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Same old, same old

There is a narrative implied in this picture as well as stylistic development.

After “Headwaters” I wanted to move to a painting of people, on the principle that my work would stay fresh if I kept changing the subject matter and the way I had to address it. I had been wondering if the coloured line I introduced in “Sitting in the garden with Alfie” could be extended to include all lines, and how would I handle them? I had been concentrating on large areas of flat colour and breaking them up with lines of unpainted canvas. What if these lines themselves became colours?

The idea for the picture came firstly from the warm September sunshine when people had been lounging on terraces and by pools and secondly, from the dwarf apple trees that we had inherited with the garden. Getting out my sketch pad I put the two together, letting my mind relax and letting my hand make arcs that related various elements to each other. I call this finding the line.You can see how I let the lines establish themselves rhythmically and how two or three areas of shadow were going to be important in what was essentially a sun lit scene. If you look carefully at the sketch at th end of this blog, you will see I started with the woman much higher up – there is an eye under one of the apples and there is an unrelated arm, ending in that open hand sweeping down on the right. The relaxation of the hand suggests that something physical has happened and she is tired.

Her eyes are closed, even though her arm is shading her from the sun light. The story seems pretty explicit to me, hence the title “Same old, same old”. Nothing had changed since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

I had an idea that would make a painting, like an old time “historical painting” and I know that people like a story. Moving onto a 76 X 102 cm canvas, I let my hand run equally free as I established the lines. The soft grey areas are where I have moved the line around and smudged them out with a rag.

I moved the woman right up to the top of the image and set the man a bit more upright as an equally significant party to the story. The position of her buttocks has been resolved. I upgraded the man to make a loop with her legs to close that side of the picture, so that combined they form a B on its side. I thought of Aztec Chacmol figures which recline like this, turning their face to the viewer, to receive the sacrificial heart in their laps. What had he received? She has a smile on her face.

Before I started painting, I moved the woman once again so that her figure forms a great arc around the man’s head. Long Tall Sally.

I decided that I would have two different techniques with the large colour areas. One would be to use different directions of brushwork to enliven them, used for the dress and the flesh areas. The other would have the colour built up by slashing lines of colour, as used for the grass and shadow areas.

I started with the acid viridian green and then painted the dress in a complementary blue, working the direction of the brush strokes to provide some modelling. Using a different blue, I put in the stripes on the man’s tee shirt as their swing would give him some modelling and the lines would contrast with the large areas of plain blue in the dress, The grey stripes came from mixing in some brown to this blue plus some white. I was careful not to clean my brush but just wiped surplus off on a tissue. I call this my dirty brush technique as it introduces subtle colour echoes.

I changed brush for the other colour range, based on t colour of the flesh areas. This was a combination of orange and pink, reduced with white. Adding some of the green led to the brown of the tree trunk, by the addition of the flesh tint which I used for the mass of the visible faces and limbs. Then when it came to shadows on the flesh areas I added more of the green, again without cleaning the brush. When all of this was dry, I went back and added unmodified pink to the highlighted flesh areas.

The colour of the lines was a problem, I decided that they should wherever possible be complementary to the colour fields through which they were passing, however where the fields changed, so should the colour of the line; for example, the long line separating the blue dress from the green is orange, but when the same line passes to the adjacent flesh areas it becomes light red.

The apples are grown on a bush, not a tree, because that is how I found the fruit in our garden. The bush occupies the top right corner and runs down towards the woman’s head. The same brown recurs as the base colour of her hair, This is deliberate ambiguity – did the thought to pick the fruit originate in the woman’s mind?

There is a lot going on here.

Charcoal sketch on cartridge paper

Charcoal set up on canvas

Oil painting with coloured lines and fields

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