I’ve been working on ideas for a new series of paintings for a while now, and it has got me thinking about why I paint the subjects that I do, and what are the real themes and ideas that I am trying to explore. Why do I paint naked bodies and not flowers, boats or trees?
What springs to mind when you think “naked”? Exposed?.., self-conscious?.., vulnerable? These are what I feel when I imagine myself naked. Another person might say liberated or sexy. I know from the experience of showing my paintings over the years that people’s perception of nudity varies wildly. A large number of people, for instance, are simply unable to dissociate nudity from sexuality.
“Honesty”. If you strip a subject of all its decoration and embellishments, isolate it from its surroundings and props, are you left with the true essence of that subject? Does a painting of a person thus exposed actually say any more about their true character? Is it a more honest depiction than if they were in their chosen attire and makeup?
“Relationships”. In any depiction of a person who posed in front of an artist, there are at work dynamic relationships between the artist, the model and the viewer. Just as the viewer will bring along their own preconceptions of the artist and the subject, so the artist will, during the sitting, form their own opinion of the model’s personality. Subsequently, however they try to honestly describe what they see, the artist’s depiction will always be tainted by their own views. This is what distinguishes a painting from a photo.
“Identity”. Who am I? What am I? These are questions artists and philosophers have been asking through the ages. Although it seems impossible to ever give a truly honest account of the world around us, still they strive to achieve it. I wonder if, when a model poses, if I know nothing about the model, would I be better able to give an honest description of them? Or would the work be somehow diminished if I didn’t know who they were or what they do? I think it’s worth a go. Anyone interested in posing nude for this new series is welcome to get in touch. False names encouraged 🙂
I’ve started work on a series of headless nudes. It’s a development of some figure studies I have been working on. I was interested in seeing to what extent a sense of the sitter’s identity could be conveyed if, first, they were stripped of their clothes, and then, as in the case with this painting, their heads were cropped from the painting.
I had a life drawing session with a new model last weekend. I want to start collecting material for a new series of paintings, where the model is set within a domestic environment, in natural poses; either relaxing, bathing or doing chores. It’s a return to a theme I worked on about ten years ago.
The sitting went well enough. As it turned out, we didn’t move out of the kitchen, as the light was so good in there.
For the past few weeks I have been working almost exclusively on my interpretation of The Feast of Venus. I am getting to the stage where I can define the figures, and set them in space. I’ve made some adjustments along the way, and am happy with all the poses, bar one. The third figure from the left – the figure bending over and looking back over their shoulder – has been a nightmare. My last two sittings ended with the life models getting quite fed up with my instructions to “bend forward and curve your back!” Human anatomy being what it is, their backs just would not bend so, which leaves me with a compositional problem. That curve is essential for the composition, and at the same time the pose has to look mildly erotic. I think I may need to hire a contortionist.
I have just finished a third sitting with life models in preparation for my “Feast of Venus”. It went quite well, and I think I have finalised most of the poses. There’s one pose that has presented some problems, and I may still need to organise another sitting just for this one figure. I imagine it’s a problem that Rubens often had, where actual human anatomy did not conform with his designs. I’m sure he also heard his models complain that their backs wouldn’t bend like that, or they couldn’t twist their bodies so.
I had my first sitting in preparation for my “Feast of Venus” piece. I have ten female figures in total in this painting. I’ve reserved the “erotic” poses on the left of the painting for a model who’s more experienced at glamour work. Today I worked through the poses for the central three figures (with Venus in the middle), and the two figures in the top right, which were the least defined of all the poses.
I’m very happy with how the sitting went, and quickly defined the poses for the top right figures. I’m undecided about whether I need to hire an additional model for any of these poses. I’m happy with how all these poses have turned out, but it might make for a more interesting painting if there was more variety in body-shape.
I’ve settled on a provisional layout for my Feast of Venus painting. Most of the figures are quite well defined for this early stage, but there are a few unresolved areas. I will have to make some decisions about the background in the top right, and the tree behind the central figure of Venus. So today I went out with my camera, photographing trees. I must confess that I’ve not spent much time looking at trees in the past, and to begin with I was amazed by the huge variety in form and texture….. After four hours, they all started to look pretty much the same.
I now have a selection of poses that I’m happy with, which I can present to the model when she arrives for the first sitting. This first sitting will just enable me to work on the layout to a greater detail, so I can make decisions about how I want each figure to look; then I can start looking for suitable life models.
I recently came across an interesting project by the artist Inga Krymskaya, where she is inviting artists to contribute their own interpretations to her ongoing project: “3045 Variations on The Feast of Venus…..an ongoing project by the Dutch artist involving the adaptation and reinvention of the Flemish Baroque painting by Rubens entitled”. I usually have absolutely no interest in creating pieces specially for themed shows. The pace at which I work normally excludes me from any such activity. The generous deadline for this project, 26th February, 2016 (nearly four months from when I write this), is still a bit tight, and I don’t expect I can get anything worthwhile completed to my satisfaction in that time…, but still I keep thinking about it.
What started as a casual perusal of this particular Rubens painting, turned into a more detailed analysis of the composition, and the treatment by Rubens of this subject. And then I started to consider how I would approach the same subject. Well, the Cherubs would have to go, as would the Satyrs; they just don’t have the same meaning in our modern artistic vocabulary. But the underlying themes of the painting are just as valid today as when Rubens put brush to canvas. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d like to arrange the figures in my composition, and spent a few evenings working through endless compositions. Eventually I settled on a layout that borrowed enough from the original, whilst being a continuation of my current work, and able to convey a meaning to a modern audience. By now I realised that I was working on my next painting.
It has been a few days now since I first came across Inga Krymskaya’s project, and I have barely worked on anything else. I have arrived at an initial layout, with alternative poses for most of the figures. The background is rather less defined at present. I believe I can make do with as few as three different models, and have already arranged a sitting with one model for the preparatory work; in order to work through most of the poses, so that I’ll have drawings with which to start arranging the composition on the canvas. It is only then that I can settle on the composition. From there I might have a better idea which models will best suit each figure, and I can only hope that I will finalise the poses for their figures with one sitting each. That 26th of February deadline is beginning to look very close!