Liz, Zoe and Clive

Sometimes the best things at the Artlog are in the comment boxes. I love the dialogues that emerge there. Some of the names of those who leave messages are close to me in the real world, while others are those with whom close and lasting friendships have developed entirely from the digital world.

Yesterday’s post has generated interesting observations from Liz and Zoe. And so rather than leave them down where they may not be seen or read, here’s a new post, with our conversation foregrounded.

Below: painting by Zoe Blue

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Zoe Blue lives in the USA, and has been a commentor at the Artlog almost since it began. She once asked me for advice in the matter of making maquettes, and thereafter began using the technique as a practice in her work as an artist. I have to say that the student outstripped the teacher, because she got rather better at making and using them than me. Though I consider us to be close friends, we have never met in person.

Zoe Blue on April 2, 2016 at 4:04 pm said:
Even back then, such gorgeous colors. I love these images. Your landscape styles really move me — I wonder, when you see the slides after so much time, does it give you an “instant” feeling of that time period? Once I heard a forgotten recording of a Rachmaninoff concerto I had played, and I actually started crying uncontrollably. It was bizarre. But I wonder if you see the painting and become that person again, temporarily. The feeling of that whole being, I mean. Does that make sense?

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on April 3, 2016 at 7:16 am said: 
At this distance much of my work from back then looks a tad overwrought to me. I seem to have been discovering that painting could reflect my emotional state, and my emotional state was… well, let’s just say, wobbly. I was emerging from a dark place.

I like the three paintings I posted. I can see that there’s a lot of bravura brushwork going on in the first two images, and I like the atmosphere in that last, sombre, slate-blue and ochre Carn Euny night-scape.

For me too, emotion is readily accessed through the medium of music. The other night I watched a documentary about the late Peter Maxwell Davies, whose music I’ve always loved, and particularly ‘An Orkney Wedding’, which had once been the doorway for me to his less accessible work. My late friend Catriona, loved it too, and it was played at her funeral. In the documentary they showed a performance of it at the Proms, with Maxwell Davies conducting. Barely had the first strains of music begun, when the tears started rolling. By half-way through I was sobbing and laughing in equal measure, aware of the ludicrousness of the situation. It wasn’t just re-ignited grief for the loss of Catriona… all these years on I miss her still… or even grief for PMD, but rather that ‘An Orkney Wedding’ immediately opens the sluice-gate behind which deep waters are usually contained.

What do I feel when I look at these early paintings? Mostly I feel surprise that I was able to make these works embody what I was feeling back then, though I don’t think I realised that at the time. And I certainly didn’t realise that many were as good as I now know them to be. I admire the fluency of brushwork. It’s blazingly apparent there’s a kind of dance going on. I can tell from them that in my DNA I was a dancer, and the paintings were dancing for me. I know now I was mourning what I’d lost, but in some fabulous act of alchemy, what flowed from me were not tears, but paint.

Liz King-Sangster and I met in the early 1980s, when she was head of the scenic department at Welsh National Opera and supervised the creation of a set that I’d designed. It was my first job as a designer, and Liz made good the deficiencies that were the result of my lack of experience. Her sound advice so gently offered back then, stayed with me and helped me build the foundations of my subsequent design work in the theatre. She lives in France, where she works as a painter and muralist.

Below: interior by Liz King-Sangster

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Liz King-Sangster on April 3, 2016 at 7:29 am said: 
I love the sheer joy of painting in the first and second images, beautiful gestural brushwork, and the colours in them all. I love the moods you’ve captured. And aren’t we lucky to be living in this age where cataloguing is so simple? It’s great that Peter insisted, because now you have a diary of your own development. I’m afraid I’ve not been so assiduous in keeping track of my earlier paintings. I’m leaving it to future archivists to sort that out, if they are interested enough that is! On the subject of photography, now I have tens of thousands of photos to every one I had in those days. It’s almost too easy now! Love to you both xxxL

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on April 3, 2016 at 7:54 am said: 
Dear Liz, I and many others love your painting. I’ve always admired your fluency, and back when we worked together during your Welsh National Opera days, long before I became an artist, I learned from you that when paint flowed, it could be a vector for energy. Good lesson, that.

