiles.


The final issue was how to render the windows and doors. The actual ones have typical seventeenth century multi pane glass, out of scale with my imagery. So I left them out!


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