more maquettes from the archive

A lion maquette made for The Temptations of Solitude back in 2004. I used him for many paintings, including the one below.

(UPDATE. Those interested in reading more about my use of maquettes might click on the ‘comments’ for this post. Marly Youmans asked a question that no-one had put to me before, and it provoked a fairly detailed reply. Thanks Marly,)

This figure of a a desert father was one of the first maquettes I made. He’s never been framed and offered for sale for the simple reason that I couldn’t part with him. I use the figure all the time in the studio. He’s quite battered now.

Here’s a painting that he was the model for, The Man Hung About with Pots.

And finally today, a small three dimensional head in profile, again used as the source for many drawings and paintings. Below it are a couple of small studies made from the model, the first wash and pencil and the second Conté pencil.

9 thoughts on “more maquettes from the archive

  1. Is there a precedent for the way that you use maquettes? I mean, that yours are joined and moveable and have a big impact on your figures in paint… Is it your own invention? One sees artists’ maquettes, but those I see are not moveable.

    • No Marly, I think that there probably isn’t. For artists preceding the ‘Modernists’, the illusion of the three-dimensional was a much sought after effect in painting. But cubism and all the associated developments that came in its wake had other ambitions, and the quest to create super-realities on flat surfaces came to be considered as both fruitless and retrograde.

      Artists traditionally kept sculptural maquettes as studio aids, often using them as clothes-horses to spare living models lengthy sittings and reserving their limited availability for the important business of life-studies or capturing likenesses. However in my case the paper maquettes are used not as convenient stand-ins for people (and not very good stand-ins at that) but rather to help break the tyranny of observation and anatomy. Put a live model in front of me and I’ll always slip into old habits, making beautiful academic drawings and getting far too caught up in things that essentially don’t interest me. I’m not at all captivated by ‘likeness’ or the capturing of it. Most of the figures in my paintings are of ‘types’ rather than portraying specific, identifiable sitters. With the maquettes I can concentrate on the aspects that most engage me. For instance, inventing dynamic though often anatomically impossible arrangements of limbs that a live model quite simply couldn’t provide. They’ve been crucial too in helping me flatten out and pile up shapes in my compositions. Imagine that I’ve first of all slightly flattened my chosen component elements… be they still life, landscape or bodies… and then rearranged them to fill the available space as completely as I can. The paintings become almost like collages. Negative space assumes equal importance as positive. (It does in the real world, but the effect is diminished because we’re generally looking at objects rather than examining the spaces around and through them. Most people see a chair rather then the complex negative spaces formed by legs, stretchers, arms and perspective. However by manipulating all the elements in a painting, for me the negative shapes can be made to assume equal significance to the positive ones. I can’t overemphasise the importance of this to me personally. I’ve grown to recognise the unease I feel when the negative space in any composition isn’t right… for me that is… and I’ll work at the problem until I solve it.) Landscape, when present, gets telescoped and manipulated into what’s required, often rearing up to the top of the composition.

      I don’t naturally see the world this way, but had to find processes that helped me transform realities into a satisfying constructed universe. I didn’t see anyone else using the technique of flat maquettes as aids to composition, but developed them to serve my own purposes. (That’s not to say that there isn’t someone out there doing it!) Of course I knew about shadow puppets from my time in the theatre, and I certainly looked to those for technical inspiration when I began making the maquettes. I think probably that this way of making shapes pleasing to me, was a direct result of having spent so many years concentrating on the shapes produced in dance. The stage is a revealing space, much like a painting. All the attention is focussed on the limited area, and everything within it becomes more important.

      • I like the way you’ve tied in the idea of shapes in the air inside a frame to dance and theatre. It is interesting how stage and arranged shapes and a sort of dancelike resistance to gravity have a big impact on your present…

        One little related question: does that sense of uneasiness if negative spaces don’t feel right dominate the way you see other people’s paintings?

        the Curious Cat

        • Right. Here goes. The answer is yes, I do have feelings of unease about other people’s paintings. Sometimes almost overwhelmingly so. Moreover I can’t explain why this happens. My responses occasionally border on what I fear may be dysfunctional. Waves of nausea and the desire to get away from the source as quickly as possible. An extreme example of this would be Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride. (Click on the title to link to an image.) My feelings when I look at the painting are really overwhelmingly uncomfortable. It all comes down to the artist’s organisation of space. (I saw The Jewish Bride in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, and so I know my reaction is the same whether I’m standing in front of the canvas or looking at an image of it on a screen.) I don’t argue the facts of Rembrandt’s genius, nor do I feel that the work is flawed in any way that I can make an argument for on an intellectual level. My responses feel entirely visceral, although I realise there’s something odd going on in my brain to trigger them that I can’t begin to understand. I quote this painting as an extreme example, perhaps made so because the work really is one of genius. We went to the Rijksmuseum specifically to see a small number of paintings of which it was one. (The star of the gallery for me was Rembrandt’s self-portrait as a young man. That little painting made me so happy!

          With my own work, any discomfort verging on nausea I experience when looking at a painting in progress, is a warning light that significant changes need to be made to the positive/negative spaces. I’ve always had these feelings, but they’ve become a lot more acute since working as a painter.

          I’ve never confessed to any of this before. Perhaps other people have similar experiences. (Though I suspect not! Just a weird anomaly particular to me.) I’d be interested to know.

    • Well spotted Jason. For many years my friend Stephen Weeks used to live at Penhow Castle in Monmouthshire. He’d beautifully restored the building and it contained an eclectic collection of furniture and decorative objects. One of the guest bedrooms was called ‘The Lutyens Room’, named for the impressive bed it boasted, designed by the renowned architect Edwin Lutyens. The bed was set on a dais and anyone sleeping in it had to climb the platform to ascend to the mattress. It was very grand with large candle holders set at the four corners. When in it I always felt as though I was ‘lying in state’. Set on the footboard of the bed was a small carved lion that I’d often admired. When Stephen was in the final stages of packing up the castle contents before he moved to live in Czech, Peter and I spent a last night in the Lutyens bed before it was to be dismantled and sent to an auction room. The following morning at breakfast I mentioned to Stephen how much I admired the little lion, and yet how unlikely it seemed as a decoration on a quintessentially English bed. He said that If I liked I could borrow the lion to draw. It wasn’t a part of the bed but had just been placed on it because Stephen thought it looked good on it.

      The carved lion stayed with me for nearly four years, and I drew it many times before packing it up and sending it to Stephen in Prague just a few months ago. It was the model for the maquette. And of course, you were quite right. It was made in India, acquired by Stephen when he was out there directing the film GHOST STORY.

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