None of us can know whether after we’ve departed the room, anyone who cares enough will still be around to sort through our ‘stuff’ and order it. At any given time the fates and reputations of artists hang by the slenderest of threads. There’s serendipity in what survives, what’s seen, what hangs in private and what hangs in public. Some of those trumpeted during their times as ‘great’, fade into obscurity with the passing decades, while occasionally an artist unknown in life, gains the admiration of many after his or her death. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stood dumbfounded in front of some medieval masterpiece of an altarpiece, bearing the label ‘anonymous’, or ‘unknown’. I’d be happy if something of mine survived even unattributed where people could see it and look. The work is the dialogue between the artist and the viewer. Names don’t really matter.

Below: wonderfully vibrant i-pad sketch by Liz of Jack, made when she was at Ty Isaf last year.

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Zoe’s ‘Blue Cat’ maquette stands sentinel opposite a Welsh dragon on our mantlepiece.

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Zoe Blue’s ‘Papa Legba’

Over at Zoe in Wonderland, Zoe Blue has produced a wonderful maquette, her own take on Papa Legba. Zoe was once my student in all things ‘maquettery’, but has since made this particular art-form so utterly her own that she leaves me standing in her vapour-trail.

Moreover she uses her maquettes in the way I developed the studio use of mine, as compositional aids. She really got the whole idea as though born to it, and her painting has greatly benefitted from her explorations.

I LOVE this maquette! Note how the top-hat tips jauntily from image to image, and how well she depicts the flowing scarf, full of movement and energy.

Zoe writes of Papa Legba:

‘Papa Legba is sometimes an old man, sometimes a young man, almost always with a top hat and cane. He has one foot in your habitual ways (the “real world”), and one foot in fresh possibility; the border he crosses is the liminal space in which you are offered or forced to accept an alteration in your perspective in order to survive–a wormhole. No voodoo ceremony can begin without him: he is the one who allows the worlds of loa and humans to meet.’

Take a stroll over to Zoe in Wonderland to read more of what she has to say on this subject.

santa caterina dances

Over at her blog site Zoe in Wonderland, Zoe Blue has been posting about the healing powers of music, illustrated with images of her maquette of Santa Caterina playing the fiddle as she dances ecstatically. Zoe was the very first visitor to the Artlog to write to me about the techniques of making maquettes, and although she was already confidently on her pathway to being a painter, I could see that the practice of making maquettes might serve her very well in compositional terms. She started hesitantly and I wondered whether she’d stick with the technique, but suddenly she was off like a racehorse, not only mastering the art of the maquette, but additionally using the paper figures to extraordinary effect as models for her paintings.

Zoe absolutely ‘got’ the notion of the posable maquette as a tool to explore positive and negative shape, and almost overnight her paintings acquired an exhilarating compositional boldness. Moreover although the construction of her figures pretty much mirrors my own practice, Zoe has evolved ways of using them that are uniquely her own, with results that are most impressive in pictorial terms.

So today I post images of Santa Caterina giving herself up to the power of the music and the dance. She positively crackles with life. Well done Zoe! (I have to say that Caterina is really working that hair and those heels! I’m betting she dances a smoking hot tango!)

zoe and the hoofed woman

  •  Over at Zoe in Wonderland a fantastic new maquette has appeared.

    Zoe wrote to me:

    ‘I’m super-happy that you like it. I’m so glad you showed me how to do these. They change the whole process for me. They allow me to play much more on the panel. (Otherwise I’m too afraid of mucking things up and being left with gummy lumps of paint.) I can take a lot more chances with these. It also helps so much with composition, because of seeing how things ‘fit’. It’s endlessly helpful.’

    Zoe has really taken to heart the use of maquettes as compositional tools, and her recent paintings illustrate how well the practice is working for her. I keep returning to this one, shown recently at her blog site together with the maquettes that were used to make it. I find that horse head fitted snugly between the man and woman most compelling.
    Agwe and Erzulie

the artlog exhibition of maquettes: part one

Welcome to the first exhibition at the Artlog. It evolved out of the interest of regular visitors in my practice of making articulated paper maquettes for use as compositional aids.  A few of them felt encouraged to produce maquettes of their own, and thereafter everything just blossomed. Some contributors have submitted a single maquette, and others many. Limited room has meant that I’ve had to be selective, and I apologise for the maquettes that didn’t make it online. Enjoy the posts. (There are going to be quite a few!)

