Blue Hervé. Acrylic and pencil on board. 2014
Enquiries to the Martin Tinney Gallery
The following comments (and my replies) are from a post I made back in January on completing the work titled Blue Hervé. This is the kind of dialogue I find really gets my creative juices flowing. I’ve illustrated today’s post with images of the work in process, from the maquettes to the daily progress on the easel. (The sharp-eyed will notice that I changed the head of the maquette part-way into the process.) I thank Jacqui Hicks, Marly Youmans, Phil Cooper, Jeffery Beam and Rebecca Verity for being such stimulating and supportive company at the Artlog.
Jacqui Hicks: Ah textures… I love those textures Clive, the suit, the t-shirt, the wolf’s fur; when you are painting clothing do you imagine the texture of a specific fabric or is it more the fall and folds that inspire?
Clive H-J: Both, really. It wouldn’t do were I to capture too specific a texture if the finished result distracted from the overall idea, so I tend to think of surfaces as patterning.
In this image I began to see the wolf’s fur as the eddies apparent on the surface of water, and that was fine, because it added another layer of possibilities to the piece. Moreover it took me down a different route to THIS image, where I thought of the fur almost as a cursive language that was a secret repository of wolfish knowledge.
My work on this theme tends toward the hieratic, and so lacking the kinetic in obvious terms, I place falling leaves to conjure restlessness. They also help the viewer to know how it is to be blind Hervé in that moment, with the sense of displaced air as the leaves pass, and the cold vulnerability of exposed skin in the presence of rough fur and sharp teeth.
So many things to be thinking about as a painting like this comes together, and I rarely capture all the thoughts buzzing through my head. And so I make another, and another, and another…
… and so it goes on.
Marly Youmans: The ‘cursive’ fur made me think of Diana Wynne Jones’s “Spellcoats.”
Strange kiss: teeth and neck.
I was thinking about how this story relates (in some odd fashion) to your love of the Staffordshire outsize dog-with-child figures. (And perhaps they dimly relate to the original mystic semi-encounter with the hooded man and his giant dog/wolf, when Jack was a mere puppy-child.)
Phil Cooper: I’d snatched a couple of peeks at this painting on my iPad in breaks at work this afternoon, taking in bits at a time; it’s grown on me over the day and now I’m looking at it on the big screen at home I’m completely smitten, it is really mesmerising me. I love the silvery whites cutting through the richness of the reds and blues, the wildness of the wolf with the tenderness coming through, Herve’s delicate expression, the planes and shapes running round the picture, the shadow across the wolf’s hindquarters, I’m astonished, it’s brilliant.
Clive H-J: You express thoughts so poetically that I think we’re completely in tune on this, on what I’ve tried to express and what you feel. As is ever the way, I see only the failings and the lack, and feel sharply how I might have made it better. But then it’s these feelings, no matter how painful, that spur me on to the next. There always has to be another, to make up for the deficiencies of the last.
Thank you, Phil.
Phil Cooper: I do identify with what you write about how you feel about your work Clive – maybe, as you say, it’s better it were thus as it spurs us on to making more work and striving for new heights. But in this case of this painting, gosh, you’ve created something of real power. That hand grazing the foreleg is the clincher for me, so soft but it’s like lightning!
Clive H-J: Lightning! Yes, I like that description. Thank you Phil. Lightning it is then.
Jeffery Beam: I love the sense of floating, suspension in this. The falling (in love?) and the contrast of the red (oxblood red) and the blues made even richer by the little bit of grey, and the black. Also that the Wolf looks straight at us while Hervé bends away with eyes closed, but not in fear it seems, but in transformation. The missing shoe, as mentioned above, Hervé’s shirt lifting up showing belly. All so tender and deeply felt. I’ve enjoyed watching the progress of this piece. Bravo as always wise and masterly Clive.
Clive H-J: No, not wise… or not wise enough… and far from masterly. But I aspire with each day at the easel to both those things, and doomed to failure though I must be, I still keep trying.
I’m glad that you see so much in it that moves you. It is deeply felt. I’m always moved by this tale, and never tire of it. Each time at the easel I feel as though I discover it anew, and fear I’ll never do it justice, no matter how many times I paint it.
Thank you for writing so beautifully about it, Jeffery.
Rebecca Verity: There is always something about each of your paintings that really gets me thinking. Often I can go online and research the story and learn something new, but today I will spend all day thinking about that missing shoe…
What action/adventure happened just before the moment of the painting that made him drop it? Where is he going next and how willl he get there with one bare foot?
Or maybe they’re just lying in a field together and he merely kicked off a shoe to feel the sunlight on his toes, and the other shoe will be kicked off in a moment.
I will never know, and so I will always wonder.
Clive H-J: Well I can see, Rebecca, that you recognise there have to be mysteries, and so I shall add nothing to distract from your own musings. A painting should be like life: lots of peculiarities that are unexplained and will most likely remain that way. But just so that you know, there are always reasons behind the oddities in my paintings, though I try to avoid being pinned down about them. (I recall the art historian who kept insisting that there must be a symbolic reason for the red horse in Green George, and how put out he became when I refused to oblige him with an explanation.)
However, if you’re interested in the back story of why I constantly return to the subject of the blind boy and his beast, then read THIS.
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Thanks for re-posting this , it’s really interesting reading these conversations again. The 2-way format increases our awareness of your thought process. It’s truly a wonderful painting, thanks for showing and explaining the process. Also the 2011 piece, which I hadn’t read before. I know that area so well, your descriptions are beautifully crafted, a shiver ran through me as I saw that hooded shape and gleaming eyes. XxL
Great when comments become conversation. I enjoyed your link back to 2011 that I hadn’t read before. I also love your phrase ‘sense of displaced air’. Such brilliant visual words and perfectly placed. I shall look and see if I can find Hervé in France this year. I haven’t noticed him there before but maybe I just wasn’t looking in ithe right places. He may find me!
And now the comments on the comments, this is becoming truly a mise-en-abyme!
It’s true though, it seems a shame that blogging has become generally more hasty and cursory these days, and the developing and savouring of comment dialogue has perhaps suffered, though it was terribly time consuming in those early days sometimes. It seems to be alive and well here though!
I did enjoy looking at Blue Herve again, always so rewarding this painting. What a lovely post and I agree with the title; just reading your conversation with Jaqui has unlocked a problem I was wrestling with this morning with a drawing I’ve done that I’m not happy with – you said ‘I tend to think of surfaces as patterning’ – I’ve been getting distracted by trying to represent specific surfaces and the drawing is weaker because if it. Hmm, patterning, I’ll explore that this afternoon. Thanks, Clive. The dialogue that gets prompted by blog posts is priceless!
For me, actually working on a piece I want to bring to completion is not where I want to be getting to grips with a specific surfaces that I’ve not tried before. I don’t want to be struggling with ‘representation’ at the point of trying to get a compositional idea out of my head and onto the paper… or whatever ground I’m using. The place for those experiments is elsewhere. This is why I return to the same subjects over and over, because I know them so well in all their parts that I can really let rip with the interpretations.
Patterning has served me well in so many scrapes. When I was making the wings for ‘The Rapture’ I allowed pattern to carry me to a place with the painting that representing simple ‘plumage’ would simply not have done.
Thanks for your reply Clive – with the collage approach I’ve been using this wasn’t so much of an issue but today I’ve been playing with coloured pencils and your advice is very useful as I struggle with the new medium
Lovely to see this as I wander the wilds of Ohio!
So much to catch up on! I’m enjoying looking back at the puppet challenge…