hervé and the negative space

At the easel, a new painting of Hervé and the Wolf is underway, a rather formal work, rooted in shape, colour and texture. The colour is limited to a sea of blue against black with some islands of off-white, though I’m sanding back in places where I want that shock of red oxide under paint, like a bloody graze.

It’s the element of intimacy and touch that drives this piece. The points of contact suggested by the slivers of overlap as the wolf presses into blind Hervé’s neck, and the back of Hervé’s hand nudges the hair on the wolf’s foreleg.

Above and below: transparency, disconnect, the ebb and flow of fur, an absence of gravity and the electrical charge of touch. The oddness of a dream.

I’m obsessed with negative space. Put simply, if the negative spaces aren’t working, I feel an unease close to nausea. At this point I have to keep tweaking and shifting things until the nausea stops. Then I know that everything is fine. If a negative space is a centimetre out… or less… a hairsbreadth (when I was a boy I mistook that phrase as ‘hare’s breath’, which works just as well)… then I have to keep working until I’ve resolved the problem. It doesn’t matter in the least if this drops a shoulder to the wrong place anatomically, or means that one hand is bigger than it ought to be. All that matters is that the negative space stops shouting at me.

The painting started with new maquettes of Hervé and his wolf which I then used to make a number of rough compositional sketches on paper…

… before laying out an underdrawing on panel.

The wolf, quite small as a maquette

 has grown bigger for the painting.

once the maquettes are made…

… then the real work begins.

Finding the compositional forms.


Of course the paintings shall no doubt end up looking quite different, but the maquettes are the starting point.

Verses eight and nine from Callum James poem The Boy and the Wolf

VIII. Hervé Redeems The Wolf.
A blinding alleluia of light
as from the boy
love tumbled,
burst like river-diamonds,
mingling with The
Wolf’s breath,
flooding the grasses, fur,
the snowdrops,
heating the prayer
that made him.

IX. Hervé and The Wolf Together.
That moment hung,
a stopped raindrop,
a never falling leaf
within his soul: quivering.
It abided there.
The Wolf abided
at the centre of him.

Callum James 2004