MAQUETTEEERS

Zoe Blue: cat dances

Liz Sangster: sleeps, eats, plays, sleeps

James Hood: beastly tales

Philippa Robbins: deconstructing Velasquez

Zoe Blue: cat dances. Zoe was the first to write asking my advice on the making of maquettes, and her enthusiasm suggested that others too, if invited, might give the idea a spin. She produced these wonderfully versatile tango dancers and lithe blue cat. The lively constructions have since figured prominently in her paintings, two of which are illustrated below. These are everything one might wish for as examples of maquettes as stepping-stones to easel-work. Something that strikes me forcibly is the foregrounded and dynamically leaping cat of the first painting, because I have a feeling Zoe wouldn’t have come to that particular pictorial arrangement without the preliminary work that produced such an interesting maquette of a feline.

Liz Sangster: sleeps, eats, plays, sleeps. Liz and I first met each other back in the early 1980s, when she was head of the scenic department at Welsh National Opera and I was the designer of a production that she was about to supervise through her workshops. We became close friends and remain so to this day. She and her husband Graham live in France, where Peter and I occasionally visit them at their beautifully restored historic house just outside Bergerac. (Artlog regulars may recall that we spent last Christmas there with them.) Liz has made delightful sequential images using her maquette of Meg the Welsh Border Collie.

 Liz Sangster

James Hood: beastly tales. James is a visitor to the Artlog who one day mused in a comment box that he might take part in the exhibition. Later he probably rather regretted that, because I hounded him until he did. James gained his degree in illustration at Stockport College, and I greatly enjoy his illustration-themed blog Cardboard Cutout Sundown. (Well I would, wouldn’t I, with a name like that?) He ‘s produced three maquettes. There are two boldly conceived shadow-puppet style tigers, the first designed and assembled digitally and the second cut from paper. However his last maquette was submitted at the eleventh hour. James called it simply ‘Beast’, and I think it quite wonderful.

Beast

 

Hard to pin down why I like this quite so much as I do, but it’s probably because through form and texture the artist has captured something dark and mysterious, qualities not common in the large submission of work for the exhibition, but evident too in the maquettes of Philippa Robbins. No matter how hard I look at James’ creature, I’m not quite sure what it is that I’m seeing. The face is visible though hard to read, wiped of recognisable expression like a burns victim. The huge eye ringed with gold  is black and unnerving, the nose a blackly gaping wound. An ill-fitting and bulky jacket has sleeves long enough to give no more than a tantalising glimpse of the ornately fluted claws. He looks tormented and uncomfortable in his man-clothes, fearsome and yet poignant, as of course all great beasts must. I’m drawn back to the figure over and over again. James has used collage elements. I’m pretty sure that’s an engraving of a sea-anemone forming the serpentine mane. I find the densely etched-texture of the tight trousers appealing. The shoes seem far too narrow and constraining for a beast’s paws, and that too adds pathos, as though he’s bound and crippled his feet like a Chinese courtesan. While I’m reminded of Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête and Angela Carter’s The Tiger’s Bride… associations clearly signposted for us with the Tiger’s bipedal presentation and the Beast’s leonine appearance… James’ Beast remains uniquely and compellingly itself. It haunts me.

Tiger 1

Tiger 2

Philippa Robbins: deconstructing Velasquez. Philippa has thrown herself into the making of maquettes with admirable enthusiasm. The first set are part of an ongoing project in which  she’s exploring and deconstructing the painting Las Meninas by Velasquez. Picasso, too, went head-to-head with this masterpiece, and it rewarded him with rich pickings. (His Las Meninas sketchbooks alone show that he riffed on the theme with dazzling virtuosity.) Philippa has kick-started her exploration of the Velasquez with an engaging cast of paper maquettes and a set of small, simplified papier mâché figures. I’m only showing the former on the Artlog, as this project is about flat maquette form. However you can see the papier mâché models on her blog, HERE.

 …

I’m not sure whether this as yet unpainted wire-hair terrier is to be a part of the Las Meninas project, but the little chap certainly has a lot of character.

Finally, two thought-provoling images to round up this first post of the Artlog Maquetteers, and they exhibit a streak of darkness that is right up my street. A doll, one of P’s favourite leitmotifs, and a strange, semi-flayed self-portrait, in which the artist has reinvented herself as a ghoulish Red-Riding Hood, exposing her inner architecture as she skips through the woods bearing the blood-red cloak that lends its wearer her name. I love the oddness of her little skirt with its appliqué of an x-rayed pelvis. In the second image her almost ecstatic expression casts her as a martyred saint throwing off the bloodied, discarded shawl of her skin. It should be said that Philippa thinks I’ve invented rather sinister scenarios for this last maquette, which in her own eyes is quite a cheerful little character.

More Maquettes in Part Two, tomorrow.