beyond the neo-romantic

Yesterday I wrote about how I began to eschew Neo-romanticism as I strove to bring clarity and simplicity to my painting. In my ‘high’ Neo-romantic period I was producing works such as this one.

All the Neo-romantic props still in place. Night time, a livid moon and the painting (and brushwork) suffused with a restless spirit, as though a storm is about to break.

Later the same Dick Turpin figure turns up in this…

… though with the horse now painted black. The night time still lends theatricality, but the amorphous vegetation has vanished, replaced with a stylised, tentacled tree.  In the place of the woodland of the earlier composition, a building now stands, shadowed but nevertheless clearly defined. The brush-work is more controlled, less hectic in the restless search for diverse strokes.

But I wanted to further cool my paintings down, and so I moved indoors, setting this Staffordshaire Scottish hunter (note the stag thrown over his saddle) in the studio.

I painted the black plush top of the card-table on which the figure stands so that it appears parallel to the viewer, using the convention of cubism to depict objects from angles other than those that can be seen from a single viewing point. The world becomes flattened out, rearranged and disoriented. The plan-chest top with a charcoal jar standing on it is also tipped up, and although it passes behind the card table, the drawers with holes cut as grips for pulling them open, can still be seen, as though both card table and the base of the Staffordshire figure are transparent. I recall the painting evolved in this way because the drawing underneath it was layered with images… plan chest, charcoal jar, card table and Staffordshire figure… with no erasures. When I made the painting everything survived, even the things that didn’t quite make sense but added mystery to the finished work.

And here is the next incarnation of the Scottish huntsman, where the mood has cooled even further.

He stands on a window sill, the sash raised so that the curtains blow inward. The approaching storms of the early Staffordshire images have turned into a playful breeze. Beyond the window the winter garden is a formal arrangement of forms and textures, tipped up to emphasise the shape made by the herringbone brick paths converging on the raised circular bed. The palette has become airy, with soft violets, pinks and greys lightening the mood, and red oxide and black used to anchor the composition with areas of solidity.

This was the last of the Staffordshire figure paintings. With the exception of an old one to which I returned in order to re-work the background (see HERE)  they quietly slipped out of my work. My still-life paintings became more domestic and intimate, balancing the Gwili Pottery ceramics in daily use at the cottage with small items of personal significance. (See HERE.) Night has been largely banished from these works, though when it does appear, there’s an altogether less agitated feeling to its’ presence. I change, and the paintings change. This is the way things work.

The garden didn’t remain as spartan as it appears in the painting. Our friend Catriona arrived with a carload of bulbs, corms, trees and shrubs, and before too long everything was planted out and blooming to her satisfaction. In the last year of her life she returned several times to check on progress. She was after all the one who had decreed we turn what had been a patch of mossy lawn into a sunken garden. We just obeyed her.

4 thoughts on “beyond the neo-romantic

  1. Pingback: the road to beastly passions part 1: origins | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. Fascinating progression, Clive. I’ll have to look at these again. And I always love Catriona’s garden, however it appears. Funny how a quieter, stiller painting can seem more mysterious than a dynamic one. The light is so pleasing in the last, falling so softly. Yawn. Up late. Off to bed.

  3. Interesting post, Clive. Especially like the huntsman at his coolest! Like the background a lot in this one – reminds me of film set – but I can’t bring to mind which and what.

    • Glad that you think that the changes have been a progress Julia. I too favour the less emotionally turbulent work, although I can see that those early paintings have their merits.

      A film set. Yes, I’d agree with you. Perhaps one of those studio-bound British films of the forties, where the view of the garden through the French doors has a set-builder’s artfulness.

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